This time of year usually finds high school students on college campuses across the country learning what they do and don’t like in a university. The college search process looks very different this year, but that doesn’t have to stop students from conducting useful research. A good starting point is learning the different types of universities. First up: Liberal Arts Colleges (LACs).

First, you don’t have to be a socially or politically liberal art enthusiast! All kinds of people study at LACs. In this context, “liberal” refers to wide-ranging, which means you will have the opportunity to explore many subjects and specialize in at least one major subject. While studying the arts is an option, you can also study subjects across the humanities, sciences, social sciences, and even business, education and engineering.

Throughout years of traveling internationally to meet students and families, we’ve heard misconceptions like this often. Even if you’re familiar with the term “liberal arts college,” it can sometimes be misconstrued. To help, here are five defining characteristics of a liberal arts college experience:

  • Community. LACs are often distinguished from large universities based on their tight-knit, community feel. With 1,500 – 3,000 students on average, LACs offer individualized opportunities, access to professors and facilities, and a strong focus on undergraduate students. Most LACs provide on-campus housing for all four years.
  • Curriculum. LACs encourage students to take a holistic and diverse approach to academics. Unlike universities with multiple undergraduate colleges, LACs typically require students to take classes in various disciplines and wait to declare a major until the middle of the second year.
  • Career Development. Often, LACs offer more individualized professional development support than large universities. Advisers meet one-on-one with students, help them define their paths, land internships and jobs, and provide resources for those interested in graduate school. Services often are extended to alumni and alumni career networks are strong.
  • Faculty. Most classes at LACs are taught by professors. With no or very few graduate students, faculty focus on teaching and advising, and they involve undergraduate students in their research. These close relationships can pay big dividends later on when students need references for jobs and/or letters of recommendation for graduate school.
  • The classroom. Most LAC classes take place in small classrooms, unlike the large auditorium-style lecture halls common at bigger universities. While lectures do exist, discussion-based seminars are common, lab equipment is accessible to undergraduates and students are encouraged to work collaboratively and contribute to class discussion.
About the author

Jamie received a BA from University of Mary Washington and an MA in higher education administration from George Mason University. Jamie has a decade of admissions experience at several institutions, including University of California – Berkeley and Loyola University Maryland. He also served as associate director of college counseling at a private high school in Washington, DC. Jamie provides oversight for all undergraduate counseling at AcceptU. He is an IECA Professional Member.

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