How I Fell in Love with My Liberal Arts College

Gavin Quinn, Intern at Colleges of Distinction

When it came time to choose a school, I had three guiding questions: Would I be in a big city? Was the financial aid package reasonable? And finally, perhaps the most important, was the campus pretty? The kind of education I’d be receiving wasn’t an important question because online rankings told me everything I needed to know what I’d be studying. Or so I thought. College selection then became a process of elimination using my guiding questions to filter out schools. So when I finally decided on St. Edwards University, it was based on rankings and my superficial targets. Little did I know how much more there was to the student experience that the rankings never covered.

The first class of my college career happened to be my freshman seminar, the course I was the most excited for when registering. For a bit of background, a freshman seminar is a course some colleges require first-year students to take, typically specializing in a subject of the student’s choice. My choice happened to be Film and Literature, something I’d never had the opportunity to study in a classroom setting. I was excited to an embarrassing degree to be in a lecture hall with some forty number of peers who also wanted to study the same things as me.

In addition to being a specialized study of interest, the course served as a “Welcome to Colleĵge!” intro pack. My professors would intentionally have us discuss on-campus events like open mic nights and soccer matches at the beginning of every class period. Discussions also included events in Austin that might be of interest to us. For example, we were frequently updated about special movie screenings like Mad Max: Fury Road in monochrome.

My freshman seminar was supplemented by Rhetoric and Composition II, a writing-intensive course that every student at my university is required to take. The students in this course were also in my seminar, which helped me find a niche of people I ended up calling my friends. A majority of the work in this class was focused on creating rigorously-planned research projects.

While the phrase “research project” earned an instant groan in high school, it meant an entirely different project in college. For example, one project had me spending weeks conducting research on the effects social media has on people’s relationships. This included preparing material for things I found online and actually going out and interviewing people on their personal experiences. After I wrote a paper on the topic, a later assignment was to make that research accessible, and I chose to write a screenplay, a task I’d never undertaken before.

My courses expanded my worldview to include global perspectives. ‘Global perspectives‘ sounds kind of like a buzz-term, but it’s actually been a life-changer for me. Prior to college, I knew I was an individual in a world much larger than myself, but I didn’t realize how much consideration I could give that in my daily life. To point to one class, my religious studies course forced me to evaluate diverse points of view that stem from different walks of life. That’s actually the most significant takeaway I had from my freshman year on a liberal arts campus: the importance of compassion, cooperation, and communication.

Those are the kinds of things that make me optimistic for both my academic and personal future. Learning to understand others has proven to be a critical skill time and time again. Whether it be on a group project where a partner’s work is falling through the cracks or an internship where my effort isn’t up to par with supervisor’s expectations, the altruistic mindset I’m developing is proving to be the most helpful tool in my daily life.

At one point, I considered transferring to a public state university. They had an enticing film program, a wide range of resources and was definitely better known than my tiny liberal arts school, St. Edward’s University.  In the end, I couldn’t give it up. Yeah, being in a big city is nice. So is the great financial aid package, and of course, my campus is still beautiful. But it’s everything else that kept me at St. Edward’s. The value of my liberal arts education is too great to quantify.


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