Would a Liberal Arts Education Be Better for Your Student?

Some students thrive in a liberal arts environment.

A young woman reads a book

While a great deal of the focus in college applications is on the cost of attendance, FAFSA, financial aid, finding scholarships and earning power after graduation, for some students these factors just don’t have a lot of meaning. They could be the dreamers who might not fit into the regular weekly work environment. They might be the creative types who like to explore and try different approaches, students who want more from the college experience, or those who thrive best in a smaller learning environment.

These are the students who might just benefit from a liberal arts education.

In recent years the liberal arts path seems to have fallen out of favor as students seek out degrees that they believe they can rely on financially. In fact, a great deal of effort has gone into researching how much students can earn with a particular degree from a given college. But if your student is a person who marches to the beat of a different drummer, you might be interested in learning more about the group, Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL). This is a group of 44, mostly smaller, colleges that still believe students thrive best in a collaborative environment where they learn to think on their own rather than simply memorize and regurgitate information.

Some of the Many Reasons They Provide for Considering the Liberal Arts Academic Approach Include:

  • It’s not just for creative thinkers: Although certain colleges are obviously better when it comes to strict STEM courses, a free-thinking approach can also be helpful in these disciplines. Perhaps Apple founder Steve Jobs might have attributed his out-of-the-box thinking to the liberal arts fundamentals he received during his time at Reed College.
  • It forms a solid foundation for future study: Students who learn how to observe, analyze, digest and think often go on to do well in graduate, medical and law school, or qualify for prestigious scholarships such as the Rhodes or Fulbright programs. Noted “green” chemist, Dr. Joseph DeSimone, started at tiny Ursinus College in Collegeville, PA.
  • Learning opportunities abound: Many students thrive in a smaller learning environment, where they have more quality time with instructors. They may be more likely to participate in leadership roles, or more aware of study abroad and internship opportunities.
  • The student realizes life-long benefits: In a smaller academic environment, it is more likely that students come to love the process of learning. This will bode well for them in future endeavors as changes and challenges are presented which might require them to learn something new.
  • It doesn’t exclude getting a great job: CTCL cites research from the American Association of Colleges and Universities which reveals that both employers and graduate/professional schools seek students who know how to think creatively and critically, who can go beyond a topic at hand and see further applications. Ron Kirk, a U.S. trade representative and former Dallas mayor, started at Austin College.
  • Athletes are welcome: These schools offer many opportunities to be involved in athletics, including playing at the varsity level. NFL player and coach, Pete Metzelaars, started at Wabash College.
  • Different approach to admissions: Many CTCL schools utilize holistic admission policies, which often include "test-optional" applications. They look at the whole student, not just grades or a test score.
  • Scholarships are available: To honor the 20th anniversary of the first edition of Loren Pope's classic book and the 10th anniversary of the nonprofit organization, Colleges That Change Lives has established a scholarship for students who enroll at a CTCL-member college or university. Six students were selected as the inaugural recipients in 2016.

To encourage more students to expand their college choices, CTCL also hosts a number of free information sessions nationwide. These sessions include a 30-minute presentation on the college search process and a college fair where students and parents can speak directly with admission representatives from the member colleges and universities.

Most students find that they can do well in life if they have found a college that is a good fit for them. When thinking about what college to attend, don’t dismiss the liberal arts.