The Difference Between Liberal Arts & Research University

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Liberal Arts College or Research University: What’s the Difference?

Selecting a college or university is one of the most important decisions that you will ever make. Every school is different, but liberal arts colleges and research universities tend to possess certain qualities. Selecting your school is still a deeply personal choice, but knowing the institution type can tell you a great deal about the school.

Liberal Arts College or Research University?
Liberal arts colleges and research universities are fundamentally different. Liberal arts colleges offer broad programs that focus on the arts, humanities, and sciences. Most research universities house multiple colleges on the main campus, and these institutions tend to offer a wide range of academic and professional programs.

Research universities tend to offer a wider selection of degree programs. If you have not firmly settled on your career goal and major, most research universities will provide more alternatives if you eventually decide to change programs. Additionally, larger research universities tend to offer more graduate program options. Many liberal arts colleges focus exclusively on undergraduate degrees.

A research university might have more programs, but liberal arts colleges offer some truly unique areas of study. Multidisciplinary degree programs are a growing trend at liberal arts colleges. These programs provide an opportunity to get a well-rounded perspective on your primary area of interest.

According to Dan Edelstein of Inside Higher Ed, many students are drawn to the professional programs offered at some research universities. Engineering and pre-medical programs are two of the popular majors offered at many research institutions, and similar programs are not as common at liberal arts colleges.

College Bound Network reports that professors at research universities tend to devote a great deal of their attention to research. If you attend a research university, you are more likely to enroll in classes that are taught by graduate assistants. This practice is particularly common for introductory level courses.

Class Size
According to CBS Money Watch, class sizes tend to be smaller in liberal arts colleges, and giant lecture halls are more common in large research institutions. If you thrive in smaller and more intimate settings, a liberal arts college is more likely to provide that experience.

Research Exposure
Even if you do not plan to become actively involved in the research process, a university will offer some general research exposure. Possessing basic research skills can be advantageous in academic and professional settings. Professors at liberal arts colleges are still expected to produce publications, but the emphasis on research involvement is not as pronounced. As a result, you are less likely to encounter rewarding research opportunities.

According to College Bound Network, most liberal arts colleges are private institutions, and in-state tuition at a private school tends to be more expensive than out-of-state tuition at a public school. However, CBS Money Watch reports that many liberal arts colleges have generous financial aid departments. Additionally, some liberal arts colleges are public schools, and some research universities are private institutions.

Selecting the best program at the best school is an important decision. You need to think about the importance you place on factors such as program options, research exposure, class size, and more. The general differences between liberal arts colleges and research universities can guide you, but you should always evaluate each individual program to find the best fit for your personal and professional goals.

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