What is a Liberal Arts College, Anyway?

You’ve probably heard Alma College described as “a private, liberal arts college in Michigan.” And you might have wondered: “Liberal arts? What does that mean?”

That’s a fair question. The term itself is a little bit curious, especially considering that not everyone at liberal arts colleges leans left politically or dabbles in the arts. So, let’s break it down, and talk about what people study at liberal arts colleges and why it’s important for society. Then, you can decide if pursuing this type of degree is the right choice for you!

Q: Why do they call it a “liberal arts college?”

A: The term originates waaaay back to the time of classical antiquity. Back then, “liberal” — rooted in the Latin word liberalis — didn’t carry with it the political implications of our time. Rather, “liberal” meant “free,” and what a free person did back then was study.

Romans of that era studied grammar, rhetoric and logic, believing that those subjects, known as the trivium, made an individual well-rounded. Today’s “liberal arts” colleges also aim to make an individual well-rounded, but have expanded on those three subjects to include others, like history, mathematics and philosophy.

Q: Say more about that — what kind of subjects can I major in?

A: So. Many. Subjects. Alma College, for example, offers more than 45 undergraduate programs, in subjects including:

Going back to what we said about making an individual well-rounded: These courses tend to work with each other in interesting ways. Using Alma as an example again, you might take a course that mixes environmental science with English, or political science with art. This lets you dive deep on the subjects you’re drawn to, examine them from different perspectives, while broadening the scope of your experiences.

Q: My parents really want me to ask this last question: What can I do with a liberal arts degree?

A: We’re glad you asked. A liberal arts degree can help you train yourself to see different perspectives and ask great questions, apply knowledge across subjects, understand interplay between subjects and be great learners in an ever-changing world. Future employers will know you can bring creative thinking to work, which is a huge bonus. And at Alma College, you’ll be part of a passionate alumni base that is committed to helping each other succeed personally and professionally, long after they have left college.