"I wanna study art, the only kind they got is liberal" is a line from one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite rappers whom you've probably never heard of. Obscurity aside, today I'm going to talk about something reasonably controversial: the liberal arts and their place, if any, in finance.
This article was inspired by a few discussions with my co-workers, and even though I was planning on talking about resumes today, I'm gonna hold that off until Wednesday morning because I really wanted to write a piece on this topic. Don't be cross with me, WSO.
I majored in a liberal arts discipline...sort of. Political Science is technically in the social sciences, but Political Theory (i.e. not how Congress works, but what Rousseau and Locke had to say) is more in the realm of political philosophy, and thus, the liberal arts. Of all the classes I took in Political Science, one (of 14) was an applied class about the political realm with respect to international trade. The remaining 13 were very soft, and have been dubbed by many to be "useless".
Why am I talking about this? At this point, I've had a lot of wonderful WSO folks send me their resumes as a result of my article last Monday (and don't you worry -- I'm getting to them, have just been swamped). One thing I've noticed is that EVERYONE majors in Finance/Accounting/Econ. Having seen resumes of potential applicants at my current firm, once again, EVERYONE majors in Finance/Accounting/Econ. This makes me a black sheep in the industry, but I'm not convinced that majoring in Finance makes people strictly better off for IB than majoring in Philosophy.
First let's talk about what the liberal arts teach us. To be as trite as humanly possible, they teach people how to think abstractly. This is a mantra that I was forced to adopt during undergrad, and I didn't buy it until I entered the real world in the software industry and started working with engineers (we didn't have engineering at my school). Truth be told, most of the engineers I've met seem to lack the ability to think critically about problems. They're great at following directions, and great at implementing procedures, but they don't have the, so to speak (I don't either, but I might be closer). If nothing else, reading Aristotle for four years and being super confused for three of them will teach you to dissect an argument or problem into its component parts and analyze each of them more completely.
Secondly, people who major in liberal arts write a TON of papers. News flash to everyone who wants to break into IB: there isn't much modeling, and there aren't a lot of numbers. There are spreadsheets, PowerPoints, and long Word documents. There is research, which requires quite a bit of reading. The number operators you have to use are + - / and *, and I hope that we all learned these independently of college. IB requires A LOT of reading, a ton of editing, a knack for research, and effective communication skills in written and speaking mediums. This is something liberal arts kids are, to generalize, better at than STEM kids (at least at top schools).
Thirdly, IB requires the God-given gift of-ing. And come on, if you're taking a class titled "Authority, Obligation, and Dissent" (WTF does that even mean???) over "Financial Accounting", it's pretty clear who the better -er is going to be. But seriously though, if you've ever had an extended conversation with someone who majored in Philosophy, you know that they can talk for hours, ask tons of questions, and eventually end up saying nothing...but it doesn't matter because they made it all sound so eloquent and beautiful that you wind up leaving the conversation thinking "man, that person sure is bright".
This just a small look at why I think liberal arts majors can excel at IB just as well as Fin/Econ/Acc kids. Most of this article was tongue in cheek (in a weird mood this morning), so take it with a few grains of salt, but I think it does raise a good point: the liberal arts do have applicability to the business world in many ways. Most people that major in liberal arts don't seek careers in finance, so it makes sense that we're underrepresented and finance kids dominate, but I get the impression that as it becomes progressively more and more impossible to get into PhD programs, more and more kids with good grades from good schools in unrelated disciplines will be drawn toward careers in finance. In the end, everyone gets the same training -- majoring in Finance just helps you tell the "story" when you're inevitably asked that all-important question.
What do you guys think? Any Art History majors in your group?
Thanks for reading.