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What is a Liberal Arts College?

August 12, 2021 | Staff Writers

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If you ask ten people to define the term “liberal arts,” you’ll likely get ten different answers. Although the term has continually evolved over the years, today, it encompasses four major areas of study: natural sciences, arts, humanities, and social sciences.

For decades, liberal arts programs have been among the most preferred majors by high school graduates joining universities because liberal arts programs often shape students into well-rounded individuals. More often than not, liberal arts graduates are freethinkers and good communicators. As a result of their nature, liberal arts majors tend to get employed rather quickly in certain industries.

A lot of people often wonder where a liberal arts degree can take them. Well, a liberal arts degree prepares you for a wide variety of careers. Because of the massive number of skills learned during your liberal arts degree and the wide range of subjects covered, you can pursue different career paths. A liberal arts degree can also enable you to gain admission into elite graduate schools to further your education. Without a liberal arts degree from a quality school, you’ll likely not be able to achieve this.

What Does “Liberal Arts” Mean?

Several students attend colleges and universities to study specific degrees to obtain the skills and knowledge needed to pursue specific career paths such as nursing, teaching, or accounting. Unlike such students, liberal arts students aren’t training for specific careers. However, they are training to pursue a more generalized knowledge to help prepare them for diverse professions. The liberal arts degree is composed of different diverse fields that originate from ancient Greece. 

Students who study the degree program learn effective communication, problem-solving, and formulating arguments, among other several skills. Despite the degree program mainly being offered in American colleges, liberal art has been adopted by several other colleges globally. If you have limited knowledge of liberal education, you are in the right place. This section gives an overview of the term “liberal arts,” its difference with humanities, among other aspects. 

What Does the Term “Liberal Arts” Mean?

Liberal arts are a tricky thing to define. You won’t be surprised to realize that some of those people lack the slightest knowledge about it. The definition of liberal education has evolved, as it dates back to the ancient Greeks. Initially, the term referred to the various skills that an individual needed to partake in public life. The skills were mostly used in military service, taking up offices, and defending oneself in court. 

Liberal arts currently refers to a degree program encompassing various fields, including social sciences, humanities, arts, and natural sciences. Unlike in the past, when liberal arts degree emphasized more technical and vocational knowledge, it currently teaches a broad range of skills that humans need. Plus, it also prepares liberal arts graduates to pursue a wide range of careers as students gain the much-needed skills by employers. Some of the liberal arts majors include philosophy, history, foreign, economics, political sciences, mathematics, and environmental science. 

What Is the Difference Between the Humanities and Liberal Arts?

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to humanities and liberal arts. The two terms are used interchangeably, hence the confusion. Most people poorly define the two, leading to a misunderstanding of what they mean. However, after reading through this, you will get to know the key differences. The first thing to note is that humanities are a component of liberal arts. Hence, all humanities degrees are part of Liberal arts. 

Therefore, a liberal arts curriculum can be broadly categorized into humanities, mathematics, natural sciences, and social sciences. Liberal arts teaching students critical thinking and a broader education perspective to prepare students for different roles in the job market. On the other hand, humanities teach students a specific technical skill. Hence, after graduation, the students will only qualify for a particular profession. Some of the humanities subjects include:

  • History
  • Foreign languages 
  • Film 
  • Music 
  • Communication 

What Is the Relationship Between Liberal Arts Colleges and Liberal Politics?

Liberal arts colleges are institutions of higher education that emphasizes more on the study of liberal arts degrees. In these colleges, liberal arts students get training on skills needed to communicate effectively, think critically, or formulate logical arguments. From various research, it is evident that liberal arts colleges have played a significant role in shaping political ideologies.

Colleges help to prepare students for civic roles in society. Like in ancient Greece, where students undertook liberal arts to learn some of the much-needed skills to partake in public life, the liberal arts colleges have also been at the forefront of shaping students’ perception of the political world. Additionally, the liberal politics and liberal arts colleges undoubtedly relate since the colleges influence liberal art students’ political behaviors, beliefs, and values. This is why most liberal arts students always have to contradict opinions and beliefs from those of others. 

If you consider pursuing a degree that will help sharpen different skills, look no further than a liberal arts degree. The degree course prepares students to take up positions in a variety of professions. The degree is categorized into four main fields: humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and arts.

