Liberal Arts Degrees: Choosing a College and Career

Vassar College

A liberal arts degree is such a versatile degree, that it can prepare you for dozens of distinct careers from archaeologist to legislative researcher to United Nations staff. It may be difficult to believe, but this unique degree is nothing new and it has never really been considered an “experimental” or “alternative” degree. Liberal arts study has been around since ancient Greek and Roman times, but liberal arts colleges didn’t begin to multiply in North America until the early 1800s. In medieval European Universities, liberal arts covered seven subject areas including arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, grammar, logic, music, and rhetoric.

Today, there are more than 200 liberal arts colleges across the United States. These liberal arts degree programs promote the study of history, languages, literature, mathematics, philosophy, and science—subjects that form the basis of a general or “liberal” education. Many institutions describe the liberal arts curriculum as the study of three main branches of knowledge including: the social sciences, humanities (literature, language, philosophy, the fine arts, and history), and the physical and biological sciences. In addition to studying the three main branches of knowledge, liberal arts colleges allow students to focus on a particular major. Typical liberal arts majors include:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • History
  • Languages (French, German, Russian, Spanish)
  • Liberal Studies
  • Literature or other Humanities
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Social Sciences
  • Sociology

While the liberal arts curriculum is basically the same at all liberal arts colleges, these unique colleges come in all shapes and sizes. Liberal arts colleges may be secular, religiously affiliated, gender-specific, public or private, urban, rural, residential, independent or part of a larger college or university.

Job Interview

Graduates with a liberal arts degree are an attractive option for employers mainly employers feel that liberal arts graduates have developed the skills necessary to deal with today’s evolving career world. Employers also see a liberal arts graduate as an individual that has demonstrated the ability to learn and become successful in today’s working world. Liberal arts graduates have proven that they have the ability to uncover problems, find solutions, and implement them.

Although liberal arts degrees have benefits on a personal, community, and career level, this type of degree also has benefits on a financial level. Liberal arts graduates entering professional fields can expect starting salaries ranging from $38,620 (anthropologists and archaeologists) up to $80,560 (political scientists). Earnings increase significantly with  master of liberal arts degree (MLA).

If you are interested in obtaining a liberal arts degree, you should start by contacting one of the top schools for liberal arts. The following colleges ranked high on U.S. News & World Report’s National Liberal Arts Rankings for 2011.

For more information about the top liberal arts colleges and universities in the United States, visit U.S. News & World Report rankings for 2011 at

Jobs for Liberal Arts Graduates

  • Account executive trainee
  • Administrative assistant
  • Affirmative action officer
  • Anthropologist
  • Archeologist
  • Benefits manager
  • Caseworker
  • Caseworker
  • Choreographer
  • City manager
  • College recruiting specialist
  • Compensation manager
  • Compliance officer
  • Congressional relations officer
  • Congressional staff member
  • Consul
  • Copywriter
  • Cultural affairs officer
  • Customer relations officer
  • Customs agent
  • Customs inspector
  • Dancer
  • Economic development coordinator
  • Employee relations officer
  • Employment interviewer
  • Exporter
  • Foreign language teacher
  • Foreign service
  • Fund raising/development
  • Geographer
  • Historian
  • Immigration agent
  • Importer
  • Intelligence officer
  • Interpreter/translator
  • Investigator
  • Job analyst
  • Labor relations manager
  • Labor relations researcher
  • Legislative analyst
  • Legislative assistant (federal, state & local)
  • Legislative researcher
  • Lobbyist
  • Media buyer
  • Organizational development specialist
  • Personnel generalist recruiter
  • Politician
  • Press relations officer
  • Producer
  • Program analyst
  • Program information officer
  • Promoter
  • Public affairs officer
  • Public relations officer
  • Publicity assistant
  • Recruiter
  • Research assistant
  • Researcher
  • Researcher
  • Sales promoter
  • Sociologist
  • Speechwriter   
  • Stage manager
  • Training & education supervisor
  • Training specialist
  • Travel agent
  • United Nations staff

Should You Go to Work Sick?

Sick at Work

If you’re sick (and contagious) and come Monday morning you ask yourself “should I go to work sick?” the answer should always be “no.” Unfortunately, a shocking 72 percent of workers go to work when they’re sick and 53 percent of employees say they have gotten sick from a sick co-worker. Only 12 percent of respondents to the CareerBuilder survey stated that they became ill from sitting next to a sick person on public transportation during their commute.

Besides the fact that this is one of the most irresponsible things a worker can do concerning others’ health, it is one of the most irresponsible things he can do concerning his own health. In a recent OC Register article, CareerBuilder’s vice president of human resources offered her opinion about workers that show up to work sick.

