What is a Liberal Arts College (LAC)?

If you look at the US News College Rankings you’ll see that there are two major rankings, National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges. In general, people have heard of National Universities but few are familiar with the Liberal Arts Colleges or why they are a separate group.

US News defines the two groups as follows:

  • National University- “offer a full range of undergraduate majors, master’s, and doctoral degrees. These colleges also are committed to producing ground breaking research.”
  • Liberal Arts College-” emphasize undergraduate education and award at least half of their degrees in the liberal arts fields of study.”

According to their methodology, US News used the Carnegie Classification of “Baccalaureate Colleges: Arts & Sciences” for the Liberal Arts Colleges category. The Carnegie definition includes the following:

  • Awarded fewer than 50 master’s degrees.
  • Among institutions where bachelor’s degrees represented at least half of all undergraduate degrees, at least half of bachelor’s degree were in majors in arts and sciences field
  • Awarded fewer than 20 doctoral degrees.

So basically a LAC is a small, residential college, with little or no graduate teaching, and most majors are in the arts and sciences (not engineering, health careers, accounting, or communications.)

Why would you attend a Liberal Arts College? Because they are small, they offer consistently smaller classes for students. And since there aren’t any graduate students, undergraduates have more interaction with faculty in terms of teaching and research.

Liberal Arts Colleges are a great way to prepare for graduate school. Proportionally, Liberal Arts Colleges produce more PhDs than other institutions, including Research Universities. Students at LACs know their professors well enough to ask them for letters of recommendation to graduate school.

Many Liberal Arts Colleges offer 3-2 programs that allow students to spend three years at a Liberal Arts College and their last two years at an institution that offers engineering to complete an engineering degree. Similar programs are offers in the health and business areas.

In general, the required courses of study at Liberal Arts Colleges are the foundation of many university’s core requirements or common curriculum.  Students can study the liberal arts at large universities with graduate students. A Liberal Arts College offers a more personal experience while studying the liberal arts compared to larger universities.

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