Liberal Arts. Unlock your full potential.

If you’re not quite ready to choose your major but want a quality all-round degree to set you on the right path, a liberal arts program could be the perfect choice.

Liberal arts programs have long set a very high bar for learning and teaching environments that focus on the individual, rely on student participation, and encourage student-teacher interaction. For this reason they are becoming a very popular choice for high school graduates and have even been featured in education editor Loren Pope’s 1996 book “Colleges that Change Lives”.

A 2011 national study commissioned by the Annapolis Group, a consortium of America’s leading liberal arts institutions, also found that graduates of liberal arts degrees felt better prepared to meet life’s challenges than those of other universities. Key findings included:

  • 76 percent rated their college experience highly for preparing them for their first job compared to 66 percent from public flagship universities.
  • 60 percent felt “better prepared” for life after college compared to 34 percent from flagship universities.
  • 88 percent said there was a strong sense of community compared to 70 percent for private universities and 63 percent for public flagship universities.

Here are some of the more distinctive attributes of liberal arts institutions:

Learn first, choose later

Rather than choosing a career from the outset, a liberal arts education exposes students to a wide range of subjects so they can learn as much as possible about the world around them, and determine their own interests and aptitudes before they decide to specialise. In this way students can concentrate on how to form independent thought, articulate convincing arguments, and develop tools for lifelong learning and then see what industry sectors open to them.

Cooperative not competitive

The learning environment at a liberal arts college is usually cooperative rather than competitive with no Ivy envy. The small size of liberal arts colleges often contributes to their cohesion and sense of community and professors even encourage students to work alongside them.

Student participation and satisfaction

Liberal arts colleges typically rely heavily on student participation and encourage a high level of student-teacher interaction, mentorship and collaboration. Most liberal arts colleges offer an array of clubs, organizations and special-interest groups and some institutions report a 70-80 percent participation in them. Because of this their students typically report a higher overall student satisfaction.

Personal attention

Liberal arts colleges are usually small and residential. Thanks to this all students are known as individuals by both the staff and their peers, which in turn enhances both the education and community experience. Liberal arts colleges also have a very low student-teacher ratio with staff who focus on teaching rather than research. This typically means students receive far more personalised attention and the teachers are more like mentors. At most liberal arts colleges the average class sizes are capped at about 25, but are often much smaller.

Team players

Liberal arts colleges strive to produce work-ready students that are ready to lead and be agents of change in the community around them. Core values in the schools encourage students to care about the community, be citizens of the world and advocate for social justice be they scholars, explorers or scientists.

Life after graduation

Employers and graduate schools commonly look for skills and experience over academic pedigree and liberal arts graduates frequently outperform their peers in this regard. This is largely because they’ve taken on internships, got involved in community programs and developed critical skills that are valued more than just an academic pedigree. The Annapolis Group study found that 76 percent of liberal arts college graduates rated their college experience highly for preparing them for their first job, compared to 66 percent who attended public flagship universities. The study also found liberal arts college graduates were more likely to graduate in four years or fewer.


#WhereAreTheyNowWednesday: Lucy Peckham ’83

Posted by Whitman College on Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Read on to discover five North American institutions offering highly rated liberal arts programs:

TWU is a Christian university in British Columbia that consistently ranks in the top two universities in Canada for Educational Experience. This is largely thanks to its Christ-centered and whole-person approach to education which focuses on equipping competent and caring individuals who wish to positively impact those around them. The campus is a community of itself with numerous services for students to avail of to make their life at TWU easier. There are also a variety of vibrant programs on campus that students can get involved in from sports to theatre, music, travel study opportunities or local or overseas ministry. TWU offers 42 undergraduate majors and 17 graduate programs.

Cornell is a private liberal arts college in the Mount Vernon, Iowa that has been committed to changing lives and educational norms since it first opened in 1853. It received acclaim for this in Loren Pope’s 1996 book ‘Colleges that change lives’. Part of Cornell’s success is its “one course at a time” curriculum in which students immerse themselves in a single academic discipline for three and a half weeks. Professors too teach only one course at a time and class sizes at Cornell are capped at 25 so professors can focus on their students’ individual needs. Cornell student life is a diverse and vibrant experience with more than 100 clubs, organizations and special-interest groups.

Mount Royal has focused on providing quality programs, teaching and small classes since it first opened in 1911. Today 12,000 students take advantage of the 62 bachelor’s degrees, diplomas and certificates offered at Mount Royal and report a high level of satisfaction with the quality of teaching and their educational experience compared to other similar sized institutions. A lot of this is largely thanks to the small average class sizes at Mount Royal that guarantee students receive the dedicated, personal attention inherent in liberal arts colleges. Experiential learning has also long been a methodology at Mount Royal, particularly through a community service learning (CSL) program that pairs a student’s study interest with a global issue they can tackle. As opposed to work-term or field school programs, CSL hones academic skills but gives students a real-world experience and deepens their sense of civic engagement.

Whitman College is a small, residential liberal arts college in Walla Walla, Eastern Washington that promises an education that is “more than the sum of its parts”. Whitman is committed to its staff to student ratio of 9:1 to ensure no one gets lost in the crowd. The college also encourages students to conduct research alongside their professors. Whitman also boasts a student to tree ratio of 1:1 on its 77 acre campus. Students at Whitman are encouraged to be involved in community and 70 percent volunteer in various programs, while 80 percent play intramural sports. Whitman College students come from 42 states and 31 countries and global connections are encouraged through various study abroad options.

This chartered university in Halifax, Nova Scotia is a tight-knit and lively academic community with just over 1,100 students. The intimate nature of King’s ensures students not only receive individual attention but ensures they also know their staff and peers by name also. The sense of community is palpable in the thriving music scene, athletics department and numbers of societies on campus in which students actively play a part. Students also enjoy some of King’s rich formal traditions such as donning academic gowns for Formal Meal, Matriculation and chapel; and the not so formal, such as the April Fool’s Day water balloon fight. King’s also offers a foundation year programme for first year students that focuses on interdisciplinary studies to form a foundation to any education or career.