In my last post, “An Argument for the Liberal Arts,” I explained that I am a graduate of a liberal arts college and am therefore a little biased in favor of sending my students to that type of institution. I also added, however, that not every student is a fit for that type of education.
To that end, this post will make an argument that is not against the liberal arts, but instead will outline what advantages students might discover if they follow a different undergraduate path and pursue career-specific training. After all, many recent articles in higher education publications and higher ed blogs argue that we’ve moved past the liberal arts and that focused study is the best way to prepare graduates for the job market.
Thus, you might be a perfect candidate for a career-focused college education if:
- …you know with absolute certainty what you want to do for a living. I’ve known people in my life who knew at a very early age exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up and never wavered: “I’m going to be a teacher.” “I’m going to be a doctor.” If you’re that type of student and everything in your academic record indicates that you’re well-suited to your chosen field, then by all means seek out the college or university that does the best job of preparing its graduates for that particular career and do everything you can to gain admission. It makes perfect sense both on paper and in practice.
- …you don’t know what you want to do career-wise but you do know exactly what subject(s) interest you – and which ones don’t! Career preparation takes many shapes and forms during the course of your college career, so it isn’t necessary starting out to know for certain that you want to be a lawyer when you make your application. But if you know that your strengths lie in the science and math fields and you’d be happy in your career as long as it involves those two subjects, you’ll excel at a non-liberal arts college where you can really focus your time and attentions in your areas of interest. Often students with your degree of laser focus don’t enjoy the liberal arts experience because of its broadness and you’ll certainly have a far better college career in general if you actually enjoy going to your classes each day! (Note: You may still be required to take a few prerequisites outside your chosen subjects.)
- ...you’re looking for a co-op program that can help you get real-world experience. One of the newest, career-driven trends in undergraduate education is the creation and expansion of co-op programs that allow students to spend multiple semesters immersed in their chosen career while still gaining college credit and often while earning a paycheck as well. Think of it as a fast track to getting where you want to go – especially as co-op programs can help smoothly pave the way for students to be hired immediately after graduation.
- …you are a self-starter. At many universities with programs that are career-driven, the educational pace tends to be fast and the number of students enrolled is large. For motivated students who can focus on their goal and work well without close supervision – and moreover for those students who prefer to work that way! – a career-oriented education will give you all of the tools you need to succeed while working (relatively) at your own pace. In addition, if you do hit a rough patch, every college and university will have support services (writing and tutoring centers, TAs, etc.) available to help you get through it, so you’re not alone if you don’t want to be.
A former director that I worked with in my college admission days was fond of saying that he supported education in any form, so long as people took the time to figure out what training they needed in order to meet their goals and then made it happen. Liberal arts college, career-focused college/university, big research university, community college, or even trade school – there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to what educational setting is right for you; you’ll have to do the research and figure it out. The most important thing at the end of the day is that you take the steps necessary to make it happen.
(Need guidance in the research department? Contact me!)