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Liberal arts college VS university

about:blankabout:blank Registered User Posts: 63 Junior Member
edited April 2010 in College Search & Selection
What exactly are the differences between the two, in all aspects?

By definition?

By connotation/impression?

To grad schools/med schools/law schools?

Big names/respect accorded?



I bring this up because I am currently choosing between Rice, Berkeley and Wesleyan. Now, college rankings is one of the factors (but not the biggest) in making my decision. I see that under universities, the difference between Rice and Berkeley in the USNews rankings is somewhat negligible (late teens and early twenties). But Wesleyan is on a totally different ranking list (#9 under liberal arts colleges). How do I now compare? Or does the nature of liberal arts colleges and universities make comparison like this impossible?

Thank much.
Post edited by about:blank on
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Replies to: Liberal arts college VS university

  • AlexandreAlexandre Registered User Posts: 24,573 Senior Member
    It is impossible to compare those three schools. All of them are equally excellent in their own way, so I suggest you go for the one you feel most comfortable with.
  • CC AdminCC Admin Administrator Posts: 32,428 Senior Member
    ummm should i answer this?

    i had this big question in my head too when i did my app research. LACs are almost unique in the US cuz most of the popular countries intl students go to only have universities instead. i come from hong kong and it is a very brit-based system and even universities are kinda subject-based. the great thing abt LACs is that they're, well as their name says, liberal. i didnt even have to state my intended major when i applied for Wes, and you could take courses you like there and declare your major 1 or 2 yrs later. as for universities, different unis have different styles. I applied for UCLA as pre-poli sci and later realized i couldnt change my major unless my GPA is at least 3.2 or sth like that. I think it'd be pretty much the same for UCB. Dont know abt Rice though.

    i personally prefer small size LACs because the QUALITY of education, i believe, is almost guaranteed. Gonna skip the small class, great social life blablabla cliche, but those really are special things abt LACs. when i talked to my Cornell interviewer she told me Cornell has sth like the 2nd biggest class size in the US or sth like that (and with pride) and that really really put me off. (i later withdrew my app though they wouldnt hav accepted me anyway hahaha) but of course, universities have the advantage of being big and a lota the times they have more resourses. my Cornell interviewer said 'when the school is big and there're more ppl in it, there's a higher chance of knowing ppl you like and can get along with'

    as for grad school... there's a list done by USnews (if i havnt remembered wrong) ranking schools which are 'feeders' to top grad schools. try search the forum n see what you get.

    the ranking list is really not that important... they included components like whether the teaching staff are full-time or not and i was like, who cares abt whether they work fulltime, as long as they're gd... anyway, i'd recommend wes, of course, because i chose it myself hahaha. check their websites out and see whats your impression towards the different schools or even talk to students from there. that helped me a whole lot.
  • AlexandreAlexandre Registered User Posts: 24,573 Senior Member
    Jurily, LACs are excellent, but do not be quick to judge. At a large university like Cornell, you can take countless graduate level classes in your Junior and Senior years. You can also chose from a variety of classes and majors that are not even offered at LACs. The advantages of large research universities make up for their shortcomings. At the end of the day, we must each go for a university that fits our academic goals.
  • johnwesleyjohnwesley - Posts: 4,610 Senior Member
    Hi, About:blank.

    The first thing you have to realize is that as far as grad schools and employers are concerned there is no difference between a degree earned at a liberal arts college and one earned at a research university. It all depends on the individual school.

    Now a little history. By definition, a liberal arts college (LAC) is nothing more than an undergraduate college that exists on its own campus with little or no grad or professional schools. Historically, the earliest American universities (Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia, William & Mary, to name a few) all started out as LACs and their undergraduate colleges are still the central enterprise of their arts & science faculty.

    By connotation, the twenty or so top rated LACs still bring to mind an earlier era of American history when teachers were expected to know students by name, to know something about their backgrounds and were concerned with about their personal as well as intellectual growth.

    Again, by connotation, modern universities are principally engaged in the production of new knowledge, be it in the sciences or some breakthrough in the humanities. To that end, university faculty spend approximately half their time with older students who are working toward Masters and Doctoral degrees, in subjects that match their own fields of interest.

    The universities with the biggest names (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the rest of the Ivies, Stanford) all pay lip service to how much they resemble an LAC in their approach to undergraduates. Conversely, the top ranked LACs all pay lip service to how much research their faculty engage in. In other words, the best colleges are really just small universities and the best universities are really just big, extremely efficient versions of LACs; which is why many, many American students wind up applying to both.

    Does this help at all?
  • CC AdminCC Admin Administrator Posts: 32,428 Senior Member
    yep Alexandre i do recognize that. that truly is the strength of large size universities
  • AlexandreAlexandre Registered User Posts: 24,573 Senior Member
    Johnwesley, what you say isn't entirely accurate. Columbia, Cornell, Harvard and Penn each have over 20,000 students. Northwestern and Stanford have roughly 15,000 students each. Chicago, Duke, MIT and Yale have over 10,000 students. I would not say that those schools are merely big LACs. All of the schools mentioned above have classes with over 200 students and professors at those schools do not usually know undergrads by name, or take the time to get to know their students. Their are exceptions to the rule of course, but the vast majority of research universities are not set up in a way, nor do they have the necessary resources, to handle such large student bodies as would a LAC with 1,500 undergraduate students.

