Liberal arts college

Choosing a college can be a time of great stress.  Many feel their entire future rests on this one decision.  You might think your future career, not just the next four years of your life and a great deal of money, rests on this decision.  Parents, relatives, friends are seem to have an opinion on where you should go to school.  A plethora of books and magazines publicize college rankings and make you feel like you should attend whichever school is ranked highest on the list.

In order to reduce the stress in selecting a college, consider adopting the following slogan, “College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won.” Finding a good fit requires time and thoughtfulness.  Because your friends are going there or because of where it ranks on a list does not take into account who you are and who you will become. The most important factor in choosing a school is finding a place where you can flourish and grow.

Knowing the Types of Schools

The variations found in American institutions of higher education are almost endless, but an introduction to the most common types of universities talked about in the US can help you find the best fit for you.

  • “Elite”
  • State
  • Liberal Arts
  • Two-year

Liberal Arts Schools

Liberal arts colleges are guided by the philosophy that a college education should be about students and teachers working closely together in an attitude of openness and communication.  Liberal arts colleges believe in developing critical learning skills and fostering intellectual curiosity.  If the thought of a lecture hall with 400 students learning rote material frightens you, a liberal arts education might be for you.  Some liberal arts schools don’t have majors, or grades, or even course requirements.  Even the more traditional schools emphasize innovation.

Most of the liberal arts colleges are private schools, and typically small enough so that students are on a first-name basis with their professors.   The esteemed College of Wooster in Ohio, for example, has an enrollment of around 2000.  You can expect small class sizes, high graduation rates, personable professors, and a challenging yet rewarding curriculum.

The Public Liberal Arts Colleges

Private schools don’t have a monopoly on quality liberal arts colleges. Schools such as Sonoma State University in California, Truman State University in Missouri, and St. Ramapo College of New Jersey offer liberal arts education at public-school prices. Some public liberal arts schools, such as the St. Mary’s College of Maryland and the College of Charleston, are so highly regarded that they attract significant numbers of out-of-state students who are willing to pay the higher tuition.

Clarification: Liberal Arts within Public Universities

Other liberal arts colleges exist within public universities.  This arrangement gives students access to large university resources with the benefits of smaller liberal arts colleges.  Rutgers College, as mentioned above, is a good example.  Students who apply to Rutgers College have access to the same resources as other Rutgers University students, including residence halls, library facilities, and college athletics; however, they have the added benefits of smaller class sizes and closer interaction with faculty and other students.  Another good example is Fairhaven College, an interdisciplinary liberal arts school within Western Washington University. Besides small class sizes, Fairhaven offers narrative evaluations instead of letter grades.

Features of Liberal Arts Schools

Personal Attention

The most reputable liberal arts colleges share many characteristics, including small class sizes, close working relationships with fellow students and faculty, and an emphasis on developing solid speaking and writing skills.  What you won’t find at the typical liberal arts college—large lecture halls, endless multiple choice examinations, and teaching assistants instead of actual professors—speaks volumes about why these colleges are effective and popular.

Varying Selectivity

There are more than 200 liberal arts colleges in the United States; many are among the most highly selective schools in the country. Schools such as Swarthmore College, Amherst College, and Williams College accept just a small percentage of applicants. There are other good liberal arts colleges that accept roughly half of applicants, including Trinity College in Connecticut, Kenyon College in Ohio, and Grinnell College in Iowa.  Other outstanding liberal arts colleges have even higher acceptance rates. DePauw University in Indiana, Presbyterian College in South Carolina, and Lewis and Clark College in Oregon accept the majority of applicants.

Quality Education

The best liberal arts schools attract some of the brightest faculty and staff in the world.  Whereas professors at large universities must focus on publishing, liberal arts college professors are able to focus on teaching.  In the small classes, students’ opinions and thoughts are valued.  Graduates from these schools will likely tell you that their liberal arts education changed their lives for the better.

Hybrid B.A.-B.S. Degrees

It is not uncommon for colleges and universities from a wide-range of perspectives to offer combination degrees where the student earns a B.A. with an emphasis on a liberal arts curriculum alongside a B.S. with an emphasis on a discipline such as engineering.  These are typically five-year degrees, though sometimes six-year and less often accelerated four-year programs.  Further, there is growing cooperation between larger universities and smaller liberal arts colleges where a student attends a liberal arts college for three or four years and then transfers to a university for a year or two.

One of the most desirable of these programs is the Combined Program at Columbia University.  The student, after spending three or four years at a liberal arts college and two years at Columbia, receives a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts degree.  The enticing aspect of the program is the guarantee of acceptance into an Ivy League school.  If a student meets certain requirements at one of over 100 affiliated liberal arts schools, the student is guaranteed acceptance to the Engineering program at Columbia. Many of these liberal arts schools are easier to enter than Columbia, which is one thing that makes this program so attractive.

For more information on other types of schools, check out some of our other posts:

  • <a “href=””>State Schools in the US
  • <a “href=””>Two-year colleges in the US
  • <a “href=””>Elite schools in the US