What is Arts and Sciences?


A liberal arts and sciences education emphasizes a well-rounded course of study in the humanities and natural, mathematical and social sciences that aims to impart a broad general knowledge and develop intellectual capacities adaptable for numerous work and life environments in contrast to a narrowly focused professional, vocational or technical skill.

Origin Story

The roots of liberal education in western civilization are often traced to ancient Greece, where political philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle spoke of the need for individuals to be broadly educated and to pursue truth. As part of this growth, attending colleges and universities to discover knowledge and advance our understanding of the world became a tradition. 

The roman jurist Cicero is usually credited with coining the actual phrase “liberal arts” education, which comes from the Latin expression for the best arts (optimae artes). Cicero believed that liberally educated people would live more informed and personally fulfilling lives, while also being more engaged citizens. As part of this tradition, colleges and universities educate young people to build personal character, emphasizing civic virtue and political participation, responsibility, moral reasoning, tolerance, community, stewardship and global citizenship.

Is this Idea Out of Date?

No, learning a specific trade is not always practical due to the rapid pace of change in today’s world and technology, which constantly threatens the job security of people who learn a single vocation. In contrast, education in the liberal arts and sciences provides a skill set for people to learn, adapt, innovate and thrive.

Today’s citizen is likely to change employers and even careers multiple times over the course of his/her lifetime. Embedded in liberal education is the ability to think critically, write well, communicate well, separate fact from fiction, understand diverse perspectives and arrive at cross-cutting solutions to complex problems. These are the skills that employers consistently value most!


“The Arts and Sciences, essential to the prosperity of the State and to the ornament of human life, have a primary claim to the encouragement of every lover of his country and mankind.” –George Washington

What does this type of education do for your student?

  • Provides a broad foundation of knowledge that lasts a lifetime
  • Expands their social, cultural and scientific horizons
  • Instills analytical, writing and communication skills that serve any career
  • Inspires intellectual curiosity and life-long learning
  • Contributes to the development of personal talent and character


"The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think."  - Albert Einstein


How does this better serve our society?

  • Provides students with fresh perspectives and creative solutions to problems
  • Emphasizes a commitment to life’s enriching activities, such as literature, language, the arts and humanities
  • Increases scientific and mathematical literacy
  • Promotes ethical standards
  • Advances global awareness and stewardship

"I'm not a big fan of journalism schools, except those that are organized around a liberal arts education. Have an understanding of history, economics and political science - and then learn to write." - Tom Brokaw


Fields that Hire Arts and Sciences Students

  • Healthcare, Medical Practice and Research
  • Tech Industry
  • Advertising and Marketing
  • Law enforcement
  • Education
  • Finance
  • Non-Profits
  • Government

"A liberal arts education has taught me how to connect what I’m learning in my classes to the rest of the world and connect what I’m learning in individual classes altogether. And it’s taught me how to look at the world in an explorative fashion and always kind of question things and try to figure things out."

- Libby Oswalt, Geology major



"I’d like to think that my liberal arts education has taught me more how to think, than what do you think."

-Chris Kennedy, Psychology and philosophy major



"The College of Arts and Sciences is home to a diverse range of departments with stellar faculty who excel in teaching, research, mentorship and service.  In addition to providing transformational academic experiences for its majors, this college provides many of the foundational courses each Appalachian student must study as part of their general education. This depth of teaching support makes the college a critical part of the Appalachian Experience."

- Hank Foreman, Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff


"A liberal arts education has taught me not only about the science that I’m interested in, but how to connect it and relate it to a bunch of other fields: history, sociology, political science and kind of the importance in having a holistic understanding of how the world works."

-Devin Hoffman, Geology major with a concentration in paleontology, and minors in biology and statistics

"Studying the liberal arts and sciences has challenged me to see the world from multiple perspectives and to continually think creatively and openly about problems and solutions. It has prepared me to be a lifelong learner even when my time at Appalachian ends. I am thankful for my education and the skills it has provided me with—particularly the abilities to adapt and to nourish my own curiosity through learning."

- Johnna Reisner, BA English Education '15 & MA English student

"Appalachian State is an excellent college that offers a well-rounded and affordable education."

- David Ross, applied physics with a minor in mathematics


Further Resources

Publications and Articles

"What are the Arts and Sciences" a book by Dan Rockmore
Dartmouth College professor and mathematician Dan Rockmore asked his colleagues to explain their fields and what it is that they do. The result is an accessible, entertaining and enlightening survey of the ideas and subjects that contribute to a liberal education. The book offers a doorway to the arts and sciences for anyone intrigued by the vast world of ideas.

"The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a vibrant, competitive and secure nation" a report of the American Academy’s Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences,  intended to advance a dialogue on the importance of the humanities and social sciences to the future of our nation. (2507 KB, PDF)

"What are the Arts and Sciences" - Inside Higher Ed Article, By Scott Jaschik
A professor discusses how he turned to his colleagues for help answering the question -- and turned the results into a book. 

"Want to Enhance Humanities Career Outcomes? Engage the Faculty," article on Inside Higher ED
The job of preparing students for the workplace can’t be left to career services offices alone. Professors are key, Emily J. Levine and Nicole Hall argue.

"The 'Two Cultures' Fallacy," acticle on The Chronicle Review of Higher Education,  by Jennifer Summit and Blakey Vermeule. Stop pitting sciences and humanities against each other and begin to understand how they work together.  

"A quality education has the power to transform societies in a single generation, provide children with the protection they need from the hazards of poverty, labor exploitation and disease, and given them the knowledge, skills, and confidence to reach their full potential." - Audrey Hepburn


Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences (CCAS)


American Academy of Arts and Sciences


National Endowment for the Humanities


National Education Association


University of North Carolina, a system of higher learning




“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” –Steve Jobs, 2011