Over the last few weeks, we’ve presented you to a number of college admissions counselors to the College Coach team. Today we take a break from that format to share something different: an email correspondence between Becky Leichtling and Ian Fisher on their educational skills, college search processes, and ideas on small liberal arts colleges. We hope you enjoy following along and maybe wondering a few questions of your own in the comments below!
Ian : When we first met a few years ago, we instantly connected through shared experiences at generous arts colleges. You had attended Carleton College (in Minnesota) and I acquired attended Reed College (in Oregon), and so it wasn’t long before we bonded over many mutual interests. You might be surprised to hear, however , that I might never have applied to Reed acquired my dad (a college professor) not made sure it was on my list. Actually, most of the schools that obtained my applications were big analysis universities. I was this particular close to likely to school somewhere bigger and closer.
Becky : I’ve actually produced a decent number of friends in comparable situations; at social events We often find myself knee-deep within conversation with the only other generous arts college grad in the room. But like you, my choice came down to a liberal arts college and a big research university. I was lucky enough to have a place inside my state’s flagship university, which is an incredible place to go to college. However , buddies who’d matriculated the year before acquired spent the year in introductory study (lecture) courses of the same subjects we’d been exposed to in high school – just bigger and less participating. They were looking forward to junior season, when they would have access to more dynamic upper-level courses in their majors. I didn’t yet know what I desired to study, but I knew that I didn’t want to wait until jr year to take eye-opening courses. So I ended up at Carleton, exactly where my first term I required Environmental Geology, Russian History, Israeli Literature, and African Drumming. I remember walking home from an afternoon within the lab testing our creek water samples for contaminants, clapping my hands in an attempt to master a very hard syncopated beat, while thinking about Palestinian culture pre-British Mandate. This was exactly what I’d hoped college would certainly be—more of everything, more deeply, all the time. To me, that’s what the liberal arts is all about.
Ian : Does being at the liberal arts college require a particular kind of personality? Is it even fair to lump all those “liberal arts” schools together with one another? In my ever-present cheerleading for the liberal arts, Dont really ever find myself interacting with students and saying, “you really shouldn’t consider a liberal arts college. ” But at the same time, I’m very aware of the fact that a place like Reed is correct for a particular kind of student—one who may be passionate about learning and unafraid of an aggressive and challenging curriculum. Nobody would be successful there—and that’s okay—but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of students who would enjoy one more liberal arts college as much as We enjoyed Reed or you enjoyed Carleton. I think the common understanding of the generous arts needs a little broadening. Recently, I was looking at the website for the University or college of Oregon and was surprised—and excited! —to see that they explained themselves as a liberal arts organization. Maybe the goal among educators should be to move the conversation to ensure that “liberal arts college” isn’t solely a descriptor of a small-population undergraduate institution. Or maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.
Becky : I do think many people think “liberal arts college ” when they hear “the liberal arts, ” and you’re right this confusion is an unfortunate wording problem. It can be a challenge to separate these two distinctive ideas that share a title, but I think most families should think about both environments for their distinct (but often overlapping) characteristics.
The research university I mentioned earlier also offers a liberal arts schooling, and does a great job of it. In my view, a “liberal arts education” teaches students to inquire probing questions, consider multiple sights or approaches to problems, and use their knowledge to a broad group of real-world issues. While some people may assume a liberal arts education minimizes exposure to technical content material knowledge, in many ways it’s just the reverse – students are expected to be able to resolve an equation in chemistry, analyze trends in economics, and interpret designs in poetry. And especially in public universities (funded by taxpayer dollars and educating the state’s future workforce) there’s a big incentive to ensure students in the College of Arts & Sciences are prepared to become innovative and productive contributors in most future endeavors, rather than providing a single skill set that may be outdated or even needless five years later.
I think the liberal arts college could be a great place for a certain type of kid to find greater access to possibility, more easily make connections with grown ups, and get involved across the board. A bigger campus might contain a lot more opportunities overall, but that doesn’t mean each individual student will have increased access to the opportunities they desire. Different students will join, engage, and branch out in different ways.
Ian : You’ve done a nice work of separating those two conditions in a way that makes sense. The liberal arts certainly doesn’t have a monopoly to the small college experience (look at a place like Cooper Union, for example , or Olin and Babson, next door to one another), it just happens to be the most frequently encountered type of small college. And the liberal arts are (is? ) everywhere, including Reed, Carleton, Stanford, or Arizona State.
So which do you think was more valuable in your growth? The liberal arts or the small college experience? Or are you going to cop out and say the two are inextricably linked in your case?
Becky : Ha! Yup, my gut feeling is to meet in the middle and state they are inextricably linked. And while this is true, I do think that for me individually, it was the small school environment that allowed me to grow and thrive in and out of the classroom.
There were 12 students in my main, so all of my classes were small. This meant I got a lot of faculty attention and needed to be completely prepared for every single class – it’s easy to tell in a group of 8 if someone hasn’t performed the reading. There were only 3 professors in the department regarding my minor, so I was able to create relationships with each. One particularly was a great resource for me while i was applying to grad school – she knew me well enough to provide much-needed advice during my search, crucial feedback on my personal statement, and also a positive recommendation letter .
Being at a small school also opened up more opportunities beyond the classroom – that might surprise folks who think bigger colleges automatically provide more opportunities. I used to be captain of my club ultimate Frisbee team and my sketch comedy troupe; in both organizations I ran try-outs (developing marketing/PR skills as well as the unfortunate responsibility of making cuts) and figured out how to stretch a very tight spending budget to meet our needs. This is not to suggest I was particularly good at Frisbee or comedy or being a innovator; rather, our small campus acquired lots of clubs and activities and they also all needed bodies, so these experiences were accessible.
For me, a small college provided an opportunity to build relationships with more people (both faculty and students), get involved deeper and in more places, and actually view the effects of my efforts. That constructed my confidence, my network, as well as the actual skills I then went on to utilize in my first job. I don’t know that the teenager I was would have been able to take advantage of so many opportunities in a bigger school. That doesn’t imply a small school will be the best for everybody, or even most people, but for me it had been what I needed at that time.
Ian : It’s great to hear you talk about all of the ways that your involvement in Carleton created real, practical skills that you could later use in your career. I think that’s one way in which small generous arts colleges struggle: explaining to their particular students (prospective and current) the important practical benefits of their academic and social experiences, and the long-term possibility created by wide opportunities for participation. I’m still uncovering little issues that I learned at Reed and continuing to learn how important they are in my experience now, even if the benefit wasn’t instantly apparent when I was a student. And that’s the great value of an open and stimulating college experience: you carry the value with you for the rest of your life.
Thanks, Becky, for great discussion as always!
Ian Fisher is a member of College Coach’s group of college admissions experts . Ian received his master’s in policy, organization, and leadership studies from the Stanford Graduate student School of Education. Prior to signing up for College Coach, Ian worked as being a senior admissions officer at Reed College.
Becky Leichtling is a member of College Coach’s group of college admissions experts . Becky is a graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Education; prior to joining College Trainer, Becky was a senior admissions official at Tufts University and Carleton College.