A multiyear survey of college students in the U.S. shows liberal arts graduates to be most satisfied.

When it comes to getting a first job out of college, gaining admission to graduate school or generally preparing to meet life’s challenges, graduates of residential liberal arts colleges give their college experience higher marks than graduates of private or public universities, according to a new national study commissioned by the Annapolis Group, a consortium of America’s leading liberal arts colleges, of which Drew University is a member.

“This report confirms what we have known from student testimony over many years,” said Robert Weisbuch, president of Drew University.  “There is no substitute for the close mentoring of students by faculty members at smaller universities where each student is viewed as unique and highly valuable.”

Among the study’s career-related findings:

  • Seventy-six percent of liberal arts college graduates rated their college experience highly for preparing them for their first job, compared to 66 percent who attended public flagship universities;
  • Eighty-nine percent of liberal arts college graduates reported finding a mentor while in college, compared to 66 percent for public flagship universities;
  • Sixty percent of liberal arts college graduates said they felt “better prepared” for life after college than students who attended other colleges, compared to 34 percent who attended public flagship universities.
  • Liberal arts college graduates are more likely to graduate in four years or fewer, giving them a head start on their careers.

The study is based on a total of 2,700 telephone interviews conducted in 2002 and again in the summer of 2011. It is one of only a few studies that explore the lasting effects of college in such areas as career preparation and advancement, skill development, development of personal and professional values and attitude, and community involvement.

Among other key findings in this year’s survey:

  • Seventy-seven percent of liberal arts college graduates rated their overall undergraduate experience as “excellent,” compared to 53 percent for graduates of flagship public universities;
  • Seventy-nine percent of liberal arts college graduates report benefiting “very much” from high-quality teaching-oriented faculty, compared to 63 percent for private universities and 40 percent for alumni of flagship public universities;
  • Eighty-eight percent of liberal arts graduates said there was a sense of community among students, compared to 79 percent for private universities and 63 percent for public flagship universities.

“On virtually all measures known to contribute to positive outcomes, graduates of liberal arts colleges rate their experience more highly than do graduates of private or public universities,” said James H. Day, director of the study and a principal of Hardwick Day, the educational consulting firm that collected and analyzed the data.

The study found that liberal arts college graduates are more likely than graduates of both private and public universities to give their college a high effectiveness rating for helping them learn to write and speak effectively.

The study found also that liberal arts college graduates are more likely than alumni of other types of institutions to say all of the following about their college experience:

  • Their professors often challenged them academically and personally helped them meet those challenges;
  • Most of their grades were based on essay exams and written reports;
  • Their experience often included extensive classroom discussions;
  • They participated in faculty-directed research or independent study;
  • They often engaged in conversations with professors outside of class;
  • They participated in service-learning or community service;
  • They were involved in an extracurricular activity.

Alumni of liberal arts colleges were more likely in the 2011 survey to rate their overall experience as “excellent” than in the 2002 survey. This increase went from 66 to 77 percent, compared to the same trend among public university alumni, which went from 41 to 53 percent.

The Annapolis Group, a non-profit alliance of 130 residential liberal arts colleges, commissioned the survey to determine how its graduates perceive the effectiveness of its member institutions in comparison to others.