About Liberal Arts Colleges
The study of liberal arts has been around for centuries. From ancient Greece and Rome until today, a liberal arts curriculum has been considered one of the main pillars, some would even say the core, of a solid education. In the United States there is a long tradition of specifically-focused liberal arts colleges devoted to maintaining this tradition of a broad and humanistic program of undergraduate studies. Being part of a historical tradition is great, but what is a liberal arts college like today, and what does it have to offer modern students like you?
You can take liberal arts programs at a lot of major universities and colleges, but liberal arts colleges are something altogether different. There are over 500 liberal arts colleges in the US, and most are primarily undergraduate colleges which are smaller and more personal than big universities. While the typical liberal arts college is a small town, private, undergraduate college with between 1,000 and 3,000 students, these schools actually come in many varieties: private and public; secular and religiously-affiliated; co-ed and women's; independent and part of larger universities; purely undergraduate and with grad programs; small (under 1,000 students) and large (up to 9,000). Admission to liberal arts colleges in the US is often highly competitive, and while some have gone 'SAT optional,' they are still focused on academic excellence in terms of who they admit and who they ultimately graduate.
So what exactly is a liberal arts curriculum? The academic areas of social sciences, natural sciences, fine arts, literature, and the humanities are often combined under the collective term "liberal arts." Study at a liberal arts college generally leads to a 4-year Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree. These programs tend to be interdisciplinary in nature, looking at the interaction and overlap between fields of study as they contribute to human society and knowledge. Balance and breadth are two key principles of a liberal arts education. Having said that, some liberal arts colleges do focus on certain areas of instruction, such as education or human services, and programs may include technology and computer science as well as business and pre-professional programs. Check out our program-specific pages to learn more about what you can expect from the different fields of study at American universities and colleges.
Despite what you might think in this technology- and career-driven age, interest and enrollment in liberal arts colleges is growing in many areas of the United States. The number of applicants to liberal arts colleges far exceeds the number of available spaces, and many institutions are starting to admit more students. And if you think liberal arts colleges are elitist or exclusive, consider that minority and international enrollments have been on the rise at many schools, and that 84% of full-time students at private colleges and universities receive financial aid.
Don't let the term "general knowledge" fool you: liberal arts college programs are intense and aimed at providing rigorous intellectual and personal development. Because this isn't vocational or career specific learning, many people often think, "what's the point?" or "what can you do with that?" But the key part of a liberal arts education lies in its breadth, not only of subjects, but of the skills it cultivates in the students. Critical thinking, moral and ethical reasoning, analysis, writing and effective communication are some of the key skills to be gained through a liberal arts education, and are valued by a wide variety of employers in a range of fields. Pedagogy is designed to be thought-provoking, interactive and stimulating, and students at liberal arts colleges generally tend to be more engaged in active participation than students at the big universities. This kind of learning doesn't just make strong graduates, it makes strong citizens who are committed to understanding and improving their own lives and society. A liberal arts education provides a solid foundation for grad school, or for life and work in a global environment.
Because liberal arts colleges are focused primarily on undergraduate education, one of the main differences between them and the big universities is you won't be made to feel like a 'lowly undergrad' by professors concerned more about their own research, publications and graduate students than they are about you. Smaller classes mean a collaborative environment: between students and professors and between students and their peers. The residential aspect of many liberal arts colleges cultivates a strong community atmosphere on campus, and these campuses tends to be safer than ones in big cities. The philosophy of a liberal arts education is based on educating the whole person, and therefore you can expect to be both challenged and supported intellectually, spiritually and personally at a liberal arts college.
So how will you decide? First you have to decide what you're interested in--in terms of both study and learning environment--then you have to find a school that offers it. Other factors such as scholarships, tuition costs, distance from home and possibly church affiliation may also be factors. Schools in the USA's database of liberal arts colleges in the US can help get you started. Once you've spotted a school that seems to suit your interest, check out their website. The site will tell you what they offer and who to call or contact for more information. Then call or even go visit--don't be shy! This is your education, so take the time to explore to help you get on the right path for your future!
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