Small liberal arts colleges are often overlooked in favor of larger state universities, but for the right student, a small liberal arts college may be the best choice.
These schools tend to have both smaller campuses and smaller class sizes than state schools. They’re known for having broad curriculums that emphasize degrees in fields such as humanities, sciences, and social sciences, with few, if any, graduate programs.
Though they tend to be private and thus more expensive, merit and other forms of scholarships and financial aid are available. Many small liberal arts colleges pride themselves on meeting merit for students who need it.
Fans of liberal arts colleges say accessibility to professors and an emphasis on preparing students for the real world with courses focusing on communication and writing proficiency, analytical thinking, and leadership skills are key reasons why they’re a good choice for many students.
Recently a parent in our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group shared that after her daughter completed her first semester at Occidental College, a small liberal arts college in Los Angeles, California, known for meeting students’ financial needs, it became clear that it was the best choice. With a sticker price of nearly $80,000 per year, many families might automatically discard a school like this, but most students at Occidental College pay around $30,00 after aid — but not this family.
“We pay around $7,000 per year, housing and tuition included,” said Meg A. In the end, “a small liberal arts college was definitely the right choice for my daughter.” Hundreds of parents chimed in with similar experiences and points of view.
Below are her key takeaways for families considering small liberal arts colleges as well as those who aren’t but perhaps should.
Small Liberal Arts Colleges Offer More Merit Than People Give Them Credit For
“My girl entered her senior year of high school thinking she wanted to major in nursing or cognitive science [in college]. She got into a few nursing programs but was mostly waitlisted. The smaller liberal arts schools were the ones she liked when we visited despite her initial leaning toward bigger public universities with nursing programs. We realized early on that as a good student, a good writer, and with an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) under $9,000, a needs-met small liberal arts school was the way to go, so we applied to several.
She ended up at Occidental College in Los Angeles (we live in Connecticut). When it came time to select first-year seminars (FYS), Occidental College offered students the option to apply for a computer science trio: a course in the concept of ‘Man vs Machine,’ an Introduction to Computer Science, and a Computer Science Internship in one of many fields.
My daughter is a lover of Sci-Fi and thought the FYS sounded great, so she applied and took the trio plus another course, and guess who is now leaning towards computer science as a major? I never thought the girl who was once intimidated by the “power-boy” table in her [high school] AP Physics class, who hadn’t done code since middle school, would want to be a computer science major.
Now, if she had attended a big public university, she may have never discovered computer science because there would be no room in those [early] classes and chances are she would have been overwhelmed and caught a case of imposter syndrome.
There Are Benefits to Small Liberal Arts Colleges, Including More Opportunities for Underclassman
[As a result], I’m here to say don’t rule out smaller liberal arts schools for some of those competitive majors. For one thing, because a small liberal arts school doesn’t have a graduate school, all of the research opportunities go to undergraduate students.
Also, most of the computer science majors who have graduated from Occidental College have earned great jobs or been admitted to further programs because they know how to write and communicate and not just code.” — Meg A., Paying for College 101 Facebook Group member
If you’re interested in joining this and other conversations with parents just like you, join our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group.
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