As you begin your pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, you’ll be confronted with numerous decisions about colleges and majors. There are massive schools with tens of thousands of undergraduate students and tiny schools with barely more than 1,000 students. You’ll find professional schools, technical schools, vocational schools, business schools, and research institutions. If you haven’t already considered earning your bachelor’s degree from a liberal arts college, it’s something to think about now. You may be wondering what is a liberal arts school and what are the benefits over its counterparts?
What are your goals? Does your career require a narrow focus, or would a broad-based education serve you better?
If you are interested in a wide understanding of many disciplines, especially those that support your career knowledge and skill set, then a liberal arts college might be for you. The benefits of choosing a liberal arts school include receiving personal attention and the development of valuable and versatile “soft skills” among others.
Traits of Liberal Arts Colleges
Most liberal arts schools tend to be smaller than schools devoted to research and not just in total enrollment numbers. Their characteristic small class sizes, which allow for more individual attention throughout your education, happen to be one of the most popular features of a liberal arts education. These smaller classes allow students to form relationships with professors and peers in the classroom. In larger institutions, students are often just a number or a last name on a registrar sheet. Additionally, smaller class size means more opportunity to get questions answered in a timely manner and to have the question addressed at length.
Liberal arts schools tend to be private rather than publicly funded although that’s not always the case. Many maintain some form of religious affiliation. The benefits of attending a school with a religious affiliation are obvious for someone who wants a faith-based education. The benefits associated with a privately funded institution include more opportunities for professional networking as well as having advisors who are genuinely interested in helping students get hefty scholarships and grants.
Despite their private status, most liberal arts schools don’t have the high price tag that accompanies an education from many private universities. Liberal arts colleges also tend to be quite generous with their financial aid packages – more so even than many public state schools (CBSNews.com). A year’s worth of tuition at one of the most affordable high-quality liberal arts colleges in the nation can be as low as $12,800. So, even though they may be more expensive than a state university, for instance, liberal arts colleges are often more aggressive in building aid packages. Some even work to create programs that promise students will graduate with little or no debt. The typical liberal arts college is a four-year institution that usually concentrates on undergraduate programs. While you may earn your bachelor’s degree in liberal arts generally, you may also have the option to choose a major or focus area in a subject like history, literature, philosophy, theology, English or foreign languages.
While the number of programs available at a liberal arts school may not be as extensive as what is offered in a research institution, they may be more unique. One growing trend in liberal arts schools is the multi-disciplinary program that allows students to choose, in addition to a common school core, courses across several disciplines that have a central theme. Additionally, at a research university, professors are engaged in their own research projects. That could mean many of your classes would be taught by graduate student teaching assistants.
What to Expect from a Liberal Arts Education
Don’t let the name “liberal arts college” mislead you. Students do study artsy topics such as music and literature and subjects in the humanities, like history and languages. However, they also develop a thorough background in math and science, according to The College Board. In fact, many liberal arts colleges have partnerships with universities that allow students to take some courses outside the liberal arts campus. This is a bonus because larger schools often have more sophisticated resources such as laboratories and on-campus institutes. Still, the emphasis is on producing a well-rounded student with the hard and soft skills necessary for a successful career.
In many ways, it’s not so much what subjects of study a liberal arts education includes that are important, but instead those “soft” skills you will cultivate as you earn your degree. At a liberal arts college, you won’t just learn the technical, professional or research skills you need to succeed in a specific career. You’ll take courses in many disciplines that help you develop abilities like thinking critically, speaking eloquently and writing clearly. Courses such as psychology help you interpret workplace and social behaviors of peers and others. Leadership studies give you an edge in collaboration and team building. Sociology and political science can give you an understanding of the global nature of our culture today. Other coursework will help you learn to analyze and communicate information well, which is a skill that employers in countless industries find valuable.
What is a liberal arts college? It certainly isn’t the right choice for every student. Education is expensive and getting more so. For many students, tech schools and professional programs make more sense because they allow you to enter the workforce quicker, without taking extra courses. That may make them a better fit economically. Many people, though, change their professions at least once. You might decide accounting isn’t for you but teaching accounting is. You might decide that your aptitude is higher for counseling than counting. A well-rounded education would make that transition easier.
It comes down to your goals and which pathway would lead you to them. For those who are seeking a versatile education that will help them further skills, they can use throughout a wide range of careers, academic environments and life situations, going to a liberal arts school may be an excellent decision.