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A Liberal Arts College within a Research University

What are the liberal arts and sciences?

In the United States educational system, the term “liberal arts” incorporates humanities, sciences, languages, social sciences, and the arts. This system is based on the belief that a holistic approach to education, one that exposes students to a wide variety of classes to develop critical thinking, as well as oral and written communication skills, will prepare a student to excel in whatever career path she may choose. After exploring these diverse areas, one selects a specialization (the ‘major’)—approximately one-third of the total number of courses taken will focus on this topic of key interest. The liberal arts and sciences at Barnard provide strong preparation for students interested in business, law, medicine, scientific research, the arts, writing, education, communications, just about any career field our students have explored.

President Debora Spar’s statement on exploring the Liberal Arts.

Liberal Arts: The Facts

Liberal Arts graduates are highly employable and develop skills that are most valued by employers. A liberal arts education will teach you how to participate actively in learning throughout your life and will strengthen your writing and communication skills. You will be more adept at problem solving, both by using sharpened analytical skills and by being able to approach situations from multiple perspectives. You will know which questions to ask, you will work smarter, you will gain valuable lessons in teamwork, and you will be better able to distinguish between wisdom and knowledge.

Choosing a Liberal Arts major is a first step on a path toward many future choices. An English major can end up on Wall Street; a biology major can pursue public office; a philosophy major can become a journalist; a history major might become a brain surgeon. Teachers can run their own businesses and architects can develop a passion for the environment. In fact, many careers encourage a broader liberal arts major and offer training programs to learn all you need to know or may require that you complete a higher-level graduate degree in the area of specialization.

Liberal Arts students can also diversify their experience by pursuing independent projects, internships and leadership positions. The key is to learn how to learn in the classroom setting, how to navigate collaborative projects and team settings, and how to analyze, write, discuss, and defend your opinion so that you can readily navigate any real world setting. The opportunity to lead class projects, do research with faculty, hold internships in businesses, and organize peers through volunteer work and clubs also allows students to learn valuable, and transferable, skills and make important contacts.

Faculty of Teacher-Scholars

As leading scholars, researchers, and innovators in their fields, Barnard faculty members make headlines and have bylines in the national and international media and prominent journals. But foremost, they are teachers. Faculty members—not graduate students—teach all Barnard classes. And mentoring students is one of the most gratifying parts of their work. Barnard’s low student-faculty ratio (7:1) gives faculty the time to challenge students to think about concepts and connection to the world around them in new ways. Many students work closely with a scholar or researcher at Barnard or Columbia or in one of New York City’s many medical, scientific, or cultural institutions. They often uncover unrealized strengths and suggest unexpected career possibilities. Along the way, they’re likely to invite students to join them in their research, offer a lead on an internship, or just sit down over coffee to chat about the latest off-Broadway play. Learn more about Barnard Faculty.

Class Discussions = Intellectual Conversations

Discussions are lively, engaging, and challenging in Barnard classes. Surrounded by students who are eager to learn, along with professors passionate about the material, students immerse themselves in conversations that elevate thought and are likely to continue beyond the classroom. Whether in lectures or seminar-style courses, students question, debate, and draw on ideas and connections from life experiences and other course work. Such learning not only helps students expand knowledge and make connections, but also can lead them to discover a new interest, add a minor, or head down a different path. Insatiable curiosity makes Barnard students incisive critical thinkers, effective problem solvers, and creative individuals trained to follow their curiosity, question ambiguity, and broaden their thinking.