What is a Liberal Arts College?


Last updated November 15, 2023

Picking a major is already an overwhelming decision. Add to that the stress of picking the right kind of institution where you can excel? It can be a lot of pressure. We can help break down one of those options here. What is a liberal arts and sciences college? And how does it fit into your career plan? 

A liberal arts and sciences education covers diverse academic areas, such as science, social science, languages, arts, history, philosophy, literature and math. It provides a broad intellectual foundation rather than technical training in a single field. Learning in the liberal arts and sciences helps students learn to look at issues from different angles and across disciplines. 

In today’s job market, graduates must be adaptable and take advantage of opportunities using different skill sets.

This kind of well-rounded education can help prepare students for leadership positions and a lifetime of serving their community and beyond. So what is a liberal arts college and how can you take into the world to lead in your career?

What is a Liberal Arts and Sciences College?

A liberal arts and sciences college provides four-year degrees that have a foundation in general liberal arts education and focus solely on undergraduate degrees. These degrees cover a variety of subjects, like literature, art, sociology, history, philosophy, English, anthropology, math and linguistics. Liberal arts and sciences institutions seek to cultivate intellectually curious students who can adapt to the workforce through smaller classes, diverse curricula and a tight-knit student body.

During your first two years, you will need to fulfill general education requirements rooted in the liberal arts, emphasizing the interconnectivity between the different subjects you study. Afterward, you can choose a major and begin studying specific coursework. 

For example, a student majoring in computer science can supplement their studies with economics, ethics and courses in the arts. This will give them a well-rounded understanding of technology and its societal impact.

Private liberal arts and sciences universities are renowned for offering a solid foundational education, enabling students to pursue advanced studies or careers. Upon completing their degree, many students pursue further education in a specific field or attend a professional school. These degrees serve as ideal foundations for medical school, law school, business school or theological studies. For instance, some students who earn their B.A. in biology at Furman then pursue medical school or teaching certificates.

Small class sizes and personalized learning

Liberal arts colleges typically have fewer than 5,000 students and small campuses. In fact, many classes have less than 20 students. Small classes allow for more interaction with the instructor and better engagement among students. This fosters a stronger understanding of each student’s strengths and weaknesses and creates a more open and communicative learning environment.

Here are some other advantages of small classes at a liberal arts and sciences university:

  • These smaller settings can create a sense of community for students.
  • Students benefit from lower student-teacher ratios, allowing for more regular interaction with professors.
  • There are genuine mentoring opportunities with professors who prioritize teaching.
  • It is easier to access opportunities for leadership and participation in the classroom and with extracurricular activities.
  • Smaller class sizes promote a collaborative learning atmosphere where students feel at ease sharing ideas and working on projects.

What Can You Do with a Liberal Arts and Sciences Degree?

A survey from the American Association of Colleges and Universities consistently shows that written and oral communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking are among the most important. These “soft skills” can be developed through a liberal arts and sciences education. So what can you do with your degree?

Explore diverse career opportunities

You can learn skills that are valuable in many jobs, such as adapting to new situations, communicating, organizing, managing time, solving problems and working in teams. 

Graduates with a degree from a liberal arts and sciences institution are in demand across many different industries because these graduates can learn quickly and handle many different tasks.

Unlike degrees that prepare you for one specific job, a liberal arts and sciences degree gives you the flexibility to work in many different areas. Here are a few career paths you can pursue:

  • Business. Graduates with a liberal arts degree can pursue diverse career paths, including marketing, sales, HR, management, and entrepreneurship.
  • Education. Liberal arts graduates can pursue careers in education, such as teaching and curriculum development.
  • Technology. Liberal arts graduates can work in technical writing, UX design, and product management.
  • Public service. Graduates with liberal arts degrees often pursue careers in public service, including social services, diplomacy, politics, and public policy.
  • Writing. Liberal arts graduates with reading, writing, research, and communication skills excel as copywriters, content writers, editors, and journalists.
  • Law. Graduates with a liberal arts degree can pursue a career in law as a lawyer, paralegal, or legal assistant.

Develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills

Employers worldwide seek individuals with critical thinking skills, strong written communication abilities and the ability to approach problems from multiple perspectives. The liberal arts and sciences curriculum fosters this adaptable and proficient thinking and offers a range of majors, including biology, chemistry, English and sociology. 

Students are well-prepared for a variety of professions as they develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, teaching students how to analyze information, identify problems and develop innovative solutions. While some graduates may pursue further education, the foundation gained through a liberal arts and sciences education allows them to see the big picture, creatively tackle complex problems and communicate effectively with colleagues and clients in any career they choose.

Adapt to a changing job market

The economy will always have ups and downs, but a liberal arts and sciences education can help graduates overcome those challenges. Thanks to their problem-solving and research skills, they will be able to adapt to new challenges and learn new things quickly, which is essential in a changing job market. 

Today’s job market demands flexibility in adapting to new technologies and methods. A liberal arts and sciences education can equip you with the critical thinking skills needed to analyze information and find creative solutions to problems. Additionally, practical communication skills, both verbal and writing, are essential for collaborating with diverse individuals in any job. 

In a liberal arts education, students learn many subjects such as humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. This education can be helpful when looking for a job and standing out from other candidates. The broad knowledge gained can also help when switching between different jobs or career paths.

Why Are the Liberal Arts and Sciences Important?

Liberal arts courses teach students about history, culture and the humanities more broadly. Through these courses, students also gain a deeper understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizens, which helps them become active and engaged members of their communities. 

Students can build critical thinking and communication skills, such as analyzing information, forming opinions and expressing ideas effectively. Students are encouraged to question accepted norms and develop their own values and beliefs, which can help them become independent and self-aware.

Through these courses, students also gain a deeper understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizens, which helps them become active and engaged members of their communities and informed citizens in a democracy.

In the end, a well-rounded education in the liberal arts and sciences aims to broaden students’ horizons by exposing them to different subjects through classes, extracurricular activities and study away opportunities that offer a global outlook on diverse cultures. This exposure to diverse perspectives allows students to develop a deeper understanding of the world, enhances their cultural awareness and prepares them for success in an increasingly globalized society.

Explore ‘The Furman Advantage’

At Furman, we believe engaged learning, reflection, a sense of belonging, and mentoring are essential to your growth as a student and it’s what gives us The Furman Advantage. Furman offers the Pathways Program for two years, beginning in the first year of college. It helps students adjust to their transition to college and explore their individualized pathway to develop skills for academic, social, and coping success.

During your time here, you’ll have the opportunity to engage in high-impact learning through research, internships, and study abroad programs and find a sense of belonging. All the while, a team of advisors will be available to assist you in finding your path and provide mentoring to ensure your success in the real world post-graduation.

The Value of a Liberal Arts and Sciences Education

Understanding the opportunities of a liberal arts and sciences university is essential for you to make a decision about your secondary education. It offers a unique education emphasizing a well-rounded learning approach. The value of this type of education lies in its ability to promote critical thinking, communication skills and adaptability, which are the necessary tools for success in an ever-changing job market. What’s more, our graduates are equipped to pursue various career paths, including business, technology, education, and the arts, due to their versatility and intellectual depth, which employers value. 

By embracing the liberal arts tradition, students invest not only in their future careers but also in their personal growth and ability to contribute meaningfully to society. If you are exploring your options as a prospective student, we encourage you to consider the benefits of attending a liberal arts and sciences college.

The views and opinions expressed in the Furman Blog are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Furman University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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