Just What Is a Liberal Arts College?

What Is a Liberal Arts College?

Considering a liberal arts college? Here’s a breakdown of just what it means to attend this type of institution.

What Does “Liberal Arts” Mean?
Through the centuries, there have been many definitions of what “liberal arts” involves. In Ancient Greece, liberal arts included public debate and serving on juries. In medieval times, these subjects included arithmetic, geometry, and music. Today, liberal arts education typically refers to the study of:

Liberal Arts Degree Meaning
The idea behind liberal arts is to approach learning with the emphasis of having broad knowledge of the wider world, to know a little bit of everything rather than to be focused on one trade or specialty. The focus is on the breadth of study.

When it comes to curriculum in colleges, typically the liberal arts are divided into three areas:

Liberal Arts Majors
Some examples of liberal arts majors include:

Liberal Arts Careers
One of the benefits of a liberal arts education is its fluidity when it comes to careers. Rather than being trained for one specific trade, a liberal arts education makes it possible for someone majoring in English to enter a number of careers in this field—it’s not just the ability to speak or read English.

Some examples include:

  • Teacher
  • Editor
  • Copywriter
  • Lawyer (with further schooling)
  • Library science and information science

Students can explore different fields and careers within their majors through internships and direction from academic advisers.

Top 25 Liberal Arts Colleges
This is a look at the top 25 liberal arts colleges based on Niche’s Best Overall ranking.

Liberal Arts Rank
Best Overall ranking
1Bowdoin CollegeBrunswickME1,831No. 13
2Pomona CollegeClaremontCA1,589No. 21
3Williams CollegeWilliamstownMA2,031No. 22
4Carleton CollegeNorthfieldMN2,037No. 25
5Wesleyan UniversityMiddletownCT2,932No. 29
6Amherst CollegeAmherstMA1,817No. 34
7Middlebury CollegeMiddleburyVT2,493No. 37
8Washington & Lee UniversityLexingtonVA1,835No. 38
9Wellesley CollegeWellesleyMA2,368No. 40
10Grinnell CollegeGrinnellIA1,615No. 44
11Bucknell UniversityLewisburgPA3,515No. 46
12Barnard CollegeNew York CityNY2,466No. 47
13Swarthmore CollegeSwarthmorePA1,537No. 49
14Vassar CollegePoughkeepsieNY2,370No. 50
15Colgate UniversityHamiltonNY2,850No. 51
16Hamilton CollegeClintonNY1,868No. 52
17Davidson CollegeDavidsonNC1,790No. 53
18Smith CollegeNorthamptonMA2,643No. 54
19Colorado CollegeColorado SpringsCO1,983No. 59
20University of RichmondRichmondVA3,106No. 60
21Bates CollegeLewistonME1,753No. 63
22Colby CollegeWatervilleME1,863No. 65
23Macalester CollegeSaint PaulMN2,035No. 67
24Whitman CollegeWalla WallaWA1,509No. 70
25Kenyon CollegeGambierOH1,658No. 73

The Bottom Line
Typically, liberal arts colleges are four-year colleges where students can get an undergraduate degree in a field with a broad range of study. Some graduate degrees are occasionally offered, but the schools are generally for undergraduate study.