Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Fall/Winter 2010 (November 8, 2010 at 12:00 am)

Why Ben Chose Beloit


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November 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm
By Lynn O’Shaughnessy

Ben BigelowOur family lives in California, where roughly 84 percent of the state’s college-bound students enroll in public colleges and universities within their borders.

With such a strong tradition of students staying put for college, my son, Ben, wasn’t surprised at the reaction he routinely received this spring when students at his high school in San Diego asked him this question: “Where are you going to college?”

“I’m going to Beloit College,” Ben would reply.

“Where???”

Ben would patiently repeat the name of his school, and then he’d mention where Beloit was located in relation to Chicago. It’s a liberal arts college in Wisconsin, he’d explain.

The puzzled teenagers (or parents) would then ask Ben some variation of this question: “Why are you going there?”

Of course answering that question required more effort. Most people in this state—where the University of California and California State University systems dominate—don’t know what a liberal arts college is. And how do you explain the virtues of a liberal arts education in sound bites?

Ben already understood what a liberal arts education offers because his sister, Caitlin, is a senior at Juniata College, which, along with Beloit, is one of the liberal arts colleges featured in Loren Pope’s wildly popular book, Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Caitlin has enjoyed all the perks that a liberal arts college can provide, including small classes, great interactions with professors, internship opportunities, and the freedom to explore her academic passions.

Unlike nearly all of his classmates, Ben didn’t apply to a single university—public or private. During last year’s admission season, he only sent his applications to liberal arts colleges.

Initially, I thought Ben’s possible major—engineering—would preclude him from attending a liberal arts college. It’s extremely rare to find a liberal arts college with engineering. But in doing some research, I discovered the existence of 3-2 programs, which allow students to attend a liberal arts college for three years, obtain a bachelor’s degree in a major like physics or chemistry, and then transfer to an engineering school, such as Washington University in St. Louis, for two years to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering. I talked to the 3-2 coordinators at Washington University and Columbia University, where many of these liberal arts students land, and they raved about the programs.

Who knows if Ben will end up pursuing engineering, physics, or some other major. That’s the beauty of a liberal arts education. You aren’t boxed into declaring a major before you even step foot on campus, and no one is pressuring you to choose before you’ve had time to explore.

Ben has embarked on an amazing journey—one that will require him to wear serious winter clothes for the first time in his life—and I can’t wait to see where it will lead him.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price, an Amazon bestseller. She writes The College Solution Blog and also blogs for CBS Money Watch and US News & World Report.

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