It can be difficult to choose the right school for you. Even when you know you want to attend a liberal arts college, there are so many options that you might not know where to start. Some factors to consider when comparing liberal arts colleges include accreditation, school rankings and cost.

Accreditation

One way to judge the quality of any academic institution is accreditation. However, when it comes to liberal arts programs, this can be tricky. Neither the United States Department of Education nor the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) currently recognizes any agency as having the authority to grant specialized accreditation to liberal arts degree programs. The American Academy for Liberal Education, one accrediting body that evaluates and approves liberal arts programs, remains unrecognized by the Department of Education and the CHEA.

However, you should look for a different kind of accreditation. Your liberal arts college should have what’s called institutional accreditation, which applies to the school as a whole rather than specific subjects and programs. Look for a liberal arts college that has regional, rather than national, institutional accreditation.

Objective School Rankings

One great way to determine if a liberal arts college provides a good education is by consulting school rankings published by objective websites and publications. Naturally, the school will have good things to say about itself. However, if you find outside sources praising the school – with data to back up their rankings – then you know that the college has a good reputation.

Pay close attention to what factors lists of college rankings consider. For example, U.S. News & World Report publishes its National Liberal Arts College Rankings list annually. In its 2016 rankings, U. S. News based its lists on factors such as:

  • Undergraduate academic reputation
  • Student retention
  • Faculty resources
  • Student selectivity
  • Financial resources
  • Graduation rate performance
  • Alumni giving rate

Not every factor contributed to the rankings equally. U.S. News gave more weight to factors it considered more important or relevant, like academic reputation and student retention, than to factors like alumni donations.

Affordability

As important as it is to invest in your degree and your future, it’s also important to make sure the education you’re investing in is a good value. A college education can be expensive, but earning a degree from a good liberal arts school doesn’t have to break the bank.

Pay attention not only to the listed cost of tuition and fees, but also what financial aid is available from the school you’re considering. After all, tuition discounts are one of the main perks of choosing a private liberal arts school, according to CBS News. A private liberal arts school may have a high sticker price but still be affordable if it also happens to award generous scholarships.

Paying attention to accreditation status, rankings and value of liberal arts schools can help you make the right college choice.

Also see:

The Top 10 Most Affordable Liberal Arts Colleges