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What is a Liberal Arts College?

What is a Liberal Arts College?

Students in the US have two kinds of higher education institutions to choose from to complete their degree program: a larger university or a liberal arts college. Before making a choice, it is important that you consider the difference between these two types of institution and which is the right fit for you.

In general, liberal arts colleges are described as higher education institutions (or colleges) in which students study an undergraduate programme in the field of the liberal arts or sciences. The liberal arts date back to Ancient Greece, at which time they were considered to be grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, the theory of music and astronomy.



Nowadays, they refer to the subjects of literature, mathematics, philosophy, social sciences (including history, linguistics, politics, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, economics, communication studies, psychology and public health) and physical sciences (including physical, chemistry, astronomy, geology and meteorology).

If you decide to study at a liberal arts college, you will major in one specific discipline, whilst being exposed to a range of other academic subjects.

If you are considering completing study beyond the undergraduate level in the future, it is worth noting that most liberal arts colleges only offer undergraduate programs of study.

Some do offer Master’s or doctoral degrees also, but this is rarer. This may mean having to complete undergraduate and postgraduate study at two different colleges if you decide to take the liberal arts route.

Other noticeable differences between liberal arts colleges and larger university institutions link to the experience of students. At liberal arts colleges, the class sizes are much smaller, and they tend to focus on teaching over research. This means that professors are likely to have more time to support you with your studies, and the lessons will include more discussions.

At larger universities, lessons will likely maintain a more lecture-style format. In addition, the majority of liberal arts colleges are residential, which means you will live on campus while studying. Of course, there are benefits to both liberal arts colleges and large universities.

What is a Liberal Arts College

Read the comparisons below to consider which is the preferred choice for you.


Liberal Arts College

Larger University

A smaller number of students are enrolled so you can be part of a small community and know more people at the college.


A larger number of students are enrolled, so there are lots of people to make friends with. You are also able to have more anonymity as part of a larger crowd.
More discussion in classes so you can talk through your thoughts and ideas with other people. Lecture style format so you only need to sit and listen.
These institutions are focused on providing students with a well-rounded education These institutions are focused on completing research and making discoveries
These institutes only offer undergraduate programs so most people at the university will be your age and you will all be completing undergraduate programs of study A range of undergraduate, Master’s and PHD programs are offered. If you do well in your undergraduate study, you can stay on at the same college to complete a postgraduate course
Small class sizes give you more focus and attention from the professor and the opportunity to contribute more in classes Large class sizes offer anonymity in your studies also and independence in your studies
There is less focus on sports, so if you’d be pleased to get away from the sporty people being the ‘bee’s knees’, liberal arts college could be for you There is a big focus on sports: If you love playing sports or are fascinated by the culture of college sports, you’d be better off picking a larger university

What is a Liberal Arts College?

If you are thinking that a liberal arts college could be for you, it might be a good idea to find out a little bit more about some of the best liberal arts colleges on offer. Here are ten of the top US liberal arts colleges.

Number 1: Williams College

Located in Williamstown, Massachusetts, this liberal arts college is a private institution with just over 2,000 undergraduate students currently studying there. The class sizes at Williams College are very favourable, with a student-teacher ratio of 7:1.

The college also prides itself on its Oxford-style tutorial sessions in which students are very active participants in discussions. Tuition fees are currently set at just over $55,000, and the graduation rate is 95%.

Number 2: Amherst College

Another liberal arts college based in Massachusetts, Amherst is renowned for its rigorous approach to study. Amherst requires that freshmen live on campus during their first year at the school. It is known by many as the ‘singing college’ due to having a large number of acapella groups. Tuition fees at the school are currently $56,426, and the graduation rate is 94%.

Number 3=: Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College is located ten miles outside of Philadelphia. Just over 1,500 students are currently studying there on a campus that covers 425 acres. Although not typical for a liberal arts college, Swarthmore also offers an undergraduate engineering program of study. The tuition fees are currently $52,588, and there is a 94% graduation rate.

Number 3=: Wellesley College

Coming in at joint third is Wellesley College in Massachusetts. It is located 12 miles outside of Boston and is a women-only college. Just over 2,500 students are currently enrolled at the college and housing is guaranteed for students in their freshman year. The college also offers a cross-registration program in liaison with MIT. Tuition fees are $53,700, and the graduation rate is currently 91%.

Number 5: Bowdoin College

Bowdoin is a private liberal arts college. It is located in Brunswick, Maine. It is a prestigious college that is both selective and rigorous; in fact, acceptance rates are only 15%. There are 34 majors, and 36 minors offered at the college, and it also offers programmes in conjunction with other universities. In 2019, the US News rankings placed it as the fifth-best liberal arts college in the US. Tuition fees are set at almost $50,000, and graduation rates are 93%.

Be sure to consider your options for higher education carefully to ensure you make the right choice of the right fit institution for you!

What is a Liberal Arts College?

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