You’ve probably had at least one relative ask you what having a liberal arts degree even means—or maybe you’ve even asked them. And that’s fair! The term “liberal arts” leaves a lot to be desired, especially since you don’t actually need to vote blue or be an artist to pursue a degree in it.

Liberal arts has been a cultural flashpoint of criticism in recent years; it’s easy to believe that an art history degree, for example, is nothing but a passion pursuit. But the liberal arts are fundamentally misunderstood, both in terms of the areas of study and the crucial societal importance that this degree confers.  

So, what exactly does a liberal arts education encompass? Let’s break it down. 

Q: What exactly does liberal arts mean?
A: A liberal arts degree is grounded in the ideas of humanities and the arts and encompasses literature, philosophy, social and physical sciences and math. The “arts” in “liberal arts” aren’t limited to fine or performing arts, but denote a method of broad-based learning in many disciplines. The word “liberal” also gets lost in translation here—it doesn’t mean you’re ready to register as a Democrat. Rather, it’s rooted in the Latin word liberalis, or “free”. Mini lesson: Back in the Middle Ages, free citizens studied things like logic, rhetoric, geometry and arithmetic that would help them function successfully in society. 

Q: What kind of majors would fall under a liberal arts degree?
A: So. Many. Majors. Siena’s School of Liberal Arts is the largest of our three schools and encompasses more than 40 major, minor and certificate programs, including:

  • American Studies
  • Creative Arts
  • Education
  • English
  • History
  • Modern Languages and Classics
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Religious Studies
  • Social Work
  • Sociology

Q: What are you going to do with that degree?
A: Did we just channel your parents? Here’s the deal (and here’s what you can tell them): A liberal arts degree effectively prepares you for thousands of potential careers. Most importantly, your future employers will know that you’re able to apply critical and creative thinking to your scope of work. A liberal arts education will help you to be adaptable in a rapidly evolving workforce, it will help you to synthesize a ton of different perspectives, and it will help you to communicate effectively with others. Trust us when we say this particular skill set is what sets candidates apart in the job market. (Further reading, if you’re interested: Yes, Employers Do Value Liberal Arts Degrees.)

Q: How else does a liberal arts degree set me up for future success?
A: A major appeal of a liberal arts degree is that it allows students to both dive deep on subjects they’re drawn to while also broadening the scope of their experiences. At Siena especially, our liberal arts students are encouraged to challenge themselves by pursuing other possibilities outside of their main areas of interest—an inclination that will serve them well in the working world, where employees are often asked to take on responsibilities outside of their understanding or specialty. 

Q. What if I don’t want to major in a liberal arts program, but still want to graduate with those skills?
A. This is our favorite question, because the truth is: Business majors need a liberal arts education too. And science majors. And any major! No matter what you study, your college should have opportunities to help you hone all those liberal arts skills in other ways. So how does Siena tackle that? Through our core curriculum and first-year seminar offerings—which are not only informative and enlightening, and so relatable too. Check out our latest roster. 

Got more q’s about the liberal arts? We got answers.