To Current Eagles: Seek a Liberal Arts Education, Not a Job Training


This is a second in a series, titled “Letter to an Eagle,” I author a letter to past, current, and/or future students of Boston College, expressing  my views on my beloved alma mater, advising on surviving and thriving, and sharing personal stories from my collegiate (and law school) days.

The second letter is addressed to all current students of Boston College, particularly the underclassmen who can work to make the most our of their Boston College education.

The first letter, addressed to high school seniors who had the wisdom to choose Boston College as their future alma mater, can be read here.

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Dear Eagles,

It may come as a shock to you (and your parents who are footing the enormous tuition), but the purpose of your Boston College education is not to ensure that you have a job after you graduate.

This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard this.  This message was hammered away to me by Father Michael Himes during a speech he gave at my freshman orientation.  Sadly, I didn’t grasp the full meaning of the message until long after I graduated.  The odds are you won’t either.  I hope, though, that an alumnus who was clueless in college but who has grown to appreciate his alma mater will make you at least pause before making decisions on “what’s best for my future.”

At its core, Boston College is a liberal arts school.  This is obvious if you attend the College of Arts and Crafts, but it’s equally true even if you attend the School of Money.  Everyone who graduates from Boston College will have taken philosophy and theology, history and social science.

But the core curriculum is only the most obvious manifestation of the liberal arts education.  What the school inculcates is actually much more subtle and innate.  In the course of the four years, it encourages you to seek a meaning to your life, to do more than just going about your daily lives.  Ultimately, it develops a yearning to make a difference.  It really matters not whether you’re religious or inclined towards charity.  I am, by my own admission, a casual Catholic who was never known for his devotion to public service. But now that I work with people who didn’t attend Boston College–and reminisce with people who did–I realize the impact BC had on my world view.

Because you’re currently  living the Boston College experience, it’s impossible for me to effectively describe how unique BC experience will be.   But  there will come a day–if Boston College gave you the proper education–that you will have a revelation as I have.  What I hope is that when that day arrives, you, my fellow Eagles, will have no regrets about the  four years and $200,000 you spent at the school.  And for that, I have a few modest suggestions.

The first is to fight off the sense of need to take classes because you think it’ll help you get a job.  As I look back as an alumni, nothing is more laughable than a freshman in A&S deciding to major in economics because he thinks it’s the most practical major offered.  If you wanted to gain practical skills, you should have gone to a vocational school where they provide you with actual job training.  At Boston College, they teach you St. Paul, Sartre and Aristotle, all of whom have not once come up in any job interview, work description or task instruction in my three years in the working world.  Economics at Boston College is a social science that is as useful in obtaining a job as political science, which is to say that your ability to land employment depends largely on the work you do outside of the classroom, in internships during the summer and externships during the school year.  Save yourself the time and school its resources.  Take economics for the right reasons, which should be the same as for taking  art history: that you enjoy studying the subject.

The corollary to my first advice is that you should not double major.  The best way to make the most out of your BC education is to take whatever class stirs your curiosity and let that interest take its course.  Double major, by its nature, doesn’t allow for this.  I should know, since I speak from experience.  A major requires 10 courses, which means you need to have made a conscientious decision to obtain a second major because you can’t naturally end up taking 10 courses in a field of study.  This contrasts with minors, which usually require that you take only six courses.  If you like the topic enough and repeatedly take a class in that field, you can certainly end up taking six courses without meticulous planning.  My personal view is that BC should simply refuse to recognize a second major, at which point students  will stop chasing them.  People double major out of desire to make the most of their exorbitant education, a view that actually misses the point.  You get the least of your BC education by double majoring because you only take courses in two fields of study.  If you’re thinking of double majoring, do a major and two minors.  You get three labels for purposes of your resumé without sacrificing the quality of your education.

My final advice stems from that rare decision in which I did something right: to write a senior thesis.   A two semester thesis is a monumental undertaking.  The challenge is not only in the research and the drafting but in something as basic as choosing the topic.  The cliché goes that the process of overcoming these challenges will prove as gratifying as the finished product.  That’s certainly true, but I think the real value of a senior thesis is in the finished product itself.  This is because of the nature of a liberal arts education.  If one were to take my above advice to heart, you may find that you like everything and never take more than a few courses in a field.  This will leave you with a very diverse education–but also a very shallow one.  As my former advisor pointed out, you need a major because you need to graduate with something.  A senior thesis gives you that something in a coherent way that taking 10 course adding up to a major never can.  As a product of an undergraduate, your thesis may not be overly impressive (mine surely wasn’t), but you will be ale to claim to own a topic that is a fitting culmination of your liberal arts education.

Make what you will of my advice.  I’ll understand if you choose to ignore it, for I likely would have as well.  But always remember that the education you’re receiving is a rather unique one, even amongst other colleges that claim to be liberal arts.  Perhaps the most persuasive argument I can give you is this:  knowing what I know now, if I could re-live my four years at BC, the courses I would have taken starting with my freshman year would have looked vastly different–and more diverse–than the ones on my transcript.

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10 Responses to “To Current Eagles: Seek a Liberal Arts Education, Not a Job Training”


  1. 1 Chris Ratto October 11, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Touche.

    It is most important to be educated because once you are, you may then be able to go into any field you desire and have experience in.

    I think Joe’s comments reflect a Catholic education in general. I have friends who studied at other Catholic college’s and ended up in fields they did not study in college.

    Become educated and pursue your passion, that way it wont be work or a job to you. That is how you will make a difference.

    • 2 joesas October 11, 2010 at 8:42 pm

      Chris,

      Yey, first comment in a while!

      I think it’s important to be educated but BC of course provides a certain kind of education, an education that is rather unique. It is a Catholic thing, although there are many small schools that are famous for its liberal arts education. People should take liberal arts education for what it is, which isn’t so much to gain knowledge or skill, but to become a person of high character.

  2. 3 Chris Ratto October 13, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    I agree a Catholic liberal arts education will help you become a person of high character but necessarily employed. Case in point. Lol.

    P.S. My friends went to a small Catholic liberal arts school.

    • 4 joesas October 16, 2010 at 9:09 pm

      Chris,

      If you want a job, you need to start doing things. My clerkship was a culmination of nearly a decade of building connections. Talking about getting a job doesn’t get you one. Liberal arts education is great, but if you really want a job, pick up a job application at Walmart.


  1. 1 救えない人、救われたくない人 « The World According to Joe Trackback on November 22, 2010 at 8:51 pm
  2. 2 In Defense of My Education… « The World According to Joe Trackback on February 28, 2011 at 6:03 am
  3. 3 To Eagles Preparing for Senior Year: Commit to Writing a Senior Thesis | The World According to Joe Trackback on April 8, 2013 at 11:24 am
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  5. 5 I Mock, Because I Don’t Understand | The World According to Joe Trackback on May 16, 2016 at 10:11 am
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