Liberal Arts Core: Student Perspectives

The core curriculum promotes cross-school interaction, allowing Stern students to explore academic interests outside of business and equipping them with a diverse skillset useful for a variety of career paths. Photo courtesy of Buck Ennis.

Written by Tristan Harris, Class of 2020

The defining element of college students’ experience is choosing their major. At Stern, students choose to major in business and further concentrate in a focused business field, choosing from twelve concentrations (e.g., finance, marketing, and statistics). Stern students are often surprised to learn that Stern requires five liberal arts courses to graduate. This component of the curriculum can leave many students without a business course until their sophomore year; in fact, Stern freshmen often find themselves sharing similar schedules with their friends in the College of Arts and Sciences. The liberal arts core, however, is an important component of the Stern curriculum. The core curriculum promotes cross-school interaction, allowing Stern students to explore academic interests outside of business and equipping them with a diverse skillset useful for a variety of career paths.

The liberal arts core includes five courses, and according to Stern’s website, is “designed to heighten cultural awareness, hone critical reading and writing skills, and promote creative and logical thinking.” The five courses required for the liberal arts core are Calculus I, Writing the Essay, Texts & Ideas, Cultures & Contexts, and Science. Students have the option of substituting Writing the Essay with Commerce and Culture, a Stern spin on Writing the Essay. Thomas Ertman, the director of the College’s Core Curriculum, says that the core offers business students specifically two things: “First, an opportunity to grapple with many of the pressing ethical, philosophical and political challenges of today as formulated by great thinkers. Second, and perhaps less obviously, it will help them sharpen their ability to read, write about and discuss difficult texts as well as analyze and solve mathematical and scientific problems, skills that will serve them especially well in their future professions.”

For many Stern students, the liberal arts core is a surprisingly rewarding component of their academic experience. Many of us have chosen to study business given the impressive post-graduation statistics that a Stern degree holds: 98% placement within six months of graduation and a mean annual salary of $73,986. The liberal arts core reminds us that there are fields that are academically and personally rewarding outside of the Stern building. The Core also plays an important role in driving students to consider minors and even double-major outside of Stern.

I have chosen to complete the entirety of the liberal arts core during my freshman year. I have found it enjoyable considering that it builds upon many of the skills I learned in high school in history, language, and literature courses, while providing insight into what studying these fields in a college setting actually entails. The core has also benefited me by exposing me to a wider-range of the NYU student body, allowing me to form friendships with students in the College of Arts and Sciences that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Going into my sophomore year with the core complete, I now aim to take philosophy electives after discovering an affinity for the field.

Pedro Tenreiro, a Stern Junior concentrating in Finance with a minor in Social and Public Policy, appreciates the core because “it allows us to gain a well-rounded perspective and an educated opinion…. Regardless of whether you find that interesting or not, having a liberal arts foundation helps you expand your curriculum and thought process.” He also notes as business students it would be naive to have graduated without having at least discussed Marx or Nietzsche.

Although Core classes may utilize credits some Stern students would rather devote to pursuing electives in the field they aim to pursue following graduation, Core classes should be considered just as important as classes taken towards a concentration. They equip us with the analytical skills necessary to attentively listen to, understand, and respond to others in professional and personal settings. These classes also encourage us to explore other academic fields. We may even find ourselves driven to balance our Stern coursework with other interests in the humanities, sciences, or arts.

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