Why liberal arts?

Hi. I’m thinking about transferring from a UK uni to an American liberal arts college. My initial reasoning is that I want more opportunities to explore outside of my major (in linguistics which I do not particularly like) and hopefully to discover new passions and have the freedom to pursue them.

Is that a good enough reason for transfer? I’m looking for additional insights into the liberal arts education and to see if it really is a good fit for me. Thanks!

Your reason for desiring to transfer to an American LAC is sufficient & valid as a broadly stated purpose.

However, it would help if you went one step further and shared your reason for targeting the specific college or university to which you are applying.

Thanks! I do find it difficult to elaborate on this purpose though, partly because I don’t know that much about the liberal arts or what I hope to gain from it. and I think each college has their own interpretations of the liberal arts and unique curriculum design. I have a hard time understanding what kind of students the college wants, what its core values are and how that links to a liberal arts education.

Any insight/advice/sources are appreciated. Thanks again!

D20 is attending a LAC. Each one does tend to have it’s own “flavor” and the key is finding the ones that fits you best. There is a lot of specific information within each school’s mission statement so you will have some research to do. D’s school, for instance, focuses on community, approaching issues with a fresh perspective, solving problems from an interdisciplinary perspective, and the core curriculum is a foundation of shared knowledge among all students and faculty.

Her school has 5 specific core classes that have to be completed by the end of the 4th semester. There are also 6 distribution requirements (that may be met by some classes already taken) but many of those classes aren’t open to upperclassmen. You don’t say what year you are in but the issue some transfer applicants have there is meeting the deadline and requirements when the normal course load is 4 per semester.

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In general, the main advantage of attending an American LAC is that you will be in small discussion based classes. You will have close interaction with other students and professors.

Some LACs have no core requirements, in which you are able to study what interests you outside of your major. Well known examples include Hamilton, Amherst, and Grinnell. Others have very flexible distribution requirements in which you can study what you like. Examples include Bowdoin and Bates. Others have a more traditional curriculum in which you will take a well defined variety of courses. Examples include Kenyon and Claremont McKenna.

There are advantages and disadvantages to attending an LAC. Very generally, because LACs are small, they often have active and well connected alumni and career networks, which can help with networking and jobs. Typically, grads from LACS have high acceptance rates to grad school. It can be easy to make friends, but at the same time, it might feel a bit claustrophobic because the student body is small and a lot of LACs are located away from major cities. To compensate, colleges host many excellent campus events. Of course, there will be partying at most, but there can be a lot of variation as to how much partying goes on.

I can’t speak for all students, of course, but my daughter primarily chose an LAC because she strongly felt she wanted to be actively involved in class discussion and campus life. She wanted to feel that she was part of a community. She wanted to be able to explore other small, interesting classes before declaring a major. If that is what you are looking for, then an LAC might be great for you.

If you give us an idea of what type of environment you are looking for and what you think you might want to study, we can make recommendations.


thank you! yeah I read about mission statements of a few schools, and I think I’m more drawn to the type that promotes creativity, with kind of a sense of introversion, so like the opposite of your D’s school. But it’s just a vague idea and I’m finding it hard to say exactly why do I think this school fits me., perhaps because I don’t know the liberal arts very well and am still in the process of self discovery to be honest.

that’s why I’m thinking about maybe applying spring or next year, my second year in uni, although I’d be more than happy to forego all my credits for the exploration - I don’t mind the extra time/tuition. But I’m worried that perhaps these liberal arts colleges might be less welcoming toward more mature students? Like if you’re 21 and still don’t know what you want to major in then you have a problem.

So…I’m feeling really lost at the moment. any insights/advice are be hugely appreciated. thanks so much.


If you’re up for it, check out some colleges that are “open curriculum” The OC allows you to explore your ideas without the rigid degree structure of a traditional degree path. To name a few off of the top of my head, Brown, Amherst, Rochester and Vassar. I think Amherst and Brown are the most “wide open” in terms of curating your own college experience.

If you’re interested in some of these schools, I recommend googling their classes available and reading about the faculty that teach these courses. Then, take it a step further and read some of the professors published works. This will help give you a holistic idea of what they offer and help connect you to your prospective college when it is time to write your essays.


Putting aside the issue of cost-of-attendance which can run $70,000 US per academic year (about 10 months), I encourage you to buy or obtain two annually revised publications-- the Fiske Guide To Colleges 2021 edition & US News Best Colleges.

US News Best Colleges lists the approximately 220 National LACs (liberal arts colleges) and provides statistics, ratings, & rankings. The Fiske Guide provides a detailed & insightful narrative about specific schools–many of which are highly regarded LACs.


So it sounds like you’re in your first year of college, right?

Tbh, if you’re considering transferring, I’d do it sooner rather than later. Spring semester is already underway. I suggest you contact admissions offices at a few colleges. Explain what you’ve said here.

Yes, the student population at most four year residential colleges ranges up to about 23 years old at the “older” end. If you are serious, have the discussion about money with your parents. These schools are expensive and as a transfer, I doubt you’ll get any aid. The cost is about $70,000 a year.

And if you really want to do this, why spend another year at Uni in the UK? That’s a waste of time, especially if you know you don’t want to stick with what you are studying.

Transferring in to some LACs might be a little easier at the moment due to COVID, or they might extend their deadlines for transfer apps. Typically, for selective LACs, transfer apps are due in mid March. You will probably need a couple of professor recommendations. I suspect there will be colleges that would be happy to take a 2nd year transfer student because they might have had room in their first year classes.


My understanding is that universities in the UK offer mostly 3 year programs of study. Colleges & universities in the US are based on a 4 year plan of study.

And it’s important to understand that in the US, students typically declare a major by the end of their second year. You don’t just study what you like indefinitely. But if you apply for and start college in Fall 2021, you will have most of the college year (depending on the college) to decide what you do want to major in.


