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Liberal Arts vs. Research Universities: What to know, where to go

Posted by Annie Lazor on Nov 10, 2016 9:00:00 AM

As an attendee of a public university, I’ve received a great education. As a communication major, I’ve been given the opportunity to reach into not just my major, but also other liberal arts majors such as public relations, English, media studies, and journalism. But there are also a wide variety of majors and activities that our university focuses on, which makes serious liberal arts majors consider strictly liberal arts colleges.

What is the difference between the two, what exactly does each major mean, and which one is the best fit for someone looking to go into the liberal arts field? Allow me to explain further.

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What is the difference between a Liberal Arts college and a college within a university?

Liberal arts colleges typically are very small in enrollment size, emphasize strictly an undergraduate education, focus on a well-rounded education, and have small class sizes with few or no teaching assistants. They are very strong in B.A. degrees, but can also accommodate to those who want to pursue a major not typically in the arts, like engineering; many offer a bachelor of science, mathematics, or statistics program. This doesn’t necessarily mean these are less developed curriculums; the liberal arts schools give a much broader approach to the fields of study. The smaller class sizes give students more one-on-one work with faculty, and yield more in-depth class discussions.

A college within a university typically takes the one expansive area of study and breaks it down into a few separate degree tracks. While the class sizes may be much bigger in general classes, there are more teachers’ assistants, as well as seminars offered for bigger classes. These seminars can be taught by T.A.s and graduate students who have ventured the course before and can help through experience. A university is also more research driven; knowledge and curriculums are often created through research that members and professors of the university conduct. 

What is the difference between all the Liberal Arts majors?

This is a question I wish I had answered sooner- I was very unsure about the difference between media studies, public relations, communication, etc. and did not do much research to back my uncertainty. Here at VPM, we have team members with degrees or majoring in all of those areas!

While a liberal arts college offers majors from music to anthropology to social work, below is a quick run-down of each of the majors that we see utilized in inbound marketing that seemingly get confused with one another:

  • Public relations (PR): A more specific communication that is seen as the bridge between a company and the general public. PR specialists create the image the public sees of a company. They construct public images, press releases, social media content, product and service information, and strategize responses to any public concerns or inquiries. Colleges help by optimizing their own social media content, and showing students through real world examples the different kinds of PR being put to use.
  • Communication: While all PR requires communication, not all communication requires PR. It is a bit broader, one-way process that can be seen as a big mix of the pot. It includes advertising, corporate media, copywriting, production management, visual communication, and public relations.
  • Media Studies: This track focuses on the theories and history and production of radio, television and film content. The media is ever changing, and the major combines the history with current theories in order to keep up with this constant change.
  • Journalism: This major is more narrow than the others; if you major in journalism, it will be very copywriting-heavy. It includes covering events for a newspaper or TV network, reporting on a specific topic for a radio station, or writing for Internet sites. Many journalism majors get involved in their school’s newspaper or radio station to get more hands-on experience in their major.
  • Marketing: This can be a bit of a grey area, because at some schools it is in liberal arts, and some it is a business major. Regardless of the two, it goes hand in hand with many of the majors above. It combines both the analytical part of a business major, and the creative ability of liberal arts majors. The study or marketing requires students to learn how to create and sell products and services that build a clientele.

Now this may seem like a lot, and it is! But all of the skills learned in the areas of docus above are used by our team at VPM each day. It is important to do your research, know what you want in a university or college, and find out what major is best for you.

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Topics: higher education, higher ed