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Dartmouth is known as a liberal arts college (LAC), but what does that mean?

Coming into my senior year of high school, I had very vague ideas of these words that people use to classify universities: research institution, LAC, pre-professional, etc. And while the exact "type" of your school won't be the only deciding factor, it certainly will be a big one, so hopefully this post will clear up some confusion and help you decide if Dartmouth is right for you!

First, it is easy to say what Dartmouth is not: Dartmouth is not necessarily a pre-professional school that prepares you for a specific career / post-graduation plan through a specific course of study. 

The lines between what counts as a pre-professional university and what doesn't can sometimes be a bit blurred, but what may help you pick out schools with more of a career-leaning tendency is to look at their majors! Here, for example, we do not have majors such as communications, marketing, accounting, or even nutrition. We also don't have "majors" or set tracks for students who are pre-law, pre-pharmacy, pre-med, etc. Instead, it is up to the student to devise a course of study that can prepare them for their desired career while also meeting the requirements to graduate. 

At schools which prioritize the goal of a career as the outcome of your schooling, you will find the opposite: many majors are designed to facilitate learning for the sake of a specific outcome, and majors like philosophy or economics (as opposed to business) may be undersubscribed.

So if Dartmouth isn't a pre-professional school, what is it? First-and-foremost, Dartmouth prides itself on its liberal arts education. The term "liberal arts" comes from history and the Latin term liber meaning "free," but all you have to know with respect to your college search is that LACs typically serve an opposite function of pre-professional schools: their structure is built to provide general knowledge and critical thinking skills that, ideally, a student can then use and apply in any profession they pursue after graduating. Many of the Ivy League schools have a liberal arts bent, but you may also recognize the names of other LACs like Amherst College or Williams College.

Choosing which type of school to go to will largely come down to what you prefer. Personally, I enjoy the intellectual vigor and open-endedness of LACs. After all, only here would I be able to be pre-medicine, a math major, and a public policy minor! Going to a school like Dartmouth allows me to explore my interests and create a framework with which to understand the world that is more holistic than it is specific. 

There are, of course, downsides to this approach. You may value specificity and deep, foundational knowledge in only one field. You may not see the need to be "broadly educated," and would rather skip out on having mandatory graduation requirements such as English, culture, or even science classes. Or, you may really prefer the campus culture and resources that often come with large pre-professional schools—students at Dartmouth who wish to do things like journalism, acting, or accounting are largely on their own and must make sure they are keeping up with both college and career demands whereas a student at a pre-professional school may rest a little bit easier knowing that they have a set course of study and an advising office that is made exactly for these issues.

So what do you think your schooling preference is? Would you prefer to have a broad, liberal arts foundation? Would you prefer to narrow down your education from freshman year? Knowing your values can really help in your college search, especially since the United States has so many options. If you think you'd like a liberal arts education (or even if you're curious about it), I'd invite you to apply to Dartmouth!


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