liberal arts confusion

<p>What separates Williams and other top LAC's from "top national universities" like HYP? What is the MAIN difference? From what I understand it's that liberal arts education is much more broad and not as focused on research. SO if I want to go into molecular biology, for example, and start doing research right away, is Williams the wrong place for me?</p>

<p>The difference has nothing to do with curriculum. Williams and other top LACs teach exactly the same stuff as Harvard and other top universities.</p>

<p>The difference is size and focus. LACs typically have fewer than 3000 undergrads and no (or virtually no) grad school, med school, business school, law school, nursing school, achitectural school, agricultural school, dental school, veterinarian school, hospital chains, or other business that have nothing whatsover to do with 4-year undergrad study. The entire focus is on undergrad education.</p>

<p>If anything, undergrads at LACs tend to have more opportunity to work closely with their professors and their research, because there aren't any PhD students around.</p>

<p>Well, on the whole, the better liberal arts colleges will have more research opportunities at an earlier time. The reason for that is relatively simple: graduate students, some of the best in the world, are being PAID good money to provide research results for professors who are being PAID to bring in research grants for the university and to publish results. In biology for example, little Hope College in Michigan has more peer reviewed publications in biology by undergraduates than any of the Ivies. At the major universities, you are competing for opportunities with the graduate students, and with other undergraduate students for those opportuntiies. </p>

<p>Having said that, if you are looking specifically to do molecular biology research "right away", you'd be better off at Smith, which is a national Center for Molecular Biology, and has 50 paid research assistants for first- and second-year students, most of them in the sciences. </p>

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<p>thanks, that helped a lot. As for Smith, it's a shame that it's women only... I'd rather study AND meet boys at college. :)</p>

<p>Nelle, My understanding is that Williams has a very good molecular biology program and that research opportunities are readily available during the school year, Winter Study and over the summer. If you haven’t done so already, why don’t you contact the department for more information?</p>

<p>Last year Harvard came out with a list of initiatives to revamp their undergraduate curriculum which sounded very much like Williams’ current plan. On a day to day basis I don’t think you’d notice a major difference between the academics at Williams and HYP. Williams may have smaller classes. At HYP you’ll have a longer list of courses to choose from. At HYP your classes may be taught by graduate students; at Williams they will be taught by professors. </p>

<p>Other points of differentiation would be Williams’ tutorial program (two students + one professor) and Winter Study during which you take one course, usually somewhat offbeat but not necessarily lightweight, for a month. Take a look at the course catalog for details.</p>

<p>But, generally speaking, the caliber of the professors and students would be very similar.</p>

<p>Williams’ distribution requirements and departmental major requirements are fairly undemanding. So you can play it either way: take classes in a wide range of disciplines or load up on your major. Over 8 semesters a typical Williams student would take about 32-35 courses (not including Winter Study). Of these only 6-8 are driven by the curriculum requirements so there’s plenty of room to double major, experiment in unrelated fields or just focus on your area of interest. (Although I think there’s a limit on how many courses you can take from one department, each semester.)</p>

<p>Thanks for the info!
Also, if the level of research/ science programs is sufficiently high, why don't the top LAC schools appear on such lists as World's Best colleges, or similar rankings? My parents consider rank really important; just the fact that they have not heard about some of the LAC's before makes them lower than community colleges in their eyes. One reads about HYP constantly, but the LAC's are lacking in publicity...</p>

<p>nelle, Williams has been the #1 LAC in USNWR ratings for several years. You can't get better publicity that that. </p>

<p>I have to say, though, if prestige and worldwide (or even neighborhood-wide) name recognition is important to you then forget about Williams. People who will make a difference in your life -- employers, graduate and professional school admissions directors -- will know and appreciate Williams.</p>

<p>Well, doesn't rank and recognitioin have some weight or importance? I mean, there must be a reason that a school is ranked among the world's best... Or does the lack of graduate students and PhD research affect prestige?</p>

<p>nelle, we can go around in circles indefinitetly here. You will find as many ranks as you will lists. There is no finite universal number one fits all sizes college or university. </p>

