I recently worked on an essay for a theater class questioning what makes a strong liberal arts education. This really made me think about the history of the liberal arts and where we are today.

The liberal arts came from classical antiquity and was considered to be the education any informed and responsible citizen must have. In the fifth century, there were seven basic areas of study: grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. These areas connected with each other and provided a student with advanced critical thinking skills as well as a broad understanding of society. Today, these values haven’t really changed although the topics covered have been renamed.

In 2013, what makes a strong liberal arts education? To me, it’s an education that challenges our preconceived notions and educates us as to the complexities of our world, all while pushing us into new social situations.

Not surprisingly then, I think a lot of what makes a strong liberal arts education can be boiled down to one word: stress. Your mind is stressed in class, your body is stressed in athletics, and your identity is stressed as you go through social situations. Having to study so many areas, many of which may not be your calling, is very stressful.

You should be pushed to your limits and you should be allowed to fall so that you learn to get back up; only then can a strong liberal arts education truly teach us how to navigate the complex world we live in today. This is the way engineers build bridges and rockets and the way scientists test theories.

After all, if there was ever a time to think about who you are, what you want and where you will go, such a time is in college. Not only are classes supposed to teach you life skills, but the simple act of being social in a college situation, especially one where there is such a diverse spread of ideas, helps define who you are.