Amherst vs Carleton vs Colorado College

My son is coming down to the wire on these three schools. Colorado College is a really good match. He found the student body optimistic and friendly, he is an excellent skier and the front range will help him stay active and healthy. The block schedule will work as well. It is very wealthy, less diverse, and costs $7000 more than Amherst and $13,000 more than Carelton. He would need to take out a full loan and we would still be about $6,000 more than our top budget. The money isn’t all in the bank and all is precarious, now. We worry that we would be paying a premium and the return may not be there, financially and educationally.

He knows that “anything is possible” at Amherst, is drawn to its commitment to diversity, socio-economic and racial, the open curriculum and science center, and perhaps, the opportunity to attend such a well-respected school. He knows that he will need to stretch and grow at Amherst socially, while CC will be easy. This both attracts and worries him. He is athletic but not a recruited athlete, “can hang with the nerds” but doesn’t want to be there all day. Doesn’t know where he would fit. Sat in on a virtual class and felt like he was right there with the discussion and appreciated the thoughtful contributions. He loved his first visit in the summer, but when he returned in the fall he sensed that the students were a bit frenzied and stressed, even though it was a Tuesday morning. He would still need to take a loan, but it would get him in the target zone financially. For his parents, we greatly respect Amherst’s mission and its commitment to diversity, but it’s tough to garner from what we read if it actually works. It could transform his understanding of the world in unrivaled ways or not work for him at all. It feels like there is high risk and high return.

Carleton is close to home, collaborative, exceptional, and provided the best aid package. For him, it is familiar and unexciting, the campus felt random, he sensed an underlying current of stress, and he worries that the student body wears its quirkiness label a bit too proudly. For his parents, it is safe and close in a time of uncertainty, financially responsible and we know even if the fit isn’t perfect, it will be ok for him. We know he will receive an excellent education. We would provide the option of not taking a loan this year.

A little more about him - he loved the student vibe and setting of Hamilton the moment he walked on campus, but their financial aid package was not competitive. He got a very nice scholarship offer from Whitman and he knows he would be happy there, but we were not able to visit so it isn’t in the running either. Didn’t like Colby’s campus, soured on Bates on the second visit, and didn’t apply to Bowdoin because he figured he wouldn’t get in and he didn’t get the welcoming feel. He is interested in environmental science or perhaps geology, but he also loves creative writing and reading history. He’s good at it all-a true LAC student.

We “could” make all of the schools work. He hasn’t stated it straight out because of the financials, but he would choose CC first and Carleton last. I think the input I am mostly looking for is process and perspective from parents and students. I have a bias toward prestige which I know makes it harder for me to pay more for CC, even though he would likely be happy because I think he would leave opportunity on the table.

We’re not going to say “no”, but no matter what, we want him to make his decision for all of us to feel like it was the right one for the right reasons. So if you know this kid or this dad, or have been there yourself, as a kid or parent, I would love it if you could give me a kick in the right direction.

You mentioned diversity a couple of times - is your child a POC?

These are three great choices… it sounds like your son was put off by what he perceived as stress at Amherst and Carelton, and maybe saw CC as “easier.” I know a couple of kids who graduated fairly recently from CC - they’re intellectual but also quite ambitious types (nothing wrong with that!) and have talked about the kind of burnout the block schedule can lead to. In other words, there’s competition and stress at CC too. If I understood correctly, it sounds like you’d be happiest if your son chose Amherst. If I were in your shoes, I would too, for all the reasons we parents understand. Maybe you could try to sell Amherst by emphasizing what an interesting part of the country he’d live in. Weekends in Boston, trips to the beach in the summer, skiing in the winter. CC is in a lovely area… but it’s still Colorado Springs. A boring little city and quite conservative (though that’s starting to change a bit.) Yes, there’s skiing - but not all that close: the good slopes of Summit County are a good 2+ hours away (one way.)

One more note about CC. The student body may quickly become slightly less wealthy and more diverse, since CC has announced that it will charge the equivalent of in-state University of Colorado tuition to all Colorado high school graduates. In other words, Colorado kids would save almost half the tuition. That’s going to make CC much more attractive to a lot of kids who previously didn’t consider CC because it was simply too expensive.

Would the $6,000 have to be parent loan or parent-cosigned loan? That makes the fit worse in terms of the financial part of fit (which is the most important part of fit for most college students).

