Admissions Blog: Why the liberal arts? Let’s start with what it really means

Posted on September 15, 2017 by Audrey Peterson ’20

English class outdoors

Among the trademarks of a Sweet Briar woman are her wide-ranging interests. Here, it is not uncommon to see an art history major who has an interest in chemistry and has decided to pursue a chemistry minor. We have double majors in music and math or environmental science and business. Sweet Briar is a place where interdisciplinary study is encouraged, and this is a result of a learning environment that allows students to expand their thinking.

This is what a liberal arts college looks like.

At Sweet Briar, we pride ourselves on being a liberal arts institution. However, the term “liberal arts” is often misunderstood, and during a high schooler’s college search, the benefits of a liberal arts institution are rarely discussed. As a prospective student, it can be difficult to determine what kind of education is best for you, which colleges align best with your values, and what will benefit you the most after graduation. Having an understanding of what a liberal arts education is can help any high schooler who is currently sending in applications.

Exciting changes are coming to Sweet Briar, including a reset of our curriculum. The programs are still in development, but we know that they will stay true to our liberal arts roots.

Torrey Schwartz ’15, biology lab

First, what is a liberal arts college? Despite common misconceptions, the term “liberal arts” has nothing to do with politics and the curriculum is not limited to “soft” subjects. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors benefit from a liberal arts education just as much as humanities majors do. The term “liberal arts” comes from the Latin word liber, meaning “free, unrestricted” — in other words, to live freely, or to free the mind.

Liberal arts colleges encourage students to look at the world from more than one perspective and to listen to others in an attempt to understand their points of view, thus “freeing” the mind. Additionally, at liberal arts colleges, the curriculum is focused on developing particular skills like critical thinking, problem solving, writing and communication. We promote curiosity and our students are encouraged to question what they are told, making us different from large research universities.

Soon-to-be college students and their parents often wonder if there is any value in a liberal arts degree, and how this affects future employment. Because we foster effective communication skills and our students graduate with the knowledge and experience to solve complex problems, liberal arts students are the most employable students following graduation. Increasingly, employers are seeking the skills that a liberal arts education guarantees. Furthermore, the labor market is ever-changing in the 21st century, and most young people will change career paths multiple times.

Sweet Briar’s new curriculum emphasizes the importance of adaptability. These essential skills translate across all disciplines and stay relevant as the job market changes and new jobs are created.

As Sweet Briar grows, we will ensure that we never lose our status as a liberal arts college. It is our identity, and generations of Sweet Briar women can testify that going to a liberal arts school has helped them get the most out of their education.

Audrey Peterson
Audrey Peterson is a sophomore art history and history double major from Fairhope, Ala. She works in the admissions office as a student ambassador and is the Class of 2020’s judicial representative.