Liberal Arts…Sorry, what?

So I’m coming to the end of my three-year Liberal Arts and Sciences bachelor at University College Maastricht. I don’t want to give a review of the programme there as that isn’t the point of this blog, but, for what it’s worth I’ve had an incredible experience. Maastricht is what I expect when I think of little European cities – it’s small, quaint and utterly delightful. Cobbled streets and lots of cafes – what’s not to like about this Dickensian-fairytale of a town!

Anyway, this is more about a Liberal Arts education and its value. I left England to pursue what I wanted to study which ended up being Liberal Arts & Sciences.

“I didn’t know you were into ART Finn!? Do you even paint?”

No… But this was my favourite response when I told someone back home I was studying Liberal Arts & Sciences. When I came here 3 years ago, basically none of my friends had heard of what my degree was. After 3 years it seems some are a bit more aware, yet that may be because I just say I study philosophy rather than Liberal Arts & Sciences!

England has seemingly latched onto the popularity of this type of degree in the past few years with courses opening up at Exeter, Durham and UCL to name a few. When I left school though, these options weren’t there, so off to The Netherlands it was!

Essentially what this approach to education provides is a broad, open-curriculum, allowing students to pursue a variety of academic interests. I didn’t want to spend 3 years studying literature, or 3 years studying a language, but I did want to spend some time studying each of them. Liberal Arts comes in many forms, but essentially its broadness allows students to study a wide range of subjects and then focus, or ‘major’ in one or two. For example, I’ve focused on humanities and am majoring in philosophy. I’ve taken a majority of philosophy courses and my final thesis is on philosophy but I’ve also taken courses in history and literature within the humanities.

Besides the philosophy courses I have taken, which, bearing in mind I would probably never have been exposed to had I done a ‘traditional’ degree, I have also taken courses which have no relevance to philosophy. I can count an introductory course in computer science and a course on sustainable development amongst the modules I have taken. The importance of these two in our current day are incredible and I am so grateful I’ve studied them.

What’s the point of a degree anyway? I mean… really? I don’t quite know where I stand on this. There are some subjects, such as mathematics, sciences and engineering, which need to be studied in great detail so a 3-year programme (or more) makes sense. But what of history? Literature? Politics? International Relations? Would someone with an interest in one of these not also gain enormously by being exposed to a variety of topics, even if at first they don’t appear particularly related to their chosen field?

“Is all we are searching for a gaining of certain skills?”

Analytical skills, making arguments well, presenting ideas concisely, ‘being cultured’…Are these not the sorts of things which people who study humanities/social sciences claim they have gained at university? (That is, if they are to say they gained anything at all!)

Why not gain those skills whilst learning about a variety of subjects. Reaching into topics which you otherwise would have overlooked. Subjects which are deeply entrenched in history or even are looking towards the future. That is what a liberal arts education provides. It is a chance to find your “academic” interest by way of searching through a variety of highly relevant and interesting other subjects.

The idea of having core courses which every student takes is popular in liberal arts degrees. At my university every student takes 4 compulsory modules, including a contemporary history module and a course on the philosophy of science (literally makes you question EVERYTHING). At UCL I think all students take a coding course amongst others. These skills seem invaluable. I guess the nature of the Liberal Arts course is that its fluidity means it can adopt and change easily, meaning it can react to world events and developments and ensure it is at the frontline of education. It isn’t entrenched in ‘reading the classics’ or any such term, new courses will pop up all the time and offer students different and new insights into the world in which we live.

I am so happy I found a liberal arts and sciences programme “before it was cool”. I am equally glad to see universities around the UK jumping on the bandwagon and offering it as a degree. I think its stock will only continue to rise in the coming years. Also, don’t worry about the “employability” of your degree. It’s something different and employers will notice that. Once you’ve been noticed you are in the same boat as everyone else, its then up to you to show why you’re worthy of that position, or deserve the position on THAT graduate scheme. Don’t hide behind the degree.

Yeah… At this point I’m not even sure why I’ve written this. I guess I’m just a huge advocate of the liberal arts (& sciences) education and wanted to share my thoughts and experiences. It definitely pays to be bold in this instance – yes your friends may not know what it is exactly you are studying, you may even not, but the journey the degree takes you on is worth all of those clueless faces!

Liberal Arts & Sciences + Beautiful European City + Cheaper Tuition Fees = My Last 3 Years.

(insert nice historical quote) : Education, Education, Education.

Yeah it’s been good to me.

Finn x

One thought on “Liberal Arts…Sorry, what?

  1. Pingback: ‘Best 3 Years Of My Life’? | Finn O'Neill Blog

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