Video: Differences between a liberal arts college and a university

Video: Differences between a liberal arts college and a university


I am here today on the campus of Swarthmore College
outside of Philadelphia and it’s an absolutely gorgeous spring day. You can
see behind me the peony garden, the trees are in bloom, it’s just a fantastic time
to visit a college campus. Of course it’s always important when you’re visiting a
college campus in this kind of weather, to remind yourself that the winter, well, it’s not quite so green. But as it happens, today I
received an email from a young man in China who was asking me the difference
between a college and a university. And of course for the Chinese, or any
foreign student, this nomenclature the words we use to describe
university versus college, gets very confusing. Probably because part of the problem is that the universities sometimes are made
up of colleges. So it gets a little bit confusing. But let’s talk about the
difference between a university and a liberal arts college. A liberal arts
college like Swarthmore is focused entirely upon undergraduate education.
Focusing on providing the bachelor’s degree and only on undergraduate
education. There are no graduate students here, there are no teaching assistants,
every class is taught by one of the permanent, or sometimes a part-time, but a
member of the teaching faculty. Their whole reason for being here is to teach
undergraduates. A university by contrast, is larger, generally speaking, but also is
made up, as they say, of different schools. So there might be a school of business, a
medical school, a school of nursing, a school of engineering, all kinds of
different schools or “colleges” within the university. The other thing about a
university is that many different degrees are offered. So it may include
the bachelor’s degree as well as the master’s degree and doctoral degree. So
you have lots of other different kinds of students on campus pursuing other
levels of degrees. One of the effects of that, is that many
of the professors also teach undergraduates as well as
graduate students. So you will find on university campuses, again depending on
the size, that you will find many of your courses are taught by a professor for the
lecture, but then lab periods or discussion sections are held and
supervised by graduate students. Here at Swarthmore however, everything is geared
to serving the undergraduates. So every class, as I say, every discussion section,
every lab, is taught not by some graduate student, but by the professors who make
up the teaching staff of the university. So when I’m explaining this to to anyone,
any student anywhere, I remind them that the next step of your life is the
bachelors degree. To go to a college that is focused entirely upon getting you
that bachelor’s degree, that often can make a lot of sense. Now you may
sacrifice in terms of size, you may sacrifice in terms of the resources,
the facilities that might be offered at the major research institutions, but remind yourself that you’re an undergraduate. You are pursuing that
undergraduate degree. The first collegiate degree. You’ll go to graduate
school if you want, and you can go to a bigger university, but I recommend–especially when you walk around this beautiful location and see the students
who are focused entirely upon their own learning. There’s no one else that is
distracting the professors from those undergraduates. This is a pretty
amazing form of American education. And I recommend that my Chinese students
really consider it carefully before they assume that a
university would be the better way to go.

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