    On the flip side, LACs cannot come close to offering the breadth and depth of academic options, world class professors and cutting edge information...nor do LACs (due to their small student bodies, lack of research and consulting professors and professional graduate programs) have the same type of connections to industry to provide their students with the best in career guidance and on-campus corporate recruiting.

    At the end of the day, top LACs and top research universities are all excellent, but they offer completely opposite atmospheres and approaches to education.
  • johnwesleyjohnwesley - Posts: 4,610 Senior Member
    Alexandre - I'm not saying that universities and LACs are _exactly_ alike. What I am saying is that each, in its own way, acknowledges the other's strengths. The Yale residential system is explicitly designed to replicate the feel of 12 small, rural LACs (complete with their own faculty) in the middle of New Haven; Harvard's House system is a nod in the same direction. Columbia and Chicago students are required to take a core curriculum, something you wouldn't think necessary at two places with so many courses to choose from (even Amherst doesn't have required courses anymore.)

    Similarly, I don't think any LAC would deliberately hire anyone who didn't have a field of expertise that could lead his/her department into new and interesting areas of inquiry. The days of the avuncular "Mr. Chips" who never has to publish original work are over. Indeed, with average budgets hovering well over $100,000,000 a year, the top LACs often compete with universities for top names.
  • about:blankabout:blank Registered User Posts: 63 Junior Member
    thanks for all the input, but i want a bit more. hence...


    BUMP
  • darklingdarkling Registered User Posts: 201 Junior Member
    About:blank, I'm in the same situation as you. You guys make a lot of good points about the diff between LACs and big universities, but what ARE the "completely opposite atmospheres and approaches to education," and how does this difference affect the future (grad school and/or job hunting)?
  • dcronodcrono Registered User Posts: 29 New Member
    Personally, I think the main difference between LAC and universities is how much the college "cares" for you. In larger universities, class sizes are often larger, and many classes (especially intro classes) are taught by TAs and graduate students. The universities cares less about the individual students, and some professors care more about their own research than teaching classes. However, it is true that there are more classes to choose from, and you could possibily meet more people.
    LACs tend to care for their students more, at the cost of variety. Teachers tend to know the students personally, and all classes are usually taught by professors. The administration makes a greater effort to help the individual student.
    In the end, it depends on what kind of education you want. Do you want a large univeristy in which you can meet many people and have a lot of different opportunities? Or do you want a small LAC which you know most people and have more of a family feel to it. My sister goes to Harvard and while she loves it there, she admits that the administration doesn't really care for the individual student. Most large colleges have the "sink or swim" approach. I, on the other hand, would rather have a close community with smaller class sizes and more interaction with the faculty, so I choose LACs. It depends on each person.
  • collegeparentcollegeparent Registered User Posts: 892 Member
    Your dilemma also includes where do you want to be. All three schools are in three different areas of the country. All three have different political climates and student bodies. If you haven't visited each school, you must since your gut, heart and head will tell you where you belong. All three have advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps making a pro & con list of each school will help narrow down your choice.
  • johnwesleyjohnwesley - Posts: 4,610 Senior Member
    Darkling - in terms of "completely opposite atmospheres", the starkest difference is that LACs are almost always in small towns or cities. Barnard is just about the only exception I can think of. What this means in terms of everyday life is that, at an LAC, after awhile, you recognize strangers almost immediately. Even to people you don't know entirely, you feel comfortable saying, "Hi" when you see them on the street. On the other end of the extreme, I went to law school in Philadelphia and had lunch at the same cafeteria every day for three years and it was a rare week when I ever saw the same faces two days in a row. Some people like the constant turnover of university life; some people like the sense of community of LACs.

    As I said, before, it makes no difference to employers or grad schools per se whether you got your B.A. from one or the other.
  • mikemacmikemac Registered User Posts: 10,051 Senior Member
    In larger universities, class sizes are often larger, and many classes (especially intro classes) are taught by TAs and graduate students.
    This is not really true. For one thing, TA's are graduate students; the quote makes it sound as if they are 2 different categories.

    Second, it simply isn't true that most classes are taught by grad students. The way it works is there is a large lecture taught by the prof. This is the class, meeting 3x a week. Then once a week you go to a discussion section with a TA that has 15-30 students. Only in a very few instances is the class taught by a TA, primarily things like an intro English comp class where they want it to be small and there aren't enough profs around to teach it. But again, this is the exception, not the rule as dcrono says.
  • thethoughtprocessthethoughtprocess Registered User Posts: 4,167 Senior Member
    Where is a list of feeders into top grad schools?
  • yulsieyulsie Registered User Posts: 804 Member
    OT -

    about:blank, just seeing that user name causes me to see red - I spent several days cleansing my workstation from that little persistent scourge, grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
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