What the Best Liberal Arts Colleges Look for When Reviewing Your Candidacy


Liberal arts colleges offer undergraduate study plans that place primary focus in the liberal arts and sciences. The objective is to give students a broad range of knowledge that differs from a purely vocational or technical course of study. This form of college came about in America, where liberal arts colleges across the world use the United States version as a model. There are also a few liberal arts colleges that offer masters or doctoral degrees.


Early schools like Harvard, Dartmouth and Yale created the model for higher overall student satisfaction and a smaller student body. Applicants want to attend liberal arts colleges because they feel professors take more of an interest in students. Today, there are around 540 liberal arts colleges in the Untied States. When it comes to liberal arts colleges, here is what they look for when reviewing your candidacy.

High school coursework

The top liberal arts colleges want students who took the most challenging courses available. This means college prep courses. The most selective colleges expect prospective students to take and excel in AP or IB courses. There is a difference between getting a 4.0 in gym and getting a 4.0 in AP Physics. The point is to show that the student is academically motivated and ready to take difficult college classes.


While the best liberal arts classes look at the overall picture of your background, your high school transcript will have an impact. Your grades are used to determine how well you handled your high school coursework. Whether you tackled it head on or gave up. They then use is as a test to see how well you might perform in a tough academic environment. This is why you should take a serious approach to all four years of high school. Every grade you get will be included on your transcript. As long as you are always on top of the most strenuous courses, you should receive inquiries from several colleges.


The best liberal arts colleges will pay particular attention to your essay. They look for heavy editing that may have been handled by someone other than the prospective student. The essay serves as your statement of interest in attending the college. You want it to come from your heart and use your own words.

Yes, you want to polish it up before submission, but it has to sound like you. They want to know why you are truly interested in their institution and if you would be a good fit with their curriculum and student body. Sometimes, even the best liberal arts colleges will place a heavier standing on your essay over your GPA. If you don’t have perfect grades, your essay may still help you garner acceptance.

Letters of recommendation

This is another factor that liberal arts colleges consider. Again, if you are not a 4.00 student, high praise may open the door for you. It is important to maintain good relations with school counselors, your principal, teachers, advisers and mentors. Honest and professional opinions can help the college get a more holistic view of your capabilities and motivation to succeed.

Extracurricular activities

Since liberal arts colleges focus on giving a more comprehensive general education, they want well-rounded students who understand the importance of this form of study. The college will assess your interests and how much time you spent devoting yourself to them. They also want to know of any leadership roles you have undertaken and the accomplishments you have made. So, if you have an opening for a leadership role in high school, you should take it.

How you stand out among students from other high schools

Colleges understand that students will come from a wide range of backgrounds and high schools. Some high schools will be more rigorous than others. That does not always mean you don’t have a chance if your high school isn’t the best in your area. What is important is what you did with any opportunities placed before you. For example, did you make the most of the high school experience you received? Have you gone above and beyond with your studies and community involvement?

The best liberal arts colleges will be rigorous in their acceptance process, but they also look at all factors as opposed to just grades and class ranking. Plus, once you get in, you’ll probably find satisfaction with smaller class sizes and friendly professors.

About the author

Rebecca Walton

Rebecca has always been fascinated with the business and tech world, having grown up with parents in the industry. She has a real passion for science - particularly space and the unknown realms that surround the planet! Rebecca has been writing for different publications for nearly 6 years and is now an editor at Pangaea Express.