What Is A Liberal Arts College? Exploring This Option For A Degree

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Recently, my son and I began the search for colleges. He is young and full of dreams, but he doesn’t know which degree he wants to pursue. As we looked around, we kept seeing liberal arts colleges. And that led me to ask, what is a liberal arts college?

So I set out to find the answer. And if you have preconceived ideas about these colleges, my research may surprise you.

Here’s what you need to know.

What Is A Liberal Arts College?

You’ve probably heard the old-school wisdom that a liberal arts degree won’t land anyone a job. But times are beginning to change. Today, when asking about liberal arts colleges, many people walk away with a much deeper understanding of the schools.

Liberal arts colleges began as schools that taught grammar, rhetoric, and logic. People considered the colleges worthy of a “free person.” Then in the Medieval times, the colleges added arithmetic, music, astronomy, and geometry to the curriculums.

But when looking into a liberal arts college today, you’ll also find disciplines such as literature, art, natural sciences, history, anthropology, economics, and math.

People who ask, what is a liberal arts college, and then go on to one of these colleges to pursue a degree, typically aren’t looking for a specialized degree. Instead, they seek to expand their horizons and learn how to think critically in a way that will make them valuable to employers.

Liberal arts colleges seek to give students a well-rounded education. Students who graduate with these degrees have a vast knowledge of various subjects, critical thinking skills, as well as other skills they can use to adapt to many circumstances in life. It’s why many of today’s employers seek to hire people with a liberal arts degree.

In fact, Mark Cuban believes that as automation increases and takes over human tasks, more and more employers will seek people with liberal arts degrees to balance out artificial intelligence

Why Should You Choose A Liberal Arts College?

If you’re asking, what is a liberal arts college, and are on the fence about going to one, you’re in the right place. Check out our list of reasons for attending these types of colleges, and you’ll be better equipped to make your decision.

Here are 11 things to consider.

1. You’re A Big Fish In A Small Bowl

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Have you ever noticed that the biggest fish in a small bowel gets all the attention? That’s the first benefit you should understand when learning what is a liberal arts college.

Most liberal colleges only teach undergraduates. That means you won’t have to compete with graduate students for your professor’s time or resources. Liberal arts colleges do one thing, and they do it well: they focus on preparing undergraduates for careers or further studies.

Who wants to be the tiniest fish in a large bowl, anyway?

2. Can You Help A Brother (Or Sister) Out?

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When asking, what is a liberal arts college, many people assume they are expensive because they are private universities. But the truth is that many liberal arts colleges offer more financial aid than even state schools.

When you enroll in a liberal arts college, the financial aid officers can offer you scholarships based on your need, merit, and talent. These scholarships are in addition to any federal student aid you may qualify for. That means it’s possible to attend a liberal arts college for even less than a state school.

 3. Home Away From Home

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When you go to a large university, you will likely never meet even a fraction of the students there. On the other hand, when attending a liberal arts college, the campus is smaller, and that means the social scene is more robust.

On most days, as you walk through the campus, you’ll run into friends. And because everyone knows each other, your college social life is bound to be more active than if you attended a large university.

4. I Need Some Alone Time

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Have you ever tried to talk to a professor at a large university? Some require that you approach them via email, while others make it almost impossible to have a conversation with them. But when asking, what is a liberal college, one of the answers you’ll get is that the professors are much more accessible.

That’s because there are fewer students. And because the professors have smaller class sizes, they can devote more time to each student.

Liberal arts college classes typically have about 30 students.

And this extra time will allow your professors to carefully follow your progress and alert you when you’re off course. Some professors in liberal arts colleges even become mentors to their students.

And when asking, what is a liberal arts college, you’ll also learn that only professors teach the classes. In larger universities, some graduate students teach the classes. And some of these graduates have little to none teaching experience!

5. I Think, Therefore I Am

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When you sit in a classroom at a large university, chances are you will hear a lecture and then do homework based on what the professor tells you. But in a liberal arts college, you will be encouraged to think for yourself.

