Liberal Arts Colleges vs. Universities

Liberal Arts Colleges vs. Universities

How do they really differ?

Degrees Offered

Universities and Liberal Arts colleges both offer BA (bachelor of arts) and BS (bachelors of science) degrees, but Universities award graduate degrees (masters and doctorates) as well. While some Liberal Arts schools do have graduate students, the focus at these colleges is on undergrads.


Liberal Arts colleges are usually much smaller than Universities. While there are exceptions, typical Liberal Arts schools have student bodies of 2,500 or so students and are frequently located in rural or suburban settings.

Choice of Major

In addition to offering a broad scope of majors, Universities frequently offer   pre-professional programs such as law, business and engineering. Liberal Arts schools offer a breadth of majors as well, but might offer one or two choices of majors within, say within the biological sciences, while a University might offer several additional choices. Liberal Arts schools do not traditionally offer pre-professional programs. The Liberal Arts focus is on critical thinking and lifetime learning skills and to that end, many schools have core curriculum requirements in the arts, humanities, social and natural sciences and mathematics.

Research Opportunities

Research is intrinsic to Universities. With more available funding and well-equipped facilities, research occurs on a large scale, frequently with faculty at the frontier of their fields. Opportunities for research can be more limited at the undergraduate level however, particularly in the first two years. Liberal Arts colleges often have more accessible opportunities for research, albeit usually much smaller in scope and variety.

Class Sizes

There’s no hiding in the back of a large lecture hall at a Liberal Arts college. Classes at Liberal Arts schools tend to be smaller and focus on discussion-based learning. Universities tend to offer larger lecture-based classes, especially during the first two years, with breakout discussion or lab groups taught by T.As.

 Extra Curricular Activities

Liberal Arts colleges tend to compete in Division 3 athletics while Universities house Division 1 competitions. You’ll find lots of athletic opportunities at Liberal Arts schools, but you won’t find the pomp and circumstance of Big Ten or SEC University athletics. Both offer an array of extra-curricular opportunities from intramural and club sports to theatre, a capella groups, Greek life, community service and a myriad of special interest groups and organizations.