Does anyone really know what they want to do with the rest of their life at age 18? Perhaps, but the problem with technical undergraduate degrees is that if you end up changing your mind about a career choice, as many college graduates do, it’s difficult to change career paths easily.
With the broad range of skills that students gain at Liberal Arts Colleges, though, flexibility and success in multiple career fields is abundant. We’ve created a guidebook about the advantages of a Liberal Arts education, both during and after your time at the school, including participating in active learning and minimizing student debt.
Part I: Active Learning at Liberal Arts Colleges
With thousands of four-year colleges and universities to choose from in the United States, it can be difficult to narrow down the best options for you. Despite a lot of the discourse about higher education we hear today, degrees Liberal Arts Colleges actually offer something that technical undergraduate degrees don’t. Find out what sets them apart below.
Active learning is meant to engage students in a way that common lecture-style teaching does not. Students participate actively in their learning, through discussion, practice, review, or application. They are able to take away more from the topic, and are able to apply the skills they’ve learned to other areas, academic and otherwise.
A Liberal Arts education is unique in that it is built to engage the whole student. Rather than just focusing on building specific technical skills, Liberal Arts Colleges successfully foster individual and intellectual development. A well-rounded education will actually benefit the student in the long run, both in and out of the workplace.
The wide range of classes that students take at Liberal Arts Colleges facilitate creative ways of thinking. As opposed to a math major at a technical university who would take mostly math courses, that same student at a Liberal Arts school would also develop critical thinking, writing, reading, and analysis skills to round out their education. This is extremely important because it’s rare for someone to stay on one career path their whole life, and employers look for flexibility and a multitude skills.
At Liberal Arts Colleges, professors are more focused on actually teaching their students, rather than on their own research. In addition, there aren’t graduate students teaching in place of professors at Liberal Arts schools, because these colleges often don’t have graduate programs. With professors motivated by their love of the subject and dedication to teaching, the quality of the education increases monumentally.
Average class sizes are typically much smaller at Liberal Arts schools than larger undergraduate universities, allowing for a more personalized approach to education. The amount of time that professors can spend developing close relationships with their students not only improves the students’ engagement with the subject matter, but also expands their opportunities for learning outside the classroom. Not to mention the networking possibilities when you get to know professors who hold the highest degree in their field.
Discussion-based classes at Liberal Arts Colleges encourage cooperation and collaboration between the students. In addition, these schools offer a wide range of classes that can improve collaborative creativity, debate skills, and the ability to successfully communicate ideas.
Part II: The Value of a Liberal Arts Education
In part one, we saw the specific aspects of a Liberal Arts education that sets it apart from other technical undergraduate degrees. The practical advantages that translate into success after college are abundant, and below we detail a few of them. Active learning will continue to offer benefits long after you graduate.
At a Liberal Arts College, you’re able to encounter students from a wide range of geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Interacting with these students in both academic and non-academic settings will help to broaden your worldview and expand your learning opportunities.
“Instruction per student” is higher at Liberal Arts Colleges than at research universities, showing that these Liberal Arts schools focus on their students, rather than putting money towards research outside of the college.
Employers look for the kinds of skills that Liberal Arts Colleges instill in their students. Working successfully in teams, creative problem solving, and efficient prioritizing are all results of an education that promotes active learning.
Liberal Arts Colleges have a higher return on investment than other four year universities, and this reflects the value of the well-rounded education that LAC students receive.
We can present the facts and figures to you all day, but it’s probably most effective to hear the alumni speak for themselves. Despite high sticker prices and myths about useless degrees, Liberal Arts Colleges often come out on top when looking at alumni satisfaction.
Have thoughts or comments about the Liberal Arts College experience or the advantages of active learning?
Let us know what you think about this guidebook in the comments below!
Studies show course discussions and increased student engagement can impact a student’s learning experience, regardless of a traditional classroom or online setting. This is why institutions like Excelsior College place increased focus on critical thinking and both active and reflective learning to boost student success and retention.
With increasing number of companies today seeking employees equipped with both problem-solving and critical thinking skill sets, it is more important now than ever that colleges develop graduates to meet this demand.
But how are colleges developing graduates with critical thinking skills? And while we know that knowledge is lost when critical thinking skills aren’t applied, what exactly is critical thinking?
The dictionary defines critical thinking as “disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.” At its core, an individual who questions statements and facts, to disclose or expose what we often take for granted, as erroneous or false; a superb questioner.
“In life, critical thinking should never cease,” said David Seelow, PhD, director of writing programs and online writing lab at Excelsior. “It is an ongoing thought process that promotes questioning, investigation, and analysis.”
With that in mind, it is not surprising the law is a common career path for the critical thinker. A trial lawyer questions every statement and every piece of evidence put before them.
But what about other career pathways? Excelsior Life recently sat down with Dr. Seelow to learn why critical thinking is important for college students and their future employers. Seelow has developed Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum, a critical thinking webinar series for Excelsior College that concludes on March 26. The webinar is being led by Dr. Daniel Rothbart of George Mason University.
Excelsior Life: Why should college students be concerned about critical thinking?
Seelow: In college, students should be concerned about critical thinking because it is how they become informed citizens. If things are just accepted as they are, change will never occur. Democracy depends on critical thinkers. Productive civic engagement requires it too. In Excelsior’s School of Liberal Arts, critical thinking is an outcome required of our capstone courses because we feel every student should graduate as a critical thinker.
Excelsior Life: What tools should colleges use for increasing critical thinking skills?
Seelow: To increase critical thinking skills, colleges use assessment tools. Professor Peter Faccione has identified six tools for critical thinkers: analysis, inference, explanation, interpretation, evaluation, and self-regulation. Educators recommend at least some of these skills should be stressed in all college courses.
For example, reading a poem closely requires analysis, interpretation, explanation, and judgment. In a science course, students should read and understand arguments based upon evidence. Students should be able to evaluate data including statistical studies, and understand the inferences developed from this data. Reasoning skills help students construct arguments based upon empirical evidence.
Explanation comes with interpretation. Evaluation is an assessment of research. Self-regulation comes from monitoring your own thinking.
Excelsior Life: What about case studies? Should they be incorporated into the curriculum? Seelow: To enhance critical thinking, it is recommended for colleges to incorporate case studies into curriculum. The case study provides a multidimensional approach to understanding. Harvard Business School has based its curriculum on the case study method since its founding.
Excelsior Life: How do traditional and online class discussions, impact grades and critical thinking?
Seelow: Class discussion impacts critical thinking regardless of the setting. In a traditional classroom, discussions show student comprehension of presented material.
Online courses have an advantage with critical thinking. In an online class discussion, students have more time to reflect on responses and practice critical thinking, even though it may lack the spontaneity of the traditional classroom. Another benefit is in the online class every student participates, not just the eager few of a traditional class. Finally, the online student has plenty of time to ponder his or her classmates responses to a question.
Excelsior Life: Why is critical thinking so important to employers?
Seelow: Two of the most essential skills necessary for success in a business are decision making and problem solving. Critical thinking is the fountain head of informed decisions and the ability to systematically solve problems. When business leaders are asked skills most desired among new graduates, the answers are most commonly good communication skills (written and oral) and critical thinking.