Liberal Arts Colleges
As an admissions counselor responsible for international recruitment, I conduct information sessions for international applicants, and I always begin by asking the students, “What do you think you may be interested in studying during college?” Some students know right away what they are looking to study, whereas others are not sure. They look at me with panic on their faces and say, “I don’t know!” For both a student who already has a major decided and for a student who has no idea what he/she wants to do with her life, a liberal arts education may be an excellent option for earning a bachelor’s degree. Liberal arts colleges are institutions largely unique to the United States. They pride themselves on their small size; their broad based learning philosophy, and a strong focus on undergraduates. So what does this all mean, and why may it be worth the trip overseas?
When describing a liberal arts education, I often explain it as a flexible curriculum that is going to require that you to “try out” a bit of every subject. Liberal arts colleges seldom tell you exactly what class you must take; instead (as an example) they will require a logic class and then give you multiple courses to choose from that fulfill that requirement. The idea is that a student will be pushed outside his/her comfort zone and may discover a passion for a subject he/she would have never considering studying. Graduates are then able to enter the work force or a graduate school with a passion for their job or their studies. A liberal arts education encourages students to follow their curiosity while questioning the world around them.
Liberal arts colleges tend to be small. If you choose to attend a liberal arts college, your freshman class will be a peer group that is large enough to constantly meet someone new, but small enough that when you walk around on campus there will always be a friendly face. If you are looking for a college community where administrators, professors and your peers are constantly engaging in conversation with you and challenging you to think outside of the box, then a liberal arts college may be just the fit.
A liberal arts college is focused on undergraduates and thus students generally do not share the resources of the college with graduate students. Everything on the campus from the research opportunities, the computer labs, the clubs, etc. are there for the undergraduates to utilize. Students often find they have tremendous opportunities for hands-on-learning and this is another very marketable asset for the future. In addition, at a liberal arts college students are often able to take advantage of the multiple and varied leadership opportunities available on campus. Students at liberal arts colleges are empowered to get involved and be a part of their college community and they tend to love it!
Liberal arts colleges offer small classes where professors do not just lecture at students, but instead, require students to participate in the class discussions and often lead their own learning. Professors and not teaching assistants almost always lead classes, and as a result, students tend to really “connect” with their professors. Professors may offer students job opportunities/ internships/ fellowships, working for them or for their colleagues, because they are genuinely able to get to know their students. Often, one can see students and professors engaged in intellectual discussion, at the coffee shop, in the quad, or just walking to and from class. This kind of professor-student interaction really shapes a college campus and the community, and these relationships continue beyond the four years of college.
In addition to the small class sizes, the intimate advising systems offered at liberal arts colleges can be hugely advantageous for the students. Students are matched with advisors who are faculty or administration at the college, and by the time students arrive on a campus, he/she already has a person to go to with any questions or concerns.
In general, liberal arts colleges nurture and support a student’s intellectual growth in almost every way. For international students this can be particularly important since they are often far away from home and may or may not experience some culture shock. A liberal arts college provides a balance of independent learning with a supportive network of advisors, administrators, professors and peers who are all there to help a student succeed.
A broad based college background can be a tremendous asset to students wishing to pursue graduate school and graduates of liberal arts colleges often pursue a higher degree. A liberal arts curriculum provides a solid background for law school, medical school, and business school and in fact they often even have advisors whose specific job is to help students prepare and apply for these programs.
For students entering the workforce, employers are looking for candidates who can do it all: write a good report, analyze a budget, and have people skills! Many adults will have five or more careers in their lives, and a liberal arts education provides a solid foundation for almost any career. In addition, a liberal arts college provides students with the career services and alumni networking necessary to secure employment after graduating, domestically or abroad.
As you can see, explaining the benefits of a liberal arts college to international students is not a hard thing to do; there are tremendous advantages to this type of education and in general, the students I have met, have been extremely happy with their decision to try it all!