When it comes to education, we all know parents in Singapore want their children to study subjects that give you more bang for their buck – like finance, medicine, or STEM.
This often means other subjects are seen as less valuable. Think about the sympathetic looks you’d elicit when you tell your auntie/uncle/kaypoh neighbour you’re majoring in philosophy, history, or sociology. Then brace yourself for the question: “But what will you do for work?” For a trained Liberal Arts grad, the short answer is: “Anything. Everything.”
That’s because there’s generally a misunderstanding between the perception and reality of, what the Liberal Arts are, and what you can do with a Liberal Arts degree.
So… what IS Liberal Arts?
The Liberal Arts are the study of a wide range of topics needed to make you a well-rounded, intelligent adult – and certainly not something your current classroom teaches. Your solid academic foundation will be built up on diverse subject offerings such as history, philosophy, politics, and sociology, INCLUDING science and math.
However, the exposure does not stop there. You have the opportunity to hone these subjects further through various specialties like bio-chemistry, business, information science, international relations, law, peace studies, etc.
It’s like the perfect pizza, with all the awesome ingredients you can ever imagine coming together, served up on one pan. As a Liberal Arts grad, you’ll probably be the most well-informed person at a party with your wide knowledge and in-depth understanding of the various subject matters. Relating to topics like philosophy, democracy, literature, science, IT, media, art, psychology, etc, just from the top of your head also means you have greater flexibility to carve your own path in future.
How does Liberal Arts work in real life?
If you’re comparing a STEM degree and a Liberal Arts degree:
Those studying STEM memorise facts or learn a formula. That’s why it rewards linear thinking, solving tech problems for instance, by getting from A to B in the fastest way possible.
Liberal Arts, however, trains you in intellectual autonomy – namely being able to deploy your knowledge (about history, chemistry, economics, politics, psychology, physics, etc.) in combination with your soft skills (communication, logic, negotiation, reasoning) in new ways – rather than simply solving a problem you’re presented with, you’re able to understand what’s behind the problem, which may (and often does) yield better, easier, faster, more profitable solutions.
But are there job prospects?
While STEM and IT are the ways of the future, with companies like Google or Facebook paying their top IT talents huge salaries, there’s also millions of equally skilled grads vying for a very limited number of those job openings.
Conversely, while no company is hiring a professional philosopher, almost every company is eagerly looking for good communicators, negotiators, and thinkers, which is precisely the work a Liberal Arts education prepares you for.
Statistically speaking, such a skilled manager in anything from HR, Marketing, Sales or even PR, will be more sought after by multi-national companies since it’s a soft skill that’s transferable to any industry. Graduates from the Liberal Arts can look forward to a positive start when they join the workforce, even in industries such as IT and Engineering.
I’m interested! Where do I start?
If you’ve done your homework, you’ll realise that Liberal Arts is not widely offered in Singapore (and Yale-NUS will cease to exist by 2025). The most popular place to go to for a Liberal Arts degree is the US, but if you’re not keen on being that far away (or paying that much), then you can definitely consider… JAPAN!
(yep, this Japan)
Why not? It’s in Asia, it’s very safe, and it’s far enough away that you can learn to be independent. Oh, bonus points if you’re into otaku and Japanese culture. And one more reason: it’s home to ICU, Japan’s leading Liberal Arts school.
International Christian University (ICU) is one of Japan’s most respected academic institutions – even members of the Japanese royal family study there! Of course, its alumni also includes some presidents of companies like Fuji-Xerox and Sony.
Founded in 1953, ICU’s College of Liberal Arts has been a pioneer in Japanese higher education, focusing on an American-style Liberal Arts model. ICU offers 31 majors, and students can pursue double-majors or major-minors depending on their interests, combining subjects like Law, Physics, Psychology, and History.
Students only need to declare their majors by the end of the second year, allowing for plenty of time to find your passion, and each student is assigned a full-time faculty member to help them design their own educational track.
But I don’t speak Japanese…
Academically, the entire campus of ICU is bilingual. You don’t need to know the language prior to enrollment, but you’ll be taking intensive Japanese language courses so that you can complete an academic essay in Japanese by the end of your 4-year BA course.
This means not only will you have a Liberal Arts degree upon graduation, you’ll also be effectively bilingual, trilingual or more! You can add ‘translator’ to your CV; how cool is that?