"What are you going to do with that?”
This is a question many liberal arts majors have undoubtedly heard numerous times during their college career.
The question becomes even more patronizing when the idea of a Master’s degree in the liberal arts is mentioned. People who contemplate the value of such a degree usually arrive at the conventional answer: Nothing at all.
Nevertheless, if one examines the usefulness of a Master’s degree in the liberal arts, he will notice graduates tend to take two tracks — both leading to further success and more than a “marginal benefit to society.”
The first track one may take with a Master’s degree in the liberal arts is the further pursuit of a Ph.D. and then enter the work force as professor. These people serve an enormous benefit to society. They make it possible for students to attend universities, they give them a top-rate education and they are the people who make significant advances in society and culture.
The other track — the heavily criticized choice — is to work in a field unrelated to the subject of one’s Master’s degree. Why “waste” time and money getting a degree in a “useless and insignificant” field, when you are just going to be like everyone else in the long run? One reason is to get a higher salary.
For example, in Prince George’s County, Md., a teacher with a Master’s degree in a “related area” to the subject he teaches gets paid, in some cases, up to $20,000 more than one with a bachelor’s degree.
“Related area” does not mean research or a focus in the exact subject being taught. One could be teaching middle school English with a Master’s in creative writing and still obtain a higher salary. These teachers have a more thorough and complex understanding of what they are teaching.
However, the argument is made that not everyone becomes a teacher — and that is entirely true. Beyond the typical focus on salary, there are many other benefits to a Master’s degree in the liberal arts.
A Master’s degree in the liberal arts helps one to be a better thinker, and therefore a better employee.
The process to get a Master’s degree is grueling. The crux of the Master’s program is the Master’s thesis, a project that takes at least a year. It requires many hours of research and writing, culminating in a 70- to 100-page thesis.
However, merely writing the thesis does not mean it will be approved and subsequently earn the writer an M.A.
Over the course of writing the thesis, one has to submit drafts to his committee members, who are tough in criticizing one’s argument and research. Then, one must defend the thesis to the committee, which asks hard-hitting and pointed questions.
But what is all of this really going to get one besides hard work and useless knowledge in an economically worthless field?
Consider this: What does a typical corporate job entail? One is assigned a project, given a completion date, performs research and is told to solve the problem at hand when other techniques have not been successful.
What does one do when completing a Master’s degree in the liberal arts? One is assigned a project, given a completion date, does research and is told to solve the problem at hand when other techniques have not been successful, or have not been tried.