An Argument for the Liberal Arts

Before I jump fully into this blog entry, allow me to make a confession:

My name is Randi and I’m a graduate of a liberal arts college.

Thus, I think it’s fair to say that I’m a little biased in favor of sending students to liberal arts colleges when their high school careers have finished.  After all, it’s natural for someone who had a wonderful college experience (as I did) to want to share that experience with as many other people as possible.

Moreover, much has been written in the last several years against the liberal arts approach to education (the format that used to make up the bulk of higher education in the United States) in favor of specialized career training in order to help students succeed in the all-too-challenging job market.  Yet more recently, the tide has begun to turn once more in favor of the liberal arts.  I now find that I’ve read so many conflicting articles on the liberal arts versus focused career preparation that I feel the two arguments may have reached a stalemate.

To that end, I’ll use this blog post to make my argument in favor of liberal arts education.  (It will – naturally – be based largely on my own personal experiences both as a student and an educator.)  But my next post will take the opposite stance and argue in favor of career training.  I feel this is only fair, as both sides of the argument have valid points to make and are worthy of equal consideration from readers.

At the end of the day, students, the the most important question you need to ask is, Which educational path is right for me?

A liberal arts path is advantageous if you:

  • …have divergent academic interests.  You fall into this category if you love the sciences and can easily see yourself in a medical career down the line but you also feel completely at home as the star of the school musical (or as drum major in the marching band).  Liberal arts students not only have the opportunity to follow both interests at the college level, but they can pursue them fully!  Visit any liberal arts school in the U.S. and I promise you’ll meet students who have double majors in combinations that defy logic – physics and religious studies, English and biology, chemistry and art history, etc..  The reason?  Liberal arts education is about students exploring real-world connections between all subjects – the way scientific discovery influences artists, for example.  If this sounds like your kind of learning, a liberal arts college fits the bill.
  • …have no idea what you want to major in.  It’s not unusual for high school students to have only a vague idea of what they want to do for a career after college – and even less unusual for them to freeze up when faced with a list of over 150 potential college majors.  Which one do you choose?  At a liberal arts college, students are encouraged (read: forced by academic requirement) to explore classes in a variety of academic disciplines for up to two years before they have to select a single (or – more likely – double) major.  If you feel that you’d benefit from this kind of time and freedom to explore your options, be sure to add liberal arts colleges to your search list.
  • …want to become a better writer.  Liberal arts colleges are known for having smaller student populations than their big university counterparts and, with smaller populations come smaller class sizes and different class formats.  Many classes will be in a discussion (roundtable) format at a liberal arts college and professors will most likely assign more papers than they will traditional homework and exams.  The idea is that you’ll explore topics more deeply and learn to draw your own conclusions (backed up with research!) in writing.  And since writing well is an art that is quickly being lost in our Twitter and text message-clogged society, a liberal arts college can help you buck the trend – which might advance your career in the future!
  • …want to conduct high-level research.  At the big research universities, the majority of research dollars and equipment are allocated not to undergraduate students, but instead to the graduate students working on their Masters degrees or enrolled in a phD program.  If you want to get out there and delve immediately into high-level research as an undergraduate, it’s the liberal arts colleges who strongly support (and fund!) students in these types of endeavors.  You don’t have to be a budding scientist to participate either – most liberal arts colleges support research in all areas of study, from history to psychology and even for creative projects in music and the visual arts.

Even as a proud liberal arts college alumna, I’ll be the first to admit that a liberal arts college isn’t necessarily the best fit for every student.  For many of the ones I am privileged to work with every year, however, my best recommendations to them are to attend liberal arts schools because I know that the very best place for them to reach their full academic potential is in just such a setting.  (For equestrians, it doesn’t hurt that many of the top IHSA teams in the U.S. represent liberal arts colleges!)

Are you a great candidate for a liberal arts school?  Contact me and we’ll find out!

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