Pros and Cons of a Liberal Arts College

One of the most challenging situations that students find themselves in is choosing what degree to pursue. The cost of higher education has significantly increased; hence many students opt for courses that will pay off the financial investment immediately after graduation. But is this always the case? Unlike most degree courses, a liberal arts graduate faces many uncertainties in the job market despite the ambiguous career opportunities. 

Recently, there has been a lot of debate by parents and students concerning the importance of the liberal arts college and its career prospects. Some argue that liberal arts degrees, especially liberal arts majors, are a pathway to a successful career, while others refute the claims. With these raging debates, is a liberal arts degree worth your time and resources? This article takes a closer look at the benefits and limitations of a liberal art degree and the career paths that the degree would most likely take you. 

What Are the Benefits of a Liberal Arts College?

The value of the liberal arts degree is not black and white. Here are some of the benefits of the degree to you evaluate the value of liberal arts colleges: 

  • Small Size 
    Unlike most colleges and university degrees that attract many students, liberal arts colleges are always smaller, providing a personalized approach to education, giving you the best college experience. The small size gives students increased access to their professors, increasing the tutor-student interaction both in and out of the classroom.
  • Broad Range of Classes 
    A student undertaking liberal education takes a wide range of psychology classes. These classes require them to learn the specific subjects they are majoring in and other subjects. For instance, a student majoring in mathematics will also learn other subjects such as communication and critical thinking. They will also attend phycology classes. This variety allows the students to learn more life skills compared to university students who only focus on the courses related to their degree program.
  • Career Ready 
    Most graduate students have difficulties landing jobs after graduation despite being confident they were prepared for their entry-level careers. However, this is not always the case for liberal arts students, as their majors equip them with the much-needed skills and knowledge for a successful career. 

What Are the Limitations Associated with A Liberal Art College?

Despite having some benefits, liberal art colleges are also prone to some limitations. Some of these limitations include: 

  • Lack of Proper Funding 
    One major limitation of a liberal arts education is the lack of proper funding to equip the colleges. Unlike most universities and Christian colleges, which get direct government funding, liberal art colleges lack funding. Therefore, the colleges always lack the state-of-the-art facilities needed by students to conduct their research. 
  • Low Income Jobs 
    Even though a liberal degree graduate has diverse career options that they might choose to pursue, some careers pay relatively lower than other professions. It is quite devastating to invest heavily in your education and end up with a low-income job. 
  • Lack of Depth 
    The liberal arts curriculum requires the students to take a wide range of subjects such as humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. With the numerous classes, lectures may lack depth as the subjects are awarded less credit time. Students lack the opportunity to learn technical skills, which are essential entry-level skills. 
  • Job Competition 
    Jobs related to liberal art degrees are quite hard to find due to the high competition in the job market. The degree program doesn’t provide a ready job market once students graduate from colleges. 

Where Could a Liberal Arts Degree Take You?

It is undoubtedly true that a liberal arts degree exposes you to several career paths, which is attributable to the many skills you attain during your education and the wide variety of subjects covered. The degree might land you in a media firm, either as a journalist or public relations, thanks to the communication skills learned in the colleges.

Additionally, the degree will expose you to the political world. Several graduates have also considered pursuing political careers, either as political administrators or running for political positions. If you majored in humanities, you could as well follow a career working in art galleries or museums. The skills and knowledge could also expose you to teaching professions. 

Liberal arts colleges provide you with the serene environment needed to study. Upon graduation, you are likely to pursue several career paths due to the wide variety of fields studied in the colleges. However, it is also prone to some criticism. If you were considering pursuing a liberal arts degree and was still unsure about it, the above information will hopefully help you make an informed decision. 

Degrees and Programs Usually Offered at A Liberal Arts College

Did you know that liberal arts graduates are competing with graduates in technical fields? Again, one-third of chief executive officers of well-known Fortune 500 firms have liberal arts degrees in humanities. Though liberal arts degrees have a bad reputation, liberal arts graduates also have success stories.

Degrees that students can get from a liberal arts college include a Bachelor of Arts (B.A) in several subjects such as mathematics, foreign language, political science, English, sociology, and religion. However, some students can decide to continue with education and attain a master’s degree. They graduate with a Master of Art in Liberal Studies (MALS) and have a deeper understanding of liberal arts fields.

Best Liberal Arts Colleges

Below are some of the best colleges where students can attain their liberal arts degrees:

What Can You Expect from a Bachelor’s in a Liberal Arts Program?

