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Are liberal arts colleges perceived as second tier?

deprofundisdeprofundis Registered User Posts: 33 Junior Member
edited May 2012 in Parents Forum
I want to know if there is a general perception of liberal arts colleges as inferior to universities. As I understand it, the aim in attending one is to get an all-round education in the arts AND the sciences, though the title would lead one to suppose that they lean towards the arts and humanities.
Post edited by deprofundis on

Replies to: Are liberal arts colleges perceived as second tier?

  • toadstooltoadstool Registered User Posts: 1,145 Senior Member
    The ivys are essentially liberal arts colleges, due to their strong core curriculum requirements. No one ever considered them light weight.
  • IBfootballerIBfootballer Registered User Posts: 2,250 Senior Member
    ^no, honestly, they are not.
  • deprofundisdeprofundis Registered User Posts: 33 Junior Member
    Toadstool, would people include the ivy schools under liberal arts colleges?
  • WaitingDadWaitingDad Registered User Posts: 408 Member
    LA colleges are definitely perceived as inferior to the major universities. I believe most consider universities more prestigious and more well known...except of course for those attending liberal arts colleges. I don't think "inferior" is the correct word to describe them. Most high school students always want to attend a school with name recognition, that is considered top 50 or tier 1 and peers don't have to state they never heard of the school or where in the U.S. is it.
  • KeilexandraKeilexandra Registered User Posts: 5,492 Senior Member
    LACs are definitely perceived as second-tier. The keyword there is "perceived"--by the general public, not by (say) HR at large companies and certainly not at grad schools.
  • PizzagirlPizzagirl Registered User Posts: 40,488 Senior Member
    Right, as if "what the average joe on the street" thinks is of any importance. I always think people who base their decision making on what others think as being pretty pathetic.
  • maritemarite Registered User Posts: 21,586 Senior Member
    The idea that LACs are inferior to universities is pure nonsense. What distinguishes LACs from universities is not their undergraduate curriculum but their lack of graduate programs. Brown is very similar to Amherst in its open curriculum; Swarthmore is more like Princeton or Yale or Harvard.
    There are top notch public and private universities and there are quite mediocre ones. There are top notch LACs and there are mediocre ones.
    I'll take Amherst College over UMass-Amherst any day.

    "Perceived by the [ignorant] public": what a way to base a decision on EDUCATION!
  • GA2012MOMGA2012MOM Registered User Posts: 5,440 Senior Member
    I just got a good laugh reading this thinking about a conversation (argument) I had with a neighbor a couple of months ago. He insists that Amherst is nothing more than a modern day finishing school, (those were his exact words) and my DD would not be qualified to apply for med school from there. Sad, very very sad. :(

    He went to University of Miami.
  • PeaPea Registered User Posts: 2,386 Senior Member
    toadstool is right, Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth are liberal arts colleges. It is not essentially, it is not about where people would include them. They themselves say they are liberal arts colleges. If you don't believe me, call the admissions office at any of these colleges and ask.
  • garlandgarland Registered User Posts: 15,084 Senior Member
    This is just silly. Every research university has an undegraduate college which is essentially a liberal arts college. At UMich, I attended the college of Literature, Science, and the Arts. All Ivies have undergraduate liberal arts colleges, too.

    It's a really silly, and wrong-headed, perception.
  • JHSJHS Registered User Posts: 17,073 Senior Member
    Ooof. To each his own. In my little corner of the Northeastern Establishment, WaitingDad could not possibly be more wrong (unless perhaps by "major universities" he meant only HYPS, and even then he would be a little wrong).

    At the top private schools in this area, about half the students go to LACs, and that includes students at the top, middle, and bottom of the classes. At the public schools, far fewer go to LACs, but the more the demographics of the student bodies (or portions thereof) resemble the demographics of the private schools -- i.e., affluent, parents with graduate degrees, majority WASP or Jewish -- the more students go to LACs. For example, a large number of students from Lower Merion or Hariton will go to LACs. The student who was second in my son's public high school class (which sent 20-some lower-ranked students to Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Penn) applied only to LACs, and another top student applied only to LACs and Yale. Two of his best friends and his last high school girlfriend, probably the top Hispanic public school student in the city in her class, are all at LACs.

