What is a Liberal Arts College? And Why Go?
For rising high school seniors, summer signals the start of the college admissions process. The stress of junior year has subsided, and students are left facing their final year of high school. Especially in these extraordinary times, it’s challenging to deduce what college is the best fit for you. Even you want to study at the collegiate level, exploring a range of school options is crucial. It reduces the stress of the college admissions process. Exploring your options is sure to reveal that there are many places that you could thrive and flourish.
Many students might not be familiar with the advantages of liberal arts colleges. Definitionally, a liberal arts school is one that emphasizes the study of arts and sciences. What separates liberal arts colleges from other schools is their focus on undergraduate life. Many liberal arts institutions have some graduate or postdoctoral programs. Yet, the majority of their students are pursuing degrees at the undergraduate level.
The liberal arts college model first started to proliferate in the United States at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Many people associate the liberal arts model with the seven sister schools. Such as the NESCAC or New England Small College Athletic Conference, schools. Although liberal arts colleges have a history of being associated with the northeastern seaboard, they exist all over the country. The Claremont colleges, in southern California, as well as the Ohio five, are other examples of such colleges conglomerates.
The Myth of the Undecided Student
One myth is that liberal arts colleges attract students who are “undecided”. Such colleges pride themselves in giving students freedom to explore a wide range of interests. Students at liberal arts colleges are very focused on their academic disciplines of choice. In fact, liberal arts colleges were designed as feeders for graduate school or a life in academia. Liberal arts colleges present wonderful opportunities to delve deeply into their academic pursuits. Because these institutions place such an emphasis on undergraduate life, research opportunities are oftentimes reserved for undergraduates.
This myth that such colleges somehow promote an unfocused education by providing an excellent general education is completely unfounded. One of the advantages of a liberal arts education is that it allows students to explore outside of their area of focus in order to enrich, deepen, and expand their relationship with their primary discipline or disciplines. Liberal arts colleges can be the perfect place for you. You get to to explore a plethora of disciplines, but knowing what you want to study should not dissuade you from applying.
The Long-term Benefits
Just because liberal arts colleges are not explicitly “pre professional” does not mean that they don’t prepare you for the professional track. In fact, the opposite is true. These colleges do a wonderful job of creating uniquely qualified job candidates, because they allow students to differentiate themselves. If you graduate from a college where everyone has taken the exact same combination of classes, it may be more difficult to differentiate yourself from your peers. One of the strengths of liberal arts colleges is that they encourage students to combine disparate subjects, graduating students who have unique skill sets and areas of specialization.
Because liberal arts colleges oftentimes rest in more rural areas and have smaller student populations than urban research universities, they often promote community, both on campus and in the alumni network. These connections are invaluable and can really enhance the college experience. Whether it be through close relationships with teachers, an active and conscientious student body, or an engaged and passionate alumni network, these schools promote community and collaboration across all areas of scholarly life.
Overall, a liberal arts college can be a wonderful place to study at the collegiate level. They offer a rigorous education, opportunities for academic exploration, and an unparalleled sense of community. For undergraduate life and beyond, going to such a college can unlock a world of opportunities.