“It’s important for employees to take care of their health and the health of others by staying at home if they aren’t feeling well,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “Even if workers feel pressure to be at the office, they should talk to their managers about staying home if they are sick, or ask about other options such as working remotely. Most employers are flexible and understand that employees are more productive if they are feeling their best.”

Many employers offer paid sick days, so use them if you need to. If you are fresh out of sick days and you feel you absolutely must go to work, there are a number of steps you can take to minimize the chances of infecting your co-workers. However, Haefner still says, “if you are sick, stay home,” or just try telecommuting for the day.

 If you must go to work sick, you should:

-Work in an isolated area so you don’t spread your sickness.
-Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
-Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer throughout the day.

If you are around sick people at work, you should:

-Avoid shaking hands with people.
-Regularly clean your keyboard, phone, desk, etc.
-Skip meetings where you know attendees are sick.
-Use hand sanitizer often.
-Wash your hands often.

To review the CareerBuilder survey, click here.


Finding the Right Internship


An internship is an opportunity for students, and even individual’s that graduated from college years ago, to gain practical experience in any given field. Participating in an internship program is considered the fastest ways to get your foot in the door at today’s top firms—before graduating from college.

While many internships do not offer a salary, a select few do actually pay. Paid internships are typically offered in the technical field, medical, and government, to mane a few. Most unpaid internship programs typically offer course credit upon completion of an internship, but some colleges do not give academic credit for internships. However, these colleges are the exception, not the rule. Internships are either full or part-time and they are typically completed during the summer or during a regular semester.   

Internships are beneficial in several ways. In addition to playing a significant role in your university experience, an internship can help you learn more about your chosen career field or other career fields you might be interested in. An internship can help you:

  • Gain confidence in your abilities
  • Gain valuable experience to include on your resume
  • Learn more about what your future work environment will be like
  • Meet people in the industry and gain invaluable contacts
  • Obtain references that will boost your credibility when applying for other positions

When searching for an internship, you should be just as selective as you would be during your search for a paid full-time position. You should look for opportunities that match your career interests and skills. An internship should also enhance your academic program and work well with your current class schedule. In addition, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Can I afford to work an unpaid internship or do I need a paid internship to help with tuition costs?
  2. Do I want career-related experience or just work experience?
  3. How long is the commute?
  4. How many hours can I afford to work without interfering with my studies?
  5. Would I like the opportunity to travel?

Think about these questions ahead of time, this way you won’t be overwhelmed with too many choices. These questions should help narrow your list of internship opportunities considerably.


When it comes to timing your internship, it is important to understand that employers with the most competitive programs begin the selection process several months before the position will begin and others might begin the process even earlier. In fact, some programs have application deadlines at least a year (or more) in advance. Companies with summer internship programs typically begin looking for summer interns between January and late March. Internships for fall and spring are usually advertised late in the previous semester or very early in the current semester. Most students may intern anytime after their freshman year, but the majority of students intern in their junior or senior year, when they are already well into their major courses. This is a good idea, as the internship will serve as an excellent supplement to major course studies.

Getting Started with your Search for an Internship Program

Once you have decided that an internship program is for you, you should visit your school’s career services office. Your internship coordinator will have a list of current internship opportunities, a list of companies that offered internship opportunities in the past, and lists of students and alumni that have completed internships. These students and alumni are always more than willing to share their experiences with you.

If you attend a smaller college or university and it does not have an internship coordinator, your career services office will still be able to help you. You can also search for internship opportunities on your own by visiting the websites listed below. When applying for internships, it is important to follow the application instructions to the letter. Incomplete applications are usually discarded without further review. It is also important to pay close attention to deadlines. Internship programs rarely accept applications after the deadline.

Top Internship Websites
The Internship Series Online

The Princeton Review

Forbes Top Internships for 2010

Capital Fellows Program
Garmin International
General Electric
J.P. Morgan Investment Bank
Nickelodeon Animation Studios
Smithsonian Institution
Steppenwolf Theater Company


Physician Assistant Jobs on the Rise


Physician assistants are in high demand and the trend is expected to continue through 2018. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for physician assistants is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations—to the tune of 39 percent from 2008-2018. The healthcare industry is experiencing tremendous growth overall, accounting for 26 percent of all new jobs created in the U.S. today. But like many other occupations in the healthcare industry, such as registered nurses and occupational therapists, physician assistants are right at the top of the list for job growth. 

