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Small liberal arts colleges: Providing value for the investment
By Sriharsha Masabathula
| Category: Education

As Ohio Wesleyan University’s India Representative, I participated, in August, in a trip to major cities in India organized by the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA), a consortium of 13 liberal arts colleges in the Great Lakes region of the United States. Participants included admission counselors from several GLCA schools, and our goal was to share information about the value of a liberal arts education and to outline what small U.S. universities have to offer international students.


As a new graduate and first-time participant in the trip, I picked up many “behind-the-scenes” tips from the more seasoned admission officers, and I discovered some exciting features of the international-student recruitment process. As we visited various schools across the country, we followed a specific pattern for our presentations. We would begin by explaining to students the value of a liberal arts education, followed by a presentation about the specific college we were representing.


What then, is a liberal arts education? The liberal arts is not a specific set of disciplines or courses, but rather a philosophy, or ideology, in itself. It embodies a flexible curriculum, wherein students explore courses in four categories, broadly defined as the Humanities, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences, and Arts, in addition to specializing in a discipline of their choice. In this context, it was rather ironic that we had to emphasize that our colleges teach the “liberal arts and sciences,” as the sciences are an integral part of the liberal arts. But many students and parents, particularly in India, are unaware that a liberal arts education expands beyond the arts or humanities.


Small liberal arts colleges, where the size of the student body ranges from 800 to 3,500 students, focus predominantly on undergraduate education. They have small class sizes, often with student-teacher ratios of no more than15:1, allowing for personalized attention from professors, almost all of whom have the terminal degree in their field of study. Many of these colleges provide a high-quality academic experience in a multicultural environment with some colleges enrolling10% to 12% international students representing more than60 countries. These colleges also provide state-of-the-art infrastructure for sports, extra-curricular activities, and academics, in addition to providing numerous opportunities for study-abroad, student-exchange, and interdisciplinary student-led projects around the world. Most importantly, such colleges provide a safe environment for students to grow, define, and re-define their personality, aspirations, and goals.


For those willing to travel the extra mile, there are numerous opportunities to work with faculty on exciting research projects and challenging assignments often supported by the college itself, with help from various governmental and non-governmental organizations across the country. The competition, therefore, is with the self, and, in that context, the sky is the limit.


This introduction was followed by a rather difficult challenge, even for the veterans among my colleagues. What is it that our college will offer you that other small liberal arts colleges will not? The question is significant because while the underlying features of our colleges were similar, each had a very subtle and distinctive flavor to offer. While some differentiate themselves through multicultural representation and on-campus activities around the year, others talk about outstanding research opportunities and co-curricular experiences. In addition, there are generous scholarship and financial-aid packages available, tailor-made to the design of each university.


Here, I stumbled across my most important insight from the trip: Each applicant is reviewed in a refreshingly personalized manner. It is important, therefore, that you portray a genuine image of yourself as you are constantly discussed and deliberated upon within the admission committee! The top priority of every college is to find students who fit well into their community and who will gain the most from the opportunities provided to them.

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Mouli Dasgupta's picture

Interesting and informative.
Gauri Bhardwaj's picture

Good idea! Thumbs up