Does Attending a Liberal Arts College Make Sense for STEM Majors?

think outside of the box

High school students who want to pursue a STEM major in college (also known as science, technology, engineering, or math) more often than not consider applying to major research universities first. Not only are these schools known for their large STEM departments, top-ranked universities are often leaders in STEM research and innovation. With this appeal, a liberal arts college may not be on the minds of many prospective STEM majors. If you are one of these students, we’d like for you to take a moment and reconsider. Attending a liberal arts college not only makes sense for STEM majors, but may even be a good idea.

Financial Aid

While liberal arts colleges, by and large, cost more than their university counterparts, they often offer more scholarships in return. Furthermore, as a STEM student at a liberal arts college, the competition for admittance and scholarship decreases, increasing your odds of a better financial payout. This matters in the long run because many STEM students go on to get a masters or a professional degree. These higher degrees can be costly, too, so lessening the burden of debt now can help you later.


Individualized Attention and Critical Thinking

A liberal arts college means smaller class sizes, no graduate students, and therefore less competition for assistance. A large university, while known for its research, will often focus more on their graduate students instead. Especially if you see graduate school in your future, it’s worthwhile to go to a school that gives you attention as an undergraduate and prepares you for the kind of research you’ll do in graduate school.

You may also get an opportunity to do research as an undergraduate student at a small liberal arts college, which is virtually unheard of at major research universities.

Furthermore, any reputable college or university can teach fundamental facts. What makes one educational experience stand out from another is the ability to help students think. For STEM majors in particular, critical thinking is vital to good scientific research. Liberal arts colleges are known for their ability to cultivate specific, reason-based thought in their students.


The Record of Current STEM Professionals

In perhaps the most compelling argument of all, if you look to current STEM professionals, especially those in the sciences, many of them pursued their undergraduate work at liberal arts colleges. Chad Orzel from Forbes noted this in a 2015 article when he stated, “The country’s liberal arts colleges serve only a tiny fraction of the total college-age population, but are probably over-represented in science grad schools”. For more on this, you can also read professor Thomas R. Cech’s article arguing that science students at liberal arts colleges receive a better education than their university counterparts.


None of this is to say of course that there are no merits to a university degree for STEM majors. However, liberal arts colleges often get overlooked for this demographic, when in reality they should be considered more carefully. If you take some time to research opportunities at liberal arts colleges for your desired STEM major, more likely than not, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Questions? Let us know!