Editor’s Top Picks, Best Value, and Most Affordable Degree Programs in Liberal Studies

There is a lot to consider when exploring your options for a liberal studies degree program – the career prospects for your major, school reputation, location and online accessibility… and that’s even before you start thinking about the very important and very real implications of cost, value and quality standards in place at different schools.

At the end of the day, though, you’re going to have to make that major life decision and dive in. But you don’t have to go it alone. A lot of people have been in the exact situation you find yourself in right now, including the very people who have created and contributed to making the respected resource that it has become.

We’re here to offer the kind of practical guidance and hard data every prospective liberal arts student needs to make that big decision with confidence.

Recommendations Based on Hard Data and an Understanding of the Liberal Arts Student Experience

There are certain basic qualities and assumptions we made in establishing what programs we were even willing to look at when putting together our top recommendations and affordability analyses.

Only Degrees with a Liberal Studies Focus Are Featured!

As you have probably figured out by now, liberal arts is a style of education that is woven into almost every kind of Western schooling. From preschool up through the most advanced, technical doctoral degrees, you’re getting some taste of what it means to study the liberal arts and sciences.

So almost all college degrees have a liberal studies component to them. We have restricted our recommendations to only programs that focus on a liberal arts approach, however. Even if some school has, say, a degree in natural science (a traditional liberal arts area), that’s not a program you will find on our lists. A degree in liberal studies with a concentration in natural science, on the other hand, is definitely something we will include.

The difference is in the emphasis of instruction. With liberal studies as the focus, we know that a degree offers the kind of broad-based, generalist training you can put to work in any field. So, the degrees we looked at are in general studies, liberal arts, or humanities.

Considering Every Kind of School Means Including Both Big Public Universities and Small Private Arts Colleges

We looked at all kinds of difference schools that fit our accreditation standards when building these lists. But you’ll quickly notice that there are some big divisions in the world of liberal arts training.

The colleges that are best known for their education in this style are often privately-owned and run as non-profits. They’re usually smaller than big public universities, and have very different costs.

At the same time, many major public universities offer liberal arts programs. And because they are big and diverse, those schools have their own unique strengths in liberal studies-style education.

Rather than compare the two, we have split our lists up so that they are all comparing apples-to-apples. Each list will have schools that fall into one of two categories: 1) public universities and state schools or 2) private, non-profit universities.

Accreditation Is a Key Qualification for Every School on This Site

A quality education is just as important as a broad-based one. In order to recommend only the programs that meet the high standards of a modern American university education, we only make our editorial selections and apply our affordability analysis to schools that are fully accredited. That means that only schools that hold accreditation in good standing from an agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the US Department of Education are even in the running.

Those CHEA and DoED-sanctioned accreditation agencies dive deep into each school, looking at factors such as:

  • Instructor hiring standards
  • Administrative procedures
  • Grading and appeals processes
  • Curriculum development standards
  • Truth in advertising compliance

Accreditation is an important consideration even beyond maintaining these basic quality standards since it’s required for schools to be eligible for the federal grants and subsidized loans most liberal arts students today rely on to help manage the expense of earning a degree. If you plan to get student loans or other federal funds for school, then full accreditation is a must-have.

Most Affordable Liberal Arts Degree Programs Offered Through State Schools

Let’s face it, a great liberal studies degree is a big investment. You’re almost certainly going to have to borrow some money to get it. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 70 percent of students at the bachelor’s level and around 10 percent in master’s studies end up graduating with some level of student debt.

So, some of our biggest lists cover the most affordable liberal arts degrees you can find. We rely on one of the most ancient and traditional liberal arts to determine those schools: pure mathematics.

By taking the in-state cost-per-credit for tuition, and ensuring that we converted all schools to a semester value system, it’s easy to see where they rank in terms of costs.

Best Value Liberal Arts Degree Programs Offered Through Private Universities

For liberal studies students more interested in getting the best bang for their buck, we have our best value lists that feature the elite private non-profit universities exclusively.

We used cost as a factor when we put these lists together, too, but it’s not the only factor. While the schools tend to be affordable, they also have the unique amenities, program offerings, and resources you would expect from top-tier private universities, all of which make those extra costs well worth it.

Editor’s Picks for the Top Liberal Arts Degree Programs

Finally, we took the time to really dive into eligible programs and get into the nitty-gritty of what makes a liberal studies degree great –

faculty accomplishments and reputation, research resources and projects, student experience and internship opportunities available, among many other important quality factors.

Although there’s no scientific way to rank all those little details, they are exactly what add up to make a great liberal arts education. And with editors who are coming from just that kind of background themselves, we have the skills to pick out what matters. The result are our top-picks lists, giving you the finest liberal arts degree programs in the country to choose from.