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What is “Liberal Arts”?

by Apr 30, 20210 comments

If you’re looking to study in the USA, you may have come across the term “liberal arts”. This term might be slightly confusing to you if you aren’t from America. What does “liberal arts” mean? How does the liberal arts education work? And what exactly is a liberal arts college? In this blog post, we’ll break down exactly what a liberal arts education is, and highlight some of the benefits of getting one.

What is “Liberal Arts”?

You may find yourself wondering exactly what the phrase “liberal arts” means. In the context of tertiary education, it refers to the system of promoting skills in the traditional liberal arts groups, such as the arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. This differs from the professional or vocational models that focus on things like business, or medicine. Often, this type of system focuses on a more broad and general education at undergraduate level. Students can then choose professions (and do any necessary study) at the postgraduate stage.

What is a Liberal Arts College?

The colleges that employ liberal arts programs often draw explicitly on the American model. This model was developed in the 19th century by schools like Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth. These schools focus on interactivity at the undergraduate level. As a result, classes are smaller, and often, student bodies will live almost entirely on campus to form “residential colleges”. The smaller class sizes mean that professors can focus more on teaching duties than they would be able to at traditional research universities.

A degree at a liberal arts college will traditionally be in a specific subject, such as English, Mathematics, or Science. However, there will be a large requirement to study other subjects that do not fall under a student’s major. This ensures a well-rounded education that provides students with skills in many areas. It also ensures they will develop the tools needed for life after college, such as critical thinking and intellectual literacy.

What Are Some Famous Liberal Arts Colleges?

There are many liberal arts colleges in the USA today, and the system remains one of the most popular across America. Perhaps the most notable example of these colleges are the Claremont Colleges, a group of 5 campuses in southern California. As mentioned above, the Ivy League schools traditionally implement liberal arts systems at undergraduate level, and have influenced many schools to do the same. There are liberal arts colleges all over the USA, at every level of education. The continued success of the system has resulted in some colleges being promoted as exceptional examples of the system. For instance, this has led to the classification of the so-called “Little Ivies“, schools that follow the Ivy league example and produce exceptional academics and students.

What are Some Benefits of a Liberal Arts Education?

The main skills that are taught in the liberal arts are critical and innovative thinking, creativity, and communication. These skills prepare students for life after college very effectively. The creativity and critical and innovative thinking means that graduates will be able to adapt to new professions. This is a huge boon in the modern world as technology changes our workplace at an ever-increasing rate. In addition, the interdisciplinary approach to study means that students will have knowledge on a variety of subjects, which allows them to pursue careers and interests in multiple fields.

Liberal arts colleges also often have strong and involved alumni networks. This has the effect of not only providing mentors to students, but also sets up strong networks for after college. The smaller class sizes and residential colleges develop strong relationships, and these bonds help to bring graduates back to the campus to contribute to student life. This support allows liberal arts colleges to expose students to many experiences that would otherwise not have been possible.

A Different Outlook

A liberal arts education might sound different to what we are used to, but it is a fantastic opportunity to broaden horizons and develop the best skills for life after university. The ability to study different subjects can also help develop interests in subjects a student might not have encountered otherwise. The smaller class sizes mean there is the opportunity to get to know your professor much better. This in turn is a fantastic chance to learn from the brightest minds the college has to offer. Although the system might not be what we are used to, understanding what liberal arts is can truly help you get the most out of your decision to study in the USA.

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