Q&A Benefits of a Liberal Arts Education

What are the benefits of a liberal arts education compared to an education you would normally get at either a private or public research university?

A liberal arts college is a post-secondary institution that primarily focuses on undergraduates studying the liberal arts and sciences. Liberal arts schools believe that education is not a means to an end but an end in it of itself. Thus, most LACs strive to create well-rounded, intellectual students. The colleges often encourage or require their students to explore a variety of subjects and many times in an interdisciplinary manner.
Many students then wonder what the point of a liberal arts education really is. Students believe that LACs will not prepare them for careers or the “real world.” However, Howard and Matthew Greene right in their book The Hidden Ivies that “[i]n a complex, shifting world, it is essential to develop a high degree of intellectual literacy and critical-thinking skills, a sense of moral and ethical responsibility to one’s community, the ability to reason clearly, to think rationally, to analyze information intelligently, to respond to people in a compassionate and fair way, to continue learning new information and concepts over a lifetime, to appreciate and gain pleasure from the beauty of the arts and literature and to use these as an inspiration and a solace when needed, to revert to our historical past for lessons that will help shape the future intelligently and avoid unnecessary mistakes, to create a sense of self-esteem that comes from personal accomplishments and challenges met with success.” In other words, the liberal arts teaches students to become creative problem solvers, the most critical skill required for all careers at every level.
Some factors that distinguish liberal arts colleges from their peers include:
  1. Undergraduate focus — professors are there for undergraduates as there are few, if any graduate and PhD students
  2. Small class sizes
  3. Few if any teaching assistants
  4. Residential experience
  5. Non-competitive culture
  6. Education of the whole person
  7. No declaration of major until sophomore or junior year
  8. No technical/vocational majors like accounting 

One of my favorite books on the merits of a liberal arts education is Loren Pope’s Colleges That Change Lives. He does a wonderful job conveying the value of a liberal arts education in this competitive and rapidly changing world.  

However, a liberal arts school is not for everyone. Some students excel in environments characteristic of state universities. There are more course offerings, more professors, more majors, more students, and more name recognition. These students are often assertive, competitive, and can get their needs met despite the fact that the resources are spread a bit thinner. Others benefit from having lots of personal attention, advising, and a small, collaborative community. These students are better suited for liberal arts colleges.