From a Rural Area, Child accepted to Ivy & top LAC , how to choose without visiting

I grew up on the East Coast and went to college in New England. My husband and I ended up taking jobs in a rural landlocked city. I never thought we would stay and raise kids here but economically it made sense and it was a very family friendly place. We have travelled with out kids and they know life outside of the area.

Most students go to the state colleges and the outcomes are low to no debt and good jobs so my child’s high school had almost no information on any school outside the state. Most teachers and staff have not heard of most of the colleges my child applied to. My child was accepted into 11 colleges and waitlisted at 6. We have no way to go and visit any of the colleges.

Of course my child’s top 2 schools she was waitlisted. This year I have no hope for the waitlist. So now we are trying to look at the pros and cons of the 7 she was admitted to that gave great financial aid packages.

My child seems a bit hung up on name recognition or just wanting to go to a college someone has heard of where we are from. I think she feels like she worked so hard to be #1 in her class, travel to compete and win awards, get a high ACT/SAT score and spent 100’s of hours doing volunteer work that almost no one knew about since it was one of those thankless behind the scenes jobs. I feel like she wants to to say my hard work paid off and I am going somewhere great. Every other top student at the school I know, accepted a full scholarship to the state university months ago.

I do not know if I am doing this the right way, but I have told her to focus on how the college will help her to get to career goals and where she would feel the most comfortable living and studying for 4 years.

Her goals are to go to med school or do research and become fluent in a second language. Neuroscience seems to be a top choice for a major because in high school her top 3 subjects she enjoyed and did very well in were Biology, Stats and Psychology. She would like a flexible neuroscience program that would let her choose her interest. Her second choice would be a double major in a Biology field and Stats. She would like to be able to keep playing her musical instrument but most likely not take any music classes so more of an activity and not competetive or part of a degree.

My child has the dream of her roommate being her BFF. She is wanting so badly to finally find people who are passionate about what they are studying and have simliar interests. While many of her high shcool classmates wanted good grades, very few wanted to sit and discuss a book or had academic interests outside of school. She is looking for a more collaborative them competetive enviroment. My child is not looking for a party school.
She is looking for a school that expectations for classes are clear and being able to get an A with hard work is possible. Grade deflation worries her. She is used to most of her classes or friends being boys because boys were more likely to take AP or STEM classes. Her high school not small , pre-COVID it had over 2500 students and class sizes were large. Our city is not small, it is just very landlocked.

The colleges that she is considering are Amherst, Columbia, Hamilton, Smith, Vassar, and Wellsely. One of these schools really wants her to attend , she had gotten an early letter from them so she likes that she is really wanted by this school but it is might not be the best match?

My concern as a parent (which my chid does not share) is how she will be thought of as coming from a rural area (since our area would be labelled conservative , my child is not conservative politically but some of the aspects of life in this area, like no drinking, smoking, drugs, dating and working very hard at school, work or your talents are part of who she is).

My child’s main concern a good education without super high stress or competetive enviroment and being able to get into med school or graduate school.

I have found no alumni in our area that went to any of the schools she is considering. All interviews my child got were from alumni living hundreds of miles away.

My first impression is Amherst.

How does she feel about women’s colleges like Smith and Wellesley if most of her friends are boys? Or does she want that to change?

Columbia is big and in NYC. The only one of her choices that is in a big city with an urban campus. Is that her preference?

Vassar is reputed to be good for music extracurriculars and artsy.

Amherst is a top school for academics, has an open curriculum, has great financial aid and makes an effort toward diversity that includes geographic. The area is a wonderful area for students. The 5 college consortium includes UMass, Smith, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke and Hampshire. We were so impressed with it on our visits. If she wants prestige and a “name” Amherst has it among “those who know.”

Of course Columbia is an Ivy and Amherst is a “little Ivy” (google it). They are two very different schools in two very different locations so that choice would seem to be easy.

I think she would find like-minded peers who like to discuss books and ideas at any of these schools.


If she doesn’t want a high stress or competitive environment and wants to maximize chances for med school I would lean towards Amherst, Hamilton and Vassar. Columbia and Wellesley are relatively high stress/competitive and definitely don’t have grade inflation…I’m less sure about Smith, hopefully another poster will comment.