<p>Each person has to define his own idea of prestige, recognition and ultimately success. If yours is defined by attending a college that has worldwide name recognition, then I would advise against Williams and most other LACs as well.</p>

<p>However, if you're looking for a college that will open doors to careers and graduate school admissions, plus provide as good an education as you could get anywhere in the world, then Williams should be at the top of the list.</p>

<p>Whether you would prefer the style of teaching and cultural environment of a small versus liberal arts college vs a large university is also totally subjective. Neither is better, just different.</p>

<p>Thanks; you've just encouraged me to keep arguing with my parents about where to apply. :) But I really AM glad; it's best to know all the facts before making a decision. My list of "reach" schools remains impossibly long...</p>

<p> I attended a v.small lac, then did post-grad training throughout HYP, and now run a mol. biol. lab and department in a top med school. Here's the similarities and differences:</p>


<p>You can work in labs, early and often, either way. It will require your nosing around either way, because almost none are really set up for new undergrads. Partly for good reason--until you learn what restriction enzymes are and how to clone, you're experience in lab may be suboptimal; you'll be better able to analyze expression array data after you've heard of a Fourier transform, etc.--and partly just because. </p>

<p>You can take courses with the same titles. if you compare the course offerings in b/c/p/m at HYP vs. Wil/Hav/Swat/Am/Pom, or even Ob/Wes/Carl/Rd, they're really no different. What are "500" level grad courses at Yale are the same as "Senior Topics" courses at Williams.</p>



<p>All the labs will be top notch. All NIH/NSF funded. At LACs, this is not always true. That's why Will/Hav are so strong, e.g., versus some other LACs.</p>

<p>HP (+/-) Y grading is easier, and so they have tremendous grade inflation (In fairness to HYP, Brown is the most excessive in this regard, btw...). So when a H(Y)P senior applys to grad school, they will have a great GPA and great standardized testing scores (by defn, if HYP picked you, since that's how they pick science kids). So admissions may be slightly easier, for the weaker students. </p>

<p>+LAC : </p>

<p>The courses are better, heads-up. Since profs at LAC are hired and tenured primarily on teaching, and this is not true at HYP--I experienced both, and this is unequivocably my experience. So you learn more, much more.</p>

<p>LAC have intensive hands-on lab advanced lab courses, early on, that are not duplicated at HYP. Although the first and most developed of these was/is at Hav, Wil and the other top places now do it too. Not so at HYP, because to do so is just too time intensive for their faculty. For example, at a top LAC, every senior bio major has already learn to clone genes, purify and characterize proteins, and probably used both a fluorescence cell sorter and/or an EM. Definitely not so at HYP.</p>

<p>The science Profs are there, in their labs and offices, all the time, and they like talking to kids. At H>Y>P this is is definitely not the case--the time, that is. So you can actually get into a real, deep discussion with your prof at a LAC, whereas this is more rare at HYP. (In my case, I was actually dragged into mol biol by a prof--great stuff, really).</p>

<p>There is slightly less pressure at a LAC. Grad School and (esp) med school admissions rates tend to be higher at the top (Hav/Swat/Am/Will) than the Ivies, and everyone knows it, so they relax. Makes a huge difference.</p>

<p>Good luck either way, and enjoy!</p>

<p>Here's an essay on the same topic (comparing science education at LACs and research universities). It was written by Nobel-winning chemist, Thomas Cech, while he was on the faculty at U. of Colorado. He's since moved on to become head of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.</p>

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<p>Just read Tom Cech's paper. I had not seen this before, but this articulates beautifully all the issues I tried to raise.
Worth a read, for sure</p>

<p>Your post was pretty darn good, too.</p>

<p>I imagine that the Cech's essay made him attractive to HHMI (along with the Nobel credentials, of course). HHMI is, I believe, the biggest funding source for undergrad research. They spread around a ton of science research money at liberal arts colleges.</p>

<p>Another big supporter of LAC science research is another Nobel Prize winner: David Baltimore, recently retired President of CalTech and Swarthmore alum.</p>

<p>I think some alumni of an LAC are too bad.</p>