Because I was worried about the chances of getting into college if you don’t chase the top 10% (a misconception that turned out not to be true) and I liked the idea of getting your undergraduate degree at a school that emphasized teaching undergraduates over graduate research, I found the idea of a liberal arts college appealing. So, what is the difference between college and university degrees? What are the differences between liberal arts colleges and research universities?
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Differences between universities and colleges, from Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
In Colleges that Change Lives, Loren Pope outlines some differences between universities and colleges, more specifically between research universities and liberal arts colleges.
- Research comes first. (Professors gets part of their salary from research grants, getting tenure depends on publishing, and they bring grants to the University, part of which goes to the University in general.)
- There is a lack of personal mentoring, and it’s hard to have someone know you well enough to write you a letter of recommendation.
- Classes can be huge; advisers won’t know you.
- The primary mission is teaching, not research.
- They also focus on developing thinking and the character of students.
- “Many of them have outperformed most of the rankings sweethearts in the percentages of graduates who become America’s scientists and scholars. Their students have won Fulbrights, Rhodeses…and other prestigious post graduate scholarships far out of proportion to their sizes and selectivity. And their graduates get accepted to medical, dental, law and graduate schools at rates that far out pace the national averages.” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
What the differences between liberal arts colleges and universities means for students
Pope doesn’t give any numbers to back up these claims. However, if true, the fact that the percentages are higher when their selectivity for admittance is lower, that means they do more with their students than universities that start with a higher level of students and get a lower percentage of excellent students out.
- “Almost all of [the colleges highlighted in this book] accept more than half their applicants.” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
- “Students and professors develop a mentor relationship…and [become] friends.” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
- “These colleges are places where people will listen to you…because it’s an essential part of learning. So many institutions of higher education in this country expect you to only listen – as you sit in a class of hundreds of students. But doesn’t it make you wonder how students in these classes test their own ideas?” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
Of course, the basics of chemistry aren’t up for debate – which doesn’t mean that there might be some things things that are wrong, waiting to be discovered in a class discussion, it just isn’t likely. So I think the value of this in different classes varies. Although I do think that class participation is always beneficial, and it is more difficult in a large lecture class.
- “Liberal learning teaches students to investigate and understand the world..” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
- “…anything can happen and nobody can tell you precisely how your career will go. Nobody can give you the facts you need to do your job ten years from now because nobody knows what you job will be ten years from now. A liberal education gives you skills you will always need to be an adaptive learner, an effective communicator, and a sharp-idea generator.” Colleges that Change Lives by Lauren Pope
Pope did’t prove this, and I still have some serious doubts that a liberal arts education does prepare you the best for a job. But it’s worth a thought.
Other posts in this series about deciding whether a liberal arts college is right for you
- Consider a Liberal Arts College – how to choose a college part 1/5
- Difference between college and university – how to choose a college part 2/5
- College Rankings, the truth about what they really mean – how to choose a college part 3/5
- A liberal arts education, is it really the best? – how to choose a college part 4/5
- Why my son won’t attend a liberal arts college, engineering – how to choose a college Part 5/5
More information about liberal arts colleges and liberal arts degrees