How are liberal arts degrees structured and how does it benefit students who are trying to decide what they want to do in the future?
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A generally agreed upon definition of the liberal arts college is a college or university curriculum that emphasizes general knowledge and developing broad intellectual capacities. In addition, statistically, most liberal arts colleges tend to be private universities instead of public ones, although there are also definite exceptions to this rule.
Advantages of Liberal Arts Colleges
Because of the prevalence of liberal arts colleges as private schools, liberal arts institutions also tend to be smaller than public colleges and universities. In terms of curriculum, students that attend liberal arts colleges will probably enroll in a set or individually created core curriculum which exposes them to a broad selection of subjects that forms the base of their education. This means a more diverse selection of topics in order to round out a student’s education instead of emphasizing specific subjects and fields of study. In addition, while the range of subjects may not differ that much between liberal arts colleges and traditional universities, liberal arts colleges also tend to lack graduate programs for their students or have an entirely undergraduate focus. This means a greater emphasis on undergraduate education that may be lacking in certain graduate institutions that may allocate resources in other research or graduate departments. The smaller student population also means that faculty can have more personal interactions and time to get to know students individually.
In terms of specific structure, they will differ from college to college. However, the general rule is that they try provide a holistic education; even if the subjects fall outside of your specific major.
Thanks Curious George! I was wondering if I could get an example of courses taken by someone who did a Liberal Arts Degree. I’ve heard at some universities, you don’t need to select a major even after two years!
Hi @a.cork - I think it’s important to distinguish your question. I believe there might be some confusion. There are liberal arts colleges, yes, these same colleges offer liberal arts degrees. Yet, there are also Universities (Columbia, Yale, Brown etc) that offer normal degrees, but many of which have been shaped with a “liberal arts” approach. Which basically means that they want their students to have the flexibility to explore multiple subject disciplines.
An example of this could be Yale-NUS’ degree structure:
All incoming students, no matter their decided major / concentration has to partake in the “common curriculum”. This multidisciplinary approach to education allows all students to build a broad foundation, across the board.
These 10 courses take 31% of your overall degree and are:
- Literature & Humanities 1
- Philosophy & Political Thought 1
- Quantitative Reasoning
- Comparative Social Inquiry
- Literature & Humanities 2
- Philosophy & Political Thought 2
- Scientific Inquiry 1
- Modern Social Thought
- Scientific Inquiry 2
- Historical Immersion
In addition, the University allows for you to pick electives (35%). This is an additional opportunity to explore multiple subject disciplines. The only difference: you decide the subjects, not the university. It’s important to note though, that some majors might require prerequisites - of which, you’d take within this group.
The last 34% of your degree (typically the last two years, is where you’ll be taking courses directly related to your major. In this sense, the four year degree follows the aforementioned “liberal arts” approach, but is not a Liberal Arts College.
Other universities have curriculums derived off a similar approach:
Brown’s renowned for their “Open Curriculum” which is almost completely opposite to Columbia’s and lets the students dictate their own path. Have a look at their website that explains the Open Curriculum.
So from the above you can get an idea on a “Liberal Arts Degree”. However, bare in mind, the degrees above are not Liberal Arts Colleges. For true liberal arts colleges, check out:
Hey, I’m currently attending a liberal arts college, and I’ve been experimenting with subjects like psychology, philosophy, american studies, music, geology, mathematics, and economics during my first two semester here. I only have to declare my major(s) at the end of my sophomore year - and I am thinking of double majoring.
(This is with an open curriculum too. So basically there are no core distribution requirements - you take what you want, when you want!)