Amherst vs Williams vs Bowdoin vs Middlebury

I’ve been looking into the differences between Amherst, Williams, Bowdoin and Middlebury (and Dartmouth, but it stands out more between the rest.) they are all ~2000 students, pretty athletic/ outdoorsy schools in New England, in remote locations (Bowdoin more suburban though). So what are the differences?
I’ve always thought of as Williams as the most sporty / preppy out of the rest, but otherwise all these schools seems rather identical in student body/ offerings/ academics/ social life.

There are obviously a lot of similarities. Many people apply to all of these schools, as well as schools like Bates and Colby (in Maine) and Hamilton and Colgate (in upstate New York).

Dartmouth stands out by its (relatively) larger size, Ivy League affiliation, engineering, graduate programs, and Division I sports. The LACs have generally abolished their Greek systems, so the continued existence of frats and sororities at Dartmouth is a big differentiator in terms of social life.

Amherst is the least remote and most suburban. It is part of the 5-College consortium, with literally tens of thousands of college students nearby. Probably the best social opportunities, perhaps better if you are male, given the proximity of Smith and MHC. Open curriculum appeals strongly to some.

Middlebury is in a small and isolated town near the mountains. Noticeably larger than the other LACs (though still much smaller than Dartmouth). Very strong for languages.

Williams is in an even smaller and more isolated town, even closer to the mountains. All of these schools have high rates of participation in athletics and outdoor activities, but Williams is particularly noted for this, perhaps because other entertainment options in Williamstown are limited. Very strong for physics/math. Also art history, perhaps because the only other thing in town is an art museum.

Have not visited Bowdoin. It is the only coastal option, has private island for marine research. Noted for goverment and legal studies program.

Amherst and Williams are particularly wealthy (on a per-student basis) and tend to offer the best financial aid, but your mileage may vary.

Many LACs have a surplus of female applicants. This disparity is particularly pronounced at Midd and Bowdoin, and least apparent at Dartmouth and Williams.

While these schools may seem similar on paper, people who visit often form distinct preferences for one or another. So it’s important to visit if at all possible. My impression is that the Williams campus generates particularly polarized reactions.

@Corbett I couldn’t agree more. It’s weird that the schools seem/are so similar yet impressions vary so widely. My daughter loved Middlebury and Bowdoin, was turned off by Williams, Amherst, and Dartmouth. She didn’t want to apply to W/A/D as Williams seemed too “intense”, Amherst too “snooty”, and Dartmouth too “fratty”. She couldn’t be happier at Middlebury but in reality I think she would have also been happy at any of the other schools regardless of those first impressions. But I do agree that visiting campuses is valuable, even if impressions have little actual/factual merit, as they can help differentiate among seemingly very similar options. Who knows what will appeal and what will deter.

In terms of social life:

Amherst, Bowdoin, and Williams prohibit students from joining fraternities and sororities. Middlebury has a remnant of such in its coed social houses. In contrast, the Dartmouth fraternity and sorority scene is prominent, with about two thirds of eligible students (half of all students) joining them (eligibility begins in one’s second year).

Regarding engineering at Dartmouth, note that the ABET-accredited engineering programs (BE degree) usually take more than 4 academic years (more than 12 quarters).

Visiting definitely seems like a good way to figure out what I’d like. However, how good of a sense do you get just from a visit (even in terms of student life)? I visited Tufts and I didn’t really like it at all, but I have no idea if that means that it’s not the school I would be the happiest at.

Thanks @corbett. That is very helpful

Williams seems more sporty, a little too small, and a little too isolated. I am in the 100,000+ bracket, and female. Does gender really influence the admission process significantly? @Corbett

Statistically, gender does appear to factor significantly into admissions decisions at some colleges:

At some schools, yes.

Example: for Fall 2016, Middlebury got 3,745 male applicants and 5,074 female applicants. So women outnumbered men by 35% in the applicant pool.

But Middlebury doesn’t want an imbalance like that in the enrolled class. So Middlebury accepted women at a lower rate, to ensure that the gender ratio among the accepted students was closer to even. The acceptance rates were 19% for men and 14% for women.

Obviously those are tough odds for both men and women. But still, the acceptance rate was 35% higher for men, which seems like a “significant” difference.

Note that there also schools (often with a reputation for engineering) that have male-dominated applicant pools, and which accept women at higher rates.

@jujunette01 When he said wealthy, he didn’t mean that the students are wealthy. He meant that the school is wealthy. Amherst and Williams have over a million dollars in endowment per student, and by that measure are among the ten richest schools in the country (Amherst is No. 6, Williams is No. 9.) This means lots of financial aid, activities, and academic support.

Amherst actually is the most economically and racially diverse elite college in the country, and Williams isn’t that far behind. There are rich kids there, but there also are poor kids and everything in between.

That is correct: the point is that the schools are wealthy. And since Amherst and Williams are so wealthy, they actually have more economic diversity among the student body than most other LACs, because they are better able to provide financial aid to middle- and lower-income students.

Just to keep this in perspective, this does not necessarily mean that Amherst or Williams would be considered economically or racially diverse compared to, say, UC Irvine or CUNY-City College.

@jujunette01, I wouldn’t characterize Williams as being any more or less sporty than the others on your list, though the mountain village setting does lend itself to outdoorsy activities. “Preppy” is to me a pretty much meaningless label these days at selective schools as there’s so much emphasis on diversity on all levels including at prep schools themselves.

What really stands out at Williams as a point of differentiation from its peers is its focus on the arts — both visual art (the Clark and MassMoCA museums and the outstanding Art History and Studio programs) and performing arts (the Williamstown Theater, The Berkshire Symphony, and Williams’ many student ensembles and beautiful performance venues).

Opportunity to get involved in arts related activities even for non-majors significantly impacts campus culture and students who balance academics, sports or outdoorsy activities and arts participation are common.

Williams, Amherst and Bowdoin appear committed to adhering to a traditionally established LAC size of about 2000 students or less while still offering wide-ranging academic and athletic programs. This would be an element in favor of these schools in my opinion, particularly for students decisive in their preference for a classic small college experience.

^There’s nothing “traditional” about the size of a liberal arts college. Before World War II, most of them would have been bumping up against 500 students. The next threshold would have been the fantastic number of one thousand post-War seats for returning veterans. The looming baby boom generation doubled it again. Diversity, sports hooks, gender parity and other issues pushed such venerable institutions as Vassar, Wesleyan, Smith, Middlebury, and Oberlin well past the 2000 mark a long time ago.

Re #15, Beyond a certain point, however, signs can be found – whether or not they can matched to exact enrollment thresholds – that indicate that some larger liberal arts colleges have exceeded the ideals of their models. As one example, some appear to have created a need for residential divisions in what seems like an effort at recapturing their former social atmospheres. (Nontheless, some LACs have indeed created strong, successful identifies at somewhat larger sizes – but none of these schools, including the venerable Middlebury, were the particular object of my earlier reply.)

@merc81 wrote:

I have no idea what you just said.

If you’re a more social type, Amherst would be the best bet simply because of the consortium. You’d have access to thousands of other college students. At Williams and Midd, you’re really limited to whoever happens to be on campus at any given time. Williamstown and Middlebury are TINY and don’t offer much besides the bare minimum. Minuscule college towns like that can be claustrophobia inducing after freshman year, once the novelty of college has worn off a bit. I’m not as familar with Bowdoin but it’s not far from Portland, which is a very cool little city.

I could have matched object to my plural subject, none/not any, but otherwise I’m satisfied with my writing there, @circuitrider. Though it’s not for everyone, I can see that now.