Attending a University vs. a Liberal Arts College

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Kristen Seikaly
Kristen Seikaly

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A college is a college is a college: right? Not quite. And it’s not just a question of how elite a school is! Colleges differ in a number of ways, from size to location to the student body, and so on. One of the most direct ways to find distinctions between colleges is to consider if it’s a university vs a liberal arts college.

Attending a university vs. a liberal arts college can make for a completely different college experience. Therefore, it’s worth knowing how and why before you form your final list of colleges. Take a moment now to read about each type, and to think about the similarities and differences between them.

Liberal Arts Colleges

By and large, liberal arts colleges are smaller institutions that only offer undergraduate programs. As a result, the class sizes tend to be smaller. This means students can often have more direct contact with their professors. For students who feel they need individualized attention, a liberal arts college may be the way to go.

It’s worth noting that these smaller colleges translate into smaller social circles and fewer campus activities as well. The degrees at liberal arts colleges also tend to be less specialized. If you want to pursue a specific field of study, you may have a hard time doing so at a liberal arts college, but it would be a great environment to explore your interests.

Liberal arts colleges are also more expensive than universities by and large. On the other hand, they tend to offer more merit scholarships, so the cost does not necessarily need to be a deal breaker when considering if you want to attend a liberal arts college.


Universities tend to focus on research, which affects undergraduate students in a number of ways. Classes are one example of this; many classes are taught in large lectures, and since many universities have graduate programs, undergraduates tend to interact with a professor’s graduate assistant more than the professor themselves. While it’s certainly a less individualized experience, it can offer you a view into the world of research and graduate school.

Since universities tend to be larger, they also offer more opportunities in the way of degree options, campus activities, and social circles. These opportunities can expand your worldview, or can be overwhelming, depending on how you look at it.

Perhaps the greatest appeal of a university though is the cost. Universities tend to cost less than liberal arts college, even if you’re looking at a university out of state. Private universities certainly cost more than public ones though, and it’s not as easy to get a scholarship to a university. Therefore, you’ll need to look at the finances each school on a case-by-case basis. 

Which is Better?

When looking at a university vs. a liberal arts college, neither is better than the other. You can compare and contrast a university vs. a liberal arts college over and over again, but know that it’s more important to consider how these differences compare to your needs as a student. Understanding what a school has to offer you matters just as much as a school understanding what you have to offer as a student.

There’s also no reason you couldn’t apply to a mixture of universities and liberal arts colleges. What’s important is that you use this information to help you form a list of schools that will lead to the best college experience for you. 

Questions? Let us know!