When I began my college search, I categorized my potential school choices into two categories: large schools vs. small schools. The title "Liberal Arts" was equivalent to the category of "small schools;" I didn't learn the real meaning of the term "Liberal Arts" until I began looking more closely at schools like Wofford, Furman and Davidson.
Growing up, I always visualized myself attending the University of South Carolina. Since my Dad is a Gamecock alumni, I was raised to bleed garnet and black, cheer "Go Cocks" and Sandstorm with a few thousand of my best friends. I loved cheering on USC football, basketball and baseball teams, as I still do. For many years, I envisioned myself attending USC; for a while, I even anticipated riding for the USC Equestrian Team. (fun fact, I now ride for the Wofford Equestrian Team.) However, despite how much I love my Gamecocks, I realized shortly after touring USC and other (smaller) colleges that I preferred the latter.
Now that I had narrowed my college search to the "small school" category, I had to figure out what the deal was with the term "Liberal Arts." Representatives from such schools tossed around the term "Liberal Arts" as if every high school student in their audience knew what it meant. Every once in a while, the representatives would give a textbook definition of "Liberal Arts," but even that didn't suffice for my comprehension of what a Liberal Arts education consisted of.
In all honesty, I didn't fully understand the significance of a Liberal Arts education until my classes at Wofford commenced. My Humanities class, a requirement for all freshmen at Wofford, quickly became my favorite class. Entitled "Art, the Artist, and the World," the topic for our first paper was The Role of Art in a Liberal Arts Education. If I didn't know what the term "Liberal Arts" meant before writing this paper, I certainly had a good grasp on its meaning afterward.
Rewind to my senior year of high school for just a moment.
If I had a dollar for each time a classmate asked me why I wanted to go to a Liberal Arts college, I would probably have enough dollars to pay for the majority of my college tuition which (unfortunately) is saying a lot. The most commonly asked question of my attendance at a Liberal Arts college is "why do you want to go to such an expensive school?" (Answer: I didn't choose my college simply because it was expensive, I chose it because I felt it was the best place for me to continue my education and develop a variety of skills) In addition, I was also asked about the stereotypical misconceptions concerning the words "liberal" and "art." To clarify: when used in the context of "Liberal Arts," "liberal" does not refer to a political preference, but instead is related to its latin root- "liber," meaning free (as in open-mindedness). "Arts" in this sense are not confined to studio arts but include theater, music, reading and writing. Too often, peoples' notions of Liberal Arts colleges are based on these misconceptions. In reality, Liberal Arts colleges are not just for artistic Democrats who aspire to pay as much as possible for their education. (In fact, that's not at all what Liberal Arts colleges are.)
Here's what I realized Liberal Arts colleges are really all about (straight from my very first college paper):
"It (a Liberal Arts education) emphasizes the importance of both the arts, which allow broadening of one’s mind and learned skills, which allow for practical benefit, into one educational genre. It is necessary to recognize that one without the other is not a practical means in which to go about getting an education... In conclusion, it is important to remember that art itself is not the focus of a liberal arts education. Although an appreciation for the works of writers, musicians, and other artists is beneficial, the role of art in a liberal arts education is much more than that. Instead, the role of art in a liberal arts education is to make students more aware of what they believe, why they believe this and how they came to believe it..."
So here I am, a freshman at a Liberal Arts school. Although I plan on majoring in English and minoring in Business, who knows what subjects I may discover along the way (even in my general education requirements) that I may genuinely enjoy and decide to expand upon. Since I have a passion for writing, I presume my plan to major in English will stay in place. However, I am excited to attend a school where I may, at any point, stumble upon new and fascinating domains. The prospect of gaining knowledge and intellect through various subject areas is truly thrilling to me. This is what a Liberal Arts college is all about.