Characteristics of a Liberal Arts College

Taking that giant leap forward from high school to college can be very stressful and sometimes cumbersome.  Given a wide range of colleges to choose from, it is very important for students to make the best choice possible.

Although there are many academic opportunities available to high school graduates, Liberal Arts colleges are a wonderful option for students to consider in the next step of their academic future. Liberal arts colleges are a small but well regarded academic force in the American higher education system. Unlike technical schools that offer a narrow range of academic focus, a liberal arts college supports the cross-disciplinary education of a broad overview of subjects in the study of the arts. To put it simply, a liberal arts education never focuses on one particular subject but instead supports a large breadth of subjects in the humanities, social sciences, sciences and mathematics. 
 
Overall, a liberal arts education creates renaissance men and women that are better able to adapt in a constantly changing world. In addition, classes at liberal arts colleges highly encourage inquiry and exploration. Due to their small size and overall objective, liberal arts colleges are unique for many reasons. The most obvious of these are: 
 
Smaller classroom sizes.  Small teacher-to-student ratios allow students to receive a better quality education with more personal attention from their professors. At a liberal arts college, a student is never just another number. Typically classes have anywhere from 12 to 30 students in a classroom. As a result, the entire student body is small, normally around 700 to 2500 students. In addition, a large majority of the student body chooses to reside on campus.
 
Campus differences. Due to their small student body population, a liberal arts college campus is much smaller than the typically university. The smaller and more intimate setting generally allows for more opportunities to make friends and establish long lasting relationships. These strong relationships which ultimately affect a student’s happiness are more difficult to forge at a large university or online school.
 
Type of student. Students that wish to study technical degrees or degrees with a technical specialization are probably not best suited for a liberal arts college. Liberal arts colleges primarily teach classes that emphasize a broad range of subjects. Therefore, students that will be happiest at liberal arts colleges are those that have a strong interest in studying courses in the arts and humanities.  
 
Focus on undergraduate students. Although liberal arts colleges may have master degree programs available, the main focus of a liberal arts college is the bachelor’s degree program and the undergraduate experience. Bachelor’s degrees available at a liberal arts college cover a wide scope of courses in the humanities and may include degrees in art, psychology, mathematics, economics, astronomy, biology, and English to name a few.
 
Emphasis on creative thinking. Students are highly challenged in their classes to think ‘outside the box’ and to propose innovative ideas and interesting discussion. Unlike large public universities which teaching method is primarily lecture based, liberal arts colleges employ the Socratic teaching method which emphasizes discussion and feedback. The faculty’s role is to engage students in this creative process and encourage interaction and debate. As a result, passive learning is highly discouraged in a liberal arts classroom. 
 
Admissions requirements. Admissions requirements for liberal arts colleges are usually competitive. In order to be a strong candidate, students who apply to liberal arts colleges should take 3 to 4 years of both English and mathematics classes while in high school. Also, SAT and ACT scores are usually required. Since competition for admission is stringent, students should try to achieve the highest scores possible on these standardized tests by taking their tests early, probably around the summer before their senior year of high school. 
 
Also, the gatekeepers for admission at liberal arts colleges tend to select students with strong writing skills. Therefore, writing a well-crafted essay for the admissions application is a key factor in the college admissions process.
 
Cost differences. Although tuition for liberal arts colleges may vary greatly, the overall cost of tuition can be higher than a large public university or state school. In order to get a better idea of how much your liberal arts college of choice may cost, it would be best to consult the US News and World Report’s list of top liberal arts colleges in the United States. The list publishes the average college tuition cost per college and provides additional important information as well. Also, when applying to liberal arts colleges, students should prepare to budget for admissions fees before submitting their applications.
 
It is also important to note that depending on a student’s preferences and goals, there are many different types of liberal arts colleges available that cater to different demographics and disciplines. For example, there are military colleges available like the Virginia Military Institute that promotes military service and discipline. There are also women’s liberal arts colleges available like Smith College that focus on the female demographic. 
 
As you can see liberal arts colleges vary widely. However, you will often find that the mission statements of liberal arts colleges are generally the same. They typically include the goal to educate the student as a whole through a broad range of studies. With this in mind, a liberal arts education’s main purpose is to create a dynamic and broad course of study that enables students to be knowledgeable about a range of subjects. This unique approach to education has been a proven method of success for many years. In her speech addressing the Annapolis Group Conference, Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter remarked that alumni of liberal arts colleges account for 20% of all U.S. presidents and 1 in 12 of the nation’s CEO’s.

Resources:
 
       1.    Lang, Eugene M. “Distinctly American: The Liberal Arts College.” Retrieved 7 Jan 2013, from www.projectpericles.org/projectpericles/about/history/attachment.pdf
 
       2.    Kanter, Martha. 22 June 2010. “The Relevance of Liberal Arts to a Prosperous Democracy: Under Secretary Martha J. Kanter’s Remarks at the Annapolis Group Conference.” Retrieved 7 Jan 2013, from http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/relevance-liberal-arts-prosperous-democracy-under-secretary-martha-j-kanters-remarks-
 
       3.    “Liberal Arts Colleges.” StateUniversity.com. Retrieved 7 Jan 2013, from http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2179/Liberal-Arts-Colleges.html
 
       4.   “5 Reasons to a Attend Liberal Arts College.” Retrieved 7 Jan 2013 from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-37241390/5-reasons-to-attend-a-liberal-arts-college/
 
       5.    Grove, Allen. “Liberal Arts College.” Retrieved 7 Jan 2013, from http://collegeapps.about.com/od/glossaryofkeyterms/g/liberal-arts-college-definition.htm 

Choosing A Liberal Arts College Choosing A Liberal Arts College
You've decided to attend a liberal arts college. Congratulations. There are a number of factors to consider when deciding which liberal arts college to attend and you might not know where to begin. It is important to ensure that the college you select is one that will meet your personal needs as well as your educational ones. Following are some guidelines to help you determine which liberal arts college is best for you.

History of a Liberal Arts Education
This is a short history of a liberal arts education from ancient antiquity to modern day liberal arts colleges.

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