    Everyone's prestige ladder is slightly different, and everyone attaches different importance to the gradations of prestige, but it's safe to say that the top LACs (whatever they are) are viewed as equivalent (or superior) to the top universities, with the caveat the HYPS are seen as super-special, and relatively few kids who want to be engineers go to LACs (I do know some, though). Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore, and probably Pomona are seen as the prestige-equivalents of, say, Brown or Penn, without any controversy -- no one would blink at a kid choosing one over the other, and many kids apply only to the LACs who would be able to submit perfectly credible applications to HYP. There are maybe a dozen LACs close behind that, which individual students may prefer to any university or the more consensus LAC champs. (For example, I know a student who turned down Harvard for Wesleyan, and the daughter of a famous CC poster turned down Yale and lots of other places for Rhodes.)

    In general, top LACs seem to do a better job of preparing students for academic graduate school than top universities. Except for Yale and Chicago, no university comes close to producing the number of future PhDs that places like Swarthmore, Reed, and Amherst do (adjusting for class size, of course). "Liberal arts" does not mean "humanities" -- there are lots of science majors at LACs. The service academies are essentially LACs (and are treated as such by USNWR).

    President Barack Obama started college at a LAC, although he transferred after two years. (Presidents Nixon and Reagan were educated at LACs, too.) Hillary Clinton went to a LAC, and Timothy Geithner effectively did, too (Dartmouth). There are no meaningful limits on the success of LAC students.

    There's plenty to debate about regarding the different educational models of research universities vs. LACs. I have a strong preference for research universities, myself. But there's no right and wrong answer to that question. To some extent, it depends on the kid, and to some extent it doesn't matter, both models work fine.
  • PeaPea Registered User Posts: 2,386 Senior Member
    GA2012Mom, I can't believe it. How did you keep from slugging him?
  • KeilexandraKeilexandra Registered User Posts: 5,492 Senior Member
    It's worth noting, though, that Mudgette turned down Yale and Amherst for Rhodes because she received a full ride there. If the cost had been equal, I don't think she would have made that same choice.
  • cellardwellercellardweller Registered User Posts: 1,567 Senior Member
    Perception and reality may be two different issues but over time perception becomes reality.

    It is simply hard to deny that LACs generally lack recognition despite their advantages. This clearly affects how they are perceived and not just among the uneducated masses. It is a fact that even the most sophisticated consumers (students and their parents) will seldom choose a top LAC over a top university. How often does a student turn down Harvard for Amherst or MIT for Harvey Mudd? It happens anecdotally, but not very often. Top LACs struggle with yields in the 30% while top universities reach 60% and above. LACs still depend on ED to fill their classes while top universities do not. Even in the Northeast, they are not seen as equivalent by the students who are admitted and have a choice to enroll at a highly ranked university. With few exceptions, students will pick top LACs when they can't get into top universities and some may even settle for arguably lesser universities over top LACs. The numbers just don't lie. LACS are a hard sell for many.

    Is it fair? Probably not, but perception often turns into reality. Decks are stacked against LACs because most people do not have the time or resources to do their own analysis. Large private universities with major endowments have more graduates with influence and more resources. They can afford to attract the best faculty and build more labs and offer more classes which attracts the best students which attracts even more faculty and more top students. This self-perpetuating spiral leads to a near educational monopoly that is very hard to break. At some point, many people give up and don't want the hassle of having constantly to explain that Amherst is not UMass-Amherst. Harvard may not offer the very best undergrad education but at least you don't have to bother explaining that you didn't go to the local state U.
  • TheDadTheDad Registered User, ! Posts: 10,224 Senior Member
    Well, the well-regarded think tank my D works for in D.C. would certainly disagree with WaitingDad. Yes, they hire from Harvard/Yale/Tufts...they also hire from Swarthmore/Smith/William & Mary. And public U's such as Virginia/Maryland/North Carolina.

    D was involved in one recent hiring cycle, albeit for an intern, and she had what I thought was an interesting observation: they didn't have a bias in looking for apps from students at "elite" schools but the students from said schools wrote better applications. See also, chicken/egg.
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