International Students: What Does “Liberal Arts” Really Mean?

The term “liberal arts” is often used to describe a type of institution or academic curriculum in the U.S., but many students, both international and American, go through their entire university education without having any idea what it really means. Students are either too shy to ask for clarification or become extremely confused because they take it for its literal meaning.

So, let’s clear it up right now that liberal arts is not a progressive look at dance, theater, painting or any other form of art. A liberal arts education refers to a course of study that provides general knowledge and develops general intellectual reasoning and analytical capabilities rather than professional, vocational, or technical skills. A liberal arts curriculum incorporates studies in languages, philosophy, literature, history, and sciences.

There are some post-secondary institutions that focus only on liberal arts and many others that combine liberal arts along with research, professional, and technical studies depending on your major. Most U.S. colleges and universities require that all of their students complete a general education curriculum based on liberal arts courses as part of their Bachelors degree program. Therefore, the majority of graduates from U.S. colleges or universities have similar liberal arts-based backgrounds in addition to the specialized education they receive in their field of study.


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