Students with a bachelor’s in liberal arts have numerous skills, including critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration. Most employers prefer employing these graduates because they use these skills in the job market. They can solve complex issues in various industries and come up with solutions to boost productivity. They can also work in several sectors and fulfill their career dreams.

Liberal Art Jobs in Various Industries

Graduates with a degree in liberal arts can work in various industries, including marketing, business operations, and technology. Below are the best liberal art jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

  • Translator/interpreter
  • Web developer
  • Software developer
  • Database administrator
  • Technical writer
  • Advertising manager
  • Paralegal/legal assistant
  • Archivist/curator
  • Public relations specialist
  • Human resources specialist

Benefits of a Liberal Arts Education

Liberal art majors can receive financial aid to pursue higher education. Below are some benefits that standout when students graduate with a liberal arts degree.

Opportunities to Pursue Various Career Options

Liberal education makes graduates promptly adapt to any changing conditions. If they find themselves in a career that’s not fit for them, they can always change. A liberal arts degree allows these students to have open career options because they have various skills. Thus, most employers see these graduates as assets instead of liabilities.

Gaining a Multidisciplinary perspective

Students learn several liberal arts subjects that help them get more ideas. Therefore, they can discover their strengths and know their career paths. They also learn about various human experiences and cultures that help them work in different companies.

Students Gain Critical Thinking Skills

Liberal arts education helps students to become open-minded and creative. These students can solve complicated issues in various cultures. They gain the in-depth knowledge that they can apply in various fields of their career. 

Students Learn to Think Differently

Graduates with a liberal arts degree can shift careers to various jobs. They learn multiple subjects in class that help them to gain communication skills and think critically. Thus, they can translate their knowledge and work in different jobs. 

What Subjects Fall Under the Category of Liberal Arts?

According to U.S. News & World Report, the liberal arts curriculum disciplines help students develop their critical thinking. Graduates who attain a liberal arts degree know several subjects, including:

  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Mathematics
  • English
  • Art
  • Political science

Subjects Covered in Liberal Arts Education

Students who gain college degrees as liberal arts majors aren’t trained on a specific career path. Instead, they study a broad education that helps them gain various skills. Below are the subjects covered in a liberal study.

  • Arts
    Students learn fine and creative arts and take courses such as literature, music, history, art history, and theatre. The course is well-rounded and helps students to think differently. According to U.S. News, today, most employers value employing creative job candidates such as a liberal arts student. Thus, liberal arts programs are better compared to professional or technical programs.
  • Sciences
    Students learn natural science and social science in their courshttps://www.aacu.org/advocacy-liberal-education-0ework. Thus, they get a better understanding of both the social and the natural world. They take different courses, including chemistry, astronomy, biology, and physics. Though these students don’t pursue a career in sciences, they can use this knowledge to understand human interactions.
  • Humanities
    These disciplines help students to understand the human culture and condition. Humanity courses covered in liberal arts colleges include philosophy of the law, ethics, archeology, linguistics, languages, political science, and religion. When humanity courses are combined with arts and sciences, students can make better decisions and display their concepts in both written and oral forms.

Top Liberal Arts Colleges in The Country

Did you know that some liberal arts colleges rank higher than some national universities? Some students prefer enrolling in liberal arts colleges rather than universities because liberal arts education majors in a vast area of liberal study. However, universities can break the same major into more than one-degree tracks. 

Every year, several high school students apply to liberal arts colleges to receive a broad education to choose a career path. Liberal arts colleges are more affordable small colleges than research universities, and students can fully utilize resources and opportunities. Because they form meaningful relationships, most students graduate successfully.

Ranking of Liberal Arts Colleges Among National Universities

Eleven out of twenty-five national universities are liberal arts colleges. According to college ranking sites such as U.S. News & World Report and The Wall Street Journal, the ranking of liberal arts colleges among national universities is as follows:

#6 Amherst College 

#10 Bowdoin College 

#14 Williams College 

#16 Pomona College

#17 Vassar College

#18 Washington and Lee

#20 Haverford College

#21 Wesleyan University

#22 Middlebury College

#24 Swarthmore College

#25 Hamilton College

Which are the Top Liberal Arts Colleges in the U.S. in Terms of Overall Quality?

According to U.S. News & World Report, the new and best colleges are ranked according to academic quality and the net cost depending on students who received need-based financial aid on an average level. However, it’s better when a college offers a higher quality of education and a lower cost. Below are the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. 2021 in terms of overall quality.

