American liberal arts colleges: Where art meets science

In 1959, the British scientist and novelist CP Snow warned of a divide between scientists and "literary intellectuals". He explained that few of his friends and colleagues had both read one of Shakespeare's plays and could explain the second law of thermodynamics. The British education system, he argued, forced children to specialise at too early an age, pushing them towards either the arts or science and industry. More than half a century later, how much has changed?

America has found a way to bridge a gap that Britain still often stumbles into. "Liberal arts is a broad-based education that prepares students for as full and effective a life as possible, not just a specific career," explains Jim Kolesar, a spokesman for Williams, the top-ranked liberal college in America. Such degrees teach many disciplines, including analysis, communication and critical thinking, and an understanding of how culture influences groups and organisations. Students dedicate four years to subjects such as art, philosophy, literature, social sciences, physical education, public speaking, writing, natural sciences, and mathematics. Even when they specialise, Kolesar says students' choices can span the arts and sciences. "They'll often choose one major for themselves and another for Dad," he jokes, citing art and economics as an example.

Alison Byerly, provost and executive vice-president of Middlebury College in Vermont, says: "Often, when students start our programmes, they haven't made a decision about a particular career they are planning to pursue. One of the things that sharpens their ability to think about themselves and their skills is working through a number of different fields."

"The liberal arts appeal to students who want to learn how to be critical and reflective learners," echoes Lisa Smulyan, associate provost at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania.

America has liberal arts colleges, such as Williams, Middlebury and Swarthmore, while universities such as Harvard and Yale also run liberal arts courses. To gain a place, British students need A-levels or an International Baccalaureate diploma, and a visa. "We want people who are able and curious," says Kolesar. Extra-curricular interests are a bonus, too.

Generally, interested students apply to individual universities and colleges. A high percentage of these accept the Common Application, a form that can be downloaded, completed, and sent to a number of different institutions. Rankings for the top US liberal arts colleges can be found at www.usnews universitydirectory.com.

Fees are complicated. "It's kind of like an airline," says Kolesar. "Not everyone who takes the same trip has paid the same amount." At Williams, Harvard and a number or other colleges, families pay what they are able to, regardless of nationality or place of residence. "Our maximum fees are $50,000 a year – but about 95 per cent of American families qualify for financial assistance, and the average grant is more than $30,000 a year." The idea, he says, is to make education "affordable to every family".

Where will a liberal arts degree get you? Employment consultant Susan de la Vergne of www.liberalarts advantage.com, helps students apply their education to careers in business. "Employers want people who can tell the difference between fact and baloney," she says. "Liberal arts students are very good at that." De la Vergne cites business management and analysis as ideal careers for liberal arts graduates. Kolesar adds education, governance and politics to this list. "Employers go out of their way to get people from institutions like ours," he says. "They're looking for the best raw material, which means people who are educated broadly." Nevertheless, within seven years of graduating, around 80 per cent of Williams' graduates gain a professional degree, such as a medical, law or business qualification. De la Vergne believes they're still well placed to gain employment without that.

Smulyan concludes: "The liberal arts [enables people] to continue to learn, adapt and problem-solve in a rapidly changing world." Perhaps this, as CP Snow predicted, is what students and employers want.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
tv
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders were pictured embracing in 2012
people
News
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
scienceBumping fists rather than shaking hands could reduce the spread of infectious diseases, it is claimed
Sport
Mario Balotelli posed for this selfie during AC Milan's 5-1 defeat to Manchester City
sport
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth Games
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + ents
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Extras
indybestSpice up your knife with our selection of delicious toppings
Sport
sport
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried