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Posted on 02 May 2019

Is it worthwhile getting an liberal arts degree from an expensive and prestigious university? What kinds of career options are there after graduation?


4 answers

Discussion (4)

Thaddeus Tan

Thaddeus Tan

Level 8. Genius

Updated on 05 Dec 2019

Hi Anon,

this is an interesting question yet a very subjective one. Before I dive in to explore whether it's worthwhile getting a liberal arts degree from an expensive and prestigious university, let me share my personal thoughts which I hope will help you in one way or another. From your question, I'm guessing that you are actually very interested in liberal arts. However due to whatever reasons, maybe because of practicality, you are having second thoughts. I am currently waiting for university to start, and I too, went through that phase of choosing what course I wanted to study. I must say, choosing a course to study was one heck of a stressful and challenging process. The course one is interested in and want to do might not even be possible as they might not meet the admission criteria. That's one... Well, the other reason that made it stressful for me was coz I kept on thinking that whatever course I took in uni was going to decide my career path in the future. If it's going to be this way, I better spend some serious thought on what degree I wanted to pursue!

However, if I could present you the view that whatever you study in university will not necessarily be what you are going to do in the future. Yes you saw that right!

"This guy must be crazy!"

"Like that, then study for what"

Some of you might have these thoughts going through your mind. Now... hold your horses just for a minute and let me explain.

Although I admit that most people end up doing what they study in university, does it really have to be that way? In this article on The Washington Post, it can be seen that only a small percentage of uni grads took up a job that was related to what they were studying in uni.

I reiterate again that I'm not advocating to find a job completely irrelevant to whatever you took in uni neither am I saying that you should definitely find a job not related to what you studied in uni. Instead, I'm just saying that we should not be so narrow-minded and rigid to think that what we study now will be what we do in the future. Why not just take the chance to undergo the training and rigour that different curriculum provides you with, why not do it for the training of the mind. Why not look at the bigger picture and focus on development. Now with whatever I've said, I will attempt to answer your question. Is it really worthwhile? Well, the answer though cliché would be that it really depends what worthwhile means to you. How would you define it being worthwhile. From whatever I've said above, I feel that for a uni course to be worthwhile,

  1. I can emerge a wiser person from it, with added skills that I can apply and these skills I'm referring to include both soft and hard skills (I mean without having skills to apply, studying won't really be that effective in the real world will it? )

  2. To me, I feel that paying abit more for things that actually make a difference like education is okay. Take it as an investment in yourself for the future! So to answer your question, expensive but prestigious, if you can afford it, why not! Prestigious universities might also have better connections and better internship opportunities if I were to be very general about it.

  3. I feel that you must also know where your passion lies. For me, there are some courses that I know it's a no go for me. As much as you want a career in the future that pays well, try finding a balance between what you enjoy doing (passion), what you think you can be good at (capability). Not gonna bother talking about how much money you can earn in the future, as mentioned above ,whatever you study now might not be what you do in the future. Taking things in the present, finding a balance between passion and capability is important as after all, employers are going to look at paper qualifications. Before we move on to career options, let me share some advantages and disadvantages of taking a liberal arts degree so that you can weigh the pros and cons.


  1. The broad knowledge of the wider world will prepare one to deal with complexity, diversity, and change.

  2. Can develop a strong sense of social responsibility

  3. Strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills, such as communication, analytical, and problem-solving abilities

  4. Possess the ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

  5. Possess the capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems

  6. Ability to organise research and analytical processing of data

  7. Develops creative thinking, and thinking on one’s feet

  8. Dealing with ambiguity and matters that have no clearcut answers

  9. Synthesising new ideas


  1. Broad and general education covers different areas of thought. They often do not provide a significant depth of experience and study in any one area. There may not be the opportunity to learn and develop any particular technical skills to a proficient level.

