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Ivy League vs. Liberal Arts

careldcareld 129 replies10 threads Junior Member
edited February 2012 in College Search & Selection
Just curious, how many of you out there would choose a liberal arts college over an Ivy League school if you got the choice?? Like, who for example could choose Amherst over Harvard's prestige?? Do you think the intimacy in LACs are worth more than the prestige factor in major universities? Let's do this under the assumption that you're going to grad school anyways.
edited February 2012
38 replies
Post edited by careld on
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Replies to: Ivy League vs. Liberal Arts

  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 78661 replies698 threads Senior Member
    The high selectivity LACs are also high prestige.

    Choose based on academic and non-academic fit and net cost of attendance.

    Academic fit includes strength of departments in your intended or possible majors. Academic graduate schools should know which LACs and universities are strong or weak in their field.
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  • GreybeardGreybeard 2328 replies27 threads Senior Member
    In the "Revealed Preference" study of high school seniors who graduated from 396 colleges in the 2000-01 school year, no students who were admitted to both Harvard and Amherst chose Amherst. (96% of the cross-admits to Harvard and Yale chose Harvard; 95% of the cross-admits to Harvard and Cal Tech chose Harvard. Harvard won 100% of the cross-admit match-ups with every other school in the country.)

    All cross-admits to Yale and Amherst chose Yale; all cross-admits to Stanford and Amherst chose Stanford. Amherst won 1% of its match-ups with Princeton, 13% against Brown, 35% of its match-ups with Columbia, 50% against Dartmouth, 76% against Penn, and 92% of its match-ups against Cornell.
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  • careldcareld 129 replies10 threads Junior Member
    Whoa, I knew the chances wouldn't be good but were they THAT bad??? Hmm... I still thought there might be those few who truly thought LACs were a better fit for them and stuck to their decisions!! Anybody like that here?? ;)
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  • hellokitty44hellokitty44 30 replies3 threads Junior Member
    Just saying, but maybe people who liked Amherst the most didn't apply to Harvard? I mean, they are completely different - open curriculum vs. Harvard's many distribution requirements, the general environment, etc.
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  • warblersrulewarblersrule 10047 replies172 threads Super Moderator
    Greybeard wrote:
    In the "Revealed Preference" study of high school seniors who graduated from 396 colleges in the 2000-01 school year, no students who were admitted to both Harvard and Amherst chose Amherst. (96% of the cross-admits to Harvard and Yale chose Harvard; 95% of the cross-admits to Harvard and Cal Tech chose Harvard. Harvard won 100% of the cross-admit match-ups with every other school in the country.)

    All cross-admits to Yale and Amherst chose Yale; all cross-admits to Stanford and Amherst chose Stanford. Amherst won 1% of its match-ups with Princeton, 13% against Brown, 35% of its match-ups with Columbia, 50% against Dartmouth, 76% against Penn, and 92% of its match-ups against Cornell.
    No.

    The percentages you are looking at are the confidence results. The authors of the study were 95% sure Harvard ranked higher than Yale and Caltech; they were 100% sure it ranked higher than all other colleges.

    The RP study is not exactly cross-admit data, though it does use it. What it attempts to provide is the comparative desirability of colleges based on the probable outcomes of hypothetical cross-admit battles as simulated by a model, the parameters of which are set by student info and in which factors like geography, legacy status, and financial aid have been equalized. The study freely admits that many colleges without significant overlapping applicant pools have been compared via intermediate colleges, and self-selecting colleges like BYU demonstrate a decidedly skewed result in the overall ranking. Essentially, the RP study is at best loosely correlated with actual cross-admit results.

    The study simply cannot be trusted for reliable information about cross-admits. For example, it places Caltech above MIT, and yet we know that MIT collects more than 3 Caltech cross-admits for every 1 it loses to Caltech. Even more egregious, the study indicates an 88% confidence that Yale wins against Stanford, and yet it has lost the majority of its cross-admits to Stanford since at least 2000.
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  • GreybeardGreybeard 2328 replies27 threads Senior Member
    Warblersrule,

    Thanks for clarifying. My recollection of the study was faulty.
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  • kwukwu 4743 replies16 threads Senior Member
    Harvard and Yale occupy the pinnacle of prestige in this country. Princeton offers arguably the finest academic experience out of all the undergraduate institutions. Stanford is the best school outside the Northeast, in sunny California.

    Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth, Penn, Cornell--whatever. If you're deciding among this group of schools, then pick with academic, social, and geographic fit in mind.

    (If one comes from a financially and socially insecure background, then it does not make sense to choose Williams or Amherst over Harvard or Yale. If one comes from a financially and socially secure background, then it does not matter, to an extent, where one goes.)
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  • momrathmomrath 5985 replies39 threads Senior Member
    kwu wrote:
    If one comes from a financially and socially insecure background, then it does not make sense to choose Williams or Amherst over Harvard or Yale. If one comes from a financially and socially secure background, then it does not matter to a certain extent where one goes.

    Kwu, that is a fairly non-PC statement, but I have to say that I agree with it.

    Careld, I've known a few students personally and a few through this website who have turned down HYP or S for an LAC. The reasons varied, maybe focus on fit, maybe focus on finance.

    My son applied and was accepted ED to an LAC. He was interested in Yale and Brown but since he withdrew his applications he'll never know if he "coulda been a contendor." In retrospect he would tell you that going to Williams was the best decision he could have made. He is now in an Ivy League graduate program. In his opinion that combination offers the best of both worlds.

    Prestige is slippery. Just when you think you've got it nailed someone comes along with new criteria. It's hard at 17/18 years old to separate what really matters from what you think matters or other people tell you matters.

    I can say with 100% confidence that graduates of LACs go on to be as healthy, wealthy and wise as graduates of the Ivy League, but only you can say what's right for you, socially and academically.
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  • careldcareld 129 replies10 threads Junior Member
    Kwu, what would you mean by 'it depends on social and financial background'? If you go to an LAC despite weaker backgrounds, is it harder for you to get jobs or something? I would appreciate it if you would clarify.
    Mamroth, thanks for the advice. Before I reached my senior year I always thought I wanted to go to an Ivy -all the fame and glamor, you know- but these days I'm wondering whether an LAC would be better for me in the long run after all. I have a question though, what do you think about the opinion that an LAC gets a bit too small after the first initial years?? I heard that a lot here in CC and am wondering how true the statement is. I'm from a small hs, with around a 1000 kids total, and am fine with it - but it's hs after all. Any thoughts?? ;)
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  • momrathmomrath 5985 replies39 threads Senior Member
    what do you think about the opinion that an LAC gets a bit too small after the first initial years?
    careld, There are two perspectives on scale, academic and social. Bearing in mind that not all LACs are created equal academically, for my son the range of academic growth and intellectual exploration could have continued, unabated for another 4 years. Socially, the size of the school was just right for him. 2000 people is still a large pool from which to draw friends.

    As far as extracurricular and other social activities go, it really depends on what you like to do in your down time. Again, you can find LACs in lots of different environments -- urban, rural and suburban. For my son who liked to hang out with his friends and partcipate in outdoorsy activities, Williams was the perfect environment.

    A word on prestige: I note from another post that you are an international student from Korea. We also live in Asia, though we are American expats.

    I can say unilaterally that LACs are not well known in Asia. Instead of name recognition you will get a lot of blank (maybe even pitying) stares. If this would bother you, then don't even think about attending an LAC. However, if you are self-confident and have a sense of humor, then probe further into the advantages of attending an LAC.

    My son graduated 5 years ago. He and his friends all found the kind of jobs they wanted after graduation. Williams' career counseling, faculty advisors and alumni network was profoundly helpful. They are all now enrolled in good graduate and professional programs and on their way to excellent careers. If you plan to go to graduate school and/or work in Asia, you might have a different experience.

    And a caveat, top colleges, whether they are large, medium or small, are very selective, especially for internationals, especially for North Asians and especially for anyone needing financial aid. You might do better to cast a wide net at this point and debate the fine points after you get your acceptances and financial packages.

    And lastly, as a North Asian international applicant you might consider going against the grain and looking at some schools, both LACs and mid-sized, that are NOT urban and NOT in the Northeast. These schools -- like Williams, Bowdoin, Kenyon, Davidson, Grinnell and several others -- actively recruit high achieving Asians and often use international to increase their diversity percentages. If you are female, definitely look at women's schools.
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  • tk21769tk21769 10667 replies27 threads Senior Member
    Selective LACs are among the most generous with aid to international students. In 2011,
    Macalester College awarded aid to 210 of 242 international students, in amounts averaging ~$34,000. Average amounts at some other LACs (including Amherst, Williams, and Vassar) exceed $45,000/year. However, only one LAC (Amherst) is need-blind in international admissions. 4 Ivies (Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Dartmouth) are need-blind in international admissions.