Contrast these two scenarios in your head:

  • ​Large university: hundreds of students listening to a lecture and then doing homework based on what they hear
  • ​Liberal arts college: small classroom with everyone interacting and listening to each other’s perspective and experience.

The second scenario is what you experience when attending a liberal arts college. The intention of the college is to train you to think for yourself, and it teaches this by asking the students in the small classes to participate and interact in the learning process. It’s why students of these colleges graduate with such refined critical thinking skills.

6. Don’t Put Me In A Box

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When my son enrolled in college, he received a strict schedule of courses he had to follow. He has many interests, but he was disappointed to learn that if he veered off the set path and took courses outside of his major, he would lose his financial aid. That is the opposite of what happens in a liberal arts college.

When asking, what is a liberal arts college, you should know that the answer is fluid. You can attend the college with a target educational goal in mind, or you can ask the student advisor to create a custom plan that satisfies all your intellectual curiosities and needs.

Liberal arts colleges don’t require you to focus on only one course of study. A liberal arts education is well-rounded, and that means you will be encouraged to explore all of your interests.

In other words, a university prepares students for a specific career path. But a liberal arts college prepares students to a variety of career paths.

7. You’ll Never Be Bored

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Sure, the campuses at liberal arts colleges are smaller, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find plenty of things to do. Because liberal arts colleges focus on making you a more well-rounded person, you won’t find activity restrictions as you do at larger universities.

For instance, if your goal is to participate in a fundraising activity for the college’s sports team, you won’t have to be a part of that team to get involved. And if you want to write for the college newspaper or hold a spot on the campus radio program? You won’t need to be a communications or journalism student to get involved.

And remember, you’ll be friends with a larger percentage of the student population, so chances are, you will receive invitations to a lot more events and activities.

8. You Set Your Sights High

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If you plan to go to graduate school, going to a liberal arts college may be the right move for you. Why? Because students from liberal arts colleges earn PhDs in science at two times the rate of students from other institutions. And a large majority of students who earn a doctorate come from liberal arts colleges.

If your goal is to go on to get your graduate degree, statistics show that your chances are better for achieving it if you attend a liberal arts college.

9. You’re More Than Your Looks Or Sportsmanship

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When you attend a large university, you’ll quickly find out that the most popular students are those who join a sorority, fraternity, or play college sports. Participating in one of these activities almost guarantees a successful college career.

But not everyone enjoys these types of activities.

Luckily, when you ask, what is a liberal arts college, you’ll learn that things are different.

Liberal arts colleges do have sports and the Greek life, but it doesn’t dominate the campus as it does at other institutions. Instead, people get to know each other based on human factors, not which club you belong to or what sports you play.

10. What Time Zone Are You In?

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One of the best reasons for asking, what is a liberal arts college, is to learn about the study abroad programs they offer. Many liberal arts colleges offer these programs for a semester, the summer, or even for an entire year. And the students who participate in them benefit greatly from the knowledge they gain.

The students not only learn about the subjects they’re studying, but they do it from the perspective of another country. Imagine studying in London or France while learning about world history!

Studying abroad is just another reason to seriously consider going to a liberal arts college instead of a typical university. It adds to the well-rounded education that these colleges are so well known for.

11. You Don’t Have To Worry About That

Finally, when asking, what is a liberal arts college, you’re bound to hear about the safety on the campuses. Because the student population is smaller, the community is tight-knit. And that means students experience fewer problems with other students.

And because the grounds are typically smaller, the security personnel have less area to cover and keep safe

Is A Liberal Arts College Right For You?

You came to this article asking, what is a liberal arts college. And trust me, I know how confusing it can be. I spent hours researching the topic when my son was deciding which college to attend. I hope you found the answer you were looking for. Liberal arts colleges have come a long way, and that’s why they’re becoming more relevant to today’s employers.

If you’re looking for a college where you will get personal attention, a wide variety of knowledge, an ability to develop critical thinking and research skills, and travel opportunities, a liberal arts college might be right for you.

Have you attended a liberal arts college? If so, we would love to hear about your experience in the comment section below!

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