What is the Difference Between a Liberal Arts College and a University?

The choice of college is important to every graduating student looking to plan ahead for the future. However, there is categorical information that any student looking into college education should research and understand before they make their choice of colleges.

There are two primary types of institutions: the traditional university and the liberal arts college. Each has  its specific purposes and strengths. Each type of institution is suited for different types of students. Ultimately, the strengths and weaknesses of each type of institution are different. It’s up to you to educate yourself about the choices and make an informed choice of  which is best for you.


A generally agreed upon definition of the liberal arts college is a college or university curriculum that emphasizes general knowledge and developing broad intellectual capacities. This is in contrast to professional, technical and vocational curriculum. These specialize in fields of concentration in which you are expected to study. In addition, statistically, most liberal arts colleges tend to be private universities instead of public ones, although there are also definite exceptions to this rule.

Advantages of Liberal Arts Colleges

A good many liberal arts colleges are private schools. Liberal arts institutions also tend to be smaller than public colleges and universities. In terms of curriculum, students who attend liberal arts colleges will probably enroll in a core curriculum which exposes them to a broad selection of subjects that form the base of their education. This means there’s a more diverse selection of topics. This gives a student a broad education in many subjects.

In addition, while the range of subjects may not differ that much between liberal arts colleges and traditional universities, liberal arts colleges also tend to lack graduate programs. This means there’s a greater emphasis on undergraduate education. This emphasis may be lacking in certain graduate institutions that may allocate resources in other research or graduate departments. The smaller student population also means that faculty have more personal interactions and time to get to know students individually.

Advantages of Regular Universities

The primary differences between liberal arts colleges and traditional universities are specialization and scale.  Students who know their passions and don’t want to cover the broad areas of study in liberal arts colleges may be  more interested in universities that specialize in a specific subject. This is important for students who have a plan for their career and want to stay on that course.

The decision between liberal arts colleges and traditional universities is not an easy one. There are many factors for students to consider.

You should weigh the advantages of each type of institution with you goals in mind. When you understand the differences between these schools, it makes it much easier  to select a college and avoid having to transfer in the future.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris