What are Liberal Arts, Humanities & General Studies Majors?

What are liberal arts? Find out what these majors are, the problems they may pose, their advantages, and steps to take to career success if you choose one.

The Majors

  • Liberal Arts and Sciences is a structured combination of the arts, biological and physical sciences, social sciences, and humanities, emphasizing breadth of study. It includes instruction in independently designed, individualized, or regular programs.
  • General Studies combines the study of the arts, the sciences, and the humanities; you will take a certain number of credits in each. In some schools you can pick and choose courses to design your own program, as long as you follow certain guidelines. Other schools follow a more structured approach.
  • Humanities/Humanistic Studies is a program that focuses on combined studies and research in the humanities subjects as distinguished from the social and physical sciences, emphasizing languages, literatures, art, music, philosophy and religion.

Benefits

You will likely be able to design a program of study that meets your special interests and needs.
Graduates with these majors are able to offer employers valuable skills and attitudes:

  • Appreciation of different lifestyles and points of view
  • Balanced knowledge of the sciences, social sciences, and humanities
  • Analytical, problem-solving skills
  • Enthusiasm for learning and independent thinking
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Ability to speak and write effectively
  • Ability to interact with people at different levels

And these are valued by employers.

Challenges

Employability. Students with these majors usually make a special effort to learn some of the skills that professional and technical graduates (engineering, business, computer science) often have. They should consider taking supplemental courses, getting work experience (internships, volunteer work, part-time and summer jobs), and doing extracurricular experiences that strengthen their knowledge and skills in such areas as:

  • Leadership, business administration
  • Accounting, and marketing
  • Computer and information systems proficiency
  • Statistics

Matching Holland personality type with a major. Research shows that this personality-major match is important to students' college success -- grades earned, staying in school, and graduating on time. However, since the combination of courses taken in these majors vary and are unique to each student, students need to use their knowledge of Holland's theory to design a program of study that is a good match with their personality.

The Holland environment type of these majors may make it difficult for students to do their best. A significant number of students' courses will likely be in academic environments that do not reward or reinforce their interests and personality.

For example, students with an interest in business (Enterprising personality type) will likely take courses in the sciences (Investigative), an environment that generally does not reinforce and reward the attitudes, abilities, and behavior that they favor.

Students who have a narrow range of interests (for example, someone who has a keen interest in computer science but little else) often do poorly in a major that does not coincide with their personality. Freshmen are particularly vulnerable. It is best if students can take at least a few courses that match their personality when they first start in college.

Upper-division courses may not be open. As a general studies major you may not be able to take upper-division courses in popular majors like business. They may be restricted to declared majors in the field. Be sure to check.