Interested in Liberal Arts? What You Need to Know Before Enrollment

High school can be stressful enough. Add college applications to the mix, and it can be quite overwhelming. With universities sending attractive postcards to high school juniors and seniors, they quickly become inundated with choices. This does not have to be a bad thing. Living in an age where there are so many higher education options can help students find the perfect fit.

It is often said that instead of teaching you what to think, liberal arts colleges teach you how to think. Some studies have even suggested employers prefer hiring candidates with degrees from liberal arts institutions. In fact, the Association of American Colleges and Universities conducted a survey that showed four out of five employers prefer graduates with a liberal arts education. This is often because these graduates are more likely to adapt to varying jobs and responsibilities. Their portfolio of courses is usually more diverse than professional college degree holders.

While that may sound great, a liberal arts education isn’t for everyone. If you are debating between a liberal arts college and a traditional or professional option, read on. Here are a few things you should keep in mind when narrowing down your choices.

Take a Tour

Even the best print and digital marketing material cannot convey the actual feel of a place. It might be your home for the next four years, so you should definitely visit the campus. Some colleges have a few set dates for college tours. Whereas for others, you can schedule to visit throughout the year.

Go armed with a list of questions and try to speak to several students on campus. They will be able to give you more honest and relatable answers than the rehearsed pitch at the admissions office. Don’t just tour the classrooms and grounds. Check out other areas that might make a difference in your decision. For some, it can be the library, the gym, the dorm, dining hall, or auditorium.

You should also make it a point to visit the surrounding city or town, and figure out what it’s like. Is it too urban or too rural for you? How far is the airport or train station if you feel like coming home? You should make sure there are places you’ll be able to enjoy off campus for when you need a break from studying.

Sift Facts from Myths

Some students (and parents) may confuse a liberal arts college with a political ideology. Being politically conservative or liberal has nothing to do with the scope of study offered. A liberal arts education uses the word liberal as in “freedom,” specifically meaning freedom of your mind to explore more avenues.

Many people also incorrectly assume liberal arts colleges only offer “soft” subjects. That is not true. Many such colleges offer courses in hard sciences as well as humanities. So you could major in a language (humanities), psychology (social sciences), or even mathematics. The objective of a liberal arts college is to produce well-rounded individuals who have a grasp in a wide range of subjects. You could even study something completely unrelated to your focus or create an individualized major. This might be harder to do in a professional college.

Another myth associated with liberal arts colleges is that they are very expensive. It is untrue that only rich kids can attend. While the sticker price of a liberal arts college may be more than a traditional state university, you have options. You can apply for need-based and merit-based scholarships. Fill out the FAFSA form, and opt for work-study opportunities. If you get a better estimate on the expected family contribution, you should be able to see if financial aid can cover the difference.

Think About Your Studies

When deciding on what type of college to go to, it’s important to keep in mind the priorities of different institutions. A liberal arts college traditionally emphasizes broad academics and personal growth over specific professional training. Many liberal arts colleges don’t offer separate education programs, such as business and engineering schools, which are designed to give students specialized training. In contrast, a vocational or professional college may have more structured trajectories.

Students at liberal arts schools take general education courses, which can be a great opportunity if you want that broad, general knowledge base. However, if you’re interested in getting through school quickly and only learning what you need to know, liberal arts might not be for you. Professional programs at traditional colleges may work well for someone who knows exactly what they want to pursue. For others, it can be a little restrictive.

In addition to deciding what you want to learn, you’ll have to decide how long you want to be in school. Not all liberal arts colleges offer graduate programs. However, not all jobs require graduate education. You’ll have to make a decision based on a future career. If you do decide graduate school is for you, you can take the opportunity to study at two different institutions. There’s some flexibility with education, but you have to double check with specific programs and institutions.

Find the Perfect Fit

Do you like small class sizes where you develop a personal relationship with the professor? Or do you prefer to be one of the hundreds of students in an auditorium? If you thrive in the first kind of scenario, a liberal arts college might be the right choice for you.

For some students, a closely knit community makes a huge difference. This can be particularly true if you are living away from home for the first time.  Not only is the entire student body at a liberal arts college smaller than traditional universities, class sizes are more intimate too. Many liberal college alumni feel they had more of a mentoring experience with their professors. Often the class instruction is also more of a debate and discussion among peers. The instructors often play the role of a moderator, rather than a lecturer.

It may seem daunting to keep these factors in mind. However, choosing a college can be like finding a partner. For some it could be love at first sight (or step on campus). For others, it could require more of a dating process to finally find the one. As long as you do your homework and keep an open mind, you will find the college best suited for you.

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