Looks like Amherst would be top of parent budget plus full (federal direct) student loan, while Carleton would be top of parent budget with no loans, correct?

What was your son’s final choice?

I realize this is probably after-the-fact, but:

I don’t think there is a really meaningful prestige difference between Amherst and Colorado College. I’m on the East Coast, and I know a lot of people in several generations who went to Amherst, and hardly any who went to Colorado College, but I think of Colorado College as a first-rate LAC, probably the best between Carleton and the Claremont Colleges. And both of them can be mistaken for their much larger public flagship neighbors.

There is absolutely no meaningful prestige difference between Carleton and Amherst.

It used to be the case – and I think it may be still – that over half of the students at Amherst were high-school athletes, very few of whom were admitted as “recruited” athletes. Amherst is a tiny college with a proud athletic tradition, and it doesn’t get to maintain that without having a lot of (very smart) athletes on campus. As it happens, the three recent Amherst graduates I know best were very much not athletes; they felt a little out of the mainstream because of that. They spent a lot of time cheering on friends who were athletes, and one of them actually took up a sport despite some meaningful physical limitations. (That student had a sibling at Carleton who felt no such temptation. But two other recent Carleton grads I know WERE athletes.)

Amherst students probably think they have reasonable access to skiing during the winter. It’s not the front range of the Rockies, but it’s not central Minnesota, either.

My son is a junior at Amherst and would say that the “athlete vs non-athlete” divide that seems to come up in most conversations on CC is really no issue at all. Everyone can find friends at Amherst as the community is very welcoming. In his suite two are athletes and two are not. Agree with the poster above that the athletes are all smart or they never would have been admitted to the school. Don’t agree that there is no meaningful prestige difference between the three schools OP is considering. When we were looking at colleges Amherst showed up in the top five of almost every list out there for best liberal arts schools.

OP: It would be wise to read the Fiske Guide To Colleges 2020 regarding the schools under consideration.

Amherst & Carleton are a significant step above Colorado College academically.

Colorado College is a very significant step ahead of the other two schools with respect to skiing.

Every CC grad I have ever met never misses a chance to tell others how hard they worked in college & how demanding the academics were at CC. Sure.

OP: It depends upon what you & your son want & expect from college. Bluntly speaking, Amherst College & Carleton College are in a different league than is Colorado College academically & with respect to career opportunities.

While reading OP’s post, my thoughts focused on the University of Vermont Honors College & on the University of Colorado.

Seems clear to me that your son wants to ski & enjoy college. The best option, therefore, may be to take a gap year & get a job at Breckinridge or at Steamboat Springs, etc. and satisfy his desire to relax & ski. If, after a gap year of skiing, he still has the urge to ski & enjoy life, then CC is the way to go.

@Publisher Once again, you are making bold claims with zero first or even second hand knowledge. It’s clear you don’t really know Colorado College nor the quality and caliber of academics at the school. Fiske is one of the better guide books but even its info is limited in scope. If you think Colorado College is for ski bums and a less academic experience, you’re sorely misinformed.

Timing is interesting as I just got off a call this evening with a prominent leader in my state who has two kids - one attended one of the HYP universities, one attended Colorado College. She strongly feels her CC grad got the much better education.

You make a lot of assumptions.

From the Fiske Guide To Colleges 2020:

“There is a very large drug and alcohol presence on campus.” = in reference to Colorado College.

I know many CC grads.

I do not dislike CC. I just think that it is important to understand the campus culture of any small LAC. (CC has about 2,100 full time students.)

I appreciate the option of a college on the block plan = one course at a time followed by a long weekend break that facilities ski trips or other endeavors.

Comparing the academics at CC to Amherst College, Carleton College or as superior to Harvard, Yale and Princeton is unreasonable.

From the Fiske Guide To Colleges 2020:

Overlap schools for Colorado College:

Cornell College in Iowa (the other block plan school)

Univ. of Denver

Univ. of Colorado at Boulder

Univ. of Vermont

Lewis & Clark College

Whitman College



From the Fiske Guide To Colleges 2020:

Overlap schools for Carleton College: Bowdoin, Williams, Amherst, Pomona, Swarthmore, Macalester, Middlebury, & Brown.

Overlap schools for Amherst College: Williams, Middlebury, Colby, Yale, Brown, Harvard, Princeton, & Stanford.

