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Why Study the Liberal Arts and Sciences Alongside Your Business Degree

June 5, 2023 | Estimated Read Time: 7 Minutes

By Melissa Savignano

When picking a degree path, it’s easy to focus on where you want to go instead of how you will get there. The best degree programs will ensure you consider both. While the choice is easy for students who want to study business, you may want to find a school that provides more than just a business or management degree. 

Despite that, you may wonder why study the liberal arts and sciences when you know you want to do business. But whether you want to start your own venture, work your way up to chief marketing officer, or become a certified public accountant, you will need more than just the fundamental, tactical skills to be successful. A degree that lets you pursue your business interests alongside the liberal arts and sciences provides the best of both worlds. 

When you study the liberal arts in business school, you get an understanding of your chosen business discipline while having a solid grasp of the communication, problem solving, and critical thinking skills the global professional world demands.

What Are the Liberal Arts and Sciences

The liberal arts and sciences in college refer to a broad range of general studies and disciplines. You can think of them as an extensive, more detailed approach to learning the subjects you’ve learned throughout school so far: English and language arts, writing, fine and performing arts, social sciences such as history and economics, natural sciences such as biology and environmental studies, and math and quantitative sciences. 

For most larger universities, students must take a certain combination of liberal arts and sciences courses to graduate (sometimes referred to as core or required courses). Smaller and more specialized schools may also offer courses in these fields. Colleges and universities design liberal arts and sciences courses and programs to enhance student’s soft and hard skills and to expand their thinking and understanding of the world.

Skills You Learn from the Liberal Arts and Sciences

There are some schools, such as Babson College, that design their curriculum to provide business fundamentals alongside liberal arts and sciences courses. Students take both types of courses from day one and are able to build on what they learn through more advanced courses, internships, and experiential learning. This is because business classes and liberal arts courses have a symbiotic type relationship. Ideally, what you learn in each speaks to what you learn in the other, and the skills you learn in one only stand to enhance the skills and experiences you get in the other.

For example, if you want to lead a team as a director of a tech company, you need to have leadership and communication skills to effectively motivate and manage your team as well as have an understanding of your product. You need to understand people’s backgrounds, different styles of work and collaboration, and have a general understanding and appreciation for people and what they specifically bring to the table. 

Those are skills you learn through discussions in poetry classes, working on math problems, and testing solutions through the scientific method. And in reverse, when you’re starting out in an associate role, employers will expect you to collaborate with coworkers, find creative solutions, and think strategically. 

“Business and the liberal arts are highly complementary to each other. What’s nice about having the two in parallel is students can continue to develop their critical thinking, writing, and communication skills while starting to apply what they need to learn in the business world,” says Wendy Murphy, the Associate Dean of the Undergraduate School and a professor of management at Babson College.

Because the subjects covered in the liberal arts and sciences umbrella are wide ranging, the skills are as well. Some competencies you can expect to see on a syllabus include:

  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving, specifically through trial and error 
  • Presentation/Oratory skills
  • Teamwork and collaboration 
  • Writing

“We have learning competencies we want students to get from their degree at Babson, and several of those are integrations of liberal arts and sciences and business. Those are items like communication and  exploring ideas through oral and visual means and written formats. Students build those skills across their portfolio of course work,” Murphy says.

Additionally, taking courses that explore how you think and view the world and specific situations demonstrates to employers that you can contribute to various work environments and can adapt to cultural, economic, and industry shifts. 

Why Study the Liberal Arts and Sciences? To Prepare Yourself for the Global World

As businesses, even small ones, become more global, people in the business world need a broader, more intricate understanding of the world around them. 

“Our students are entering a global world and marketplace, and they need to have full understanding of the various issues that can affect their business [such as sustainability and social impact concerns], as well as to craft an inclusive strategy for their people, their customers, and their clients,” Murphy says. “They need to understand the nuances of different issues.” 

Courses in history, literature, music, and sociology (just to name a few) provide insight into new cultures and ideas you may not experience in your everyday life. Understanding cultural nuances and global problems can help you design a more inclusive (and enticing) benefits package, enhance your diversity and inclusion practices and training, and ensure your employees and customers feel seen and safe. 

They also provide you insight into yourself and what you bring to the table, allowing you to accurately assess your strengths and weaknesses and become a better leader, collaborator, and thought starter.

Liberal Arts and Sciences Courses to Look For at Business School

If you take a mix of classes from day one, you can start applying what you’re learning across disciplines. So as you’re learning about the components of starting a business and the pitfalls (and successes) of that, you’re also learning how to creatively avoid such challenges. “Students at Babson are taking their core foundational liberal arts courses in their first year with the foundations of management and entrepreneurship courses where they create a business,” says Murphy. “As part of the learning from that process, they are evaluating how they did in terms of social value and sustainability, and they make a lot of mistakes. We are building critical thinking capacity to start integrating what they've learned.”

As you move into intermediate liberal arts and core courses that are more specialized, such as marketing, finance, operations, and accounting, you will be learning about how different components of businesses work together. When choosing courses in humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences to take, you will find courses that cover topics such as critical inquiry and systems thinking. They will provide you with the tools and the mindset to think about all things as a connected system. If you don’t know how accounting affects human resources—or how climate change affects the economy—running a business or just being a part of one will feel untenable. 

Socio-Ecological Systems is a course at Babson that teaches undergraduate students to think holistically about how a specific natural system (water, food production, climate, and urban systems) is affected by business, natural, scientific, political, and advocacy factors. It’s co-taught by a natural science faculty member and a faculty member in the humanities or social sciences, so students get a scientific understanding of how a system works and how it fits into the larger world. Upperclassmen also take an advanced experiential course where they apply what they’ve learned across their curriculum in a real business setting such as a non-profit, Fortune 500, or an entrepreneurial venture. 

You also want to take courses that dive deeper into topics you enjoy and excel at, whether that’s poetry and literature, data analysis, or history. Finding pleasure and challenges in learning is part of making it sustainable and enjoyable. You can also choose to double major, minor, or concentrate in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, or math too, depending on your school’s offerings.

Whatever you choose to pursue when you study the liberal arts and sciences, you will end up with a degree that allows you to continue learning and exploring the world. “Students who want to go into business need to be capable of continuous learning. A well-rounded education in the liberal arts provides you with those skills for continuous learning,” Murphy says. “Regardless of what context in business you go into, you are going to need to understand your place in the world, who your customers and clients are, and how you’re functioning in the economy.” 

This combination will serve you well. Learn more about Babson College.


The Atlantic

American Association of Colleges and Universities


Inside Higher Education

About the Author

Melissa Savignano is a content marketing manager at Babson College.


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