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What does ‘liberal arts’ mean?

What does ‘liberal arts’ mean?

The U.S. higher education system can be quite different from the education systems of other countries. There are two main types of universities, public and private; the main difference being how they are funded. Then, there are different levels of degrees offered: associates, bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees. Additionally, there are many different concentrations of study, and those are called majors, and minors. If you want to attend a US university for an undergraduate, or bachelor’s degree, one of the most important concepts to understand is that of liberal arts. Liberal arts are more specific to bachelors’ degrees. You will find colleges and universities that either have liberal arts options or instead offer liberal arts as a foundation to their curriculum.

Liberal arts include academic subjects such as literature, mathematics, history, biology and philosophy that focus on the arts, mathematics, social sciences, and natural sciences. These are distinctly different from professional and technical subjects, such as engineering and medical studies. Merriam-Webster defines liberal arts as, “Areas of study (such as history, language, and literature) that are intended to give you general knowledge rather than to develop specific skills needed for a profession.” U.S. university students have the option to combine liberal arts with pre-professional degrees such as engineering and medical studies. Overall, liberal arts give students the opportunity to explore multiple areas of interest and learn valuable skills, such as research, writing and communication.

Many liberal arts degrees have class distribution requirements that further help students explore different subject areas as a way to find what students want to focus on in their undergrad. Most students studying at a liberal arts college, or choosing a liberal arts major, will earn a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science. Students should consider a liberal arts degree if:

  • Students are attracted by different subject areas, and want to pursue a degree that will allow them to focus on multiple subjects.
  • Students don’t know what they want to study specifically, and need time to explore different options before making a decision on what to concentrate on.
  • Students already know what they want to study: a non-technical degree.

Students wanting to pursue a degree in law, business, engineering or another profession-oriented field should concentrate their search on universities that offer more specialized degrees than liberal art schools offer. Although, it is good to know that when applying to graduate schools, many graduate programs like to see that a student has studied liberal arts. Because of the diverse offerings of a liberal arts degree, students who study liberal arts are seen as being well-rounded individuals.


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