Benefits of Private Liberal Arts Colleges

Students can definitely receive a solid college education at any type of higher education institution: large, small, public, private, in-state and out, etc. However, in my education consulting practice I am frequently surprised at the number of students who dismiss private liberal arts colleges out of hand as being too small. Here are my arguments in favor of giving such schools a serious look:

Quality of teaching

Private liberal arts colleges (PLACs) tend to have faculty who love to teach, and who were hired primarily to teach.  It is almost never the case at a smaller liberal arts college that classes are taught by graduate student teaching assistants. Class sizes at these schools tend to be smaller also. It is so much easier at this type of school to be known by your faculty members and to have strong connections with them from the outset of your enrollment.

Reasonable cost

Costs can be quite reasonable at PLACs, even more so than you might expect. If you are looking at state institutions outside of your home state, compare the cost of these with their out-of-state tuition charges with the cost of private schools (that don’t assess such fees). Very often the costs are comparable. Private schools also often have great financial aid packages available. Do your homework on cost and you may be pleasantly surprised!

If you are looking forward to expanding your horizons socially, and feeling bored with the students at your school, remember that you will be starting fresh wherever you go. A PLAC of 2200 students will expose you to a new group of students whom you likely have never met before, and from all over the U.S. It may be less overwhelming to fit in more quickly at such a school than at a public institution of 22,000, and believe me, by graduation time you still won’t know all members of your class!

Multi-talented graduates

PLAC graduates are regarded favorably by prospective employers and graduate schools due to their broad skills and critical thinking abilities. The lists of students accepted by graduate and professional schools always features large numbers of graduates of PLACs.

Here are a few of my personal favorite liberal arts colleges in the U.S.: Kenyon (OH), Grinnell (IA), Haverford (MA), Pomona (CA), and Lawrence (WI). I encourage all of my clients to give private liberal arts colleges a good, long look.

Test Optional Colleges

An evolving trend in the world of higher education is a swing toward test-optional colleges, meaning schools where students are not required to submit SAT or ACT scores. According to the National Center For Fair and Open Testing, the current count of such institutions is over 850, and is expected to continue growing. The list includes many selective and highly selective colleges, especially private liberal arts colleges, and some state universities. So far no Ivies have gone T.O. (after all, the SAT was originally developed as a means for Harvard to judge applicant scholarship worthiness). The following is a short illustrative list:

  • Bard
  • Bowdoin
  • California State system
  • Denison
  • Franklin & Marshall
  • Lawrence
  • Lewis & Clark
  • Middlebury
  • Rollins
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Kansas

Test optional is good news for students who are bright and hard-working who may not perform well on standardized tests, and it is good news for colleges, as the trend allows them to escape to some extent from the tyranny of publishing ever higher student score ranges to sustain their selectivity profile.

The diminishment of the importance of testing follows from long years of criticism of the cultural bias of such tests and their potential lack of validity. Admissions professionals at many colleges affirm that the strongest predictor of student success in college is performance in a rigorous high school curriculum.

For a comprehensive list of test-optional colleges, see