    Ivies typically have about the same percentage of classes with under 20 students as the most selective LACs (around 70-75%). However, Ivies generally have a much higher percentage of large classes (7-10% with over 50 students) compared to the most selective LACs (0-6% with over 50 students.)

    LACs seem to out-perform research universities in the percentage of alumni PhD completions (COLLEGE PHD PRODUCTIVITY). Graduates of selective LACs also seem to do very well in admission to top professional schools (http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/college-search-selection/1208149-top-feeder-schools-yale-law-3.html, see #37 showing 7 LACs in the top 25 at Harvard Law School, even though LACs only account for about 3% of American college students.).

    The children of American university professors attend LACs in disproportionately high numbers (Where Professors Send Their Children to College - CBS News).
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  • careldcareld 129 replies10 threads Junior Member
    Momrath, really thanks for all your advice. The only reason I was concerned with size was because a lot of people seemed to be complaining about how "it got boring after a day or so" "she said she dated all the people she wanted to within two years", etc. etc. I would prefer an academically rigorous school, not much thought on the setting - my high school is in a quite rural area, and to top it it's a boarding school, so I've become used to being secluded from society so to speak ;) - but I was a bit worried about getting bored by the end of college.

    And yes, I am an international applicant from Asia, where nobody knows any LACs - or for that matter, any universities in the States besides HYPS. Since nobody knows either way, I think I'll be fine with the prestige issue, wherever I go. I definitely will look up more schools, but it's still early in the year after all :) I hope I can decide whether to apply to in the first place. Anyways, really thanks a lot!!
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  • careldcareld 129 replies10 threads Junior Member
    tk21769, so is it safe to say that if it's a choice between top Ivies and top LACs the amount of FA one can get will be roughly similar, as will be the class sizes? Then will the class size and school atmosphere be the most determinant factor in what school one will choose?

    On a second thought, what's the professor-student relationship like in big research universities, or the student-student relationship? What do you think would make one choose one school over another, either universities or LACs??
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  • tk21769tk21769 10667 replies27 threads Senior Member
    I'd hesitate to predict whether your aid offers will be roughly similar or not. The only way to know for sure is to apply. Judging from the numbers, it does appear to me that in general, both the Ivies (as a class) and the most selective LACs (as a class) are very generous with aid to internationals. But keep in mind that except for HYP, Dartmouth, and Amherst, all these schools are "need-aware" in admission of internationals. So I would think that if you need a lot of aid, you might fare better at a school where you are competing with fewer international applicants.

    As for class size, pay attention to bclintonk's posts in the following thread:
    http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/college-search-selection/1286756-ivy-league-reputation-v-small-class-size.html

    I think it likely that, in introductory classes and in the most popular majors, many classes at Ivies will have significantly larger enrollments than similar classes at LACs. Unfortunately, I don't think detailed published data exists to fairly compare average class sizes in, say, intro Biology classes at Harvard v. Williams.
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  • cltdadcltdad 913 replies24 threads Member
    I think it likely that, in introductory classes and in the most popular majors, many classes at Ivies will have significantly larger enrollments than similar classes at LACs. Unfortunately, I don't think detailed published data exists to fairly compare average class sizes in, say, intro Biology classes at Harvard v. Williams.
    True. My daughter is at Harvard, so I can only address it. There are a handful of huge classes in the very popular majors. Especially LS 1a (all of the bio and premeds) and Ec 10 (economics). These classes can have as many or more students that the entire freshman class at Williams. With limited exceptions, Harvard does not cap enrollment so any student can take whatever classes he/she wants without fear of the class being "full". And of course, these large classes also have "sections" which are smaller groups that review material with a Teaching Fellow (grad student). Your experience really depends upon your major. My daughter is a physics major. Her introductory physics class (honors level) had about 45 students in it and it also had sections. Her first math class was her at only truly huge class with about 200 students, but she could have chosen different math sequences that would have had much smaller class sizes. At the same time she also had seminar classes as a freshman that were capped at 15 students. Certain subjects lend themselves to large lectures while others are more discussion based so large classes generally are not an issue. And there are many departments where the class sizes are almost always very small like you would expect from a LAC because there are few students majoring in them.
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  • M's MomM's Mom 4507 replies55 threads Senior Member
    As for the issue of whether or not a LAC gets boring after a few years, I think it really depends on the person and the school. Students at LACs do study abroad at a much higher rate than in non-LACs. There are lots of reasons for this (for example, LACs don't offer engineering and engineers frequently find it difficult to fit study abroad into their courseloads) - but the fact remains that in Junior year, many LAC students decide it's time to explore another culture. Students at urban LACs probably have a somewhat different experience than those at rural LACs - at the former, you can move out into the community if you want to be away from school, but those who chose rural LACs often do so because they like and want the experience of a close knit community, so there's quite a bit of self-selection going on. Finally, even at a small LAC, a quarter of the class graduates every year and leaves, while a quarter of the class arrives as freshman, so I guess it's possible to have dated everyone you are interested in, but you're going to be plenty busy every fall when the new class arrives.

