University of Manitoba - Faculty of Arts - Why Study Liberal Arts?
Why Study Liberal Arts?

What are the Social Sciences and Humanities?

Social Sciences and Humanities are the two primary categories of studies within the field of Arts, sometimes called the "Liberal Arts". The Social Sciences examine relationships among individuals within a society. The Humanities use critical methods to examine fields to do with human experiences or the human condition. Both fields provide the basis for a well-rounded education and prepare students for many future careers.

What Will I Study as Part of an Arts Education?

Studying Arts subjects exposes students to a wide variety of subjects, examining various points of view. You will learn about ideas and beliefs that have guided human beings and shaped civilizations for thousands of years, and revisit enduring questions: What does it mean to be human? What have humans done, thought about, and felt? What is truth, goodness, and beauty, and what are their value to life? How have we been shaped by, and how have we shaped our social and cultural environment? What does all this mean for the future and for the future of humanity? The various answers to these questions can be explored through most Arts subjects (Philosophy, Classics, Religion, History, Sociology, Women’s & Gender Studies, etc.)

An Arts education is by nature broad and diverse. Choosing courses from many disciplines gives you a wide and useful education. In their first year, students entering directly into our Faculty or University 1 students planning on a B.A. degree, normally take a variety of introductory courses. Not only will this introduce you to a wide knowledge of subjects but helps lay the academic foundation for further study in areas that strike your interest. You are encouraged to take courses in any of the major categories within the Arts: Humanities (English Literature, Modern Languages, History, Philosophy, etc.), and Social Sciences (Anthropology, Economics, Political Studies, Sociology, etc.). As you advance in your Arts program, some degree of specialization in a Major discipline or in a group of thematically-linked courses, and in a minor will be possible. By concentrating on a given subject, whatever it may be, you will go beyond the mere surface of things and gain a solid grasp of the core material in a given area.

Why Should I Pursue the Arts?

This is the big question: Why Arts? Why not Engineering? Or Nursing? Or Computer Science? There are numerous ways to answer this question, and ultimately the utility of any answer will depend upon your own circumstances. For you, like the more than 57,000 Arts alumni that have matriculated, studies in the Arts may provide the necessary skills that you will apply on the job; or they may prepare you to move on to a graduate or professional school. For others, the key value of an Arts education may be the personal satisfaction and fulfillment that studying philosophy or film makes possible. Still others will be able to excel in today’s global business world because the foreign language skills, or cultural, historical, or religious understanding developed in their Arts education gave them an important edge. The reasons for pursuing an Arts education are as many as the number of potential students. Ask yourself what you want to get out of a postsecondary education. If you seek a solid, broadly-based, general education which will improve your analytical, communication and learning abilities, then Bachelor of Arts degree may be for you.

What Skills Will I Learn by Taking Arts Courses?

The list of skills, abilities, capacities and attributes normally associated with an Arts education includes, but is not limited to, the following:
  • analytical and knowledge-building skills;
  • evaluative and critical thinking skills;
  • creative thinking skills;
  • effective oral and written communication skills;
  • critical and reflective reading skills;
  • problem solving and pattern intelligence skills;
  • numerical skills;
  • the ability to cooperate with others and work in teams;
  • synthesis skills and the ability to express the results of analysis and evaluation;
  • the ability to pose meaningful questions that advance understanding and knowledge;
  • the ability to conduct research and organize material effectively;
  • information literacy and other skills associated with learning how to learn;
  • the exercise of independent judgment and ethical decision-making;
  • the ability to meet goals, manage time, and complete a project successfully;
  • self-confidence and self-understanding;
  • a sensitivity to individuals and tolerance of cultural differences;
  • the ability to use equipment; and
  • an informed openness to new information technologies.

These skills are attractive to prospective employers, seeking to find self-motivated, driven employees who can make their own successes.

Where Can an Arts Education Take Me?

An Arts degree prepares you for hundreds of careers. Some will flow directly from your Arts degree training, but most will be indirectly related to your field of study, though directly dependent upon the range of skills you developed during your studies. Your opportunities are limited only by your imagination, your interests and your willingness to devote time and energy to your work. Of course, an Arts degree can also take you to the top graduate and professional schools. Arts courses are often required for anyone who pursues a professional degree, and a high percentage of Arts graduates go on to take further education, since the Arts serve as a foundation for most vocational or professional studies at the university.

But is an Arts Degree Worth It in Today’s High-Tech World?

An Arts degree is valuable in itself, but also teaches many of the skills and abilities that are needed in the contemporary workplace. That is why managers in business, industry and government and non-government sectors appreciate the value of an Arts degree in potential employees. They recognize the importance of what are often called "employability skills"--reading, writing, listening, speaking effectively, knowledge of language, critical thinking, problem solving, basic numeracy, cultural sensitivity, information literacy, and the capacity to continue to learn for life--and know that university Arts programs have always concentrated on these very skills. Students, too, understand that Arts programs tend to do the best job in developing these general employability skills. That is one of the reasons that students continue to vote with their feet by enrolling in Arts programs in high numbers.

More than ever, an undergraduate university education is a sound investment. Still, there is a perception out there that technical trainees get high wage jobs in their fields while Arts graduates face high unemployment or can find only low wage jobs that do not use their university training. Recent studies in both Canada and the U.S. demonstrate that a high level of education translates into higher income over a person’s lifetime. These studies show that most university graduates, including those with Arts degrees, have lower unemployment rates and higher lifetime earnings than people with only high school diplomas or technical/vocational credentials.

But there is more to it than a simple link between education and income. A recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) points to what it calls "literacy skills" as the key factor that pays off in any job. Literacy, in this sense, involves the types of skills that are fostered in Social Sciences and Humanities programs: the ability to understand and use prose, to analyze documents, and to work with numbers. The report, entitled Literacy Skills for the Knowledge Society, contains data comparing the literacy skills of people in 12 countries. It finds that the ability to comprehend and use words and figures plays a strong role in determining wages, especially in countries like Canada and the United States. It is worth noting, however, that low literacy rates can be found even in people with higher education. The report points out that your educational credentials may get you a job in the first place, but having strong literacy skills will make you the kind of productive and useful employee who rises through the ranks. Moreover, workers with high literacy skills can adapt more easily to changing circumstances, making them less vulnerable to unemployment and more likely to be high income earners. In a rapidly changing, information-based economy, the benefits of literacy cannot be overestimated.

What Should I Do?

Only you can tell for certain whether any particular option is the right one for you, but reviewing all of your options is always a good way to find what is best. If you are considering an education in the Arts, you can speak with a school counselor or an Arts advisor. Admissions officers can help you get into the areas of your choice. And financial aid or awards officers can advise you on how to access scholarships, bursaries or student loans. Explore the University of Manitoba website for detailed information on all aspects of university studies.