The Beauty of a Liberal Arts Education

When my daughter started thinking about college, she naturally wanted to attend one of our state’s biggies — UCLA or Berkeley. It became clear by the 10th grade, however, that her GPA wouldn’t be enough to qualify. If you don’t have at least a 4.0, your chances are grim.

This was actually a blessing in disguise because the reality led us in a different direction. We read the popular book, Colleges That Changed Lives, which prompted us to look at liberal arts colleges. Until we read the book, we were like a lot of people. We assumed big was better and small was inferior.

Boy were we wrong. In fact, after visiting and researching liberal arts colleges for more than a year, my daughter ended up insisting that she didn’t want to apply to any state universities in California where we live.

My husband was a bit disappointed. “Won’t you even apply to UC Santa Barbara or Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo?”

“No way,” was my daughter’s response.

We told her okay, you can apply exclusively to private liberal arts schools, but you have to get a scholarship to defray the cost. And she did. Our daughter managed to snag merit money from five of the eight schools where she applied, including Juniata College in PA, Dickinson College in PA, and the University of Puget Sound. She ended up at Juniata College and she had a wonderful first year.

She liked all her teachers, she made lots of friends and she got to do things that she never would have experienced if she had stayed in California. For instance, she spent one day helping make syrup at Juniata’s maple syrup farm. She experienced her first true winter, which made her appreciate spring more than she ever had out here in the land of perpetual sunshine. Through the school, my daughter, who is a Spanish major, is spending the summer in southern Mexico.

While writing my book, The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price, I became an even bigger admirer of private and public liberal arts colleges. At these schools, the class sizes are routinely small and there are no TA’s teaching classes. Professors aren’t distracted by graduate student needs because there usually aren’t any. These small schools can well prepare you well for grad school. On a per capita basis, liberal arts colleges produce twice as many students who earn a PhD in science than other institutions.

All those pluses made me hope that my younger child could attend a liberal arts college too. The only problem is that he is interested in becoming an engineer. Liberal arts schools, with rare exceptions, don’t offer engineering degrees.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, to discover there is a wonderful way to have your child obtain a liberal arts education, as well as an engineering degree at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities. I’ll explain how in the next post.

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