Hamilton vs. Colby - key distinguishing features

I’m trying to sort out the key distinguishing features between Hamilton and Colby, which seem to me in many respects quite similar, and of course being unable to participate in on-campus admitted student events makes some of the subtler distinctions hard to parse.

If you had to identify top reasons why any given student might choose one over the other, all other things being equal (neither the cost nor distance are significant in our case), that would be helpful. Is there a particular type of student who thrives (or flounders) at one vs. the other?

The presence or absence of Greek life might be one factor, but my sense is that Greek life isn’t a huge thing at Hamilton, and that it merely hidden at Colby. (Accurate or no?)

For this particular student, a beautiful campus, an outdoorsy, collaborative vibe, and opportunities to explore visual arts as a non-major are pluses, but I think both schools check that box – perhaps one more than the other? Major undecided, though it would be useful to note particular strengths and weaknesses. (My perception is that Hamilton is particularly strong in writing, but I don’t think Colby’s exactly a slacker in that respect.)

Did either handle the pandemic particularly well? Particularly strong or weak in student wellness or career counseling? Travel abroad? Project-based learning?

Really having trouble coming up with a reason to pick one over the other (and there’s a third in the mix, separate category), though Hamilton does seem to have a somewhat less compelling mascot, and possibly a steeper hill?

All insights (especially recent ones) appreciated.

This recent letter discusses aspects of Hamilton’s pandemic response:


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S18 is at Colby and was also admitted to Hamilton. I wish I had a glaring differences to report, but in the end he just felt more at home at Colby. I really think that it was the admitted student event at Colby (prior to Covid, kids got to spend an overnight on campus, attend classes, etc.) that won him over. I don’t have much to add about Hamilton, but can try to answer some of your questions with the Colby perspective.

Did either handle the pandemic particularly well?

Colby has done an exceptional job at managing Covid. Right from the start, they were committed to having kids on campus and spent about $10 million to make it happen successfully. Their communication throughout has been great.

Particularly strong or weak in student wellness or career counseling?

Regarding wellness, Colby just opened a new athletic center that is beyond amazing. Even during Covid, access to the facilities has not been a problem. I would say S18 is there 5 days a week.

Career Counseling - I would say you get out what you put in. S18 knows the director very well. She seems to be a strong resource and true cheerleader. The profs are a great resource as well. S18 has an exciting summer internship that was put in motion due to an introduction made by a professor (who is actually on sabbatical this year but still takes the time to come to campus and meet up with students.)

Project-based learning?

S18 does lots of projects. I am not sure if it is a result of his majors (CS/Econ) or if this is something that happens across all majors.

Regarding greek life - there are definitely underground frats at Colby. S18 says it is a very small part of the student body that participates and they are not very popular or have a large presence on campus.

Good luck with the decision. Both are great schools, you can’t go wrong!

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I think a big difference is the required courses at Colby vs. open curriculum at Hamilton. My student at Hamilton was able to intensely focus on his major and 2 minors because he did not have to take required courses across the curriculum. It also meant that everyone in the class really wanted to be there and was interested in the subject. That’s the reason he chose Hamilton and it has proven to be a real upside for him. It also allowed him to satisfy his major/minor requirements and study abroad.


My kid liked the distribution requirements at Colby because he knew he could do some “sampling” with profs who were trying to excite students about their department and that he could try something brand new and know that he wouldn’t be the only one in the class who was new to the topic. He loved Jan Plan for the same reason.

I think this is one of the biggest differences between the two and there are valid reasons on both sides.

Culturally, Colby is a little more New England and Hamilton is a little more NY.


Hamilton has the older campus look and feel (Colby is presently occupying its second campus site and strikes me as a little too picture perfect.) And, it’s hard to imagine a more outdoorsy place than Hamilton with Root Glen right in the middle of everything (although the Maine colleges certainly are close to the great outdoors, too.) I didn’t know about the hidden fraternities at Colby. That would be consistent with its preppy reputation which I thought had worn off by now. Still, I don’t get the sense that there’s a lot of sunshine between the two schools. There’s no wrong choice here.

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My son at Colby has really been enjoying Maine during the pandemic. Group trips to the beach, skiing at sugarloaf, hiking in Camden (cute town on the coast). He did orient his college search around good skiing so he didn’t look at schools in New York. Hamilton sounds like a fantastic school too–it is very difficult this year to choose a school. Best of luck!


Colby’s underground fraternities, along with the administration’s efforts toward eliminating them, were discussed in a USA Today article in 2019:

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You may want to seek indirect data for this. By information reported in U.S. News, Hamilton grads earn the most from among the 10 NESCAC LACs in their early careers. By inference, its career services seem quite effective.

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Hamilton’s Covid protocols were excellent.

My D21 was admitted to Hamilton ED1. We’re visiting this weekend. Perhaps I can offer some insights about it next week.


For brief opinions on these choices in the context of opinions on other liberal arts colleges, see reply #7: Struggling with D21's List. ED & ED2: Amherst, Hamilton, Wellesley, Vassar.