  2. Liberal arts graduates then find themselves without the entry level skills to required for professional jobs, since they primarily divulge in the development of what may be referred to “soft skills”

Lastly, moving on to the career options. I managed to find some career options online. You can check it out here. If you are perhaps interested in the salary guide, you can check it out here

All in all, I started off by offering a different perspective- that what we study in university might not necessarily be what we will do in the future. With that in mind, we should focus on development. I also mentioned that whether it is worthwhile really is dependent on where people built their idea of worth on. For me, I feel that balance between pursuing your passions and being good at it is important. Either extreme is no good. Thus, go find the balance between what can help with your development not neglecting both what you are passionate in and where your capabilities lie. Lastly, the pros and cons can help you validate whether taking liberal arts is a worthwhile decision. Hope this helps and hope you understand where I'm coming from! Sorry if it's abit long hhaha


Chuin Ting Weber

Chuin Ting Weber

18 May 2019

Hi Thaddeus, great answer that is well-researched and well thought through! You shared a different perspective and yet were very balanced, considering all sides. Good job! I would like to offer a few handles on this question: 1. How prestigious is prestigious? There are probably (only) a handful of universities around the world that are of the standard that employers do not care what you study. Employers often go for these graduates not because of what they study, but because they trust the selection process that took place at university entrance. 2. How expensive is expensive? If it is going to bankrupt your parents, then it is a no go. Expensive can mean non-monetary costs as well. I had friends who were accepted into a top UK university but could not countenance a career in the military or as teachers (8-year bond during my time) and their families could not afford to pay, so they didn't go. I do not know if they regretted it, but they are successful in their respective financial careers. By the way, if you have gotten a place in a prestigious overseas college, you probably have a very good chance of landing a scholarship of sorts. Some of these are even non-bonded, like the Loke Cheng Kim scholarship. There are also international ones like the Jardine and Swire scholarships - do some research. Then just try and apply, you have nothing to lose, if you don't get it, at most it is a hurt ego. 3. How much do you love liberal arts/ humanities, and how much do you hate the alternative ("practical" subject)? I wouldn't study something I absolutely hated, even if it was practical. Too many examples of people being miserable and worse, harming themselves during the course of study. At this point I should have a disclaimer or declaration that I have a degree in History but I work in the financial services now, after some experience in government and social enterprises. I consider myself largely a generalist but I picked up the finance certifications later. I am thus biased towards liberal arts/ humanities as I think the training of the mind is very important. But I know that not everyone has the same options that I had. After about two decades of working, I would like to share the following: 1. An arts student can and probably should always supplement his formal education with other learning. It's there for the taking - you can do the CFA for finance, and take many other courses for other things. Similarly, a "practical course" student can and probably should get more well-rounded exposure through various avenues, be they courses or activities. Versatility is much prized by employers. 2. You are never "screwed" because of one choice in life (like a university or a course) and neither are you ever "set for life" because of one choice. Success is a matter of grit and hard work, and how your journey develops also depends on what God's plans are for you (if you don't believe in God - you might see it as time and chance). 3. Live in gratitude and not in hypotheticals and don't judge yourself or others by what or where you study. Say you have decided that the monetary cost is too high, you have to give up this option. I can fully understand if there will be some bitterness and anger at the unfairness of it all. But not many people can qualify for a prestigious liberal arts programme in the first place, in fact the world over, not many can go to college. You should thus feel really blessed and also proud of yourself. Your identity should not be tied to your school or your course of study. Rather, look for your calling and do the best with what you have been given for the world, be it your intellect, network, background or training. I recently watched a Hindi movie in which one of the characters said that when he had to make a difficult choice, he would flip a coin. Because when the coin is in the air, your choice will become clear to you.

Thaddeus Tan

Thaddeus Tan

21 May 2019

Thank you! ☺


My ex-student works as a community manager at a mental health organisation and she interviews would-be interns often. She told me that undergraduates from Yale-NUS college stand out from the rest for having differentiated and out-of-the-norm resumes. As compared to cookie-cutter resumes from other universities. So if undertaking a liberal arts degree won’t put too severe a strain on your family’s Finances, then why not? I believe being exposed to intriguing and novel experiences shapes your mind and does wonders for your confidence like no other.



Serene Toh

Serene Toh

Level 9. Genius

Updated on 20 May 2019

In an ideal world, we should be able to do as our heart desire and still be able to make a living ou...

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