If you’ve stumbled upon this article, chances are you’re a high school student researching college. You might feel stressed since basically every adult makes college seem like it’s the end-all be-all. During your research, you might find out that your childhood dream university doesn’t fit who you are at all. And that’s okay, there’s so many more colleges out in the world for you to explore, whether that be large public universities or small liberal arts colleges.
Of course I’m still going to hype up liberal arts colleges. Going to a liberal arts college was the best decision I have ever made. I know if I didn’t ultimately choose to go, I would have regretted it immensely. It was the right decision for me.
As you go through the college process (researching, writing essays, applying), just remember it will be okay. Take a deep breath. Relax. In the end, you will end up where you’re destined to go.
This article is here to give some of the pros and none of the cons – because they don’t exist – about going to a liberal arts college. I would love to give you all of the pros but it would take up too much time. While there are people who disapprove and don’t see the value of a liberal arts education, I’m here to tell you that it’s all bogus.
Below are my top four reasons why pursuing a degree at a liberal arts college is the way to go.
1. Having close relationships with faculty
I never wanted to be “that girl who sits in the third row with an iced coffee”. I wanted to connect with my professors. This would not come as easily if I went to a non-liberal arts college. Some of my friends at large public universities have never even had a conversation with a professor. Most of their intro courses are taught by TAs.
Now compare that to a liberal arts college. Professors are invested in teaching and they want to be involved in their students’ lives. At my liberal arts college, I see my professors everywhere: waiting in line for omelets, frowning at the printer, walking to class, getting a coffee at the cafe. Because I see them at common places, I’m able to strike up conversations with them and continue to develop relationships with them in the classroom.
It’s very common to take initiative to seek out your professors. People will get meals with their professors or pop into their office hours just to ask them simple questions. Some professors will even invite students to dinner at their house as a way to get to know the class. You won’t find this with your typical 200 person intro course.
Through these simple acts, it makes it so much easier to later pursue a professional working relationship with them if you want to research. Of course, I’m not saying that it is impossible to develop personal relationships with professors in larger universities but it is much much easier when you go to a small liberal arts college.
2. Small class sizes
I don’t know about you but I learn best when I can engage directly with the material and ask questions. During COVID-19, even though my classes got moved to Zoom, my classes were still able to have conversations, debates, and real discussions. This most commonly occurs at liberal arts colleges. We were able to do it through small class sizes.
At a liberal arts college, you get to know your classmates, like really know them. Not in a way like “oh look the guy who always wears boat shoes and khakis is standing in front of us”. Small class sizes means learning their likes and dislikes, hearing their opinions, and working with them. The average class size at liberal arts colleges are typically around 15 to 20 people.
My first year classes were really small; my smallest one being 9 people and my largest one at 28 people. These were just the intro courses too. Once you reach higher level classes, your classes will get even smaller – averaging around 8 people per class.
When you aren’t at a liberal arts college, your intro classes could be anywhere from 100 people to 700 people. It would be nearly impossible to have real discussions where everyone manages to contribute meaningfully. And no, saying “I agree” does not count as a meaningful contribution. I can’t even imagine taking classes where, to the professor, I’m just one girl out of hundreds. They might not even know my name.
This does not happen at liberal arts colleges. With small class sizes, you are able to connect with your classmates and your professors. This small class size also translates to your graduating class. Typically, liberal arts colleges have less than 2,500 students or 5,000 students for private and public colleges respectively. You’ll be able to get to know a large portion of your graduating class before you part ways. This way, you won’t just be a needle in a haystack.
You will share four years of college with them, four years of learning, four years of asking questions, four years of wanting to be there, and four years of being open minded. Yes, maybe at bigger institutions, you’ll be able to find people who have the same drive to learn through a liberal arts perspective but at a liberal arts college, you’ll be surrounded by them.
