Tips to Help You Look at Liberal Arts Colleges
Over the years I have posted many pieces to help parents and students consider publicly-supported colleges and universities. But I also wanted to help those who are looking at private liberal arts colleges. This is an oft-criticized segment of higher education. But it offers many advantages to the right student.
What are liberal arts colleges?
Liberal arts colleges, according to Victor Ferrall, a former president of Beloit College (WI), are primarily in more isolated locations and enroll an average of approximately 1,600 students. However, some such as Calvin College (MI), which offers engineering degrees, enroll as many as 4,000.
In some cases you might find that a privately-supported liberal arts college might be as affordable to you as a publicly-supported university, quite possibly one in another state.
But there are other considerations besides finances. As you visit private liberal arts schools, you should:
Look at the entire campus, not just what you see on the guided tour.
Smaller schools often provide fewer places for serenity than larger schools. However, some also have campuses that are as large or larger than public schools that will offer the same educational options. As one example, the Davidson College (NC) campus has 665 acres for less than 2,000 students. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has 730 acres for around 29,000 students.
Ask to see one example of each on-campus housing option that will be available throughout your student’s education.
Unlike many large state universities, virtually everyone who goes to a small liberal arts school lives on campus. Some schools provide suite-style living with kitchens and/or apartments to their upperclassmen. Others provide traditional corridor-style residence halls where students who live in several rooms share a common bathroom. In addition, schools take different approaches to co-ed housing. Some halls are literally co-ed; men and women live in alternating rooms. Others are all-male on one side of a floor, all female on another, while others have alternating single-sex floors.
Ask about the importance of fraternities and sororities to the campus life.
Some schools, like Kenyon or Oberlin have none, while they have more influence at others such as Colgate and DePauw (IN). These schools are more isolated and they have fewer programs than larger schools, so the Greek organizations may have an opportunity to dominate the social life. If the school has no Greek organizations, ask about campus-wide traditions and events that bring students out en masse. The leading schools tend to respect such traditions.
Learn all you can about the political leanings of the student body.
Some schools such as Bard and Oberlin lean left; their students are quite interested in political activism. Others, such as Furman and Washington and Lee lean in the other direction. And still others are more politically apathetic or middle of the road; their students may have modern or liberal social views but conservative beliefs on economic issues.
Find out which majors are the most popular as well as the acceptance rates to law school or medical school, if that is the direction you are headed.
Some schools invest more in their science majors, others in other subjects. The administrators and faculty at liberal arts colleges are more likely to believe that they are the last stop on an educational journey than their peers at large universities.
Visit the career development center, note the size of the staff.
A one or two person office will have a very difficult time assisting the full student body. Typically, the office at a liberal arts school will have a director, an assistant, at least one or two other counselors, one of whom might work with employers as an internship coordinator. Some schools handle internships through a separate office, which also arranges for academic credit.
Also note that office’s connections to jobs and internships.
Virtually every school has a web-based job board and quite often an on-campus recruitment system. But, more important, some schools belong to consortia of schools that share jobs. The Liberal Arts Career Network (LCAN) is a group of 31 selective liberal arts schools across the country that share jobs and co-manage job fairs. There is also a Selective Liberal Arts Consortium (SLAC) for several of the highest-ranked liberal arts colleges. Other liberal arts colleges participate in large regional job fairs. These will give students access to more opportunities than the school can collect on its own.
While often criticized, a liberal arts education is often the best preparation for a future after college. Students learn to work more closely with adult faculty, who oversee their work, as well as in groups, which they are likely to do when they go to work. Curricula are far more flexible. You’re far less likely to change schools within your school if you change a major, so you’re more likely to graduate on time.
Besides, there are so few fields that demand a specialized degree outside of accounting, education, engineering and some health-related occupations. A liberal arts education can be easily configured to give most other graduates the skills they need to succeed in the career they want.
Want to know how I can help you consider and compare liberal arts colleges? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 609-406-0062
Want to know more about me? Check out these podcasts!
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community, hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
Listen to my talk, What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!