What is a Liberal Arts College?

While many university and vocational training programs do an amazing job of preparing graduates for their target career, a liberal arts college creates lifelong learners. The ultimate goal of a liberal arts education is to expand the mind through studying both the arts and sciences.

The Liberal Arts Defined

A liberal arts education provides a comprehensive overview of the arts, humanities and social and natural sciences. Liberal arts colleges aim to develop the general skills that graduates need to meaningfully contribute to organizations. Some of these colleges offer traditional liberal arts degrees, such as philosophy, psychology and communication, but some colleges offer every type of major within the conceptual framework of the liberal arts. Regardless of the class, discipline or department, all liberal arts colleges are interdisciplinary. This means that students will study all topics through a holistic and cross-disciplinary view that contributes to a fuller understanding of complex problems. Liberal arts colleges require students to take a wide range of courses to create a broader base of knowledge.

Differences between Liberal Arts Colleges and Universities

Liberal arts colleges are usually small, private institutions with limited name recognition. Large universities are either public or private, but they enjoy wider name recognition and a stronger reputation. The tuition of liberal arts colleges will be higher than public universities, but they will most likely offer more scholarships and financial aid. Public universities will have lower tuition than private universities and liberal arts colleges. They also offer fewer financial aid resources to out-of-state and international students especially in state universities. Most liberal arts colleges primarily offer undergraduate programs for a wide range disciplines. Universities generally offer undergraduate and graduate programs for popular professions related to law, medicine, business, technology and computer science.

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Why Some Students Prefer Liberal Arts Colleges

According to Forbes magazine, getting a liberal arts education is a wise choice. Liberal arts colleges offer small class sizes and smaller student to teacher ratios than most universities. Some students prefer the seminar class style rather than lecture format because this facilitates greater student engagement. Students are encouraged to speak out, ask questions and engage with classmates and professors outside of class. The faculty in liberal arts colleges tends to be student-focused and teaching-oriented, so students enjoy the personalized academic experience. For students studying a highly advanced or technical field, the faculty in universities will be leading experts but less accessible to students. Students who plan on attending grad school may select a liberal arts college because university grad programs are highly competitive.

Why Certain Students Prefer Universities

There are certain drawbacks to liberal arts colleges. First, the broad nature of liberal arts degrees will cover so many different areas of thought that some programs fail to provide significant academic and intellectual depth. Because of this, students will most likely struggle to master technical skills particular to their future profession. That is, students at liberal arts colleges are required to take so many interdisciplinary courses that there will be fewer credit hours available for specializing a primary skill. Instead, liberal arts graduates have the entry-level skills required for many basic professional jobs. Due to the fact that many liberal arts schools are small and private, they may lack student resources related to equipment, computer labs and research opportunities.

A liberal arts college will train students in critical thinking, collective problem-solving and integrative approaches to work solutions.

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