What Is A Liberal Arts College?

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    When students think of college, they envision a campus with a football team and Greek life lining the road to the main entrance. For schools Florida State University, Pennsylvania State University, and Syracuse University, this rings true. But what if you’re a student that doesn’t like football, large crowds, and is looking for a unique college experience? You’re probably wondering what your options are, right? Thankfully there isn’t just one standard for higher education. Colleges and universities come in all forms and can appeal to many different types of students. If the traditional university experience doesn’t draw you in, you may find interest in a liberal arts college.

    Liberal arts colleges focus less on preparing students for a future career but place emphasis on encouraging them to become critical thinkers. This means their curriculum is more interdisciplinary. It allows students to have more flexibility in their schedules and explore new subjects. This isn’t to say that traditional research universities don’t allow for this, but liberal arts colleges are not preparing students for the workforce. 

    Liberal arts colleges are a great addition to your college list if you’re looking to diversify your list. Most people think of the Ivy League schools when they think of selectivity but some of the most selective colleges are liberal arts colleges. According to the U.S. News 2020-21 list of most selective colleges, schools like Pomona College, Swarthmore College, and Bowdoin College are topping the list with less than a 10% acceptance rate. 

    Like many traditional universities, liberal arts colleges have unique and distinct features that draw many students to their campuses.


    Liberal arts colleges are typically much smaller than your standard traditional research university. Their class sizes usually don’t get much larger than 30 people which makes for a more engaging lesson. Colleges like Amherst College have enrollments of less than 2,000 students! This encourages a tight-knit community.


    As previously mentioned, liberal arts colleges focus more on the actual thinking of the student and less on marketable skills. Liberal arts colleges also help prepare a student for further education such as attending graduate school and law school. Even though liberal arts colleges don’t offer graduate school options, they help prepare their students by challenging their beliefs.

    An article posted by liberalartscolleges.com stated that graduates from liberal arts colleges are outperforming their peers in a few metrics. For example, six of the top ten schools that are liberal arts colleges have more students attending further education. In addition, 9% of Fortune 500 CEO’s attended liberal arts colleges. While these numbers might not seem significant, it’s important for students to understand the opportunities and impact a liberal arts college education can give you.


    Because liberal arts colleges are so small, students feel much closer to their community. They place a lot of emphasis on giving back. Students that are accepted to and attend liberal arts colleges are more likely to volunteer with community organizations and be part of the environment. 

    Most liberal arts colleges are settled in rural and suburban areas. This means that having a close bond with the community is important to feel included and part of the college. 


    Liberal arts colleges have high sticker prices as they are typically private schools. However, liberal arts colleges are also more likely to provide substantial financial aid opportunities to their students. According to CNBC, Vassar College is one of the most expensive colleges but is “need-blind” so more than 60% of their students receive financial aid. In addition, Pomona College meets 100% of financial need with packages that include grants, scholarships, and work-study.

    This doesn’t mean that attending these colleges could be expensive. It means that the likelihood of receiving a nice financial aid package is higher than it would be for a traditional university that has limited funding available. 

    Consortium Colleges

    One of the best parts of attending a liberal arts college is the opportunity to attend multiple colleges. If a liberal arts college is associated with multiple other colleges, this usually means they are part of a consortium. When a student attends a school that is part of a consortium, they are able to take classes at the other schools affiliated. This allows the student to meet new people, feel like they are part of a larger community, and have multiple different experiences. 

    Claremont Colleges

    One example of a consortium is the Claremont consortium. This includes Pomona College, Scripps College, Claremont Mckenna College, Harvey Mudd College, and Pitzer College. These five colleges are located in Claremont, California. They are part of the same consortium but all have different offerings that can benefit a wide range of students. For example, Scripps College is an all-girls college. A female student can attend the school and get the all-girls college experience but then attend the other colleges and get a more “traditional” co-ed experience. 

    Five Colleges

    The Five Colleges consortium consists of five colleges, with four of them being a liberal arts college and one a public land grant university. These colleges consist of Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and UMass Amherst. Similar to the Claremont Colleges, students can take classes at any of these institutions. The only difference is they can also take classes at a more traditional university as well. This gives them an entirely different experience by attending a university with about 30,000 students. This helps round out their college experience and gives them the best of both worlds. 

    Tri-College Consortium

    In Pennsylvania, there are three colleges that are involved in the Tri-College Consortium. These schools are Swarthmore College, Bryn Mawr College, and Haverford College. This consortium is otherwise also known as the Quaker Consortium as it also includes the University of Pennsylvania for cross-registration. Students in Pennsylvania have the opportunity to take classes at their respective schools but also take courses at an Ivy League college in Philadelphia. A similar situation takes place with Barnard College and Columbia University.

    Who would attend a liberal arts college?

    Liberal arts colleges are not for everyone. These schools would be most beneficial to a student that values the act of learning. This is for a student that isn’t necessarily wanting to join the workforce right away but is looking to gain lifelong skills of critical thinking. Individuals who attend liberal arts colleges most likely value diversity and are open to having their beliefs challenged. This isn’t to say that individuals who want to join the workforce aren’t a good fit for a liberal arts college. But students who attend liberal arts colleges want to learn more and make it a point to continue their education even after graduating. 

    Liberal arts colleges are great options for students looking for a unique college experience. These schools are very popular with employers and highly regarded based on their selectivity and offerings. If you need help researching liberal arts colleges make sure to contact Prepory for answers to your questions.

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