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Expert Educational Consultant on the Liberal Arts Versus Professional Training

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Mark Montgomery, college admissions consultant and expert educational consultant, speaks from the campus of Ithaca College in Upstate New York about the differences between the more old-fashioned liberal arts universities and the more modern institutions focusing on what is essentially professional training.


Right now I’m on the campus of Ithaca College, which is located in Ithaca, New York. It shares the town of Ithaca with Cornell University. Ithaca College is a relatively modern university, a 20th century, primarily, institution. It has very modern architecture reflecting mid-century styles. And it also reflects mid-century tastes in higher education.

It used to be with some of the older universities, those ivy-covered places that are really old, like Vassar and Colgate and Hamilton, etc., those schools were set up at a time when the liberal arts really was the only kind of education that one could conceive of. They read literature and studied the arts and studied society through the classics. In fact, way back when, there was very little science that was actually being taught; there was more theology than there was science.

Thomas Jefferson kind of changed all that with the University of Virginia. He brought in the sciences and also some professional education and agriculture and whatnot. So that by the time the 20th century rolled around, there was a predominant philosophy of higher education in this country. That said that what higher education is all about is preparing our young people for a profession. For a way to make money, to contribute to the economy.

Two Strains in Higher Education

So there really are these two different kinds of strains in American higher education. So you have the Colgates and the Vassars. And even some of the Ivy Leagues, like Dartmouth or Princeton. Where the liberal arts really is the guiding principle of the education that is offered. Here at Ithaca, however, the education is primarily professional. So you’ll find students who are really choosing a preprofessional track in allied health professions, in communications. I had a student who came here for professional photography.

Students come here to get training for a particular profession. So as you’re thinking about the kinds of universities you want, first of all you might think about location in this drop-dead gorgeous view up here on top of the hill overlooking this valley. This is the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. You could think about the location. But one of the things you need to start with right from the very beginning is what kind of objective. What kind of goal do you have in your higher education? Are you looking for that preprofessional training that will lead you to a specific career upon graduation?

Or are you looking for a much more general. More broad, maybe less immediately relevant education that some of the places like Harvard and Yale and Dartmouth. Or any of a number of liberal arts colleges across America has to offer? Knowing what you want will help you choose the right college for you.
Mark Montgomery
Expert Educational Consultant


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