 Physician assistant jobs are also ranked high on the pay scale—even for first-year graduates. Although income varies by specialty, location, years of experience, and geographical location, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants’ 2008 Census Report, median income for first-year graduates was an impressive $74,470. A recent Forbes article discussing the ‘best master’s degrees for jobs’ told the story of one graduate who switched careers in 2006, graduated from a two-year physician assistant master’s program at Duke University in 2008, and found a job as a physician assistant that paid more than triple his old salary as a teacher.

 Shane Tysinger graduated in 2008, in the middle of a recession, but says there were jobs everywhere for students in his graduating class. Today he works in an Eden, N.C. clinic that focuses on family medicine. His salary has more than tripled from his days as a teacher. “I found the career I was meant to do,” says Tysinger.

In May 2008, the median annual wage for physician assistants was $81,320. The middle 50 percent earned between $68,210 and $97,070 and the lowest 10 percent earned less than $51,360. The top ten percent earned $110,240 per year.

To become a physician assistant, you must complete a training program at an accredited school of allied health, academic health center, medical school, or four-year college. A few accredited training programs are available at community colleges, through the military, and at hospitals. As of 2008, there were 142 education programs for physician assistants accredited or provisionally accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. Eighty percent of these programs offered a master’s degree, 21 offered a bachelor’s degree, three awarded associate degrees, and five awarded a certificate.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

All States and the District of Columbia have legislation governing the practice of physician assistants. All jurisdictions require physician assistants to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and open only to graduates of accredited PA education programs.

100 hours of continuing medical education every two years is mandatory in order to order to remain certified, plus successful completion of a re-certification examination every six years. 


Yes, Colleges Still Have Money to Loan

Financial Aid_College

Even during tough economic times, colleges and universities have the means to tap into funds that have been reserved for a “rainy day.” Take Ohio State University, for example. Faced with the possibility of decreased enrollment due to lack of financial aid to many students, Ohio State University tapped into the school’s emergency fund back in 2008 to move roughly $1 million into a program that provides students with emergency short-term loans. The loan amounts ranged from $100 up to $1,000. OSU took it’s mission to help young people pursue their dreams and earn a degree a step further by guaranteeing that tuition would not be raised midway through the 2008-2009 school year. The university went on to promise that if tuition rose for the 2009-2010 school year, financial aid would increase in lockstep.

Ohio State University is not alone in its quest to provide financially strapped students with emergency University backed loans. Universities currently loan more than $1.5 billion out of the $66 billion in new federal student loans, to students. As of 2006, more than 157 participated in School as Lender (SAL) programs. Among the more than 157 participating SAL schools are:

  • Akron University
  • Bowling Green State University
  • Chicago School of Professional Psychology
  • Des Moines University
  • DeVry University
  • Emory University
  • Loyola University of Chicago
  • New York Institute of Technology
  • Nova Southeastern University
  • Palmer College of Chiropractic
  • Parker College of Chiropractic
  • Southern Methodist University
  • St. Louis University
  • Touro College
  • Tufts University
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Nebraska
  • University of Phoenix
  • Walden University
  • Widener University in Pennsylvania


While roughly a third of schools use institutional funds to finance student loans, other schools partner with a commercial or nonprofit lending institution to establish a line of credit. Once the line of credit is established, the schools offer loans directly to graduate, law, and medical students, often placing themselves on the list of lenders the school recommends. The schools hold the loans for a certain period of time, typically two to three months after the money has been fully disbursed to the students/borrowers. During that time, the school collects interest, plus the government subsidies provided to lenders in the federally guaranteed student-loan program. The schools then sell the portfolio back to the banks for the agreed-upon premium.

 Status of the School as Lender Program

While many universities have money for loans from funds taken directly from their own savings, universities that have partnered with a commercial or nonprofit lending institution to establish a line of credit might be in trouble. For starters, schools acting as lenders are constantly being scrutinized in order to help protect students and borrowers against unscrupulous practices. And although $1.5 billion is a small slice of the more than $66 billion in new federal student loans, the federal government doesn’t want the SAL program to undercut federal student loan programs. Schools operating as lenders in the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) should keep in mind that current federal regulations require guarantors to conduct reviews of certain schools that act as lenders. According to federal regulations 34CFR 682.401(c), guarantors must conduct program reviews of lenders that meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • The volume of FFELP loans made or held by the lender and guaranteed by the guarantor equaled at least 2 percent of the total loans guaranteed by that guarantor in the preceding year.
  • The lender is one of the 10-largest lenders of loans guaranteed by that guarantor in that year.
  • The lender’s FFELP volume was at least $10 million in the most-recent fiscal year.

Currently, SAL programs are still in place, but according to Part B, Section 436 of the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), the Senate amendment terminates authority for the school as lender program, effective June 30, 2012.


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