What is a Liberal Arts College?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 December 2018
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A liberal arts college is simply one that focuses on a range of academic disciplines of general cultural concern. This may include subject areas such as languages, mathematics, business, history, science and literature. There is also a focus on rational thought and enrichment. The courses of study are in direct contrast to a college that focuses on fine arts, such as painting, music and other pursuits. A liberal arts college may offer such pursuits, but its focus will be broader than just those things.

Most of the colleges, at least in many parts of the world, are considered liberal arts colleges. These institutions are common simply because they appeal to the widest range of interests. Therefore, many students will consider a liberal arts college their first choice when looking at higher education.

The goal of a liberal arts college, along with most other major institutions of higher learning, is to personally enrich those students attending. Another goal, which is still a major one, is to prepare students for the workforce and give them the knowledge needed to begin a career where they can hopefully excel and give something back to society. To achieve these goals, a liberal arts college will often devise a curriculum program, perhaps in association with a governmental oversight body.


In the United States and some other countries, there are two main liberal arts college models – public and private. The private institutions are for-profit establishments that are in place for that reason, but also to offer the finest educational services. They are in direct competition with public universities, which can often offer many of the same degree programs for less.

The advantage to a public liberal arts college is that it will be accredited through a regional accrediting institution, and thus offer valid degrees. Most private colleges will also be accredited through such an agency, but some may not be. Before attending any liberal arts college, the student should ask about accreditation, if that is an important factor to them. For the vast majority of students, it will be.

Many liberal arts colleges will offer four-year degree programs for a Bachelor’s degree, but students can achieve this degree in a shorter or longer period of time depending on how much they deviate from the recommended schedule. Many liberal arts college institutions also offer two-year degrees. These are usually referred to as community colleges. In this situation, the training is more technical and geared more toward the vocation of interest rather than a more generalized education plan, though some of the same classes will be required for both educational paths.



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