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As the hol­idays grow closer, the anxiety builds for the antic­i­pated question from rel­a­tives: “What are you doing after college?”

Sur­rounded by cousins who have just com­pleted medical school and who are entering pharmacy school, I’ll have to answer, “I’m not sure yet.”

And I’m fine with saying that, because, with a liberal arts edu­cation, I’ve got options.

The common view of liberal edu­cation is too narrow.

“I under­stand that maybe these young adults are into lit­er­ature or causes, but are they also into greeting people at Walmart, editing content for peanuts, dumpster diving for food and living hand-to-mouth for the rest of their lives?” Steve Tobak of FOX Business wrote in his article “The Evils of a Liberal Arts Edu­cation.”

But a liberal arts edu­cation pre­pares stu­dents not just for a spe­cific trade — not just to be a philosopher or an English teacher — but allows for flex­i­bility in the career world that trade schools just don’t offer.

Many suc­cessful Amer­icans, such as Carly Fiorina and Mitt Romney, earned “soft” human­ities majors, phi­losophy and English, respec­tively, and still turned out finan­cially suc­cessful.

A recent Wall Street Journal article revealed that gov­ernment data showed that stu­dents from liberal arts col­leges made a median salary below $50,000 after 10 years, com­pared with $70,000 among research uni­versity stu­dents.

These sta­tistics are probably true. But, for liberal arts stu­dents, it’s not just about the pay­check, but about the cul­ti­vation of the whole person. The liberal arts teach one first how to live, and then how to make a living.

Critics of the liberal arts look at edu­cation with a “trade school” mindset. That is, they believe liberal arts stu­dents are all studying to be philoso­phers or poets, or some­thing sim­i­larly “useless.” And, if this was true liberal arts, perhaps life would be as Tobak described. But what makes this edu­cation so great and so flexible is pre­cisely its lib­er­ality. It enables one to use those pas­sions for “lit­er­ature or causes” in prac­tical ways because stu­dents not only have the rounded skills that all jobs require, but also because the heart as well as the mind is edu­cated.

During the Repub­lican Pres­i­dential debate on Nov. 10, Sen. Marco Rubio , R‑FL, crit­i­cized the stigma­ti­zation of voca­tional edu­cation.

“We need more welders and less philoso­phers,” Rubio said. Last year, Pres­ident Obama also said that “folks can can make a lot more, poten­tially, with skilled man­u­fac­turing or the trades than they might with an Art History degree.”

If edu­cation is only for the sake of a career, then the liberal arts are not worth it. But if edu­cation is the pursuit of a deeper wisdom first, then a liberal arts edu­cation is its own reward. What we need are well-rounded people who can go on to become welders, if that is their vocation, or who can become philoso­phers or art his­to­rians, because those are voca­tions too.

Cer­tainly, stu­dents with a liberal arts edu­cation, or at least “soft” majors like English, have career lows. Take for example the geniuses of Hillsdale College’s English Department. After grad­u­ation, Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of English Patricia Bart was a bar­tender, and Assistant Pro­fessor of English Kelly Franklin and Department Chair Stephen Smith were both paid psy­chology test sub­jects as well as McDonald’s employees. And yet, they all agree that the knowledge they gained through those expe­ri­ences was invaluable.

Aris­totle said, “Edu­cating the mind without edu­cating the heart is no edu­cation at all.” That is how true liberal arts instruct, and why it is worth the pos­sible uncer­tainty.

But Aris­totle was just a philosopher anyway.

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Emma Vinton
A senior and English major from Brighton, Michigan, this is Emma’s second year as assistant editor of the Features page for the Collegian. She has interned as a writer and editor at Faith Magazine in Lansing and at Family Research Council in Washington D.C. doing research on marriage and family issues. She enjoys writing about culture, literature, and religion. This is her sixth semester contributing to the Collegian.