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Science major in an liberal arts college

facepalmfacepalm Registered User Posts: 98 Junior Member
edited October 2011 in College Search & Selection
Hi guys, I know that liberal arts colleges are more well rounded and their motto is to make students good members of the society. My question is, does the emphasis on philosophy detract from the science majors in liberal arts colleges? I am going to major in neuroscience, and I am considering some liberal arts colleges (specifically Pomona college). I know that this varies from college to college, but are science majors at liberal arts colleges generally weaker than those of other colleges?
Post edited by facepalm on

Replies to: Science major in an liberal arts college

  • SDonCCSDonCC Registered User Posts: 2,373 Senior Member
    Not at all! It seemed to me that every campus we visited had a pretty new science facility, too.
  • MizzBeeMizzBee Registered User Posts: 4,578 Senior Member
    When you see the number of people accepted to PhD programs many LACs do very well. One great advantage at most of the schools that we visited emphasize the ease of doing research as an undergrad. Plenty of the schools have invested a lot in new equipment and have faculty that want to teach. My DS intends to be a science major and is concentrating on LACs especially since he has seen his friends struggling to get research opportunities at our state schools.
  • warblersrulewarblersrule Super Moderator Posts: 10,132 Super Moderator
    facepalm wrote:
    Hi guys, I know that liberal arts colleges are more well rounded and their motto is to make students good members of the society.
    Yes and no. Both LACs and universities would expect a science major to have a well-rounded education.

    What a LAC has:

    (1) Small size - Most LACs range in size from a few hundred to 3000 students. Public LACs are often larger than private ones, but they almost never exceed 5000 students. Although universities can also be very small (Caltech and Brandeis), they tend to be a bit bigger.

    (2) No graduate degrees - A few LACs grant PhDs (Wesleyan and Bryn Mawr), some have law schools (Washington & Lee and Lewis & Clark), and some have other graduate schools like education (Lewis & Clark again). In general, however, most LACs grant only BA/BS degrees. This is contrast to universities, which also house graduate schools of medicine, law, dentistry, business, divinity, etc.

    (3) Few or no pre-professional programs - Some LACs have majors in business (Skidmore), engineering (Bucknell), communications (Susquehanna), nursing (Hiram), etc. In general, however, most LACs focus on the liberal arts.


    What a LAC does not have:

    (1) Focus on the humanities at the expense of the sciences. While many people translate "liberal arts" as humanities, this is wholly mistaken. The liberal arts consist of the humanities (English, philosophy, classics, religion, art history), social sciences (economics, history, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, psychology, political science), sciences (biology, geology, chemistry, physics, computer science), math (math, statistics), and the arts (theatre, dance, visual arts, music). Chemistry majors at Middlebury and Penn State would have very similar curriculums and could potentially have similar research backgrounds by graduation.

    (2) More focus on the liberal arts than a college of arts & sciences at a university. While a university often offers pre-professional programs like nursing and engineering, it also has a college of arts & sciences that has the exact same array of programs as a LAC. Indeed, a university often has far greater breadth and depth than a comparable LAC.

    (3) More requirements than a university. There are LACs and universities with core curriculums (Columbia and Reed), LACs and universities with distribution requirements (Penn and Bowdoin), and LACs and universities with no requirements (Brown and Amherst).
  • par72par72 Registered User Posts: 4,208 Senior Member
    Strong science programs exist at Wellesley, Holy Cross, F&M. For pre-med route Holy Cross is very good.
  • yh006866yh006866 Registered User Posts: 11 New Member
    What are some LACs that are good for science major (esp biology or biochemistry)? and for Pre - med?
    thanks :)
  • M's MomM's Mom Registered User Posts: 4,562 Senior Member
    I'm a big fan of LACs, and science majors at LACs are absolutely not weaker than at universities, but there are a few drawbacks to consider:

    1) Because LAC have fewer students, they may also have fewer courses in your areas of interest - so check the course catalogs at each LAC that you apply to. Realize that an upper level course may only be offered once a year or every other year - and you may have to deal with schedule conflicts. Check the policy to see what happens if you don't get into your class of choice - do you have priority next time it's offered?

    2) The range of research opportunities may be more limited at the school you attend. Check out the faculty in your field of interest and what specific areas of research they are engaged in. Be prepared to be a bit flexible. You can do research over the summer elsewhere if you don't get what you want, but it's easiest to get positions where you are enrolled.

    3) There can be advantages to have grad students around: It means there are graduate level courses in the area you are interested in, which could be useful by senior year. Grad students can also be role models and mentors. If you think academia is where you want to end up, they can provide useful insights into the process of getting there. (Of course, there are also disadvantages to having grad students around, so you need to weigh the costs and benefits to you specifically.)

    Bottom line - Science majors can get terrific preparation in their area(s) of interest at a LAC, but they need to check that each school has what they are looking for so they don't end up with unmet expectations.

    P.S. Grinnell has outstanding sciences: Amazing state-of-the-art facilities, small intro science classes, no distribution requirements, excellent faculty mentoring and generous merit aid. S is pre-med (biochem major) and is having a great experience there.
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 36,904 Senior Member
    Here is a thread from around this time last year on yh006866's question:

    http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/1035344-lacs-strong-biology-departments.html
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 36,904 Senior Member
    OP, look specifically at post 78 in that thread I just referenced. Do that Google search, and the article provides some first hand experience on the transition from LAC to grad school in sciences.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 76,728 Senior Member
    facepalm wrote:
    are science majors at liberal arts colleges generally weaker than those of other colleges?

    Depends on which "liberal arts college". Sarah Lawrence[1] or Bard? Yes, they are weak in science. Harvey Mudd? No, it is definitely not weak in science.

    [1] Widely regarded as a "liberal arts college", but its course catalog appears to emphasize visual art practice and performing arts (dance, music, theater), which are more like pre-professional studies.
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