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

The choice of college is important to every graduating student as well as prospective graduates looking to plan ahead for the future. However, there is categorical information that any students looking into college education should research and understand before they make their choice of colleges. There are two primary types of universities: the traditional university as well as the liberal arts college, each with its specific purposes and strengths that makes each type of institution suited for different types of students. Ultimately, the strengths and weaknesses of each type of university are different, and it is up to students to educate themselves about the choices and make an educated, informed choice of the university which is best for them.


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 as well as vocational curriculum which specializes in fields of concentration in which the student is expected to study and seek employment in after their graduation. 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

Because of the prevalence of liberal arts colleges as private schools, liberal arts institutions also tend to be smaller than public colleges and universities. In terms of curriculum, students that attend liberal arts colleges will probably enroll in a set or individually created core curriculum which exposes them to a broad selection of subjects that forms the base of their education. This means a more diverse selection of topics in order to round out a student’s education instead of emphasizing specific subjects and fields of study. 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 for their students. This means a greater emphasis on undergraduate education that 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 can 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, and in this, traditional universities have its unique strengths as well. Students who know their passions and don’t want to cover the broad areas of study in liberal arts colleges may be much more interested in universities that specialize in a specific subject. This is particularly important for students who have a plan for their career or field of study and want to stay on that course.

The decision between liberal arts colleges and traditional universities is not an easy one, and there are many factors for perspective students to consider. However, once students weigh the advantages of each type of institution with their goals and understand the differences between these schools, it makes it much easier for students to effectively select colleges and avoid having to transfer in the future.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris