The Apker Award has been handicapped for decades to help LACs, in fact one of the two named students each year must be from a non-Ph.D granting institution. Amherst is an extremely strong LAC, with some of the brightest students in the US, so it is not surprising that Amherst (along with Williams and certain other LACs) is well represented among Apker finalists.
However, in a head-to-head matchup, as implied in the post above, MIT physics students are simply in a different, and higher, league than those of Amherst. Bigger gap than between the majors and the minors in baseball in my opinion. YMMV.
This represents a misunderstanding in my opinion. In years in which the “weaker” candidates arise from universities, the award will create an advantage for one of these finalists. In any case, before the award was divided by institutional type, Amherst produced the second recipient, before any from MIT. Hamilton, Reed and Macalester also graduated recipients during this “open” era.
Let’s get back to the OPs question of Amherst v Middlebury
Well, IIRC, the deadline for ED has passed for both schools. And, for the record: Wesleyan is the only LAC that has beaten MIT for the Apker prize since it was divided by institutional type (because Wesleyan has a PhD program in physics.) In fact, they’ve done so three times.
WOOT for my first post-new platform CC post!
EDIT: Came across this ranking for Physics baccalaureates:
25 Best Bachelor’s in Physics for 2021 – Bachelors Degree Center
Oh, Amherst. No question.