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 Liberal Arts Colleges

As you very well know, institutions of higher education come in many shapes and shades.  You can attend a large university, an art school, a military academy and, of course, a liberal arts college.  Ah yes–liberal arts.  You probably hear that term bandied about a good deal.  But what exactly does it mean?

By and large, liberal arts colleges tend to be focused on undergraduate education.  They aim to expose their students to a wide range of academic disciplines, from the humanities to the sciences, and endeavor to teach undergrads how to think and examine arguments.  Indeed, the liberal arts seek to hone the intellect and expand general knowledge.

Unlike other institutions, most liberal arts schools do not offer a technical, professional or vocational curriculum.  Therefore, it’s very rare to be able study a field like mechanical engineering or air conditioning repair.  You’re not likely to find a course of study with direct application or one that prepares you for a specific career track.  

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the majors available aren’t worthwhile.  While studying history or political science might not lead you to an established professional path, you’ll develop strong writing, analytical and critical thinking skills that are highly valued by many employers.  Moreover, most liberal arts majors are considered great preparation for graduate study.

Another hallmark of liberal arts colleges is their size.  These schools are typically a lot smaller than their university counterparts.  Many (though certainly not all) have student populations that hover between 1,000 and 3,000 undergraduates.  And these students are often enrolled full-time with the vast majority residing on campus.  Thus it’s quite common for a sense of community to permeate the school.  

Additionally, liberal arts colleges provide many opportunities for both leadership and the chance to be a big fish in the proverbial small pond.  However, a smaller population may also mean a less diverse campus and a smaller number of social options.   

Fortunately, a lower student body count also translates into a more intimate classroom experience.  Indeed, you’re likely to find smaller, discussion-based classes at a liberal arts college.  Undergrads often get to know their professors on a personal level and are frequently on a first-name basis with them.  In other words, teaching is the priority for professors at smaller colleges.

Conversely, universities usually place an emphasis on research.  Classes tend to be larger and lecture-based and professors often rely more heavily on teaching assistants.  Therefore, while you might have more opportunity to participate in groundbreaking research studies, you’re less likely to have many one-on-one conversations with your professors.

That said, universities typically offer a wide range of academic disciplines (more than are often available at a liberal arts school).  Indeed, you’ll still be able to enjoy a liberal arts curriculum if you attend a university.  You will have the opportunity to study everything from rhetoric to Buddhism, acquiring a broad scope of knowledge along the way.

It’s important that you recognize there’s no better or worse option when trying to decide between attending a liberal arts college or a university.  Both offer the chance to grow academically and socially.  And of course, there are always exceptions to the rule.  Certainly, you can get to know your university professors or enroll in large classes at a liberal arts school.  If you’re fiercely independent and appreciate a little anonymity, then a university setting might suit you well.  On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more personal collegiate experience a liberal arts college might be the best route for you.   

 

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