When I talk with families about adding a liberal arts college to their list of considerations, I am met with a variety of reactions:
1. A blank stare -- what the heck is liberal arts?
2. A polite smile -- the kind you give the fifth boy scout in a
week to knock on your door and ask you to
buy popcorn. This smile is also known as the "thanks but
no thanks" smile.
3. Shock. Horror. Aghast-ness. How dare I suggest such a
thing! This is my child's EDUCATION we are
talking about here.
4. Concern -- Client: "We don't really do things with the
word "liberal" in them. This is Texas."
(Just kidding with this one; I couldn't help myself.)
All levity aside, liberal arts colleges can be great options for some, but not all, students. Keep reading to learn more.
What it is: The Association of American Colleges and Universities defines a liberal arts college as
"A particular type of institution—often small, often residential—that facilitates close interaction between faculty and students, and whose curriculum is grounded in the liberal arts disciplines." A liberal arts education offers students the opportunity to earn a degree while taking a wide variety of courses. Students usually have expansive general education requirements in addition to those courses required for their major. Speaking of majors, liberal arts colleges offer plenty of majors that usually align with the classic disciplines. Check out this list of majors from Swarthmore College.
What it isn't: Liberal arts colleges do not offer "fluff" degrees, they do not require you to go on to graduate school in order to have a career of which to speak, nor are they only for students who haven't yet found their "passion." That B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) really isn't any less than a B.S. (Bachelor of Science), but that's a whole other post for another time.
Why it's cool: A liberal arts education creates a more holistically educated student. A liberal arts student will know how to write well even though he majors in biology; he will know how to run a t-test even if he majors in philosophy. You don't have to sacrifice depth for breadth with a liberal arts degree either -- you will accrue depth in your chosen field of study (i.e. your major), and you will pursue breadth through your general education course requirements (of which there are a greater number than at non-liberal arts schools). You could be taking a class on existentialism at 9am, then buzz off to physics at noon, and end the day with a class on Piaget's theories of child development, all while pursing a degree in cognitive psychology. You're going to spend more time developing good skills such as writing and learning to be a good communicator -- skills employers are most interested in.
Who it's for: Liberal arts colleges are great for students who want to go on to graduate school, this is true. But they are also great for students who want to go into business, or finance, or politics, or engineering, or the nonprofit world. If a student knows she wants to be a nurse or a teacher or enter a trade where a certification is required through schooling, liberal arts may not be the best option -- there are quicker routes to getting your degree and starting your career in these instances. For students who aren't yet sure what career path is best for them, liberal arts schools are tremendous laboratories for learning, growth, and development as they allow a student the chance to explore innumerable areas of interest before deciding on one in which to major. And remember, more than half of students change their major after they declare, something you CAN do at a liberal arts school without adding on years to the time it takes to complete your degree.
What's your take on the value of a liberal arts education? Comment below to keep the discussion going!
US News and World Report's Liberal Arts College Rankings
CBS News "5 Reasons to Attend a Liberal Arts College"
And for good measure, an opposing view: The Atlantic "How Liberal Arts Colleges are Failing America"
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