Liberal arts programs are very common in the US but not in Europe (correct me if I am wrong). As I see here in discussions, the environment of liberal arts colleges is different: for example, student-faculty relationships.

Have such historical liberal arts programs and schools changed the overall higher education in the US or are they just different types of programs.

Are the universities which are not focused on liberal arts influenced by the culture of liberal arts programs/schools?

  • 5
    What exactly do you mean by "liberal arts programs"? Indeed, the term may not be commonly used in Europe, but study programs in the humanities and social sciences certainly are common, so it may just be a matter of terminology.
    – fkraiem
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 11:26
  • 2
    @fkraiem as far as I know, liberal arts programs are not simply humanities and social sciences, they are general programs with a wide range of courses from science to sociology. They are not specialized programs, even in social sciences.
    – Jia
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 12:51
  • 8
    Part of the issue is that there are a few different things called "liberal arts". The term can refer to a set of fields of study (humanities, social sciences, etc) though the composition of this set is not really well defined. It also shows up in the phrase liberal arts college (LAC) which is a particular model for an institution of higher education, usually a small private institution. Despite the names, which are more historical than anything, it is no longer necessarily true that LACs focus mainly on studies in the "liberal arts"... Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 13:51
  • 7
    ... and institutions which are not LACs usually also include "liberal arts" among their offerings. Another notion which you may be conflating is the idea of general education, that all students should take some classes in a few core areas, not necessarily related to their major field of study. Maybe this will help you clarify your question. Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 13:52
  • 5
    I graduated from a US university with a degree in mathematics, although less than half the courses I took were in mathematics. This is simply inconceivable in most (all?) European systems. The "liberal arts" idea is that a student of any subject should have basic knowledge of many subjects, and therefore must take courses in various areas, not necessarily related to his specialization. European degrees always (so far as I know) are focused on a particular area of study. Breadth might mean a math student is required to take some physics or computer science.
    – Dan Fox
    Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 11:33

3 Answers 3


It's probably not unique, but practically yes the concept of a "liberal arts" college or education is specific to North America. Some European countries have a form of "liberal arts" curriculum at the high school level (e.g. the German or Swiss Gymnasium) where a broad spectrum of "classic" subjects are taught with the purpose of allowing students to join any university education.

But (continental) European universities generally have individual programs for math, philosophy, history, science, etc.

It's actually quite puzzling for people who attended university in Europe to hear their US-educated colleagues say "Yes, I majored in physics and medieval music".


In a short, simple answer: no. Strictly speaking, liberal arts degrees are not unique to North America because one can earn them elsewhere.

  • 2
    Please consider expanding your answer rather than only posting a link. Commented Oct 23, 2019 at 14:44
  • Yes, link-only answers are discouraged because then the answer is only useful as long as the link survives. I've added a few words to expand on what I think your intended meaning is.
    – cag51
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 0:21

Almost all schools possess a form of LA training, even if they do not adapt the title. LA programs are generally rooted in the classics. Therefore, LA training could be nestled under the title of History, Litt, Classics… In the US, a classical edu. is quickly fading. There are only a handful of schools that offer them. Such as St. Johns, Chicago, SBC Undergrads, HMU… In general, the LA and Humanities have been in a decline (although there was a recent bump in applications). Your question about cultural impact: Every university you go to is impacted by the surrounding culture, and will shape the teaching. Since much of LA is rooted in classics, its helps bc the material is static, but ones approach can be entirely different from school to school.

  • 4
    "Almost all schools possess..." do you mean "schools in the US"?
    – Thomas
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 15:56

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .