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World Mag > WM Winter 2011 edition > You are going to study WHAT?

You are going to study WHAT?

Understanding the Liberal Arts
Andy Mennick - HS Guidance/College Counselor
Andy Mennick - HS Guidance/College Counselor

Perhaps one of the least-understood terms in the college admissions lexicon (and perhaps with good reason) is that of the Liberal Arts. Attending a Liberal Arts college often strikes fear into the hearts of (especially) parents and students when it comes to deciding where to go to college. My belief is that it shouldn’t, since in reality the Liberal Arts aren’t quite what peopleimagine, offer one of the best educational options for many students, and many of the AISB graduates who are happiest with their college choices are attending a Liberal Arts school.

So what does the term Liberal Arts mean, and what is a Liberal Arts education? The answer can be found in Latin, where the term artes libe- rales referred to an education in which students learned the skills required of a free citizen. This was considered an educational ideal during the Classical Period (particularly in ancient Rome), where students studied seven subjects deemednecessary for effective citizenship: grammar,rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astrology/cosmology. The idea of such an education was to train the mind, broaden perspec- tives, and sharpen critical thinking skills across disciplines so that students completed their studies with the ability to recognize, analyze, and act upon the events of their lives to make positive, thoughtful contributions to society.

The idea of a broad education was popular throughout Europe until the Industrial Revolu- tion, when much (but not all) higher education became more career- and subject-oriented. In the United States, however, some colleges and universities focused on a broad education, with much of the framework for the contemporary Liberal Arts model implemented at the Univer- sity of Chicago in the 1920’s.

Students attending Liberal Arts colleges today specialize in one subject (called a major) that takes up between 25-40% of their total coursework at the college. The remainder of the student’s coursework is taken in a broad variety of subjects. At some colleges, students select courses from a core curriculum, while other col- leges have distributional requirements, such as at least two semesters of math, science, foreign language, literature, and social sciences. Other colleges have very few absolute requirements, and students plan their own course of studies, often working with a faculty advisor.

There are several advantages to the liberal arts model for today’s high school graduates. The first is that students are exposed to subjectsand disciplines that they may not have have known about in high school – and in so doingfind the area in which they really want to spe- cialize. Liberal Arts students are also able to fur- ther develop a wide range of skills and abilitiessince they are taking classes in so many different areas, which also enables students to make connections between subjects and disciplines – an extremely useful life-long skill. Finally, Liberal Arts students are more-likely to become life- long learners, and tend to be stronger at know- ing the right questions to ask of a new situation.

This latter point is particularly important. Most of the students who graduate from AISB are esti- mated to have a minimum of two careers during their working lives, and will work for a minimum of ten employers. Moreover, most graduates will be doing jobs 15-20 years after graduation that currently don’t exist. Employers are increas- ingly looking for candidates who easily adapt to change, can learn new skills, and are able to make connections between what they have done and what they need to do. It’s my belief that the future will belong to life-long learners, and a Liberal Arts education is a superb way to become one.

Most Liberal Arts colleges tend to be small, but larger universities will also have smaller Liberal Arts colleges as an undergraduate option. Thesmaller Liberal Arts colleges offer an experi- ence very similar to that of AISB, with smaller classes where discussion is encouraged, easyaccess to teaching staff and additional help, anda strong sense of community. The AISB graduates attending Liberal Arts colleges are often the graduates who are most-satisfied with theirchoice of college, and consistently report that they work extremely hard but feel quite supported in their efforts.

Liberal Arts colleges in the US can be expen- sive, but they also tend to be the most-generous with financial aid for international students whohave records of being serious about their studies. I highly recommend students consider a Lib- eral Arts education, as I believe it can be a highly-advantageous choice. We currently have graduates studying at the following Liberal Arts colleges in the US: Bates College, Chapman University, Dickinson College, Grinnell College, Marymount Manhattan College, Pitzer College, St. Norbert College, Stanford University, Swarthmore College and the University of Chicago.

Andy Mennick
HS Guidance/College Counselor

Read the entire WORLD Magazine Winter 2011 edition here.



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