5 Ways International Students, Parents Can Discuss Liberal Arts

​Being born into a very conservative family of doctors, engineers and accountants, I stood out because I chose an unconventional path by pursuing a liberal arts education.

While it might be intimidating to take the road less traveled and try out something different, a liberal arts education might open you up to a new world of possibilities and critical and innovative ways of thinking. But many international students like me might be wondering how they can talk to their parents about a liberal arts education. 

Here is a five-step beginner’s guide to help international students approach the topic.

1. Know what a liberal arts education is and why are you drawn to it: In many education systems outside of the U.S. and Europe, the concept of a liberal arts education might not be very familiar. Instead, specializing in a field of study​ such as the natural and physical sciences is regarded highly.

At its roots, a liberal arts education is a well-rounded education that covers a range of disciplines from the fine arts to the physical sciences. By combining knowledge from different fields of study, a liberal arts education aims to create versatile and informed citizens who are able to navigate diverse academic fields and subjects.

The contemporary framing of liberal arts education is typically characterized as an interdisciplinary study of an academic field, small seminar-type classes and accessibility to professors​. The liberal arts education develops critical thinking and analysis skills that is unique to this type of education, and it might not be for everyone.

So, when talking to your parents, ask yourself why this particular approach to education appeals to you and understand what this education can do for you.

2. Know your parents: ​If you have parents who hold a practical mindset and are stubborn about their views, be sure to come up with explanations and reasoning that will appeal to their practicality.

For example, share with your parents that four out of five employers are looking for students with a liberal arts background, as reported by the Association of American Colleges and Universities .

On the other hand, if your parents do not know anything about the liberal arts education and is holding up a strict front about you needing to do premed, prelaw or business, patience and persistence might be your best bet.

The unknown is intimidating, so you can and should start small by providing them some basic information. Let them know that there is substance in this educational approach, and be sure to drop the insight that there is much more direct contact with brilliant professors than might be impossible in a non-liberal arts environment.

3. Speak to other family members or friends who can be supportive: The opinions of other adults whom your parents trust may affect their view of a liberal arts education, especially if these people have had a positive experience with the liberal arts.

Express your sentiments to such individuals, as they are likely to be your allies and can provide additional legitimacy to your academic pursuit for your parents.

4. Be patient and understand it will take time: Don’t expect to get a solid yes or no the first time you bring up the subject of a liberal arts education to your parents. Try to sense when is a good time to talk, and open the conversation when your parents are not stressed with work or are busy with another activity.

Introduce the concept of the liberal arts education and its potential benefits in one conversation, and make the connection in a follow-up conversation. I made the mistake of presenting my desire for a liberal arts education all at once instead of gradually developing that thought, and my parents were very skeptical about my level of commitment and seriousness.

5. If all else fails, replicate the experience by challenging yourself and taking classes in various field of studies: While things might not work out in your favor, know that there are alternatives to a liberal arts education. Taking classes outside your academic focus can create a well-rounded liberal arts education.

If you are pursuing business, take some political science or sociology classes to understand a different way to think about the world. Part of the benefit of having a liberal arts education is to develop unique and critical ways of thinking about our surroundings, and you can do this academically by choosing to supplement your study of other fields.

It is undoubtedly easier said than done to lay down the steps you can take to talk to your parents about a liberal arts education. I know how challenging and emotionally consuming the process might be, as I have been through the process myself. So, start preparing early to talk to your parents if you are convinced that a liberal arts education is what you would like to pursue in college.

Getting your parents on board with your educational choices will help you feel supported and make your experience that much easier and freeing.

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