    S attended a rural LAC and, by the middle of his senior year, he was ready to move on. Now that he's gone, he is missing 'his' people a lot, and looking forward to returning to grad school where he will, once again, be part of a tight knit community.
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  • careldcareld 129 replies10 threads Junior Member
    tk21769, thanks for sharing the link. Yes, I do know that international applicants are less likely to get FA, and that there aren't that many need blind schools. Do you by any chance know some other schools that have generous FA policies?

    cltdad, I guess the more popular majors would be affected more by the school type then. But what about other factors, like student care? Are Harvard faculty reachable, do they provide care for the students, are they treated as individuals and not as numbers, so to say? What did your D feel about it? I'm really envious of her, btw :)

    M's Mom, now that I hear of it maybe study abroad programs would offer a break if I ever needed one. But do LACs offer a lot of programs for it? I've looked at some of the schools, and I noticed that there tended to be less programs than universities. Or did I look in the wrong places? I may have not looked closely enough, I admit.
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  • M's MomM's Mom 4507 replies55 threads Senior Member
    Since LACs are smaller than unis, I'm guessing they have more limited study abroad options even if high percentage of their students study abroad - but I know that some schools allow you to make your own arrangements if they agree that the program is reputable and worthy of academic credit (ie, the programs are run by or partnered with other reputable US universities). You'll also see the same study abroad programs popping up over and over on school web-sites because they have arrangements with many US schools. I'm guessing that it would not be too hard to make a case that if a particular program is accredited by a dozen other good schools, your LAC would probably be willing to consider it.

    If you are interested in a particular program, part of the world, or subject area, check what the LAC offers in that area, and then check the school's policies about making your own arrangements and getting academic credit.
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  • johnwesleyjohnwesley 4473 replies137 threads- Senior Member
    kwu wrote:
    If one comes from a financially and socially insecure background, then it does not make sense to choose Williams or Amherst over Harvard or Yale. If one comes from a financially and socially secure background, then it does not matter, to an extent, where one goes.)

    I would disagree with this. Unless, by "financially insecure", you're referring to middle-class families likely to come away with a lot of debt after four years, it would seem to me, that for someone poor enough to qualify for a Pell grant, almost any college would represent a life-changing event and certainly colleges such as Harvard, Yale, Amherst and Williams are conflated pretty close together from where someone like that is standing.

    OTOH, I wish you'd elaborate on what you mean by "socially insecure" since I'm thinking a lot of different scenarios would come under that rubric, as well.
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  • exultationsyexultationsy 1091 replies9 threads Senior Member
    cltdad, I guess the more popular majors would be affected more by the school type then. But what about other factors, like student care? Are Harvard faculty reachable, do they provide care for the students, are they treated as individuals and not as numbers, so to say? What did your D feel about it? I'm really envious of her, btw

    Again, it depends a lot on major. I know one top econ faculty member, sort of, even though I'm not an ec major, but I don't think there's a ton of individual attention in economics in general. (He did a better job recognizing me after I drastically changed my hair over the summer than most of my friends did, which was nice but a little weird.) My impression is that economics is our worst department by that metric, but even there upper-level concentrators can get to know professors if they want. I think the economics professors make a bit less effort because their concentration does draw a lot of kids who are not all that excited to be there, but they're pleased when students do. If you're in a smaller field, you'll probably get significant attention: the professors of three out of my four classes last year had the class for dinner at their house/the class prepared a meal of the culture we were studying in a dhall kitchen. The fourth class was a science distribution requirement. Personally, I've been very lucky to have found an unofficial faculty mentor already, who is a leader in his field (...which like 5 people study in the country, admittedly. Worldwide total is maybe 13.), so individual attention happens.
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