When you picture yourself going to college––a reality that is going to come true in the all-too-near future––there’s no limit to what you might see: tailgating before a football game, doing research at your school’s state-of-the-art engineering complex, or working in one of your school’s many fine arts facilities. But, have you ever pictured yourself at a liberal arts college?
Though liberal arts colleges are often small, these schools are among the oldest, most historic and most beautiful places of higher education in the country. Many are considered to be elite and are very highly ranked, but they are also considered to be “niche” schools that aren’t for everyone. If you’re thinking about a liberal arts college, but aren’t totally sure, here are some of the biggest myths about them that you might want to reconsider:
Myth #1: They’re too expensive
Regardless of what kind of school you’re looking at, it’s going to come with a big price tag––liberal arts schools are no exception and it’s not uncommon for the sticker price of a liberal arts college to exceed $60,000. However, did you know that liberal arts schools are often the most generous when it comes to financial aid? Well-respected schools like Amherst College, Vassar College, Williams College and Pomona College (amongst others) often rank among the “Best Value Colleges” according to US News.
Many liberal arts colleges pledge to meet 100 percent of their students’ demonstrated financial needs—whether this is accomplished through scholarships, grants or loans. Most of these schools are need-blind during the admissions process. Some schools that aren’t need blind will take your family’s financial situation into account during the admissions process—meaning even if you’ve got the goods academically, they can choose not to admit you. It’s a harsh reality, but thankfully most liberal arts schools recognize that your financial situation should have no impact on your chance at receiving the fantastic education you deserve.
Myth #2: They’re way too small
It’s true that the average size of the student population at a liberal arts school is usually much smaller than that of a state school or other university. Some people are turned off by the idea of a small school. Seeing the same people every day can sound disturbingly like high school.
However, even the smallest liberal arts school will provide an experience far different from the one you had in high school. The freedom of living in a dorm, choosing your own classes and joining extracurricular activities make it unlikely that you will feel suffocated by a small student body.
There are tons of other advantages that you won’t find at a larger school. Even introductory classes at liberal arts colleges tend to have fewer than thirty students. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever end up in a large lecture hall or that you’ll be taught by a teaching assistant (usually a graduate student) instead of an actual professor. If you prefer more individualized attention in the classroom, then a liberal arts school is probably perfect for you.
Myth #3: Your options are limited
At liberal arts schools, the focus is on undergraduates. This differs from larger universities, where there is also an emphasis on graduate students and faculty research. Liberal arts educations are well-rounded—you’ll take classes in history, literature, the arts and sciences. Still, the list of options for majors might seem fairly limited when compared to larger schools, especially if you want to go into a STEM-related field. But, since the focus is on YOU, you’d be amazed at what you’ll be able to accomplish.
“I go to James Madison University, a liberal arts school, and I love it!” says Rachel Petty, a junior. “It’s the perfect size for me and there are many course options to choose from! I found an awesome program for my major (journalism) and I’m still learning a lot about other subjects in my general education courses.” If you know what you want to major in, but still have other interests you want to explore in an academic setting, then a liberal arts school could be a great fit for you.
Advisors and professors at liberal arts colleges are willing to work with you to help you get what you want out of your education—whether it’s by declaring a double major, a minor or a concentration. If you’re proactive and plan ahead, you may even be able to create a student-designed program.
At a school with a smaller student body, there may be fewer extracurricular options. However, they’re often open to all students regardless of your major. If you’re an economics major with a hidden passion for theater, or a pre-med student who has always wanted to write for the school paper, a liberal arts school might be the perfect place to get your feet wet and try something new.
Myth #4: Employers prefer brand-name or large-university graduates
Depending on your school, your major and your courses, you are guaranteed to get something different out of your college education than another collegiette might. But, there are certain skills we all need to obtain if we want to be attractive to potential employers. Employers want to know: Can you work well with others? Can you communicate well? Can you write with a strong command of the English language? Liberal arts schools go above and beyond to teach you those sorts of important skills.
At a liberal arts college, you’re going to work closely with both your professors (who will probably know you by name within the first few weeks of the semester) and your fellow classmates—and whether you like it or not, you’ll be better for it.
You should be ready to work on at least one—brace yourself—group project every semester (yes, we know it sounds awful). You’ve probably heard it a thousand times before, but having to work with others, however good or bad an experience it is, will teach you how to speak up for yourself, compromise, and not sweat the small stuff—all things that will help your career prospects down the road.
There’s no solid “yes” or “no” answer to the question of whether or not a liberal arts college is right for you—it all depends on what exactly you want to get out of your college experience. But, if individualized attention from faculty, a tight-knit community and a focus on a well-rounded education sound attractive to you, a liberal arts schools is definitely something to consider.