Colgate University ’19
Amelia Fogg is a junior at Colgate University where she is majoring in Psychology with minors in Film and Media Studies and Writing and Rhetoric. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, baking, and writing.
The Real Value of Liberal Arts
Fall is almost upon us and the foreboding cloud that is application season looms just ahead. I begin to sift through listings for jobs and internships, consumed by panic. I look to job applications that demand Business or Journalism majors, applications that seem to shrug and say, “liberal arts students need not apply,” that seem to effectively deny me opportunities that will prepare me for the professional world. I fear that with the title “Amelia Fogg: Psychology Major,” my resume will be as easily tossed aside as yesterday’s leftover bologna sandwich.
But, deep down I know that this won’t be the case. I know that I must view these job descriptions not as rejections, but as misunderstandings. My liberal arts education has already provided me with capabilities that extend far beyond the reaches of pre-professional training, that transcend the creation of a monotonous mass of Business-major robots who prepare, train, and strive for an end.
A liberal arts education is the meaningful means to this end. The liberal arts curriculum builds. It does not chisel away non-transferrable information and skills that will be “useless” as soon as we graduate. The claim that a liberal arts education prevents students from obtaining important “technical skills” holds too narrow a focus.ii These criticisms focus on the useless “soft skills” that liberal arts students obtain, skills that allegedly leave students unprepared and undesirable. The value of liberal arts, however, is derived from these soft skills—how we learn to interact with information. Although we may forget about Socratic ignorance, Miltonic inversion, and the practices of early sound engineers, we will retain the ability to defend our arguments, to communicate our ideas effectively, and to work collaboratively.
I don’t mean to argue that the liberal arts education is for everyone. I just know myself. I know that propelling myself into the masses of a prescribed track for a specific field would have vacuumed me right back into my shell, perhaps further in than I was before. Towards the end of high school, I knew that I couldn’t confine myself to a predetermined path for a future that I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to pursue.
I am certain that I would feel like a mere horsefly in the expanse of a 300-person lecture hall. I can imagine a professor, impersonal and detached, droning to an army of anonymous go-getters in ruthless pursuit of the exact same job, valiantly leaping across stepping stones to a very specific and restrictive conception of professional success; in this position, I fear that I would lose my footing and tumble towards underachievement. I imagine that these hypotheticals may seem like histrionic generalizations. But you, dear readers, did not know me in high school.
In the beginning of high school, I was painfully shy—and I mean this wholeheartedly. I was shy in a barely-look-up-in-the-hallways, hardly-ever-participate-in-class, rarely-raise my-voice-above-a-mumble kind of way. I was self-conscious about my knobby knees and flat chest, and it took almost 3 years to get used to the 4 inches I had grown in the span of 3 months. I studied, kept to myself and my three closest friends, and overthought everything.
I became accustomed to memorizing information and effectively regurgitating it on exams. I was comfortable in this uninspired high school experience. I accepted this because, at the time, it seemed my classmates and I shared a necessarily generic goal—getting into the best college possible.
When I began thinking about colleges, this arbitrary definition of success shifted from attending a prestigious school to finding a job post-grad. This goal suddenly seemed less abstract than my college aspirations had in high school. Pinpointing the perfect career and college quickly infiltrated the foreground of my consciousness.
Now, I wish I could say that I chose to attend Colgate University purely in pursuit of its rigorous academics, intimate and engaging class discussions, and the “Colgate hello”!
But, I must admit, my decision to attend Colgate was partially an avoidance tactic. I was desperate to evade enormous, professionally-focused schools. I could not bring myself to pursue any schools with applications that included a binding major or career track. However revered the institution, I knew that confining myself to a school of business or school of engineering because I “might be interested in Business?” or “am good with numbers” could be disastrous.
Even greater than the pressure I felt to create a professional roadmap for the rest of my life was the pressure I felt to grow and mature intellectually. I was afraid that in an applied-professional program, my timidity and restraint would be mistaken for reticence and detachment, that my already soft voice would inevitably falter, diminishing to a negligible blip.
I was terrified by the prospect of going to college—my toes gripped the edge of a windy precipice, desperately and fruitlessly trying to hold onto any prospect of familiarity. But of course, college application season came and went, and that August, I arrived at Colgate. On the first Wednesday of my Freshman year, it happened. I sat down at the round discussion table in my freshman seminar class, the August humidity adhering my thighs to the plastic chair beneath me. Class began and my professor proposed the question, “why do we like art?”
Despite the simplicity of this inquiry, we spent the next 75 minutes debating the topic, only pausing momentarily for a few of my professor’s interjections. I felt motivated, even compelled to participate and to understand my classmates’ thoughts and opinions.
After two weeks of classes, I became confused. I felt this strange, inexplicable excitement about my courses—a far cry from the dread I used to feel before 5th-period biology class. I was craving information and discussion. I actually wanted to understand how the brain perceives different genres of art, to learn about the history of American cinema, to analyze the intricacies of different political structures.
I knew I had made the right decision.
As my junior year begins, I reflect on all that Colgate has afforded me thus far. During my time here, I continuously feel the anxieties and reservations that I harbored in high school receding into my past.
Far more than an extension to decide what I want to with the rest of my life, Colgate has and will continue to provide me with the most valuable set of “transferrable skills.”
i “Disadvantages of a Liberal Arts Degree”
ii “Disadvantages of a Liberal Arts Degree”
“Disadvantages of a Liberal Arts Degree.” Powered by Sites at Penn State – WordPress. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2017.