Each year millions of students around the globe head off to begin their higher education at a college or university. As students begin their search for a college or university during their final year of high school, the term liberal arts begins to appear in almost every brochure or pamphlet they read about higher learning institutions. Liberal Arts are a commonly used term in the realm of education, but are also one that is often criticized for its vagueness and overuse. Despite all of this, American students in particular will all have to deal with liberal arts during the course of their college careers.
The idea of liberal arts has been a part of human history since the Roman Empire. At the time Romans used the term liberal arts to refer to the proper education a free individual should receive. During Ancient times a liberal arts education encompassed seven areas of study that included:
In the modern world the term liberal arts is used to refer to a curriculum at a university or college that is designed to provide students with a broad range of general knowledge designed to help them think rationally and improve their intellectual capabilities. Unlike professional, vocational, or technical schools, there is no emphasis on one specialized area in a liberal arts curriculum. The contemporary areas of study included in liberal arts are:
Students heading off to college have two options when it comes to higher learning institutions when they are seeking a liberal arts education. While almost every university or college in the United States offers a liberal arts education to its students, there are schools specifically designated as Liberal Arts Colleges that focus more heavily on a liberal arts education instead of a mix between liberal arts and specialized study. While many universities and larger colleges have students begin their college career with a liberal arts education and then allow them to transition into specialized study, the focus of the school’s curriculum is not centered on their liberal arts studies.
While Liberal Arts Colleges offer their students the same route, generally two years of generalized liberal arts study followed by more specialized studies; there is a greater emphasis on the liberal arts education than at larger universities or foreign institutions. The biggest difference between Liberal Arts Colleges and other institutions in the United States is class size. Liberal Arts Colleges in the U.S. focus on smaller teacher to student ratios to enhance the learning experience of the individual. In addition to smaller class sizes, Liberal Arts Colleges in the U.S. differ from their foreign counterparts in two other ways:
- Residential study: students live and learn away from home, experiencing new cultural, political, and intellectual events in the process.
- Two years of Liberal Arts study is followed by two or more years of specialized study
Liberal Arts Colleges can be found in countries around the world, but the majority of them are located in the United States as their popularity abroad, especially in Europe, has dwindled. There are many Liberal Arts Colleges in the U.S., but the following schools are the most popular and well known:
- Little Three Colleges
- Little Ivies
- Seven Sisters Colleges
Whether an individual attends a typical university or college, or decides to go to a Liberal Arts College; they can all receive the same degrees upon graduation. Any of these schools will confer a Bachelor’s degree upon their students when they have successfully completed their studies. Students will receive either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree, generally with a focus on one specialized area of study which they pursued upon completion of their liberal arts requirements.