Evaluating and choosing a liberal arts college

If you have already determined that you would like to enroll in a liberal arts college, there are many factors you must consider before deciding which liberal arts college would be the best fit for you.  Luckily, there is a wealth of information provided by sources like college websites and the U.S. News and World Report that will help you sift through the data in order to determine which school is right for you.  Here is a short list of some of the most important factors to consider while evaluating liberal arts colleges.
 
Quality of education
 
Student to faculty ratio.  Although many liberal arts colleges typically have small student to faculty ratios, it’s important to remember that not all liberal arts colleges do.  Therefore, if a small student to faculty ratio is important to you, make sure you research which schools meet this criteria.
 
Qualifications of faculty members.  A good professor can often enhance your classroom experience.  For this reason, choosing a liberal arts college with quality staff is very important.  This is especially true if you are seeking a major in a specific department.  For example, if your primary focus is to eventually major in anthropology, it’s very important that you choose a liberal arts college with an anthropology department of seasoned faculty members who are not only experienced in the teaching profession, but also have experience in the field that they teach. 
 
Accreditation.  Although there are many different types of accreditation, the two most popular are national accreditation and regional accreditation.  When deciding which accreditation is a better fit for you, there are many factors you may want to consider.  However, the most important factor, and the main difference between the two accreditations is transferability of credits.  While nationally accredited institutions usually accept credits from regionally accredited schools, regionally accredited schools do not often accept credits from nationally accredited institutions. This is an important factor to consider if you plan to transfer your credits in the future or attend graduate school.
 
Student Life.
 
Campus location.  Do you want to attend a school out of state or in-state?  Do you want to attend a school that’s close to your family?  Or do you crave new experiences and wish to move to a completely different region of the United States?  Would you like to live in a quiet suburban town or do you prefer the hustle and bustle of a large city?  Your answers to these questions will help you obtain a better understanding of a school location that would best suit your needs.
 
Weather.  Another factor to consider is weather.  The weather of a region can contribute greatly to your overall happiness.  For example, if you abhor cold weather, you might want to consider a liberal arts college in Georgia instead of a liberal arts college in Maine.  With that said, try choosing liberal arts colleges that have the type of weather where you feel most comfortable.
 
Student Diversity.   Student diversity is often considered important for a student’s overall college experience.  Exposure to other cultures and customs can greatly increase a student’s social intelligence and knowledge of the world around them.  If student diversity is an important factor to you, make sure to select liberal arts colleges that rank high in diversity.  Data for diversity can be found in college ranking magazines like the U.S. News and World Report. 
 
Another diversity ratio to consider is the male to female ratio.  If you prefer a more co-ed college experience, research schools that have a more equal gender balance.  If you prefer schools that admit only females or schools that admit only males, there are liberal arts colleges that cater to that demographic as well.
 
Clubs and organizations. It’s important to consider a college’s extracurricular activities during the college selection process.  If you have a passion for certain activities or sports you may want to join a club in order to build upon your skills or artistic interests.  Ultimately, participating in clubs and organizations can help students find friends and build long-lasting relationships which will contribute to a student’s overall happiness.  With this in mind, the more clubs and organizations offered at a liberal arts college, the more opportunities you will have to socialize with others and build upon your skills and strengths.
 
Study Abroad and Internship opportunities.  If you’re worried about securing a job after graduation, you may want to consider a liberal arts college that has study abroad and internship opportunities available.  Both of these opportunities provide unique and practical experiences that can be very attractive on a resume.
 
While internship opportunities give you first-hand work experience at a company or organization, study abroad programs will allow you to experience cultural and language exposure as well.  Both of these experiences are very valuable in a workplace.  If study abroad programs are important to you, make sure to research what type of study abroad programs are available and how strongly a college supports their study abroad program.
 
Disability services.  If you have a disability, make sure to ensure that the college you wish to attend has the facilities to support your disability.  Many schools typically have a department dedicated to this service.
 
Financial Factors
 
Cost.  The cost of tuition is one of the most important factors when considering which college you will ultimately attend.  Unless you happen to have a large college savings fund in preparation for your education, it is likely that you will have to consider alternative ways of funding your education through scholarships, grants, and student loans.  With that said, before you consider enrolling in a particular college, make sure you have a good understanding of how much the average tuition will cost for that particular school.  It’s also important to consider other costs as well like room and board, books, and campus fees. 
 
Financial Aid availability.  The U.S. government along with the state government and the college you attend all help contribute to a student’s financial aid.  Federal student aid, the most widely-known type of financial aid, usually comes in the forms of grants and loans.  With rising costs of tuition each year, chances are you will need to apply to Federal student aid.  If cost of tuition is a concern of yours, it’s also important to note that some colleges provide more financial aid than others.  Therefore it is important to research your schools tuition rates and scrutinize your financial aid packages thoroughly. 
 
When all else fails, take care to ask for scholarships as well.  Certain departments within the college you are applying may have scholarships available.  All you need to do is ask. 
 
  
 
 
Resources:

1. “5 Reasons to Attend Liberal Arts College.”  Retrieved on 17 Jan 2013, from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-37241390/5-reasons-to-attend-a-liberal-arts-college/
 
2. Lang, Eugene M.  “Distinctly American: The Liberal Arts College.”  Retrieved 7 Jan 2013, from www.projectpericles.org/projectpericles/about/history/attachment.pdf
 
http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Liberal_arts_college
 
4. Slide, Casey.  “33 Factors for how to choose a college.”  Retrieved on 15 Jan 2013, from http://www.moneycrashers.com/factors-choose-college/
 

5. “Types of Aid.”  Retrieved on 17 Jan 2013, from http://studentaid.ed.gov/types
 

Why choose a liberal arts college?
This article explores the many reasons to choose a liberal arts college over a public university or technical college.

What is a Liberal Arts College?
A liberal arts college is a four-year higher-learning institution, usually found in the United States. These colleges emphasize a broad undergraduate education.

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