Getting a Job With a Liberal Arts Degree

He more than once mentioned a history professor named Robert Hellyer, a 46-year-old with a Ph.D. from Stanford, who had voluntarily transformed his teaching style from a straight lecture to a teamwork approach.

When I spoke to Hellyer, he said he was sensitive to widespread attacks on the liberal arts and was happy to work with someone from Chan’s team to focus, in class, on fostering in his students two of the skills the career office has identified as “core competencies”: communication and collaboration. He decided to have students in his Japanese-history class work in groups of three and take turns leading class discussion. And he invited the O.P.C.D.’s [Office of Personal and Career Development] assistant director, Amy Willard, into his classroom on three occasions. “In the very beginning of the semester,” Willard told me, “I presented to the class, Here are the skills that employers are looking for, and I had them actually analyze their syllabus and say what the skills were that they hoped to gain from this class.” The hope was that when those students then went on job interviews, they could speak confidently about how their experiences in class prepared them for the skills the employers most needed. On a separate occasion, Hellyer and Willard brought in an alumna of Wake Forest, a history major, who was working locally at Wells Fargo, to discuss how her academic experience had helped her professionally.

What kind of job are you going to get with a liberal arts degree? It’s a question a lot of parents ask their college-aged kids, especially if they’re the ones paying for college. And it’s a fair question to ask! Getting a good college education and expanding your intellectual horizons is important, but so is getting a job, and there’s no reason why those two things should compete with one another, as Susan Dominus’s story in The New York Times Magazine showed this weekend.

Colleges like Wake Forest University in North Carolina offer an undergraduate curriculum in the liberal arts, but it’s also beefing up its career services with close to 30 staff members available to help students figure out their career goals while utilizing whatever it is that they’re studying. This includes, as you can see in the excerpt above, getting the career center involved directly in classrooms rather than have it be an optional service on campus that students visit only when they’re scrambling for a job or internship before graduation. Getting students to think more about how their college educations will translate to a job is a good thing.

Photo: Zach Klein



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