All of the schools on the list will have students who attend parties, and some of them will drink, do drugs, and/or hook up…that will happen at most colleges, unless one attends a religious or other conservative school. With that said, she should be able to find like-minded people at all of these schools.

Are all of these schools affordable with no more than Federal Student Loans ($27K max total for 4 years)?

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Those are all excellent options, as you know. It really comes down to vibe. Has your daughter done any of the virtual tours? Talked to current students? Does she prefer city or suburb/town?

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First of all, would all of them cost about the same amount of money for you? Can you afford any and all of these schools? Are they worth more to her than the free ride or free tuition that I assume she’s being offered at your flagship state U?

Secondly, would she be happy at a women’s college? Smith and Wellesley are women’s colleges. As someone who at that age related better to men than women, I would never have chosen a women’s college.

Would she be happy in an urban environment? All of the schools are suburban or small town, except for Columbia, which is in a very urban environment, on the Upper West Side of NYC. Columbia does have a campus, and so does Barnard, across the street, where she could also take classes.

None of these schools are going to be drunken bacchanal schools. To get into them, the students had to work really very hard - there will be plenty of people who are smart, work hard, and don’t party to excess. But plenty of people will be sexually active, drink some, do some drugs, even smoke or vape. She won’t be the only one not doing any of these things, but none of them are like BYU or Liberty University. If she announces to others that she doesn’t date because of her values, that would be considered unusual at any of these schools. But if she doesn’t want to date because of her values, as long as she doesn’t announce this, she’ll be fine.

I think that if she wants a big school with a prestigious name, in an urban environment, with lots of potential majors, then it’s Columbia. If she wants an all-women school (which I don’t think she does), then Wellesley or Smith. If she wants a co-ed LAC, I think that Amherst offers a lot, first of all because it’s a leading LAC (although the others are very comparable), but also because of the 5 college consortium. Amherst is right next to UMass Amherst, the flagship state U for Massachusetts, so if she wants to take a class that Amherst doesn’t offer, it’s a mile walk, or very quick bus ride, or short bike ride away. Smith, Mt. Holyoke, and Hampshire are also in that consortium, about a 20 minute free bus ride away.

I don’t know if any of the LACs would be considered to be less competitive in pre-med classes, than any of the others. I suspect that she would find less competition at her flagship state U. I think that she will find intelligent, passionate learners at any of these schools.

Columbia has a lot of neuroscience research opportunities, but the LACs may, too. But Columbia is a major medical research center, with PhD neuroscience researchers, with labs where she can volunteer. It doesn’t have the intimacy of the LACs, but I don’t think that they can match the resources of a major academic research institution.

Does any of this help you to narrow down the list?


These are all good options. Are they all affordable without parents taking out loans?

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If she is conservative in personal habits (which is not necessarily the same as conservative in political beliefs*), then most colleges will have some cohort of students with similar personal habits. However, some may have more of a “drinking culture” than others, as described at , so she may be less happy at a college that (for example) has a social scene focused on high levels of fraternity and sorority participation (this does not appear to describe the listed colleges, but some “peer” schools like Dartmouth have that reputation).

*For example, in the linked paper, it is noted that some demographics of students (e.g. Black, Asian, female) tend to drink less alcohol. You may note that these groups tend to be less likely to be politically conservative.

Regarding academic aspects of colleges, the list includes Columbia with a large core curriculum and others with much less restrictive out-of-major requirements. A core curriculum that has substantial requirements not overlapping with her major and other academic interests can be a chore if her academic interests would require a high volume of courses (two majors, advanced foreign language, possibly music). Also, additional required courses may be somewhat riskier for a pre-med who needs to chase A grades by sticking to courses that are in the areas of academic strength and interest.

In terms of competitive environment, pre-med anywhere will be relatively competitive compared to the rest of the school.


You should find it favorable that your daughter received offers from 4 of the 10 schools that appear in this Forbes article:

Based on the way you have described your daughter and her interests, Vassar, Hamilton, or Amherst could make a great destination. Her challenge at this stage arises only from an excess of great choices, it seems.


We live in a semirural area. It’s not really near any large city or urban area. Both of our kids went to college in urban areas because they really wanted to experience city life, and all it had to offer (precovid). They never felt out of place that we heard. Actually both loved their college experiences…and also liked coming home to visit.

