The two top questions any student should ask himself or herself when preparing for university study are: ‘Can I achieve professional success through my chosen degree?’ and ‘How can I grow personally through the course of my study?’. So essentially, the two central questions have to do with graduate outcomes and student lifestyle. Not all degrees and institutions of higher learning give a good balance of both, but it’s imperative for the sake of your future that you confront these issues head-on and choose wisely.

In regard to the first question, it’s easy to opt for the conventional and predictable path – medicine, science, engineering – but do you want a conventional and predictable life? Furthermore, a degree focused on very specific skills may end up limiting your career options, preventing you from adapting in today’s fast-paced business environment.

The brave and insightful few choose to study a degree that lends itself to a liberal arts framework. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Despite the old and tired stereotypes of liberal arts degrees – it’s difficult to get a job or earn much with one – we now have a wealth of data that proves otherwise. For example, world leaders – whether in government, business, or non-profit sectors – are disproportionately drawn from graduates with liberal arts skills.

A British Council study of 30 countries found that 55 percent of professional leaders held a degree with a liberal arts focus. Another study found that 60 percent of the U.K. leaders have degrees in the humanities, arts, or social sciences. These leaders include FTSE 100 CEOs, members of Parliament, law firm partners, and vice chancellors of prestigious universities.

Image courtesy of: University of Pikeville

But what makes liberal arts majors so predisposed to success? Part of the reason is due to the promotion of soft skills and flexible qualities within liberal arts degrees, and degrees that draw heavily from a liberal arts framework – these include critical thinking, empathy, and communication. Philosophy encourages students to consider both sides of an argument or proposal – tremendously useful in decision-making. Political science teaches students to analyze an issue or problem taking into account organizational structure and competing interests. And sociology inculcates students with knowledge of and a deep sensitivity towards different cultures and societies.

All these attributes are monumentally important to employers and organizations that have to contend with the rapidly globalized world that grows more complex by the day. Indeed, perhaps the main reason why graduates in these fields end up in leadership and managerial roles is their ability to see the bigger picture. Because all liberal arts disciplines – from history to psychology – are deeply linked to one another, studying one means studying a bit of the rest.

This well-rounded and comprehensive worldview is incredibly useful when grappling with tough business issues – how to wage an effective marketing campaign, or whether to expand to foreign markets. The former CEO of Seagram Company Ltd urged business leaders to encourage students who are interested in business to pursue a degree that offers a liberal arts framework, as he considered it “the most important factor in forming individuals into interesting and interested people who can determine their own paths through the future.” For example, Chad Dickerson, CEO of Etsy, an e-commerce site worth more than US$3 billion, revealed in an interview with the Washington Post that he had majored in English.

But what matters is not just what liberal arts influenced field you study, but where you choose to study. Do you choose the tranquility of a rural or semi-rural setting, or the hustle and bustle of the city? It’s important to make the right choice for you – if taking long walks in the beautiful outdoors, away from the distraction of crowds sounds like your thing then perhaps a smaller town university setting could be what you need to help you focus on intellectual growth. Or if the ever changing excitement of the city is what inspires you to push yourself into a professional mindset then perhaps a more urban institution could be for you.

Image courtesy of: Rocky Mountain College

University life is the perfect time to improve your social skills, gain friends, and network for your future career. So it’s important to select an institution with a close-knit community along with a wealth of student clubs, associations and events. Also consider the strength and breadth of a university’s alumni network – it can be critical to advancing your career later in your life. Mid-range and smaller liberal arts institutions are best for this because they feature more intimate and informal settings that foster a sense of comradery.

Thanks to its long history in education, North America has the best liberal arts institutions in the world. But due to their large number, choosing the best ones can be a challenging affair. With that in mind, here are some of the best and most distinguished institutions in North America offering a liberal arts influenced education – renowned for their academic prowess, outstanding graduate outcomes, and excellent student life:

Rocky Mountain College is a prestigious, comprehensive liberal arts college situated in a suburban neighborhood of Billings – the largest, most economically vibrant city in Montana. The college has a phenomenal graduate placement rate: In 2015, 100 percent of contacted graduates were either employed or seeking further studies, compared to 96 percent the year before. Rocky Mountain’s sterling record of success can be attributed to its impressively low student-faculty ratio (12:1), which enables greater interaction between students and faculty.

Thanks in part to its location, Rocky Mountain is a highly affordable option for world-class liberal arts education. Students may also look forward to a beautiful, modern campus as well as stunning landscapes perfect for activities ranging from backpacking to fishing to skiing. The world-famous Yellowstone Park is just a two hour and 35-minute drive away. Campus life is always lively thanks to an abundance of student groups centered around everything from debate to outdoor recreation.

Image courtesy of: Ohio Northern University

Established in 1871, Ohio Northern University is a highly regarded, comprehensive university located in the scenic village of Ada, Ohio. The University  believes in encouraging students from all backgrounds to be well rounded individuals, able to succeed in any industry they choose. For graduates of Ohio Northern University, even students of subjects such as business are given an all-encompassing skillset they would need to be able to succeed in the liberal arts.

The University’s prestigious Dicke College of Business Administration, an AACSB accredited business school, is ranked #45 in the 2016 Bloomberg Business Week rankings of undergraduate business schools. In the last five years it consistently averaged a 95% placement rate for graduates into jobs or graduate schools within six months of graduation. The college aims to help students become ethical, entrepreneurial and professional leaders, all skills that would stand a student well in either a business or liberal arts focused career.  Students are able to tailor programs to match their individual interests, with the college offering a wide range of courses, majors and minors – including the newly introduced Risk Management and Insurance major.

The village of Ada, where the university is located, is filled with quaint restaurants and shops, and fully embodies the charm of small-town America. Ada is also strategically situated near four big “C” cities: Columbus is 1 and 1/2 hours away by car, Cleveland and Cincinnati are 2 and 1/2 hours, and Chicago is 4 hours – giving students a variety of options for travel and holiday breaks.

Trinity Western University (TWU) is a private Christian liberal arts university located outside Langley, British Columbia, Canada. Known for its academic quality, TWU has received seven consecutive A+ rankings for Quality of Teaching and Learning (previously called Quality of Education), and holds three Canada Research Chairs. With an average class size of 15, students can look forward to receiving the attention that they need. Fitting the high standards of living on campus, TWU features a modern and well-equipped fitness center, featuring a full gym, tennis courts, sport fields, and more.

Image courtesy of: Trinity Western University

Established in 1889, the University of Pikeville is a private, liberal arts university located in Pikeville, Kentucky. With low student-to-faculty ratio of 16:1, learning takes in an intimate environment that emphasizes discussion and interaction. Pikeville is a vibrant Eastern Kentucky community, a leading financial center in the state, and ranked as one of the “100 Best Small Towns” in America. Students enjoy the city’s many restaurants, shopping centers, and festivals. The university’s close-knit ethos and familial atmosphere extend to the 40 student clubs and groups on campus.

Established in 1853, Cornell College is a leading private liberal arts college located in Mount Vernon, Iowa. The U.S. News and World Report ranks it in the top tier of national liberal arts colleges. Cornell’s academic strength is no doubt partly due to its astoundingly low student-faculty ratio (11:1) and small class sizes (an average class has 16 students). Cornell also stands out with its distinctive “One Course At A Time” system of learning, allowing students to focus intensely and learn more naturally. Campus life is active and diverse, with over 100 clubs and groups available for students to join.

Feature image courtesy of: Rocky Mountain College.

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