3. Ability to choose your path
When applying to liberal arts colleges, you aren’t applying to a program or department. I have never had to fight other people in order to get into a major or even a department. The beauty of liberal arts colleges is that you don’t have to follow a set path. Sure there will be requirements but they’re much easier to fulfill when you aren’t competing with those who are actually majors in that department.
I went into college having no idea what I wanted to study. Maybe I’d dabble in computer science, physics, history, or politics. Who knew? Definitely not me. But this is precisely why I chose a liberal arts college. In some other universities, you have to apply directly to a major and/or department. By applying there, you are almost binding yourself to just that one path down one department. Of course, it is possible to switch majors but most of the time, it’s through a separate application and it’s just a much bigger hassle.
Being at a liberal arts college, I was able to take all the classes that I found interesting; liberal arts colleges promote holistic approaches to learning. It didn’t matter if you weren’t majoring in that particular subject or if you hadn’t had any experience doing research. Everyone was able to take classes that they wanted. Everyone needs some knowledge of every area whether it be mathematics, arts, social sciences, or physical sciences in order to be truly well-rounded.
Liberal arts allows you the opportunity to take classes in whatever field you want to try. This lets you change your perspective on one topic by seeing it from a different view. A biology major could take a class on ethics and change their view on animal experiments. At bigger universities, It’s much harder to take classes just for fun and for your own personal interest. This problem doesn’t exist at liberal arts colleges. If you want to have the ability to explore your interests without feeling bound to a certain major, a liberal arts college is right for you.
4. Research opportunities
At large universities, it’s going to be almost impossible to stand out to your professors enough for you to ask them to conduct research with them. To most, you’re just one face out of their 500 students. Compare that to a liberal arts college. With smaller classes come closer relations with a professor. From that, it’s almost guaranteed that you have a strong chance to conduct research with a professor.
As a college, there are no graduate students lined up to compete with you for a professor’s attention. Most professors are working on their own research and will need some help. It is extraordinarily easy to be able to reach out to professors and a perfect way to gain research experience. Due to the small student population, you have better chances of developing relationships with professors and gaining the experience of researching.
Professors also want students to reach out and ask to be involved in the research process. It’s the best way to learn more about their students and having those relationships can help you out in the long run. This extends past humanities subjects to STEM subjects as well.
Through conducting research, you can also buff up your resume. Employers love seeing that you helped a professor conduct research. Not only does it show you have an interest in a subject, but it also shows that you’ve developed research skills with the help of someone who’s exceptional at research. If you are interested in conducting research on a topic of your choice with a professor, go to a liberal arts college.
The Quick and Dirty
Of course, I did not choose my college list solely based on these four elements. Before I leave you, I’ll give you a condensed version of three more reasons why a liberal arts college is superior.
5. Employers prefer it
Employers are now choosing to hire students with a liberal arts background. This wasn’t something that I knew had a statistic when I was applying for college so more power to you. Liberal arts means being well-rounded and being interested in topics across all spectrums. It means developing different skills for different aspects of life.
6. Preparing for grad school
I still have no idea what I want to do with my life and I’m fine with it. I just know that if I ever want to go to graduate school, I will be well prepared for the work that comes. In fact, more people from liberal arts colleges get graduate degrees than people from other colleges or universities.
7. Alumni network
After graduating from liberal arts colleges, it may be hard to find people who’ve gone to the same school, especially since on average, there’s only about 700 people graduating per year from your college. Everyone who graduated from a small college knows that it’s difficult to just “run into” people on the street who also graduated from your Alma Mater. Due to this, the alumni network is strong and helps connect graduates and current students together through a mentor program.
Conclusion on a Liberal Arts Education
I urge everyone reading this article to seriously consider a liberal arts college. I cannot imagine being at any other university or college. I’ve made some sketchy decisions in my life – eating ramen at 2 AM during finals week – but I can say with 110% certainty, my college choice was not one of them.
You may read this list and decide that a liberal arts college may not be the right fit for you. That’s completely okay. Everyone has different preferences. If that is you, I wish you the best of luck. Remember, you will be okay; you will end up where you belong.