Liberal Arts Colleges: What Are They and Should I Apply to Them?

Posted by Chris Zhang

July 25, 2019 at 1:00 PM

Liberal Arts College Admissions

What is a Liberal Arts College?

The term “liberal arts” is defined as academic subjects such as literature, philosophy, mathematics, and social and physical sciences as distinct from professional and technical subjects. Cool, so what does that mean? Liberal arts colleges have nothing to do with political stance or a specific area of study, but rather liberal arts colleges are schools that fundamentally are about having a well-rounded approach to education rather than a vocational education. A common phrase at many liberal arts colleges is that they’re helping you “learn to learn.”

Liberal arts colleges aren’t necessarily training you for a specific job (though that can happen), but they’re more about teaching you soft skills, making you a critical thinker, challenging your beliefs, and setting you up to become global citizens. It’s a holistic approach to education. # Differences Between Liberal Arts Colleges and 4-Year Universities

Liberal Arts College 4-Year University
Focus on a well-rounded education (lots of requirements to graduate in different areas of subject) Focus on research
Typically small enrollment size and smaller classroom size (more classroom discussion) Typically large enrollment size and classroom size
Emphasis on undergraduate education Graduate, Ph.D., and professional education offered
Use of teaching assistants but not that extensively Heavy use of teaching assistants
Faculty more accessible Bigger focus on athletics
Admitted to the college itself Admitted to a specific school within the university
Offer broader areas of study More specific areas of study

One thing that may dissuade students from applying to liberal arts colleges is that generally liberal arts colleges have bad sports teams/no sense of school pride. While liberal arts colleges aren’t going to touch Bama in college football or Duke in college basketball, sports and school pride are still there - look at Davidson’s NCAA run with Steph Curry. However, generally sports and Greek life have smaller scenes at liberal arts colleges than 4-year universities.

Another thing that might dissuade students from applying to liberal arts colleges is that the small enrollment size creates a high school-like environment. Small enrollment size can be a blessing and a curse. On one hand, a small enrollment size allows you to become acquainted with more people and arguably develop stronger relationships; on the other hand, a small enrollment size forfeits your anonymity on campus.

I can personally attest that for me the pros outweigh the cons. A common belief is that you’ll make all or 90% of your college friends in your freshman year, and I found that because of small class sizes and a stronger sense of community, that belief didn’t apply to me. I was able to keep meeting and making new friends whom I got to know in my classes over sophomore year as well. And while losing your anonymity is somewhat true, you have as much privacy in college as you want there to be.

Why Choose a Liberal Arts College?

One primary reason many people choose liberal arts colleges is that they don’t know what they want to do after college. As noted in the differences section, one common aspect of 4-year universities is that you apply to certain schools within the university. That’s not to say you can’t switch between schools, but people who attend these universities are often pigeonholed into a certain career path while people who attend liberal arts colleges have more freedom in which career path they want to pursue.

Another reason is for the holistic approach to education. At liberal arts colleges, you’re learning more about life skills rather than work skills, and these life skills will translate into your future career path.

There are a lot of factors that help decide whether a school is the right fit for you. Ultimately, it comes down to which school best fits you. Even if you know you don’t want to go to a liberal arts college or you do want to go, visit the campuses and sit in on classes to get a feel for the vibe and culture of the school. You can’t dismiss a school solely on the type of school it is. And once you’re able to experience campus life, trust your gut when it comes to choosing which college you’ll attend and enjoy some of the best 4 years of your life!

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Posted by Chris Zhang

Chris scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT in high school and is currently studying Economics and Data Science at Colby College. Fun Fact: The only movie he ever cried in was Fast and Furious 7.