Today I posted my First Impressions of Vassar College, among the best schools for students who are interested in a liberal arts college, and have the academic chops to get in.

The most popular majors at most colleges, large or small, are likely to be in subjects in the liberal arts. The liberal arts include not only the arts, humanities and social sciences, but also “hard” sciences such as chemistry, computer science, neuroscience and physics. Psychology, the most popular major at many colleges, is a blend of the natural and physical sciences (biology and chemistry), mathematics (statistics) and social sciences.

There are many reasons college students choose liberal arts majors over pre-professional programs in business, communications, education and engineering, to name some examples. The liberal arts offer the clearest path to a degree for students who enter college undecided on a major. They also offer a clearer path for students to prepare for advanced degrees in subjects such as law or medicine, for which there is no “pre-entry” major. The liberal arts at many colleges also offer opportunities for students to design their own major or pursue interests within a major.

Whether a school is a small college or a very large university, it likely claims that it offers an exceptional liberal arts education. This depends more on the student than it does on the school. Many college students are satisfied with the very large school with lectures and the freedom to pursue a degree without a single professor knowing their name.

However, the best school to pursue a liberal arts major is a liberal arts college. A liberal arts college is one that not only offers strictly liberal arts majors; it also grants few, or no, graduate degrees.

Why is a liberal arts college the better place to pursue a liberal arts major?

  • The first year is a less abrupt transition from a high school education for most first-time college students.
  • Students are less likely to find separate schools that each have their own admission standards, though some majors will have more competitive admissions.
  • Admissions offices are less likely to make decisions based heavily on standardized test scores than their peers at larger schools.
  • The attention of the faculty is exclusively on undergraduate teaching; research comes second.
  • With few or no graduate students around, faculty must make greater use of undergraduates to help in their research.
  • The liberal arts faculty are more likely to mentor their students through senior projects, or a thesis, and maintain those relationships after they graduate.
  • The career resources of the school are devoted exclusively to undergraduates—and bright graduates of liberal arts colleges do get jobs, when they have set a direction.
  • The financial aid, including merit-based and need-based scholarships and jobs, is devoted exclusively to undergraduates.

A liberal arts education is not the best fit for every college-bound student. However, it often offers the best opportunities for students who are the most serious about a liberal arts major.

For more insights into good educational fits, including the liberal arts, contact me at stuart@educatedquest.com or call me at 609-406-0062.

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