Comparing LU to liberal arts colleges in Northeast

My son has been accepted to LU and he’s currently comparing it to Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY and Allegheny College in Meadsville, PA. LU and Allegheny are both “colleges that change lives.” HWS could probably be considered similarly. We live in New England but I grew up in the Midwest and am familiar with Lawrence. What are thoughts for a nice kid, involved, B student, interested in history, humanities and theater?

I am in New England and was very impressed with Lawrence when I visited. I think it would be much more selective if it was geographically located in the northeast.

Sounds like an interesting topic. Let’s see if we can get East coast @clarinet13mom to share her perspective!

I’d love to hear some responses on this too. D was accepted to several east coast schools and we made one (long) trip to visit three of them, but haven’t been able to visit LU.

I really can’t talk about other schools besides Allegheny College, but I plan on attending (huge aid package) for class of 2019 and when I went to a overnight event they said the sciences and I think business are usually supported the most out of all majors. But I saw there had a lot of extracurricular in theater and drama, and also at Allegheny College you have to pick a major and a minor that’s opposite from your major if that means anything.

I’ll admit I have a soft spot for Lawrence because of its right brain - left brain, somewhat artsier approach (perhaps influenced by the conservatory) and the fact that the atmosphere is friendly and relatively laid back. People I know who went there decades ago still are enthusiastic, loyal supporters. That said, looks like son is choosing Hobart and William Smith for more of a New England vibe. And it is easier to get there for us. Ah well, if that’s what’s right for him. Can’t go wrong with any of the three he’s comparing.

Oh no, I missed this post and didn’t get to weigh in in enough time haha! Well, I DO agree that if Lawrence was located here on the east coast it would be more selective. I think I read in CTCL that if it was on the east coast it would be called Williams. Anyway, I think the location is a bit of a factor for some easterners though I can say that the winters here have been worse the past two years! The travel has not been an issue-she hops on a plane for breaks (which are consolidated due to trimester) and we do the drive at the beginning and end of the year when the weather is great. Appleton is a cool little city too. Personally, we have appreciated the Midwestern vibe over the New England vibe. If he changes his mind…it’s not May 1st yet haha.

LOL if winters were the prime factor, Allegheny and Clark would definitely be out ;-). Snow and cold aren’t big issues for son, growing up in Massachusetts. But he’s been giving it a lot of thought and said he feels more like he fits in at HWS. So much for my and husband’s Midwestern roots (although D loves Carleton). Mixed feelings but it’s his choice and perhaps the emphasis on civic and world engagement (he’s a political junkie too) with HWS’s president Mark Gearan was a factor. But I’m glad your daughter loves Lawrence. It’s a great school.

Best of luck to him. All we want as parents is for them to be happy! HWS has that pretty lake too, right? New York State is certainly beautiful, that’s for sure.

I’ve been to a number of campuses of East Coast liberal arts colleges and also visited Lawrence for a day and a half. My impression, based on admittedly limited information, is that there are real differences between Lawrence and similarly sized colleges located on the East Coast. Many of those differences favor Lawrence but some don’t.

Until recently, I had never even heard of Lawrence, or maybe I had confused it with two other colleges in New York state with similar names. Knowing what I know now, I’m amazed at how rarely Lawrence is discussed among high school students and high school counselors outside the Midwest. I think some high school seniors who focus exclusively on East Coast colleges and don’t apply to Lawrence are making a big mistake. Other posters on College Confidential have speculated that Lawrence would be much more selective if it were located on the East Coast. I agree, but I think there’s another more relevant point. There are probably dozens (maybe hundreds) of students graduating from high school every year who did not apply to Lawrence and are going to enroll in an East Coast liberal arts college, even though, if they had known about Lawrence and visited it, they would concluded that Lawrence was a better fit. Lawrence isn’t for everybody, but it’s really a great place, especially for people who want to attend a liberal arts college in a city or people who want to attend a liberal arts college with strong music offerings that are accessible to all students.

One of the most important differences between Lawrence and most East Coast colleges of comparable size is that Lawrence admits and then attracts an unusually wide range of students in terms of high school academic credentials. Lawrence resembles many of the colleges featured in the book “Colleges that Change Lives” in this respect. The top students who matriculate at Lawrence are academically very gifted and could thrive anywhere. But Lawrence also admits some students who have struggled a little. My impression is that all Lawrence students receive plenty of individual attention, but even so, Lawrence appears to be very challenging for some of its students.

Another difference is that, physically, Lawrence has less of a country-club feel than most of its East Coast counterparts. Lawrence is pretty, and several of the buildings are truly gorgeous, but if you’ve seen campuses like Swarthmore, Haverford, Vassar, Hamilton, Middlebury, Amherst, Williams, Wellesley or Bowdoin, you probably won’t be all that impressed by Lawrence’s grounds, classroom buildings or dorms. Lawrence’s chapel/auditorium and Lawrence’s new student center are as nice as any campus buildings you’ll find pretty much anywhere, but the dorms are only so-so, and the landscaping is nothing to write home about, from what I could see.

There are also social differences. Lawrence’s student body seemed surprisingly diverse, but my sense was that the majority came from Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, including quite a few from rural areas. East Coast liberal arts colleges often attract quite a few students from private schools on the East Coast and from public high schools located in wealthy suburbs surrounding East Coast cities. Lawrence does not attract nearly as many students from those schools, though it still attracts some. (It also attracts some from the Midwestern equivalents, i.e., students from the wealthy districts around Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis and Detroit.)

If the Eastern liberal arts colleges tend to resemble miniature versions of Harvard, Yale or Princeton, Lawrence tends to resemble a miniature version of the University of Wisconsin, the University of Michigan or the University of Chicago. There’s a lot of school pride. There’s a keen sense of school history. There’s very a very strong intellectual culture in which many or most students enthusiastically and successfully participate. But you don’t get the sense that our country’s most powerful families routinely send their kids to Lawrence, or that the most ambitious high school seniors in the country have identified Lawrence as one of the colleges they most want to attend.

Lawrence does not feel elitist, but make no mistake about it, Lawrence is offering a very good and very rigorous education. Everywhere you go on campus, you see students studying and talking seriously about school. The academic facilities are nice. The college’s graduate school placement is famously outstanding. (More on that in another post.)

Lawrence also has an arts scene that few East Coast liberal arts colleges can match. Skidmore, Vassar and Wesleyan probably are similar in many ways, but, unlike Lawrence, none of those has a conservatory. Bard has a conservatory and a robust arts scene but it is in the middle of the woods, and also may not attract the same variety of non-arts-focused students. The sheer quantity of performing arts and other types of art at Lawrence is pretty amazing, given the small size of the school and the fact that the college also attracts lots of non-arts-focused students and also fields lots of sports teams.

Lawrence has plenty of DIII sports teams but the athletes are not usually of the same caliber as the athletes at the top NESCAC colleges. I understand that “walking on” to teams is often possible. From what I gathered, Lawrence students who are not athletes follow the ups and downs of their school’s teams less closely than do non-athletes at most NESCAC colleges, where sports tend to be a bigger deal.

Appleton is not exactly a picturesque city, but it is surprisingly interesting, and it is a real city that people from around the region go to for all kinds of reasons. Appleton is not a little “Podunk” town. Few towns that are home to liberal arts colleges on the East Coast offer anything close to what Appleton offers in terms of urban life. (The one exception that comes to mind is Saratoga Springs, where Skidmore is located, which in my opinion is nicer than Appleton.) Appleton’s main street, called College Avenue, runs right through Lawrence’s campus.

On the other hand, Appleton is not a great place to be if you want to jump out of bed and onto a nature trail.

I noted in my prior post that Lawrence has a great record of graduate school placement. Several Midwestern liberal arts colleges (Carleton, Grinnell, Oberlin, Macalester, Beloit, Kalamazoo, Wooster, Earlham etc.) are known for this.

Here’s a link to an article that discusses science PhD production by liberal arts colleges:
The Colleges Where PhD’s Get Their Start by Lynn O’Shaughnessy

Here’s a list of the top 50 producers of science PhDs, controlling for size of graduating class, as of a few years ago:

1.Cal Tech
2.Harvey Mudd College
4.Reed College
5.Swarthmore College
6.Carleton College
7.University of Chicago
8.Grinnell College
9.Rice University
10.Princeton University
11.Harvard University
12.Bryn Mawr College
13.Haverford College
14.Pomona College
15.New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology
16.Williams College
17.Yale Univeristy
18.Oberlin College
19.Stanford University
20.Johns Hopkins University
21.Kalamazoo College
22.Cornell University
23.Case Western Reserve
24.Washington College
25.Brown University
26.Wesleyan University
27.Carnegie Mellon University
28.Macalester College
29.Amherst College
30.Duke University
31.Beloit College
32.Bowdoin College
33.Wellesley College
34.Ressenlaer Polytechnic Institute
35.Earlham College
36.Franklin and Marshall College
37.Lawrence University
38.University of Rochester
39.University of California-Berkeley
40.Dartmouth College
41.Occidental College
42.Hendrix College
43.Vassar College
44.Trinity University
45.College of William and Mary
46.St. John College
47.Bates College
48.Whitman College
49.Brandeis University
50.Hampshire College

This is list not as useful if you consider that some schools produce many doctorates in a specific subject (e.g. Beloit sends lots off to get a Phd in Anthropology; physics, not so much).

Having spoken with a professor who teaches in the life science department at Lawrence, I can confirm he felt the school attracts a broader range of students (we were both touring at Grinnell, which attracts an exceedingly different kind of student). I can’t help but wonder if the school needs more regional admission boots on the ground in HS. No one has heard much of them and we aren’t THAT far away. Those that have knew the music program only.

My one concern about Allegheny for one of my kids was that it required a senior thesis. I did a senior thesis in college and it was a great experience but I worry about the compulsory nature of it, that for some kids it might feel like this sword hanging over their heads for 4 years. Also, if every senior must do one, does that water down the experience, decrease the time working with a thesis senior since each faculty member must have numerous advisees, etc…So, if your son is considering Allegheny, of which I’ve heard positive things, he should at least consider that.

@TytoAlba Beloit (and Lawrence) did register reasonably high on a list of schools that produce graduates who go on to get Science & Engineering PhDs specifically, but I’m not sure of the methodology. (But I guess that’s not what the OP is looking for anyway.)

Lawrence is known for its physics department, St. Olaf for math etc. so in total they rank but a student looking for a specific subject needs to dig into the details. The article lifts that data from research conducted by this organization…

I went back and looked at the PhD production data a while ago. As I recall, Lawrence’s science PhDs seemed more evenly distributed among departments than Beloit’s, which were skewed a bit toward biology-related subjects. I don’t recall whether anthropology counted, but I think probably not. Incidentally, Beloit just built an incredible new science building. I would hang out there even if I took no science classes. That might matter to some people and also might have an effect on the relative PhD productions of Lawrence and Beloit over the next few years.

By the way, I responded to a separate post comparing Beloit and Lawrence. I provided a lot more detail. I think they are both great. I probably would choose either of them over most East Coast liberal arts colleges.

After I wrote my post on December 5, I thought a little harder about whether Lawrence might be preferable to the NESCAC colleges I’ve seen, Skidmore, Vassar, Bard or Hobart. I think that for a number of people, the answer is almost definitely yes, even if they generally would prefer to be on the East Coast.

If you would prefer to be in a city, and not just a quaint college town, you should seriously consider Lawrence. While I think Appleton is not as nice as Saratoga Springs, NY (Skidmore), I think I would prefer Appleton to Geneva, NY (Hobart), and I definitely would prefer it to Poughkeepsie, NY (Vassar), Middletown, CT (Wesleyan), Lewiston, ME (Bates), and most of the other small cities I can think of that are home to liberal arts colleges. Also, the Green Bay Packers’ stadium is only about 20 minutes away, if that matters.

If you really care about music (classical especially), and you also care about having individualized, rigorous and highly respected academic opportunities (in the sciences and social sciences especially), you should seriously consider Lawrence. I was thinking back to my tour of the music buildings and Memorial Chapel. The chapel has to be seen to be believed. A student was practicing on the organ and I didn’t want to leave. It took my breath away.

