If you’ve read my previous posts about a liberal arts education at a small liberal arts college, starting with Consider a Liberal Arts College, you probably didn’t expect the title of this post. But sometimes you consider an idea and then find it to not be the best fit. In my last post I covered some reservations I had about a liberal arts degree. But our biggest issue was that we were looking for a college with a computer science degree, a liberal arts college engineering degree. And yes, that turns out to be a contradiction.
This post contains some affiliate links. If you purchase through these links this blog receives a commission at no cost to you, Thanks for supporting the writing of this blog!
I first started seriously considering a small liberal arts college as an option for my son after reading Colleges that Change Lives, by Loren Pope,
One reason I keep coming back to the de-emphasis on engineering degrees and other career oriented degrees at liberal arts colleges, was that I was focused on finding college options for my son – my son who is sure he wants to be a computer scientist – a software engineer – a computer programmer. I also still rebel against the thought of colleges just being a further continuation of high school. Would it be better if there was more of a focus on preparation for actual jobs and a career?
But, I still wanted us – particularly my son who already thought he knew where he wanted to go – to consider options, so I looked into how a liberal arts education still might work with his chosen field of work.
Liberal arts college engineering degrees
3-2 Engineering programs at liberal arts colleges
To begin with, I found that many liberal arts colleges offer something called 3-2 programs. They partner with a bigger university that has engineering degrees. A student attends the liberal arts college for the first three years and then transfers to the bigger university for two years. This means it takes five years for a degree instead of four. (But in practice you will often hear that engineering degrees take five years to complete anyway. I decided this wasn’t necessarily true, but I’d consider it a non-issue anyway. Not a reason to decide against a 3-2 program.)
3-2 Engineering programs at liberal arts colleges can be a good alternative
You can read more about 3-2 dual engineering programs on the blog the College Solution. If you read the comments to the article I linked to, you’ll see that I looked into this option. And you’ll read favorable comments from many who’ve completed this type of program.
3-2 Engineering programs have a low completion rate
But you’ll also read that there seems to be a low completion rate for this type of degree, for lots of different reasons. This includes the son of the author of this blog, who decided that instead of becoming an engineer, he would go to graduate school to become a high school math teacher. (The author of the blog, the College Solution, is a big proponent of a liberal arts education, so this is also a great place to read about the strengths of liberal arts colleges.)
The cost of 3-2 Engineering programs at small liberal arts colleges
My husband’s response to this was that it was fine if our son wanted to become a math teacher, but he didn’t want to pay for an expensive, private liberal arts education to convince our son he wanted to be one. A response to that concern can be seen in the comments of the post after the blog author’s son graduated with his masters; a liberal arts degree can cost the same as (not more than) a bigger university. And if you’re interested, read about how her son’s masters degree in teaching might end up costing him $0 and include a living stipend for a year.
While my husband was less enthusiastic about a liberal arts education, after reading Colleges that Change Lives and the College Solution blog, I still thought a liberal arts education had its benefits, so I continued to look. And the possibility remained that our son would qualify for merit based scholarships and maybe the cost would even out.
The search for a small liberal arts college with a computer science degree or a liberal arts engineering degree
For various reasons, we were mainly interested in looking at colleges and universities in state. (Which happens to be Texas. Make of it what you may. We did consider out of state, but this isn’t a blog about whether or not an in-state or out-of-state education is the best, so I won’t get into all our reasons. I only mention it because it was a criteria I used to narrow the choices.) And I was able to find two colleges in this book that had computer science majors. That overcame one of my husband’s doubts. Since you could get a computer science degree, that removed one hurdle.
The number of professors in the computer science department
I started setting up a round trip to visit a few college and university campuses and included one of the liberal arts colleges. But at some point in my planning I hit a snag. The college we were planning to visit only had two computer science professors.
Now these might be great professors, but they might not. Even if they are great, the fact is that you have now drastically narrowed your options for finding someone in your field that you really click with as a mentor. Beyond personality, it narrows your options on what fields in computer science you will meet a specialist in. (And yes, computer science is a very wide field, with everything from game design, to user interface design, web programming, database programming, software for chips design, network security, etc…and each field requires knowledge from a wide variety of every changing languages.) So as a software engineer, my husband really felt that having access to only two computer science professors would limit our son too much.
So we scrapped the small liberal arts college from our college visit list. I left open the option of visiting the college close by even though their computer science department was of a similar size. I found dates that my husband and son could easily visit, but they never got around to it.
The decision about where to go to college
My son ended up visiting three universities and the end result is that by the spring of his senior year, it became apparent the he would be attending my undergraduate alma mater.
Which is the university he was set on attending before I started pushing him to look at other colleges.
I’m not sure if the joke is on him or on me.
But he does now know more reasons for why he making this choice.
And when he looks back on this 30 years from now and tries to blame me for how his career turned out, maybe I’ll be off the hook! (Don’t worry. I’m sure he can find something else to blame on me.)
Other posts in this series about deciding whether a liberal arts college is right for you
- Consider a Liberal Arts College – how to choose a college part 1/5
- Difference between college and university – how to choose a college part 2/5
- College Rankings, the truth about what they really mean – how to choose a college part 3/5
- A liberal arts education, is it really the best? – how to choose a college part 4/5
- Why my son won’t attend a liberal arts college, engineering – how to choose a college Part 5/5