When many students think about applying to university, large universities with great name recognition are often top of mind. But for many students, a liberal arts college is a much better fit, (and just as competitive to get into!) For those who are just starting to consider which colleges and universities to apply to, here are some points to seriously consider about the benefits of a liberal arts education.
Liberal arts colleges are student-focused. This means small class sizes, professors who have chosen a school where teaching takes priority, and a strong sense of community. Each liberal arts college has a distinct personality and it’s important to find a school where you will feel comfortable, but at most liberal arts colleges you’ll find students have chosen the school because of the strong focus on undergraduates. What this means is that you won’t be competing with graduate students for time with professors, and you may have opportunities to do research at the undergraduate level that may not be available to undergraduates at larger universities. Professors often have open office hours, and invite students out for coffee or over for dinner to get to know them as individuals, and many form long-lasting friendships.
The strong sense of community is another reason many students choose a liberal arts college. Because of the smaller size of the student body (relative to a large university), you will get to know many of your classmates, and you will recognize people as you walk down the path at school, enter the dining hall to eat lunch, and go to the library to study. The location of many liberal arts colleges, in more suburban and rural areas, also means that the majority of students’ social life takes place on campus. Many students enjoy the strong relationships they form and enjoy knowing that walking through campus they will bump into many friends.
Sports are often Division III, which means the schools they compete against are also small, but that doesn’t mean rivalries are uncommon. Some schools pride themselves on having strong teams (especially in certain sports) whereas others are much less sports-focused. Being at a smaller school also means that for some athletes, who may not have the talent to play at a Division I school, they do have an opportunity to continue sports at a high level. Many students are also active in club teams, which can include anything from rugby to ultimate Frisbee to Quidditch.
Depth of Subject
Students at liberal arts colleges often choose these institutions so that they will be academically challenged – they are there to go outside of their comfort zone and learn new things, from fellow students as well as professors. This doesn’t mean that students at liberal arts colleges are unfocused – quite the opposite. The types of students attracted to liberal arts colleges want to learn in-depth about the field they major in, but they also want to explore how other fields relate to their major, and take classes that challenge their views and thought-processes.
Many students realize that going on to graduate school requires not only a strong academic record, but also good recommendations and experience. Attending a college that is student-focused encourages this, since strong relationships with faculty and undergraduate research opportunities lead to great recommendations and experiences. An interesting fact is that per capita, liberal arts colleges produce twice as many students who earn a PhD in science than other institutions.
Great critical and analytical thinking as well as strong writing skills are things that many employers rave about in liberal arts graduates. In small class settings, students are more likely to be required to write papers, give class presentations and collaborate with their classmates and professors.
Choosing your School
So when you are considering which colleges and universities to look closely at, make sure you understand the strengths of liberal arts colleges, and consider these schools if they fit you personality and learning style. In the US, the top liberal arts colleges, such as Williams, Amherst, Swarthmore, and Pomona are just as competitive as top universities, and accord the same respect from employers.
In Hong Kong we have seen in the past seven years that awareness of and respect for top liberal arts colleges is increasing, and we expect this trend to continue.