McGill vs small American LAC (Oberlin, Bryn Mawr) [undecided major, humanities or social science]

I’ve been trying to choose between McGill and a smaller American LAC and I was wondering if anyone here could give me some input since I’ve been having a hard time finding insight on it.
I’m a little worried about McGill that it would be a sort of competitive, sink or swim type attitude— that’s the impression I’ve gotten from online stuff. I worry that an intense work to the bone attitude plus the big city plus the size of the school could leave me feeling a little lost and overwhelmed. I also worry that as a humanities-focused, sort of undecided (currently want to study anthropology), arty person, a large school like McGill that doesn’t seem to have the biggest arts focus might not be the right fit. Of course, it’s in MTL, so there are great things to do in the city as well.
As far as rigor/competitiveness – I was admitted, so I know I’m not completely unprepared as far as academics, but I still have this worry that I will just drown in the work and will not be able to keep up. If I’m being stupid, and everyone just likes to complain about university workload online, and everywhere else I was considering is just as hard academically, please let me know :slight_smile:
All of this of course is compared to a small college (currently my options are Oberlin and Bryn Mawr for this – I like Oberlin a bit more) in a small town — very close knit with tons of advising and help, but obviously fewer opportunities bc of the surrounding area, and the possibility of just getting bored. Oberlin has amazing resources from what I can tell for outside internships, travel, study abroad, etc, though.
I would really appreciate any insight!

I’ll take a stab at this.
" I also worry that as a humanities-focused, sort of undecided (currently want to study anthropology), arty person, a large school like McGill that doesn’t seem to have the biggest arts focus might not be the right fit."
The Arts faculty is by far the largest faculty at McGill. I do not know the breakdown between Humanities and social sciences though.

If you have been reading McGill’s subreddit you will see a lot of negativity. Reddit seems to attract a lot of chronic complainers and malcontents. The McGill subreddit is particularly negative.

As you have read McGill is rigorous. In one forum I read this statement “McGill requires its students to grow up quickly. For some it is terrifying. For others it is just what the needed.” To succeed at McGill you need to be motivated, independent and tolerant of administrative red tape.

Montreal is a fascinating city. A knowledge of French can be helpful but is not necessary. Montreal also gives a great opportunity to learn French if a student so chooses.

It is interesting that your choices are between McGill and 2 LAC’s. They offer two completely different lifestyles, both inside and outside the classroom.

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Hence my difficulty deciding :sweat_smile:

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I don’t know that McGill would be all that competitive in an "undecided, Humanities - focussed " curriculum. It varies from mildly rigorous to extremely so depending on what you are studying, and the profs/courses within the faculties you end up studying with. It might(probably) be more stressful than BM and Oberlin, but that really depends on you. Some people love the experience of living in an interesting, unique city such as Montreal with lots of students from all over the world, and find a freedom in that. Others would find it intimidating, and would prefer the more nurturing, small school/town vibe.
S1 chose McGill over Swathmore, Carleton, and a couple of other LAC’s. His words were that he didn’t want to be going to a school that was smaller than his HS. He wanted the stimulation and excellence that McGill seemed to offer, and felt he would have been bored at a small, safe, school. The challenges have been many at McGill, but he has a whole new bunch of friends from all over the world, has thrived in his field of study (business), and has matured into an interesting, competent man.
I would not choose McGill if you need academic and personal support more than most, don’t like city living, fall apart under stress, or like to party too much (Montreal has it’s temptations- drinking and pot is legal at the age of 18). You should only go to McGill is you are feeling strong, smart, and adventurous. S1 has had some great profs, some awful ones, and ones in between. He doesn’t have much good to say about the admins. He has had to work very hard, but has somehow managed to fit in trips to NYC, Toronto, Boston, the Laurentians(skiing), Eastern townships, Vancouver, etc. Covid stopped some other trips to the Maritimes and Europe.
Good luck with your decision. IMO, they are so different that it should be an easy one.
Oh, and if you are an “arts” person, Montreal is known for it’s mature arts scene. The Museum of Arts is just down the street, but there are all sorts of galleries and venues within walking distance of campus, as well as Art inside the campus itself. Oh, and Gerts is open!
Bryn Mawr is a great school of it’s type. Would be a different experience, for sure, but a superb school.
I was appalled and disgusted to read about the leadership response to the bakery incident at Oberlin.


Watch some videos (dorm tours etc). There’s a lot to get excited about at McGill, and it makes for a very sophisticated college experience if that is what you’re looking for.

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There is a good reason Oberlin and Bryn Mawr produce successful graduates, and it’s not because there is “obviously” less opportunity.

True story, D’s good friend graduated McGill in 2020 and struggled to find a “real” job for 18 months. It’s a Canadian school and doesn’t have the American alumni network that the LACs have. That network and the careers centers at those schools will definitely do their best to help you. You won’t get much, if any, of that at McGill.

In reading your original post, it seems to me that your choice should be between Oberlin and Bryn Mawr. You aren’t going to get the same kind of class experience at McGill that you’ll get at the LACs. IMO, the LAC classroom experience is what makes them the best option for you.


Since you provide an anecdote about a McGill grad I will provide one about an Oberlin grad.
Oberlin graduate Orion Krause takes plea deal in 2017 murders | Chronicle Telegram

@Lindagaf 's anecdote was far more common than this one (murder case). That’s not really Oberlin’s fault.