Do I really need to list the overlap schools for Harvard, Yale, & Princeton ?

Honestly, what I conclude from that is that the Fiske Guide is probably wrong. A little wrong, at least. Not so much as to Amherst and Carleton, although I think comparatively it’s selling Carleton a little short there. But definitely as to Colorado College. Yes, there are probably a bunch of preppy skiers who compare it to the UVT honors program, and there are people in the West who compare it to other colleges in the West and are not so interested in being in New England. But from what I know, it is meaningfully superior academically and in terms of national repuation to all of the other LACs on its comparable list, whereas Amherst and Carleton are presented among a range of closer peers.

I don’t deny that Colorado College lacks some of the old-boy prestige of Amherst or Carleton, but so do some of the schools Fiske shows as their peers. I would put it in the same tier as Colby, Bates, Hamilton, Colgate, Grinnell, Davidson, Kenyon – really good colleges, all of them. Personally, I wouldn’t pay significantly more to go there than I would to go to Amherst or Carleton, but that wouldn’t be because I thought it was academically second-rate.

Also – I did not mean to suggest that non-athletes are uncomfortable at Amherst. Far from it; they all loved Amherst. I meant to question the OP’s son’s perception that somehow an athlete might not feel fully at home at Amherst. That’s just wrong.

Colorado College has acceptance rates easily on par with Amherst and lower than Carleton and all the other colleges mentioned in the posts above. It really is an up and coming school and has moved up the ladder when measured by many metrics - academics, selectivity, etc.

When one bases one’s advice on info gleaned from one guide book, it is very, very limiting. People can read guide books on their own.

Nobody asserts that CC is “second rate”; just that it is not on the same level academically as are Amherst, Carleton, Williams, Swarthmore and several other elite LACs. And certainly, LOL, not superior academically to Harvard, Yale or Princeton as another poster wrote based on third or fourth hand information.

The block plan at CC creates a lifestyle with very long weekends after every 25 day (3.5 weeks) term.

Allows for geat ski weekends–and other activities.

But anyone who denies that “there is a very large drug and alcohol presence on campus” simply doesn’t know CC.

@MohnGedachtnis: The overlap schools for Colorado College were supplied to the Fiske Guide To Colleges 2020 by Colorado College administrators.

From the Fiske Guide To Colleges 2020:

OVERLAPS: “As a service to readers, we [Fiske Guide editors] ask each school to give us the names of the colleges or universities that they consider to be their closest peer institutions and those with which they share the most common applications, and these are listed in the “Overlaps” section at the end of each write-up.”

Overlaps for Colorado College are: Cornell College in Iowa, University of Denver, Univ. of Colorado at Boulder, University of Vermont, Lewis & Clark College, Whitman College, USC, & Tulane.

P.S. This is in response to @MohnGedachtnis comment in post #11 above. The overlap schools are provided to the Fiske Guide by Colorado College administrators / admissions folks.

But does all of this talk about Colorado College relative to Amherst and Carleton based on the Fiske guide etc. really matter when Colorado College is probably too expensive for the OP anyway (see post #0 and reply #2)?

The thread title is:

“Amherst vs. Carleton vs. Colorado College.”

@ucbalumnus: Regarding your post #15.

Yes, it is critically important as OP is thinking about going into debt to pay for Colorado College when his other options–Amherst College & Carleton College–are significantly less expensive while offering outstanding academics.

Both my niece and her husband are CC grads. They loved their four years there. The block plan was perfect for my niece who when she was college age would get very stressed when having a lot of competing things on her plate. The only draw back, in her opinion, was if you happened to get sick for a few days - if was difficult to catch up.

They also weren’t that crazy about the city Colorado Springs. It’s quite conservative. They had to go to Boulder to hear their music.

They both wanted my S to look at CC but he had no interest in it (went to Bates, instead.)

Way back in my day Amherst was very, very preppy. No idea about now.

There are drugs and alcohol on every campus.

I don’t think CC is considered as difficult to get into as Amherst or Carleton. But, U of Colorado and UofDenver are definitely not in the same league as Colorado College. And I say that as a CU grad.

I think the overlap schools has to do with kids wanting to be in Colorado to ski.


All great options. Unfortunately the opportunity to experience first hand each campus “went away” in March.

I’m particularly fond of the academic and social experience that Amherst College and its consortium offers.