By Nicole Oringer, Ivy Ed Founder and Partner

As a college counselor for the past 27 years, my greatest message to families is not to focus on branding but to be good consumers when it comes to purchasing this very odd commodity called higher education. As a result of my never-ending quest to find tools to help families to figure out how to assess educational quality, I decided to read Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz, a book I highly recommend to anyone who is involved personally or professionally with college admissions. The author’s messages include valuing a liberal arts education (more on this later), that no matter what college students attend the key is to find mentors who will advise and support them, and that education goes beyond the classroom. Going into college with a growth mindset (openness to new ideas) and honest self-reflection will help students, no matter where they attend, get the most of their educational experience. In fact, mentorship, attitudes toward learning, and openness to ideas all matter more to a student’s future success than the brand name of a college.

So where can a student find these essential qualities? This is where a liberal arts education comes in. I am not suggesting that a liberal arts education is right for every student—some will thrive in pre-professional programs such as engineering, accounting, teaching, and nursing. However, I am asked over and over again by families about the value of an English, philosophy, or art history degree. Families automatically dismiss these majors as poor consumerism. I feel just the opposite. If a student is intellectually curious and enjoys reading, writing and pursuing knowledge for the pure joy of learning, I see huge value in a liberal arts degree. Here’s why: we don’t know what the future will hold in terms of jobs, but what I hear over and over again from employers is that students come out of college and are not prepared to think critically, communicate effectively, or manage projects. These are the very tools that a liberal arts education teaches. When you are reading literature, you are thinking about the author’s purpose, connecting ideas and stories, and analyzing plot development.

And how does this translate into a job? I recently met with the Executive Director of the Career Center at a large university, an impressive woman who has spent her career in corporate America/human resource positions. She proposes six areas that are needed to master career competencies:

Professionalism/work ethic

Teamwork/collaboration

Career management

Oral/written communications

Application and information technology

Critical thinking/problem-solving

I asked her which area she felt that students are most challenged by, and her response was oral and written communications. As students are texting and the English language is shrinking, employers are looking for effective communication skills. I would argue that every one of these competencies may be developed from a liberal arts education, especially when combined with experiential learning, internships, etc.  Finally, in addition to learning career skills, a liberal arts education will expose students to a variety of topics, making them more interesting people to converse with—whether in a job interview or a social situation!
In addition to reading Excellent Sheep, I recommend this article.