Liberal Arts college

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In the United States, the term liberal arts college refers to an institution of higher learning which exclusively or mainly grants undergraduate degrees, and which focuses on a traditional general education rather than on specific career-oriented specialties. Historically, some liberal arts colleges in the United States began as divinity schools designed to train Protestant ministers for a life of service.

A university, in contrast, has one (or more) undergraduate "colleges," but also has "graduate schools" which require an undergraduate degree for entrance. A university might have a medical school, a law school, a business school, and possibly schools of agriculture, music, veterinary medicine, divinity, and others.

The phrase "liberal arts" was coined in classical times. It traditionally included the "trivium" of grammar, rhetoric, and logic, and the "quadrivium" of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. One dictionary definition of "liberal arts" in the modern sense is:

Academic disciplines, such as languages, literature, history, philosophy, mathematics, and science, that provide information of general cultural concern.[1]

One liberal arts college expresses its modern meaning thus:

A successful undergraduate education should primarily develop the essential skills of writing, researching, articulating and defending ideas, and working with others—the skills that prepare graduates for leadership in most any career.[2]

Famous liberal arts colleges include Williams, Amherst, Swarthmore, Wellesley, Middlebury, Carleton, Bowdoin, Pomona, Haverford, and Davidson.[3] The colleges of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC)[4] are called the "little Ivies" and are sometimes seen analogous to the universities of the Ivy League. Most of them were historically men's colleges. The "Seven Sisters," another famous group, were historically women's liberal arts colleges; of the original seven, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, and Barnard remain women's colleges (Barnard with an affiliation with Columbia University); Vassar is coeducational; and Radcliffe no longer exists as an independent undergraduate college (it is part of Harvard University).[5]

See also


  1. Liberal arts, American Heritage Dictionary online
  2. Williams College: Academics, Williams College website
  3. Liberal Arts Colleges: Top Schools, U. S. News and World Report
  4. NESCAC: Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Connecticut College, Hamilton, Middlebury, Trinity, Tufts, Wesleyan, Williams
  5. The Seven Sisters, Mount Holyoke's website