Why study accounting and finance at a liberal arts college like St. Ben’s and St. John’s?

Accounting and finance continue to be popular majors among students, families, and colleges across America. Often, prospective students are drawn to accounting and finance due to an interest in math, structure, solving problems, or the stock market. Their parents are drawn to these majors due to high employment statistics and the confidence that their child will be able to provide for themselves after graduation. Thus, the question remains as to where a student should pursue these subjects: in a business school, a large private college, or a small liberal arts school.

There is certainly no one-size-fits-all strategy, and students can get great experiences at colleges of all sizes and styles. However, there are unique benefits of studying at a liberal arts school like St. Ben’s and St. John’s.

First, the liberal arts experience emphasizes and develops a student’s ability to communicate well, verbally or written. Accounting and finance professionals do not simply input data into computer programs or spreadsheets; rather, they create robust analyses, models, and plans and present them to others. These presentations take the form of formal or informal verbal presentations, emails, or reports. Great information is useless if it cannot be communicated effectively.

Second, the liberal arts experience emphasizes critical thinking. In introductory accounting and finance courses, students often learn the details behind computations, which become fairly easy with practice. However, the reality of the business world is that straightforward tasks will either be automated or outsourced to lower-cost but high-talent countries like India. Therefore, accounting and finance professionals need to analyze the results of the computations and models. They need to think critically about what the results mean and how certain changes to assumptions will impact the results.

Third, the liberal arts experience emphasizes a respect for all persons. Both history and current news headlines are dominated by examples of brilliant individuals whose careers fell apart due to poor decisions involving others. If two companies both have a strong product or service offerings, the company thought of as more respectful and ethical will often be the one employees, customers, and suppliers flock to.

Finally, the liberal arts experience emphasizes the need for community. In the business world, people must work in groups and lead teams to achieve the best results. By living in a tight community, students will learn how to work in teams, solve problems together, and be better equipped to solve problems they face in the world. Some of these teams will function well and some initially will not, and that’s okay, because the process of working through things together is valuable.

Studying accounting and finance at a liberal arts college will not only give you the technical knowledge you need to perform your future tasks in the business world, but it will also prepare you to thrive and lead teams. The Twin Cities business community is rife with business leaders who studied accounting and finance at Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s. These individuals learned the skills needed to do their jobs—the technical skills—but they enhanced their careers and the lives of others through the skills they obtained in their liberal arts education: communication, critical thinking, and respect for all persons.

College of Saint Benedict
Saint John’s University

Steven Welch
Chair, Accounting and Finance Department
SJU Simons 238

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