Again, Amherst has an open curriculum. Just thinking that might mean she could major in anything and still have room for premed prerequisites if she still has the same goal in 4 years (and many change!).


All the schools cost about the same and no loans would be needed at any. The financial aid was very good. The state U would actually cost us more because of health insurance costs. Our state schools do not offer health insurance and these schools we are choosing between had either low cost options or options included in finanacial aid .

With respect to premed, you might find it reassuring that Hamilton, Amherst and Columbia appear in this site:

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We looked closely at Amherst open curriculum and no minors. The neuroscience major is 14 or 17 classes (with or without research or honors) and the language is 6 classes for fleuncy or 10 for a double major since they offer no minor. Then pre-med requirements, some of which overlap with neuroscience , leaves very few if any room to explore or take any other classes. The open curriculum sounds great but with no minors , is gets tricky , do you double major or just have one major no minor?

Amherst is on the top of the list but I wonder where she would fit in. They are the school that has had the least amount of get to know you type events. So we watched all the videos we could find, and I wondered is it clicky? competetive?

By survey results, Amherst students of different types don’t appear to interact particularly readily:

By itself, this wouldn’t seem sufficient to discourage your daughter from considering Amherst, however.

Regardless of college, it may be better to focus on:

  • Major.
  • Pre-med courses not included in major, if still interested in pre-med.
  • Any other courses of interest, without worrying about a minor or second major.

Thank you for this survey. This is the feeling I got by watching random videos on the college. I saw no one like my child in any video and wondered where would they fit in because groups seemed very defined. My child is not wanting 1,000 friends just a few close friends and a good group of students to study with and that is why I started to question Amherst.
The school that gave the worst finanacial aid , WPI seem to have so many students proactivitly reach out but it is just way out of our budget.
Smith and Mt Holyoke (which is off the table right now) had the nicest students or places that I could see my daughter finding people with simliar interests and that would be supportive of her academics. When looking at all women’s colleges , Wellesley seems to offer a pretty ideal location for her (safe small town but near the big city) and great academics and outcomes, and by far the nicest financial aid staff, but the feeling it is more competetive and the grade deflation is a concern (plus 8 PE credits, no exceptions would worry me due to a rare genetic condition, finding 8 credits would be a huge worry).
Hamilton being the most rural school, has an opportunity she could countine something she has loved doing since middle school and really help the community. Hamilton is a school I know the least about. My husband got a job offer in upstate NY and took my daughter on the trip and that is when someone brought up Hamilton. My child toured some of the local high schools and she knows she could help a program they have there so she applied to Hamilton. This is one school I wished she could have visited.

There are some active Hamilton parents here. I would start a thread with Hamilton in the title.

My dd will be at Hamilton this fall. She sounds very similar to your dd in what she is looking for in a campus/college experience. She was accepted last year, but choose to do a gap year. We visited the campus twice and that is what really sold her on the school. The students strike me as being passionate and very intellectually interesting, but it was their welcoming vibe that really sold my daughter. She felt immediately at home on the campus.

I have been watching how they have dealt with the pandemic and have been super impressed with the communication and efforts made be the entire staff to give their students a safe and meaningful college experience in these crazy times.

They also operate on an open curriculum, which really excites my daughter. She is very much looking forward to creating her own path forward without the constraints of gen ed requirements.

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@ProfSD ? Can you help?

No this list is “Based on how strongly students agree that different types of students interact frequently and easily at their schools.” (

The title of the survey is misleading and caused you to have it backwards. Amherst is ranked #3 for rate of interaction.

Not sure I would base choices on either med school plans or neuroscience. Neuroscience can be studied in grad school and premed can be done postbacc
(one example Post-Baccalaureate Premed Program | Goucher College though you would pay for the latter. Many kids change their minds.

For undergrad I would go with the best experience academically and socially, since finances are okay at all schools. So if women’s colleges are out, it seems to be a choice between city (Columbia), rural but with consortium (Amherst) or suburban (Vassar). I don’t know that much about Hamilton but would take Amherst over that.

Amherst is a tippy top school but friendly and inclusive, from what I have heard. Great town and UMass, other schools nearby. If she wants larger and wants city, Columbia.