This year I will finish my degree, finally! As I look over my graduation requirements and reflect on what I’ve learned in the past four years, I realize that the knowledge I’ve gained is much more diverse than my program of study might suggest. Sure, I studied Human Resource and Labor Relations Management, and yeah, most of my classes were business-focused, but I’ve had the opportunity to study all sorts of topics as a university student.
Because of this, my post-secondary education has broadened my perspective of the world. This might come as a surprise if you assume the only function of post-secondary is to educate students in a certain field and provide training for a specific occupation. The thing is, there can be a lot of benefits to taking a wide-reaching approach to education, to studying a variety of topics rather than narrowing one’s focus to just one field.
What is a liberal education?
This wide-reaching approach to post-secondary is what’s known as liberal education—balancing a broad knowledge of the world with focused study in a specific field. The idea is that by maintaining a wider perspective on learning, the student is better able to deal with diversity and complexity in a changing world.
After spending the last four years at the University of Lethbridge, I think I have a better understanding of what a liberal education is and why my school values it so much. U of L requires all their students to take a certain amount of classes in subjects other than their topic of study (all schools do this to some extent). These classes are called electives and are much like the CTS or option courses you take in high school.
So even though I was studying business, I had to take 4 science courses, 4 social science courses, and 4 fine arts/humanities courses.
The benefits of taking a wide range of courses
For me, the benefit of taking science courses has been learning about the scientific method. In high school you learn about universal rules and constants like gravity and the speed of light, but in university you learn why these rules came about and why they are accepted. Taking science courses has given me a newfound respect for scientific research and I’m more likely to seek out scientific research when making decisions.
Then there are social sciences electives like psychology which have taught me a lot about the way people interact. I now realize that all the work I’ve ever done has involved social science in some way. For instance, understanding how the brain works and the theories behind human behavior has helped me to make better decisions while working in the service industry. It also helps me be more accepting of people who are different than me.
It turns out that fine arts and humanities electives were my favourite. I have a deep interest in art of all kinds and having the opportunity to explore artistic ideas—while gaining school credit—has added a lot of enjoyment to my university experience.
Even people who don’t think of themselves as artsy can get a lot out of fine arts/humanities courses: they can help expand your mind and give your left-brain a little study break.
The benefits of a liberal education are many. I think I’m most grateful to have been able to explore multiple fields of study without having to narrow my focus too much. Taking various electives really enriched my university experience and gave me a well-rounded education.
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