4 US institutions nurturing tomorrow’s leaders through a liberal arts education

liberal arts education
Source: University of Puget Sound

Compared to more technical disciplines, a liberal arts education has greater, if not the greatest, ability to impact and shape tomorrow’s leaders. It’s a four-year journey that equips students with some of the most crucial 21st century skills: critical thinking, creativity, adaptability, and a well-rounded understanding of the world. Perhaps more profoundly, the job of the liberal arts is to cultivate what D.H. Lawrence’s phrase, “the dark vast forest” within humans. 

In a world of rapid technological advancements, increasing polarisation and a changing climate, such diverse skills and knowledge are necessary in any leader. Problems, of complex and global scales, aren’t solved by machines and computers alone, but also social, cultural, emotional and spiritual awareness. According to a report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), 91% of employers agree that a candidate’s ability to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is important. Liberal arts institutions prioritise these skills, and as a result, graduates are better equipped to adapt to industries and governments and navigate them through the shocks and disruptions of a changing world.

Here are four liberal arts colleges focused on nurturing students into tomorrow’s leaders.

University of Puget Sound

liberal arts education

The University of Puget Sound’s Outdoors Programmes allow students to explore nature while learning. Source: University of Puget Sound

The University of Puget Sound, nestled in a vibrant port city in the US Pacific Northwest called Tacoma, has long been recognised as a beacon of liberal arts education. Living and learning in this Top 100 national liberal arts college’s beautiful 97-acre residential campus in “The City of Destiny” exposes you to a range of academic perspectives and engages you with hands-on learning that makes a difference in the world.

Along the way, you’ll discover who you are and what you have to offer. It’s a journey filled with unparalleled opportunities thanks to the university’s strategic location in the centre of the technology corridor extending from Vancouver, B.C. to Portland. Incredible experiences in nature abound from your doorstep to Mount Rainier, the tallest mountain in Washington and the Cascade Range. Seattle — and its music scene, coffee culture, professional sports teams, eclectic neighbourhoods, thriving technology sector, and international airport with direct links to Europe and Asia — are just 48 kilometres north of Tacoma.

Puget Sound’s academic offerings are as just as immersive. You can major in one (or more) of 44 academic departments led by leading scholars and award-winning researchers. The university’s strengths lie in the Biological Sciences, Asian Languages and Cultures, Business, Music, and Environmental Studies and Sciences. Popular areas of study include Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Bioethics, Neuroscience, Exercise Science, International Political Economy  (a field of study that originated at the university) and Business and Leadership.

Whichever you choose, you’re set to make connections between disciplines, discover new knowledge, and apply it in the real world. These make for a solid preparation for post-graduate success. The university has an 80% medical school acceptance rate, is a top producer of Fulbright scholars and Watson fellows and is ranked in the top 10% for producing doctoral degree recipients. Graduates can be found working with top employers in the area — such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google — as well as employers around the country and the world.

Students of all aspirations and backgrounds are welcome at Puget Sound. Every applicant is automatically considered for academic merit scholarships, valued at up to US$32,000 per year. Ready to kickstart your liberal arts education? Check out Puget Sound’s website or visit their campus through the virtual tour.

Knox College

liberal arts education

Founded in 1837, Knox College is a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, devoted to providing a personalised education. Source: Knox College

Knox College is all about the human experience. Its core belief is that the classroom is informed by the communities surrounding it. As such, much of what students learn about the world is taken directly from being on the ground, conducting research and making connections everywhere from local neighbourhoods to global organisations. 

This is only made possible through a dynamic curriculum that mixes inquiry with tradition. A characteristic of every liberal arts college is the broadening of the mind, and Knox is no different. Studies are inherently interdisciplinary, giving learners the fundamental professional skills they need such as writing, reading, calculating, and critical analysis. 

Where Knox thrives, though, is in giving students an avenue to put theory to practice. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of your peers arranging an internship with the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation in West Africa, or having their award-winning play fully realised in a Los Angeles stage production. Here, students lead the change they want to see — and contribute to the communities around them along the way. 

All of this makes for graduates who are determined and confident in what they want out of life. Knox sits in the top 4% of liberal arts colleges producing successful PhD candidates, and their alumni include a Pulitzer Prize winner, a White House advisor, a co-creator of BASIC — and more.

“There is so much you learn at a liberal arts school,” says Creative Writing and Spanish graduate Erin Waldron. “You get very comfortable with ambiguity and grey zones and asking how you know what you know. You get comfortable with things that are a little bit more squishy in life.”

Haverford College

liberal arts education

Haverford College boasts a high graduate rate due to its highly personalised, hands-on educational experience. Source: Haverford College

Located just outside Philadelphia, Haverford College boasts academic rigour, an Honour Code, and a beautiful arboretum campus. The college aspires to be an exemplary comprehensive institution that focuses on diversity, inclusivity, and multiculturalism. 

Known to offer a one-of-a-kind education, Haverford lets students become actively engaged with their learning, urging them to progress in the field of their choice as they shape a unique path to their future. Students benefit from a small class size that enables a highly personalised, hands-on educational experience. Here, students evolve into well-rounded, expansive thinkers as they interact closely with world-class faculty and a diverse student body — each a collaborator in learning, in research, and in service. 

The Centre for Career and Professional Advising (CCPA) at Haverford enables students and alumni to prepare for meaningful work. Many consistently find jobs and internship positions by referrals from CareerConnect, campus interviews, career fairs, independent searches, or by networking with the institution’s expansive industry connections.

“The unmatched support that I received from friends, teammates, coaches, faculty and staff gave me everything I needed to pursue any professional opportunity I want to,” shares alumnus Brandon Jenkins who is now working in Los Angeles for Rothschild & Co. in mergers and acquisitions.

Colby College

liberal arts education

Colby College is the 12th oldest liberal arts college in the US. Source: Colby College/Facebook

An institution steeped in history, Colby College is the 12th-oldest private liberal arts college in the country. Located in central Maine, its lush 714-acre Mayflower Hill campus overlooks the stunning Kennebec River Valley. 

This small college gives you a true community feel with just 2,000 students from every corner of the globe. The diverse yet cohesive student body makes for a supportive learning environment that encourages educational exploration, and collaborative learning experiences led by the college’s world-class professors.

Colby wants you to succeed and gives you the tools needed to do just that. The innovative Davis Connects programmes approach learning from a whole new model of liberal arts education. As its tagline says, “you design your own future.” If you’ve got a vision for your future, no matter how grand, the Davis Connects programme gives you what you need to make it a reality.

“Through DavisConnects, I was able to pursue opportunities that were outside of the norm,” says graduate Joey Searle. He is now making his way into the world of extreme sports filmmaking. “I could really kind of pursue a passion and get paid to do it while I was at school,” Searle says. “I honestly credit a lot of my journey so far to Colby.” 

There are more connections and resources available here. Colby gives students the chance to step outside their comfort zones and gain valuable insights into the world’s most pressing issues. This makes for students who are not only career-ready by the time they graduate, but who are able to navigate the world around them with confidence and consideration.

*Some of the institutions featured in this article are commercial partners of Study International