But the bakery case is troubling.

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McGill’s alumni network is far larger than Oberlin’s- it’s not even close. It’s laughable that you would suggest otherwise. It is well known in academic, medical and financial circles in the US, especially in the Northeast, is world class, and has over 40,000 students. Don’t you think that a(count that, one) 2020 grad would’ve had another reason(s) for having trouble finding a job besides the fact they they came from McGill? I think your anecdote says more about Covid, and possibly the student.
Back to the OP. McGill and the other two schools are so different, that I think a choice would be easy to make. Big, difficult, urban, exciting, or small, nurturing, bucolic? Fit is more important than “best”.

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Oberlin didn’t handle that the right way, IMO.

@TomSrOfBoston if you like, we can play college crime bingo. So many colleges have had murders on campus, including Stanford and Michigan. List of attacks related to post-secondary schools - Wikipedia

Given that it’s highly unlikely anyone will be murdered at any of these colleges, I think the more relevant point I was making is clear: McGill doesn’t offer the same kind of alumni network and career center support that these small colleges do.
@57special I should have been more clear that because these colleges are small, they are able to work with kids closely and have strong alumni connections. And I know other students who weren’t able to find work right away after leaving McGill, but you’re right. it could just be those kids.


Please read @57special 's response above.

@kreiliri Have you visited all three of these schools? My oldest knew they wanted a LAC and a “small” school environment. They chose Oberlin and are very happy there.
They talked to some other students and spent an afternoon with a few of the field hockey players (they walked-on to field hockey team). Bottom line it just felt right. I think you need to visit, talk to some students, and see where you get that same feeling.


You have three excellent choices so first and foremost congratulations on that. I think what you need to do is reflect on what type of college experience you want. (ex. large v LAC, urban v suburban etc.) IMO assuming they are all equally affordable there is no right or wrong answer in this case and I believe that three reasonable people could make three different choices and all be thrilled with their decision.

If possible I’d visit during accepted student days. If that is not possible I’d do things like: look at the school’s newspaper (most are online) to try to get a sense of campus life, join accepted student group online if one is available, look through the course catalogues in your areas of interest, check out Niche and some good college guide books (ex. Fiske, Princeton Review) etc. Hopefully one choice will feel right to YOU.


Some great suggestions here. I’m reminded that for Oberlin last year there was an accepted student Discord server (I honestly don’t exactly know what that is - but I’m told it was a great way to connect with other accepted students). I imagine there are opportunities like that at all three schools if you ask around.

Yes, McGill has a huge alumni network. Speaking as a Canadian, none of the large internationally known Canadian schools support their arts and science graduates like a good US SLAC.

No competition whatsoever. Graduates of McGill who went on to law, MBA or engineering graduates different story. Or accounting grads, commerce grads.

More than a few arts and science grads who were not headed to grad school had menial jobs (before enrolling in a full stack type program) or helped by a relative to get an entry-level job.

It’s also different as a Canadian who doesn’t pay very much for McGill vs. an American who would. No harm done in the 1st case.


In Arts/Anthropology, you are on your own at McGill. Very little institutional/alumni support. It is different in the Med or Business areas.

If you choose McGill, it is really because you want to experience a large university in a cool city. The Arts faculty teaching will not be as good as at Oberlin, nor the support.

For anthropology/liberal arts, Oberlin, hands down, and if you find it too small, transfer after a year.

Best to you.

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You would have a lot of support at Oberlin. You’ll probably have less faculty support at McGill. If you’re worried about needing faculty support, I’d say Oberlin.

And yes, the bakery story, and a number of antisemitic incidents cloaked in “anti-Zionism” have pretty much alienated most of Oberlin’s Jewish alumni, and have made it a school that Jewish families think twice about sending their students to, but unfortunately, Oberlin is not alone in that category nowadays.

Originally, you said that you didn’t want a small, rural school, and Oberlin is the poster child for that. The fact is, McGill wouldn’t have taken you if they’d felt that you didn’t have the ability to succeed there. Were it me, I’d choose McGill. But if you do, make sure you have your student visa set up appropriately, well ahead of time. It’s not as simple as just getting in your car and driving across the border.

Hm, this was my worry. Thank you, very helpful!

Reading between the lines, you would prefer a LAC experience. In all likelihood, it will be easier to explore academically and to develop relationships with profs as you figure out what you want to do. If it’s multidisciplinary, theee will likely be more support for crafting your own path.

In that case, focus on Oberlin and BMC. Philadelphia is probably the more vibrant city if that is a pull, but I personally would not let that drive a decision.

McGill is undeniably a great school and Montreal is a wonderful city, and adding those to the mix is confusing. Big cities will be there when you graduate. I’d focus on the 2 LACs. If you can attend accepted student events at those 2, do it! You might discover that one just feels more right for you.

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I can’t speak about McGill - but I think Oberlin sounds like almost a perfect fit for you. The music conservatory attracts a lot of interesting students to become friends with - I think you would be very happy at Oberlin. It has a good reputation - at least where I am from.

I have several friends that went to school there - a couple for music - a couple for the humanities. One of my friends who went there for violin ended up becoming a doctor (gastroenterologist) :joy:.