How do you choose a SLAC?

We have toured all the SLACs.They are all blurring together for my son. For example how do you choose your ED between: Colby, Hamilton, Colgate, etc…? Need some assistance. First kid headed to college.

If you care to state your son’s tentative academic interests, that could be helpful.

Also, general info like GPA, etc, in order to designate reach/target/safety categories.

Also, have you used each college’s net price calculator to estimate financial aid?

You don’t. If your son has no clear favorite, then he doesn’t choose to apply early decision.

A student chooses from among liberal arts colleges the same way he would choose any college. Personal fit, academic fit, geography, location, setting, price.

D20 loved Colgate from the first moment we arrived on campus. It was the first SLAC we visited but it became the measuring stick against which all others were compared. When we visited Hamilton, it was her favorite until she was back home and it was Colgate again. She spent a few weeks going back and forth between the two, decided to trust her gut, applied ED to Colgate with a plan to ED2 at Hamilton, was accepted to Colgate and hasn’t looked back.

Do you have a budget? Are you fine with being full pay?

One daughter wanted a smaller school such as a LAC. She also is a very strong student. We visited quite a few selective LACs in the northeast of the US and I agree that there was a lot of overlap and it is not easy keeping them all straight in your mind.

Running the NPCs put things in perspective in our case. Full pay at Bowdoin or Colby or Amherst College was quite intimidating.

We ended up trying to decide between three small universities in Canada, and it was still very difficult. We visited all of them at least twice each – once before applying and once after being accepted. We had official tours and our student also had chats with professors at each school.

Distance from home, the town that they are in, price, and strengths in specific majors are all things to look at. Wellesley College allows students to take classes at MIT and Harvard which could be a plus. I think that Amherst College allows students to take classes at U.Mass Amherst which of course brings in a huge number of additional potential classes.

It is easy for the weather the day that you visited or the personality of your tour guide to play a larger role than they should when making a decision.

We did not ED anywhere because we did not have a clear favorite at the time that applications where going in.

For brief, distinguishing opinions on the three schools you named, as well as on a few other SLACs, see reply #12:

Great question, but not enough information about likes / dislikes, qualifications, and need.

While all selective LACs seem to have a strong personality that dominates the campus, several seem to have similar dominant campus cultures.

Easy to understand one who is undecided between Hamilton & Colby, but Colgate differs in size and culture. My impression is that Colgate is more similar to Bucknell, the University of Richmond, and to a lesser extent to Washington & Lee.

Check out the Fiske Guide To Colleges 2020 which shares a lot of information about each school that may not have been noticed based on a single visit. Also, Fiske lists the most common overlaps for each school.

Hamilton College overlaps (overlap info. is supplied by the schools):

Amherst, Bowdoin, Carleton, Middlebury, Williams, Colgate, and Dartmouth College.

Colby’s overlaps:

Brown, Bowdoin, Dartmouth, Middlebury, Williams, Wesleyan, Hamilton, & Boston College.

Colgate’s overlaps:

Middlebury, Boston College, Dartmouth, Tufts, Bowdoin, Cornell, Brown, and Hamilton.

Still confused ? Then apply ED to either Dartmouth College or to Middlebury College as both schools are overlaps for all three (Colby, Colgate, & Hamilton). Since Middlebury & Dartmouth are overlaps for each other, this may be a reasonable approach.

P.S. Some selective LACs are specialized and or regionalized and are, therefore, easy to distinguish. Claremont McKenna is both specialized in its major courses of study & regionalized geographically. These distinguishing characteristics are evident from the list of CMC’s overlap schools: UCal-Berkeley, UCLA, Pomona, USC, & Stanford

@Publisher I always love it when you list things from Fiske ? but the overlaps are especially intriguing to me. We visited several LACs, D applied to 10 schools total that she found similar in feel but there are so few overlaps in who they consider their peers. Of just the ones you listed: Colgate, Middlebury and Hamilton were thumbs way up but Amherst, Williams, Bucknell were thumbs way down. Colgate’s other overlaps were too big on paper to even bother seeing, in her opinion.

In our local high school, overlaps (admittedly anecdotal) for Colgate include Hamilton, Union College, Lehigh, Lafayette, and Williams.

For a more objective view, see

@NearlyDone2024 : How can any other list of overlap schools be “more objective” than those furnished by the schools on the basis of:

“we ask each school to give us (Fiske Guide To Colleges) the names of the colleges or universities that they consider to be their closest peer institutions AND those with which they share the most common applications”

@NearlyDone2024 : The link doesn’t work for me as the graphic never gets produced.

Nonetheless, your cited article is a fairly old from 2012.

Between those three there isn’t a wrong or bad choice. You & your student can read all the rankings, all the reviews, all the pros/cons of each place- but the differences are ones of degree, not kind. I am a big fan of letting the student trust their gut: it is amazing how regularly that works out.

The single biggest distinguishing factor of LACs is their personality. If your son didn’t perceive any difference between Hamilton, Colby or Colgate, but really genuinely wants to go to one of them, and they are all equally affordable, then he can legitimately pick randomly which to apply to ED.

I am skeptical, however that he really can’t tell them apart, and is equally enthusiastic- or at least amenable! to all of them- unless he really doesn’t want to go at all, or really, really wants someplace else altogether.

It may not make sense applying to any college or university ED next year. Each one has taken a different approach to re-opening in the Fall. The only thing they have in common seems to be a desire to get all students off-campus and home again by Thanksgiving. There’s going to be a lot to digest in the meantime.

Of some note regarding similarities, Hamilton and Colby currently share key lineage, in that the president of Colby graduated from Hamilton.

He could put together a prospective 4 year plan, taking into account requirements, prerequisites, jan plans, study abroad, etc to see if one seems to offer more of what he likes.

He can think about what he likes to do outside the classroom and see where there are differences. A kid who is really into skiing, for example, might find the combination of Jan Plan and Sugarloaf makes Colby really compelling. For many kids, this won’t move the needle.

The good thing is that if he doesn’t get into his ED1 school, he can still ED2 and RD and be enthusiastic about the outcome.

I think there are more similarities than differences between those 3 and that most students at any wouldbehappyat the others… As a huge generalization, Hamilton and Colgate are probably more in the NY orbit while Colby is more in the NE orbit. It changes the vibe a bit.

Fwiw, all 3 were also on DS’ list and we all thought he’d be happy at any of them.