The problem is that the world has changed since liberal arts degrees came into existence and students have changed too. A few hundred years ago the tertiary educational system was designed around the needs of the reasonably well-to-do who probably wouldn’t need to worry about what sort of post-graduate employment they would be suited for. At that time, science was still in its infancy; people imagined that Latin and Greek were more important. Unfortunately we humans tend to keep doing what we’ve always done in the past, even when it no longer makes sense. Hence the efflorescence and persistence of all today’s liberal arts subjects, many of which are entirely spurious (the so-called social sciences are in no way scientific, as they lack empirical foundations).

All undergraduate courses ought to cultivate the skills required for a person to apply themselves to learning. But learning in the abstract isn’t much of a useful skill. Sure, many management consulting firms recruit English Lit graduates but that’s because of an assumption they’ll be able to write nice client reports. Meanwhile the hard work will be done by STEM graduates earning more.

I speak as someone whose undergrad degree and first masters was in English Language & Literature from the world’s most prestigious university. But fortunately I quickly realized this background required serious supplementation so I ended up with a masters in systems engineering and then an MBA from a top European business school. This was a time-consuming and very expensive way to go, but ultimately it yielded some positive results career-wise. Like you, I wish I’d understood the nature of education many years earlier.

I’d summarize things like this: with a STEM degree you can have a great career and also enjoy serious music, fine arts, history, literature, etc. But with a fine arts degree you’ll have precious little time to enjoy anything as you hustle between one low-paid gig and the next merely in order to make this month’s rent.

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Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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