Although liberal studies programs often get a bad rap for being too vague, students at The University of New Mexico say the flexibility of the degree allows them to pursue their interests while building a career path.
The UNM liberal studies program was ranked No. 8 in the nation for academic strength and affordable tuition and students in the program are enthusiastic about all of the opportunities they are afforded. They say the feel qualified for a wide array of careers, and denounce the myths that pursuing a liberal studies degree doesn’t prepare people for the job field.
Liberal studies is described as a broad exploration of social sciences, natural sciences, humanities and the arts. Mari Lucero and Carmen Benavidez, two UNM students completing their Liberal Arts & Integrative Studies (LAIS) degrees, find a lot of truth in the “broad exploration” of liberal studies. They revel in the flexibility, customization and support provided by the program.
Both students were advised by Student Success Specialist Lukas Cash on designing what LAIS refers to as their plan of study.
“When we met for the first time, he said liberal studies is a place to ‘mix and match,’ tailoring the program to meet your needs.” Lucero says.
Benavides claps her hands together. “He told me the same thing! And he was so right!”
Lucero, a self-described “third-ish” year student studying economics, management, communication and journalism, is in the process of applying to Anderson School of Management. She currently works in economic development and is considering a shift to data sciences. Benavidez, who will graduate in May with a minor in Psychology, is a retired lab analyst with the city of Albuquerque. She says she always considered Liberal Arts to be a degree that meant “you're undecided about what major you want to pursue.”
“It’s the ‘basket-weaving’ degree,” Lucero chimes in with a laugh, alluding to the misconception that Liberal Studies is for less-than-ambitious students.
On the contrary, Benavidez completed 51 credits in three semesters, and Lucero has juggled three minors while also working a full-time job. The UNM LAIS website is firm on this point: “…the successful Liberal Arts student will be one who can develop a challenging Plan of Study and stick to it. The Liberal Arts degree is not intended for students who are undecided about their interests.”
For Lucero, she repeatedly discovers how the LAIS program allows her to explore each of her specific career pursuits.
“The program bridges gaps between creative practices and what are seen as more “stale” subjects,” Lucero says. “I find myself applying creative thinking to my work (in economic development).”
Benavidez agrees. “The real basket weaving aspect of the program is that, like a basket, it lets you weave everything together,” she says. “You aren’t so confined to just one focus.”
Both students are also excited by their options moving forward in their education and careers. They see the degree they’re earning as a foundation for all kinds of opportunities.
“The truth is that there are so many paths you can take with this degree,” Benavidez says. She embodies the diversity of the options the degree provides – and is trying to decide between law school or a career in speech pathology.
“This program has great advisors who are knowledgeable and will advocate for you,” Lucero says. “They will make sure you get the classes you need to ultimately do what you want to do. They will set you up to succeed.”