I'm applying to an elite liberal arts college for a tenure-track job and all the advice I'm seeing suggests that it's even more essential than in applications to other schools to make clear I am attracted to the institution and that I understand it.

But this raises the question: how direct can be about it? Can I actually say, e.g. "I have long wanted to work in a liberal arts college setting because...' (small groups, close-knit setting, etc.)? I'm from a system where small-group teaching is the main mode of teaching and personal pastoral relationships between lecturers and students are at the heart of university life, so I absolutely mean all this - but is this just too direct a way of saying this? Or do I need to be a more "show, don't tell" (which I would do, but I'm already having to cut a lot from my draft so I was hoping this doesn't actually need to go beyond two or three lines)?

TL;DR: Is it crass/ineffective to say, "I want to work at this liberal arts college because it has the same sort of educational setting as the kind of college education I experienced as a student and lecturer abroad in a system none of the department are familiar with"? What's the alternative?

2 Answers 2


First off, I'm biased. I think that liberal arts colleges have a lot to offer to both students and faculty. Among other things there is the possibility of meeting and working with people with a wide range of backgrounds. So...

I'll suggest that you are correct in thinking that you can and should be pretty forward about really wanting to work at such a place. The last thing you want to do is leave the impression that you'd rather be working at a research institution where teaching was not the main goal. You don't need to gush, but it would be good to make it clear that you wouldn't think of such a job as the second place option.

  • Thanks for this - suggesting that this place is a back up is the last things I want to do, so I'll try to be forward about it (even though it doesn't come naturally for me)!
    – emmam
    Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 10:35

I see nothing wrong with what you propose to write. Reviewers may have a natural scepticism to assertions that the applicant really wants to work in this type of institution ("Aw shucks, I bet you say that to all the institutions...") but since your proposed statement gives a clear and sensible basis for the expressed desire, it sounds plausible to me. Your statement doesn't strike me as crass or ineffective and seems genuine and plausible.

The only slight critique I'd make here is that you refer to this institution having "the same sort of educational setting" as what you've previously experienced, but you don't say what you mean by this. This makes the statement a bit vague and invites further scepticism of whether or not you really have a good idea of the "educational setting" at the school in question or whether you are just blowing smoke up their arse to get a job. If it were me, I'd elaborate just a little bit to set out what I mean when I refer to the "educational setting" in question (and be prepared to explain further in follow-ups at an interview).

  • Thanks - I'll be more specific and describe the setting in my teaching paragraph!
    – emmam
    Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 10:33

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