Lawrence’s campus as a whole is not as idyllic as the campuses of the majority of the elite East Coast liberal arts colleges I’ve seen, or even Beloit’s, it’s still very nice. The student center, with its many views of the Fox River, is a really nice place to eat and hang out.

High school counselors should take note and get a Lawrence poster up on the bulletin board! And, as somebody else said, Lawrence should get the word out to the counselors!

@AmazingBlue can you link to the phd by subject area data? I’m looking for that in the world of the internet can’t find where I saw it originally.

We’ve visited Beloit and toured the science center. It’s very new. Beloit does lack a student union which is rather conspicuous in its absence. Other facilities are much older. The Art program particularly suffers from lack of space and the facilities were run down. Anthropology is its jewel program and it does show. Lawrence’s surrounding town is much more vibrant that the area around Beloit, which is almsot entirely residential and the down town area very small.

TytoAlba, I agree that there are some clear differences between Lawrence and Beloit, but they share many similarities that might make both of them serious contenders for students who otherwise would consider only colleges on the East Coast.

To to really stir things up, I think somebody should write a comparison of Lawrence to Bard or Bowdoin, or Beloit to Vassar or Bates, etc. The knee-jerk elitists among us will say that such comparisons are pointless, since the average SAT and ACT scores for Lawrence and Beloit are materially lower than the averages for the other colleges I mentioned, and the USNWR rankings are also lower. But I think people rely on such numbers way too much. Every year, some really smart people turn down more selective colleges (e.g., Grinnell, Oberlin, Macalester) to go to Lawrence and Beloit, and I think such side-by-side comparisons with some East Coast colleges would help explain why that it so.

You asked about the PhD production data. To drill down into the data, you have to spend a few minutes (like, 30 to 90 minutes) making your own table using the data on this site:

Using the site was not completely intuitive, at least for me, and I can’t remember exactly how I made my tables. The process involved a lot of trial and error. But if you do it, you will almost certainly find that, at least in recent years, Lawrence comes out behind Grinnell but ahead of Beloit in per-capita science PhD production, and that Beloit’s recently-produced science PhDs are noticeably more concentrated in a few fields, such as biology.

I’m not sure whether Beloit called its student activities building a “student union,” but Beloit does have a building where many clubs meet that also has a very cool coffee house in the basement. I liked it a lot, inside and out. The building was old and had character. It’s one of the more prominent buildings on campus, near the administration building. But it was separate from the dining hall and it was nothing like the cross-roads of the Lawrence student center. I sensed that almost everyone went to the Lawrence student center multiple times per day and many students spent hours there. Lawrence’s student center is really a wonderful communal space. However, Beloit had more communal spaces in the dorms, which generally seemed to be better maintained that Lawrence’s. The communal spaces in the Beloit science building were also very nice.

I liked downtown Beloit but many of the places I liked most in downtown Beloit are closed by 8pm. There’s far less to do at night in downtown Beloit than in downtown Appleton. There’s also less to do during the day, but the gap isn’t as noticeable.

From what I could see, Beloit had nice arts and performance facilities but Lawrence’s were, for the most part, even nicer. I did like Beloit’s new arts building in downtown Beloit, about 3 blocks from campus, which used to be the public library.

If I were to pick Lawrence over Beloit, I would pick Lawrence because: Appleton is more interesting than Beloit, the music and arts offerings are stronger at Lawrence, the science programs, with the possible exception of bio, seem stronger at Lawrence, and a higher percentage of the students at Lawrence seem very serious about their fields of study.

If I were to pick Beloit over Lawrence, I would pick Beloit because the campus and downtown Beloit are both a little more open and pretty than their counterparts to the North, the Beloit students are unbelievably friendly and mutually supportive, the culture seems intellectually serious but exceptionally collaborative and non-competitive, the student body is exceptionally diverse, Beloiters generally seem very happy, bio and anthro are very strong, and the cities of Madison and Chicago are easily accessed by public transportation.

But as I said, I think the most interesting discussion that still needs to be had is East versus Midwest, not Lawrence versus Beloit.

Thank you. I actually called the SED survey writers and they generously sent me the entire data set sorted by all the different Phd categories. Wow. Time saver!