I am finishing my Ph.D. in mathematics and am currently applying to many different schools. I would like to customize my cover letter somewhat for liberal arts colleges.

In general, what defines a liberal arts college? What is it like to work at one? My university career has consisted solely of reasonably large state institutions with a research focus. I have only the vague notion that liberal arts colleges focus less on research and more on teaching.

What kinds of achievements/work should I point out to a hiring committee at a liberal arts college? The answer to this may be obvious based on the answer to the previous question, but a little redundancy would be appreciated.

  • As for your first question, I am confused. I work at a liberal arts college that is ALSO a state university. Do you mean "what is the difference between a 4-year comprehensive school and an institution that offers graduate programs?"
    – Ben Norris
    Nov 20, 2012 at 23:06
  • @BenNorris I suppose that is what I mean. I apologize for the incorrect terminology. Nov 20, 2012 at 23:13
  • 1
    Recently I have read a really interesting peace by Jim Freeman closely related to your inquiry and answers some more questions about hiring process as well. Here is the the link Observations on the Hiring Process by Jim Freeman
    – user4511
    Jan 10, 2013 at 8:31
  • Unfortunately, that link no longer works. Mar 30 at 23:06

1 Answer 1


In general, I tend to think of the difference between a college and a university is the presence of graduate programs and multiple "schools" at universities, while the focus of a liberal arts college is the teaching and development of undergraduates.

Research experiences for undergraduates are considered to be important parts of the modern experience, so having experience in those areas are considered useful, but is by no means the dominant concern.


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