Although the term “liberal arts” is synonymous with higher education in the US, this concept has more recently gained popularity among universities in the UK, with a number of institutions now offering Liberal Arts degrees. The term “liberal arts” is a bit of a misnomer (
as we discussed in a previous blog post
), as it suggests that education will be limited to the fine arts or humanities. Instead, liberal arts is a method of broad-based learning that encompasses literature, philosophy, social and physical sciences and math.

For those familiar with the UK’s higher education system, this may come as a surprise, since British universities traditionally prioritize depth over breadth. Applicants to UK universities are usually required to select a course of study at the outset of their applications, which they end up studying almost exclusively for three years. This approach is almost in direct contrast to the ideology of liberal arts, which emphasizes exploration of different academic disciplines throughout the duration of the degree program.

How does liberal arts in the UK differ from the US?

In the US, liberal arts is an educational philosophy which encourages students to take courses across the arts, natural sciences, and humanities before specializing. However, in the UK Liberal Arts is a degree course that students can apply to, in the same way that they would apply for a BA in Philosophy or BSc in Business Management. What sets liberal arts apart from other degrees in the UK is that students have the flexibility to choose from a wider range of modules, rather than taking a preselected set of classes for their three years. Some liberal arts degrees in the UK also have a set of required modules in Year 1, which works similarly to a core curriculum in American universities.

Here are a few more factors to consider when applying for a liberal arts course in the UK and how this differs from the American approach to liberal arts.

  1. The subjects offered: In the US, liberal arts encompasses the arts and humanities, social sciences and STEM subjects. In the UK, however, liberal arts is more exclusively focused on the humanities or social sciences. A few exceptions include the University College of London (UCL) and University of Birmingham, which offer an interdisciplinary BASc in Liberal Arts and Sciences, where students can also major in the natural sciences.
  2. Program length: Like most undergraduate degrees in the UK, Liberal Arts courses are three-years long, whereas in the US they are typically four years. Many UK universities also offer a year-long study abroad option in the third year of the degree, which will increase the length of the course to four years. Birmingham and Kent, for example, both offer the standard three-year liberal arts course and four-year Liberal Arts with a Year Abroad.
  3. Major selection: Most colleges in the US give students until the end of their second year to declare a major, since their degree is four years long. Because of the shorter program length in the UK, students usually need to pick their major by the end of their first-year, so that they have sufficient time to complete their course requirements.
  4. The variety: Since the concept of liberal arts is relatively new to the British education system, only a handful of universities actually offer this course. Of the 380 institutions registered with the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) system, a liberal arts degree is only available at 6%. While this includes a number of notable universities,
    including Durham University, King’s College London, Royal Holloway, University of Warwick, and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the total pool is still far smaller than the US, where liberal arts is the norm rather than the exception. (A complete list of liberal arts courses in the UK is included at the end of this blog)
  1. The degree: Since liberal arts is considered a degree course in the UK, students would graduate with a BA in Liberal Arts, or a BASc in Liberal Arts & Sciences. This is slightly different from the US, where students would graduate with a degree from an institution’s liberal arts school, but the actual degree would not mention “liberal arts,” it would simply be a Bachelors in their chosen field, for example, Biology or Sociology.

How do I apply to a Liberal arts course in the UK?

The application process is very similar to how you would apply to any other course in the UK, using the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), which would allow you to select and apply to five courses. In addition to your academic transcripts and reference letters, you would write a single personal statement that is sent to all of your universities highlighting why you are applying for a Liberal Arts course and your suitability for it. It would be important to highlight your particular interest in pursuing an interdisciplinary course of study and any subject(s) you would like to focus on within it.

If you are interested in exploring the possibility of pursuing liberal arts or seeking a broader perspective on the college application process, do get in touch with us to set up an initial consultation.

List of UK Universities that offer Liberal Arts Courses:?,
Birkbeck, University of London
Durham University
Keele University
King’s College London, University of London
Loughborough University
Queen Mary University of London
Queen’s University Belfast (4 Year MLibArt)
Regent’s University London
Richmond, The American University in London
Royal Holloway, University of London
School of Oriental & African Studies University of London
St Mary’s University
University College London
University of Birmingham
University of Bristol
niversity of Dundee (4 years- MA)
niversity of East Anglia
niversity of Essex
University of Exeter
University of Ken
University of Leeds
University of Manchester
University of Nottingham
University of Roehampton
University of Susse
University of Wales Trinity Saint David
University of Warwick
University of Wincheste