What are liberal arts colleges?

A liberal arts college is a four-year institution of higher studies that leads to a bachelor’s degree with a primary focus on the study of undergraduate programs. The students can take courses in the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences. These colleges tend to be relatively small and allow professors to develop close educational relationships with their students so that students get to work much more closely with experts in their chosen field. There are more than 1,500 colleges and universities in the U.S but 59% of those are private and less than 200 of those are private liberal arts colleges. In this review article, we discussed admissions, benefits, characteristics features of liberal arts degree, how liberal arts colleges differ from research universities and public liberal colleges in more detail.

1.) Feature of Liberal Arts Degree

A liberal arts college has multiple qualities that differentiate it from a community college or university. The main characteristic features of Liberal Arts College mention below

  • Small size – almost all liberal arts colleges have fewer than 5,000 students and most are in the range of 1,000 to 2,500. This means you will get to know your peers and professors as well.
  • Liberal arts curriculum – is more specialized a little bit more focused on broad skills in critical thinking and writing. The students of liberal arts will take a breadth of courses in multiple fields like religion, literature, philosophy, science, math, sociology, and psychology.
  • Faculty focuses on teaching – professors are often evaluated first for their research and publishing and second for teaching at a large university. At most colleges of liberal arts, teaching has the top priority. At liberal arts colleges, the “publish or perish” model for faculty tenure may still be true but the equation for tenure will place much greater emphasis on teaching.
  • Undergraduate focus – the number of graduate students is minimum or negligible at Liberal Arts College which means professors are dedicated exclusively to undergraduates and your classes will rarely be taught by graduate students.
  • Baccalaureate degreesmost degrees awarded from a liberal arts college are four-year bachelor’s degrees such as B.S. (Bachelor of Science) or B.A. (Bachelor of Arts).
  • Residential – the majority of students live at colleges and attend full time at Liberal Arts College. You’ll find far more part-time students and commuter students at community colleges and public universities.
  • Focus on community – because of its small size, liberal arts colleges often highly value the interaction of faculty members and students.

2  Top Liberal Arts Colleges Admissions

The norms of Liberal Arts College have different from the school offering admission to a few selected colleges in the country. They have a strong sense of community, are small, and holistically do admissions. All the details pertaining to the applicant need to be done besides grades and standardized test scores. Claremont McKenna is one of the Liberal Arts College do still emphasizes test scores during the process of admission. The non-numerical measures such as application essays, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular involvement will play a meaningful role when applying to colleges of liberal arts. Here’s the list of top ten liberal arts colleges according to U.S news

S.No. School Name Location U.S. News Ranking Acceptance Rate Undergraduate Enrollment
1 Williams College Williamstown, MA No. 1 13% 2,073
2 Amherst College Amherst, MA No. 2 13% 1,855
3 Swarthmore College Swarthmore, PA No. 3 9% 1,559
4 Wellesley College Wellesley, MA No. 3 20% 2,534
5 Pomona College Claremont, CA No. 5 8% 1,679
6 Bowdoin College Brunswick, ME No. 6 10% 1,828
7 Carleton College Northfield, MN No. 7 20% 2,097
8 Middlebury College Middlebury, VT No. 7 17% 2,579
9 Claremont McKenna College Claremont, CA No. 7 9% 1,324
10 Washington and Lee University Lexington, VA No. 10 19% 1,829


3  Liberal Arts vs. Research Universities

The table below illustrates the difference between a liberal arts college versus research universities

S.No. Liberal Arts College Research University
1 focus on undergraduate education Focus on graduate education and research
2 Small enrollment (<3000) large enrollment (<5000)
3 More narrow curriculum Very broad curriculum
4 Small class sizes (very discussion-based) Large class sizes (discussion and lecture-based)
5 Focus on the liberal arts (teach critical thinking and writing skills) Pre-professional degrees like engineering, architecture, and so forth are opportunities that universities give you.
6 Fewer research opportunities Lots of research opportunities
7 Tend to have Division III sports Tend to have Division I sports
8 Emphasis on intellectual inquiry and well-rounded intellectual ability Professional, vocational, and technical tracks are offered.
9 Admissions emphasize qualitative aspects and the potential “fit” of a student. Admissions focus on quantitative aspects (GPA, test scores).
10 Professors prioritize teaching. Professors prioritize their research.


4  Public Liberal Arts Colleges

Not all but the majority of liberal arts colleges are private. A public liberal arts college varies from a private liberal arts college in a few ways

  • Lower costtuition at public liberal arts colleges is usually important than private colleges. This is particularly true for in-state students. You have to keep in mind that the top private liberal arts colleges have large endowments funds and are able to offer significant financial help to students who qualify. Some offer loan-free financial aid. The students belong from families with modest incomes, the prestigious private college will often be less expensive than a public college.
  • State fundingPublic colleges are funded by taxpayer money partly. That said, states tend to provide insufficient funding to educational institutions whereas the majority of the operational budget tends to come from tuition and fees.
  • The downsidedue to state-funded colleges often having more budgetary constraints than top private colleges, the student/faculty ratio is often higher, the faculty often has higher teaching loads and classes are often slightly larger. When public colleges are compared to second-tier private liberal arts colleges, these distinctions may disappear.

University of Mary Washington, Truman State University, SUNY Geneseo, and New College of Florida are examples of public liberal arts colleges.

6  Benefits of Liberal Arts Degree

There are multiple benefits to studying liberal arts but some of them mention below

  • A great foundation for graduate school.
  • Liberal arts degree appeals to employers’.
  • Prepares you for work.
  • Allows you to think creatively.
  • Explore different career choices.

To summarize the above work, we can conclude that liberal arts colleges are primarily focused on the study of undergraduate programs. The aim of such colleges is to impart basic knowledge and develop general intellectual capacities in contrast to a vocational, professional, and technical curriculum.

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