Thanks so much. ok I’m gonna be honest:

I didn’t really take my education seriously until just the start of this past fall semester, so I haven’t had much time to really get to know the liberal arts, so I can’t say with confidence exactly why I want a liberal arts education without sounding ignorant or childish.

I’m technically 2nd year in uni because I took a “leave for absence” for 2/3 of last year because I changed my major (I was fed up with science which my parents made me do) to linguistics and now I’ve decided that I don’t like (most of) linguistics. I’ve had my chance and don’t believe that I get to pull that stunt again. The irony is in that I’m attending one of the top 5 universities in the UK where transferring (let alone to another country) is legitimately unheard of.

Here’s replying to your previous comment:

my current uni already has a small class discussion environment, although for me it comes across as narrowly focused - UK universities only lets you study one course/major - and I don’t feel like I’m getting a lot of intellectual stimulation out of these discussions especially when I’m not particularly enthusiastic about this major.

I don’t really mind when it comes to curriculum design - like I said I don’t have any particular interests in mind and am open to any field of study, required or not. Though I’m more self-conscious about saying “I don’t know what I want to do” than if I were a freshman. That said, for potential majors I’m thinking about art which has been a pure hobby, or medicine cuz I did IB biochem, also I’m interested in philosophy.

So, while I do believe that the UK system is unfit for me personally, the real question is whether I can say with confidence that the liberal arts is. Would I find that answer with more time? Or does that put me in danger of settling for what I have now and giving up on taking initiative over my education?

Sorry it’s a long reply so thanks for being here. I know only I can be the one to answer that for myself, but I would thoroughly appreciate any insights/advice. thanks.

Consider studying in the US during the summer as a visiting student. This would not require you to transfer & would not interrupt your current course of study as you would remain a student at your current university.


Oh wow I didn’t know about that. What are some colleges that let you do this?

Many colleges & universities in the US also permit students to visit for one term (usually a semester–Fall or Spring) during the regular school year or even for one full academic year.

However, whether or not your university in the UK will award course credit is up to that university. But, you will not lose anything whether or not your current school accepts the credits from any US college or university as earning a US college degree would require an extra year of study (4 years versus 3 years in the UK) anyway.


I think you would benefit from spending some time looking at colleges’ websites, reading blogs or social media posts, and reviewing some LACs on a website like Niche, which bases its ratings on student reviews.

But we need info. Please give us a general idea of the type of environment you would like to be in. Conservative? Sporty? Liberal? Arty? Lots of partying, or lots of board games? Serious academic atmosphere? Edgy? Preppy? Near a city or don’t mind? There are many different types of schools. Help us help you by letting us give you some recommendations so you can get a feel for an LAC and whether it’s right for you.

If you like art and philosophy, you can major in both. You will be busy, but you can do it. Double majoring is common. You can minor in a subject too, which involves fewer requirements than a major. Minoring is in addition to the major.

My shy, artistic, introverted daughter thrived at an LAC. She took a few art courses, ended up immersing herself in a foreign language she hadn’t studied before, went abroad for a semester in that country, and loved the interesting classes in her major. She also took classes that sounded interesting, just for the sake of it. Those were useful too, in that she realized she definitely didn’t want to pursue the field of study for a few courses she took, even though she enjoyed the classes.


And yes, you can do summer classes, but it will not be the same as being on campus during a regular college year. Typically, only universities offer summer sessions. They tend to be pretty intense because they are usually shorter in duration than a regular semester, so you will be attending a lot of classes and doing a lot more work at a faster pace than in a regular semester. Lots of universities offer summer sessions, too many to list here. Again, if you give us ideas though, maybe we can help.

Thanks so much. I am really shy and introverted too. From what websites I’ve researched I feel more connected to the Arty schools, like Skidmore, Sarah Lawrence, and I don’t mind more conservative schools like Kenyon or Williams.

It sounds like your daughter had the most wonderful experience that I don’t dare dream about. Did she apply freshman? What did she major in? I regret my decision to go to uni in the UK so much (I did IB) that if I were a freshman I would’ve chosen an American LAC without a blink, but I’m not. I’m turning 20.

My mom is firmly against me transferring and wants me to stay in this prestigious uni with better career prospects, and she says there’re other ways to learn what I want, through edX, self-learning, hobbies, etc. And I haven’t told any of my friends because every single person will call me crazy - I already have a prestigious education and I’m throwing it all away? sometimes I feel ignorant and stupid. Is a LAC really going to get me where I want in life? I don’t know.

so yeah, I’m starting to seriously doubt my decision to transfer. I wish it might be a chance for me to find myself in academics and in life, but is it the only way and is it worth it? I’m so lost I don’t know what to do…

There are many LACs which offer summer sessions open to students from other colleges & universities. Perhaps some other posters with specific knowledge can make us aware of such LACs.

First of all, a big “yes” to your basic question, “does it make sense to transfer to the US from a UK university, if I’m unsure of my interests?” The US liberal arts system is predicated on the idea that young adults don’t always know precisely what they want to specialize in for the first couple of years of college. It certainly beats the UK system of multiple baccalaureates every time you want to study a different subject.

Also, I wouldn’t sweat the idea that every US liberal arts college (LAC) has its own personality. For the most part, those subtleties would only be evident to another American. Someone from overseas is likely to be struck by how similar they are rather than how different: a lot of manicured lawns and Greek Revival architecture in the east and a lot of Spanish Revival out west. Their high costs almost guarantee that your classmates will be predominantly suburban and upper-middleclass.

One note, no American LAC (nor any baccalaureate institution) will offer a medical degree - that’s considered a graduate level (aka professional) degree. Likewise all the other learned professions like law, architecture and divinity.