#1 Williams College– Williamstown, MA

#2 Amherst College– Amherst, MA

#3 Swarthmore College– Swarthmore, PA

#4 Pomona College– Claremont, CA

#4 Wellesley College– Wellesley, MA

#6 Bowdoin College– Brunswick, ME

#6 Claremont McKenna College– Claremont, CA

#6 United States Naval Academy– Annapolis, MD

#9 Carleton College– Northfield, MN

#9 Hamilton College– Clinton, NY

#9 Middlebury College– Middlebury, VT

#9 Washington and Lee University– Lexington, VA

#13 Grinnell College– Grinnell, IA

#13 Vassar College– Poughkeepsie, NY

#15 Colby College– Waterville, ME

#15 Davidson College– Davidson, NC

#15 Haverford College– Haverford, PA

#15 Smith College– Northampton, MA

#15 United States Military Academy– West Point, NY

#20 Colgate University– Hamilton, NY

Above are some of the top-ranked liberal arts colleges according to best colleges ranking 2021 by U.S. News. However, the net cost of attendance is of 2019-2020

Which Colleges Offer the Best Online Liberal Arts Degrees? 

Several colleges, including women’s colleges, offer liberal arts curriculums. However, some are more dependable than others in providing a liberal education. These colleges were established in different years, and their annual tuition fees vary. Below are the colleges that offer the best online liberal arts degrees to help candidates attain higher education.

Harvard University– Cambridge, MA

 It caters to students aged 21 years and above. Students must take four full years of study to attain a B.A. in liberal arts degree. Students also need 128 credits to acquire this degree.

Oregon State University– Corvallis, OR

At OSU, students earn a bachelor of arts degree in different subjects, including social science, humanities, and arts. This college offers two customizable liberal arts bachelor’s degrees. Both degrees require a total credits study of 180.

University of North Carolina at Greensboro– Greensboro, NC

This college offers liberal arts degrees online to adult students who had previously attended college. Thus, students get opportunities to study the programs of their interest and achieve their career goals. A student must earn 122 credits to graduate.

University of Massachusetts– Lowell, MA

Students in this college have the advantage of choosing their areas of concentration. The level of flexibility in this college enables learners to work while learning online. Liberal arts graduates must complete a full-time study of four years and complete 12o to 122 credits.

University of Illinois at Springfield– Springfield, IL

UIS helps students to gain critical thinking skills and become better citizens. Students must study four years full-time to attain a degree in liberal arts studies. Again, students must learn at least one class among the seven thematic concentrations. These classes cover various topics, including nature, work, identity, art, heritage, language, institutions, and identity.

Troy University– Troy, AL

Liberal arts majors in this university succeed in jobs such as graphic design, sales, social work, teaching, and management. A liberal art student must study for four years, earn 60 credits and maintain 2.0 GPAs to graduate.

Colorado State University-Fort Collins, CO

Students take core courses in languages, social sciences, arts, and humanities. They must also choose one option from minor courses: anthropology, sociology, media studies, gerontology, political science, business administration, and economics. Students must attain 120 credits to graduate.

In Summary

Liberal arts programs are the way to go. By pursuing a liberal arts degree, the first thing you can be assured of is a variety of career opportunities. One of the most common criticisms liberal arts programs face is that they don’t prepare students for the job market like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs do. However, since liberal arts are multidisciplinary, they equip each student with a versatile skill set.

If you choose to pursue a liberal arts program, you can expect to be employed soon after completing your program. Employers look for employees who’ve mastered soft skills. As literal arts graduates possess these skills, they are usually sought-after by many employers.

Many individuals tend to think that liberal arts majors earn low salaries. However, this isn’t true. Although liberal arts majors often have lower salaries than their STEM counterparts, they normally catch up with time. With this being the case, it’s safe to say that by choosing to pursue a liberal arts program, you can expect to get a well-paying job in the future.

There are plenty of liberal art schools in the country. Even though all of them usually proclaim they offer exceptional liberal arts programs, this isn’t always true. If you’re searching for a liberal arts school to join, go for one that has a good reputation and experienced professors. If you enroll at this type of school, you can rest easy that you will receive a high-quality liberal arts program.

All in all, a liberal arts program sets you up as a qualified candidate for many career paths. If you choose to pursue a liberal arts degree, you can rest assured that you’ll graduate a better person than when you enrolled.

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