Colleges Help Liberal Arts Students Find Careers

Author: Farran Powell


More colleges are developing career-oriented programs to help liberal arts majors bridge the gap in their degree to enter the job market.

Unlike an undergraduate degree in a technical field such as nursing, engineering or business, liberal arts students tend to be exposed less to direct career messaging within their disciplines, experts say.

According to the most recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, conducted in January 2016, 54.1 percent of the class of 2015 had found full-time employment. Among these grads, 65.7 percent with a business degree were in full-time employment compared with 32.6 percent with a philosophy degree and 37.3 percent with a psychology major, to name a few examples.

"Liberal arts students in the classroom don't get as much a flavor for a career conversation, that's why we create programs outside of academics," says James Lowe, an assistant vice provost who runs the career development services office at the University of Connecticut.

One of the programs initially introduced for students at UConn's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences allows students to earn a professional development certificate if they participate in alumni panels and career-related courses.

But UConn isn't the only school trying to help its liberal arts majors. In recent years, schools have developed courses or programs tailored toward helping these students enter the workforce, college career advisers say, and many of these programs rely heavily on alumni networks.

Sean Martin, a 2016 grad from Hamilton College, a National Liberal Arts College in New York, used his school's alumni network for his post-graduation job search.

"Each student was encouraged if not implored to take advantage of the alumni network. There's a one-hour seminar that you have to take during your four years to get access to it," Martin says.

The 23-year-old Southern California native says many of his college friends found jobs on Wall Street through his alma mater's online alumni network.

To find his job, Martin combed through Hamilton's special access network to make LinkedIn connections, which led to his current marketing job in Costa Mesa, California. "It definitely helped me, even it if was indirectly."

For college-bound students, here are a few examples of different programs aimed at helping students turn liberal arts degrees into paychecks.

Alumni mentor programs: UConn piloted its alumni mentor program for its liberal arts college students, now used by 200 students, almost two years ago. Under the program, upperclassmen self-select an online alumni mentor for career support, asking questions related to internships, resumes or jobs.

"The feedback we got from the initial test was everyone was benefiting from it, and we're going to continue to expand it going forward," says Lowe, who plans to increase the program to 600 students by the 2017-2018 school year.

Career road trips: Muhlenberg College, a small liberal arts college in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with nearly 2,400 students, offers day trips to major cities for students to network with alumni at their workplaces.

"We took one to New York City with about 80 students with two large buses," says Tom Dowd, executive director of career services at Muhlenberg College, on one of the trips students took in fall 2016. "The way it was set-up was we went to a number of different sites during the day that were hosted by alumni connections."

For the visit to the Big Apple, students networked with alumni, who worked at several different large companies, such as Deloitte, NBCUniversal and MTV.

"It's about getting them into spaces where they are thinking about working and get them networking with alums," Dowd says.

The career services director also says this type of program is more feasible at a smaller-sized liberal arts school.

Special professional development courses: Programs to enhance the value of a liberal arts discipline aren't limited to smaller schools.

The University of Iowa has been offering these types of courses, which are available to its 23,357 undergraduates, for more than two years, says Tom Snee, a UI spokesperson.

"We have for-credit classes – that work with all students, but it's particularly geared toward liberal arts – on how to turn your liberal arts experience into something that would be interesting to employers," Snee says.

In some of the courses, the UI spokesman says, students learn how to write a resume and develop job interview skills.

"They'll say, 'This is how you can take something from your philosophy class and make it relevant to something that someone would want to hire you for – that you can boil down complex topics and analyze them,'" he says. "So essentially, business."

Published Date: 
February, 2017