The value of a liberal arts degree

Contrary to public rhetoric, advantages do exist

Although there’s increasing skepticism regarding the value of a liberal arts degree, my experience as a political studies major at Queen’s couldn’t be more contrary.

With the rise of social media, there has been an increasing number of websites, blog posts, news articles and Reddit threads dedicated to bashing the value of an arts degree. They often scold Bachelor of Arts recipients because they aren’t in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field. Increasingly, STEM is allotted a higher value than “soft” subjects found in a liberal arts education. They’ve effectively become the common currency in the labour market, whereas the usefulness of a B.A. has come under scrutiny.

Typically, people argue liberal arts degrees are “worthless” because they don’t immediately lead to high-paying salaries. As a result, universities — which I consider the domain of liberal arts — have been increasingly scrutinized for not supplying students with adequate skills for the workforce.

But personally, I think the value of post-secondary education isn’t only money-related. Achieving this type of degree is primarily about building a foundation for yourself. A degree allows you to enhance your thinking abilities so you can make more informed decisions in the real world. 

As Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol once said, university isn’t life, but rather “the preparation for life.” 

Looking back at the environment I grew up in — a rural town and a high school that left me woefully under-prepared for university —  I’ve already witnessed the many benefits of my Bachelor of Arts degree. 

When I arrived on campus in second year, I was intimidated because I thought Queen’s had a competitive environment filled with people more competent and intelligent than myself. As a result, my early years here were incredibly challenging and full of self-doubt. Since I was in politics, I constantly thought about the value of my degree and whether it would provide me with any career opportunities.

At the time, I thought this was one of the most stressful and turbulent periods of my life. However, as I now enter my last 

semester and have reflected on my time here, I’m grateful and happy that I chose to come to Queen’s. I can’t imagine my life otherwise. 

Over the course of my time here, I’ve noticed how my studies have impacted my daily decision-making. Political Studies may not land me a job in politics, but it’s given me a cognitive framework that allows me to better analyze the world around me. My degree has made me okay with being wrong, good at understanding, and accepting other perspectives, becoming a nuanced thinker.  

You’re a product of your environment as well as the people you spend your time around. Queen’s pit me against incredibly intelligent, talented and capable individuals. Although initially disheartening, these comparisons made me demand better from myself to match my peers. 

The most valuable aspect of attending Queen’s has been my extracurricular and employment experience. The two have benefited me in the job market, given me invaluable skills and have acted as a constant source of life lessons. Attending a university isn’t only about going to lectures and doing readings. There are endless opportunities to get involved. While your grades and degree concentration do have their importance, your ability to be more than just an academic has its positives as well.  

Although I’ve incurred a credible amount of debt from my student loans, it’s important to remember that a person’s late teens and early 20s are incredibly formative years. It’s a window with endless potential and opportunities to try new things, make mistakes and learn. I’m grateful to have spent that time here, at Queen’s, in an environment that pushed me to be better.

I’m thankful for all the hardships I endured here. They forced me to seek answers, solutions and achieve more. If I didn’t go to Queen’s, I wouldn’t be the thoughtful, capable and healthy person I consider myself to be today. 

This place has its issues — and improvements could definitely be made — but ultimately, Queen’s has been wonderful to me. I’m not entirely sure where my career will take me, but attending university, participating in extra-curriculars and getting a liberal arts degree makes me confident that I have the tools necessary to take on the vicissitudes of life. 

Studying at Queen’s has taught me the importance of pushing through self-limiting beliefs, to seek help when needed and have faith in my abilities to learn and change for the better. Ultimately, the most important thing my degree has taught me is that life is like a university education: you get back what you put into it. 

Josh Malm is a fifth year Politics student.


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