Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Value of a General Degree

Many today decry the value of a general undergraduate degree but I, for one, beg to differ. The idea of receiving a liberal education is to equip one for civic duty, life and the future. Students who focus their degree to early and look for vocational opportunities in their studies miss out on a great American tradition, the 4 year liberal undergraduate education.

It has been estimated that the average, young, American will change their career 7 times over the course of their working life. The chances are high that the 5th to 7th career changes will be in areas that we don't even know about now. If you were trained as a blacksmith in 1890 you would not have envisaged that the art of the blacksmith would almost regress to extinction while computer engineering, molecular biology, aeronautic engineering would arise out of the ashes of the foundry.

Even in my working life of 30+ years I have had careers in medical science, health management, software development, sales/marketing and consulting.

The general undergraduate degree does two very valuable things:

1. It exposes you to a number of fields and the relationships between them such as literature, politics, history, classical studies and languages. (My undergraduate BA covered 8 humanities subjects and then two courses studying the subjects across the Enlightenment and Renaissance periods of history).

2. It teaches you to think, ask questions, learn to live with ambiguity and realize that the same question can have more than one valid answer. The skill required to write a humanities essay involves thinking, research, collation, evaluation and the development and defense of a thesis. These are very transportable skills.

There is plenty of time in graduate school to tackle more focused vocational content (if you go to a professional school). The subject matter from my own Masters degree in business, completed in 1998 has been superseded in many aspects, whereas the knowledge from my BA is still relevant and the skills learned will help me to my dying day.

I understand the pressure that students come under from their parents to do something useful in college, but the downside is that narrowly focused vocational based education loses currency much quicker than the general skills gained from a good, sound. liberal undergraduate education.

Do a general degree such as a BA or BS and you won't regret it।

First published on Qassia

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