NESCAC Campuses Ranked?

I’m really interested in some of the NESCAC Liberal Arts Colleges and have visited some of them. I am wondering how people would rank the different campuses based on location, scenery, and overall vibes. I know this is subjective but wanted to know what other people think.

It is subjective. Posters could help you more if you told us what criteria are important to you in a college, and we can suggest NESCAC and similar schools that fit those criteria.


I spent time on the Bowdoin campus. I found it to be delightfully compact and flat. The quad has the usual beautiful architecture. I especially liked the Antarctica museum (looks like it probably was once the Main), the church, and the Art building/museum (domed top).

From photos, each of the campuses is charming, though at Tufts that is mitigated by the cannon.

1 Like

I think what a commenter might vibe with and what you vibe with could be different. Agree with @Mwfan1921: tell us what you care about in a campus environment, and we can help you sort.

1 Like

I’ve seen four of the eleven in person and have found it useful and kind of interesting to apply this test: How well do they adapt to hillsides? In hilly New England, topography is destiny and as far as I can determine, most of the NESCACs started out as a line of salt box-shaped structures along a plateau. Some of them followed up with a second line that eventually became a quadrangle. Williams went for many years with an “every tub on its own bottom” approach to siting their buildings, meaning, they seemed to prefer to spread them out with one building occupying its own hillock. However, they could only keep that up for so long before bumpng up against the reality of expansion into the 21st century.

Trinity clearly had an Oxbridge quadrangle in mind when they built their “Great Walk” of Gothic buildings in the 1860s, but it would take them another century in order to complete the other three sides, incorporating some brutalist architecture along the way.

Tufts and Amherst shared the same dilemma of what to do when the college just gets too big for its “original” hill? In the case of Tufts, it stopped identifying as a LAC long ago. Amherst has fewer students, more money and a billion dollar “wish list” of possible solutions, including a future student union (their second) that promises to serve as a kind of indoor staircase between the upper and lower campuses.

Middlebury, which I’ve never set foot on, but recently had the opportunity to do a deep dive regarding a new dormitory, appears to be the only NESCAC that has never had a problem regarding space. Indeed, the college dates back to a period (1800) when Vermont was still considered part of the American Frontier. Until recently, the only negative thing I could say about the Middlebury campus was that you almost never saw photographs of it taken during the winter.

My favorite, probably due to confirmation bias on the part of an alumnus, is Wesleyan University. It has a generous hilltop plateau; it’s managed traversing it beautifully with a necklace of iconic, mid-century modern buildings. And, for the life of me, I have yet to find a comparable “first look” to that row of Spartan brownstone buildings facing the town like something out of Easter Island.

But, that’s me. What about you?


All of that was interesting analysis: thanks!

Addressing the above specifically: I found that “first look” somewhat off-putting. Too much unused lawn space in front of the buildings to me provided a cold and empty feeling. But that was one specific day at one specific time. The feeling could have been different some other time.

Trinity is on one of the extremes with a very distinct gated-off campus, compared to Wes on the other as one that trickles into the surrounding community with fluid/ambiguous borders. Conn College is similar to Trinity in that respect.


If you like a maritime feel, you can’t beat Conn College. They have a beautiful new waterfront area on the river with three new docks. There is also a view of the Long Island Sound from Tempel Green.

The campus doesn’t feel “gated off” to me. It’s across the street from the Coast Guard Academy, and 1.5 miles from the center of New London. Maybe it could feel this way due to the arboretum? They do have a lot of space for a small college (750 acres).

Conn is not isolated compared to many small liberal arts colleges which require a lot of driving. New London is 27,000 people, and from New London, you can hop on a train to New York, Providence or Boston. Even DC or Montreal if you have the time.

I liked the way that at Wesleyan, you can step off campus directly into town, but to me the campus is not as pretty and classic as Conn. Although there is a nearby river, there is no waterfront or water view on campus at Wes.

Those are the only two NESCACs I’ve seen recently. I do love the eclectic group of mascots in this conference!


This post includes brief comments on six NESCACs: Struggling with D21's List. ED & ED2: Amherst, Hamilton, Wellesley, Vassar - #7 by merc81.


They all have their charms and all are attractive, but if we have to rank them, here’s mine. Of the ones I’ve seen:

  1. Bates is prettiest, IMO. (Not just saying that because my kid went there, lol.) It’s compact and charming with the loveliest chapel.

  2. Bowdoin. Pretty, but all that marble is a bit too cemetery-like.

  3. Conn College. The lawn is toooo big, but very nice otherwise.

  4. Hamilton. I like the contrast of the two sides.

  5. Amherst has a very nice location in town and is classic in style.

  6. Tufts has such a nice view and is also quite classic in style.

  7. Trinity is pretty, but yikes about that brutalist 70’s section of campus. Chapel is very pretty though.

  8. Wesleyan is a bit hodge-podge. The baseball field in the middle of campus bothers me, if I have to nitpick.

I’m sure no one else agrees with me😁


Middlebury and it’s not particularly close


I love Bates too. Pretty campus! Had to laugh after reading your description of Trinity - the edge of campus with the 70s buildings looked depressing and isolated.


Opinionated selective responses based on 1/2 day visits to each last year:

Felt hodge-podge to me too. Dorms on the west side of campus felt old and dumpy. Baseball field is a football field in the fall. But both sports are inferior to soccer. :wink: Soccer field has less-favored location than at the next two schools. Good location close to town.

The brutalist concrete building also has mold issues. Yuck. The CineStudio is great. The gothic parts of campus on the Long Walk are gorgeous. Seabury Hall is beautiful. Areas of town next to campus are less than nice.

The lawn is a perfect size to hold the soccer field and still have space on the upper section of the Green. Cool location for soccer games with the art museum to the east and dorms to the west. No football team is a positive. :wink: Campus has great hilltop location with view of LI Sound, but isolated from town. Giant arboretum is a big plus.


I have been to all of them, and they all have their charms.

Colby is very picturesque in a traditional, New England way. Beautiful chapel, lovely lawn rising up to the library – and when its clock tower is open, the view from up there is breath-taking! And that sports complex!

I love the views at both Conn and Williams, and Midd, with its mountain setting, is lovely.

Bowdoin’s trees and traditional buildings are great, and Bates’ compactness gives the place a nice buzzy energy.


I don’t think of marble when I think of Bowdoin. Lots more brick than natural stone. Now Middlebury is all about marble and limestone.


For anyone reading who is unaware, the schools/mascots are:

Amherst Mammoths
Bates Bobcats
Bowdoin Polar Bears
Colby Mules
Connecticut Camels
Hamilton Continentals
Middlebury Panthers
Trinity Bantams
Tufts Jumbos
Wesleyan Cardinals
Williams Ephs

Pretty nice mix, with some odd ones… though Amherst chose a (new) mascot eerily similar to the Jumbos. hehe


And their purple colors are somewhat alike. My daughter went to Amherst and her husband to Williams. All the swag, and the competition on where their 18 month old will go is……humorous.

Meant to respond to @prezbucky

1 Like

Williams teams are the Ephs, but their mascot is the lovable Ephelia the purple, yellow and white cow. Ephelia the Purple Cow | Mascot Hall of Fame


Predictably, I’m going to defend Wesleyan here. First, some objectivity: yes, Wesleyan has a bit of an ad hoc look to campus layout. One of the reasons for that was the reorientation of Church St. years ago, which left a few buildings now occupying odd angles on, or distances from, the current way the street runs. That said, I disagree that Easter Island (good analogy @circuitrider ) is one of the drawbacks. The iconic view of College Row is this one:

Famed etchist Louis Orr thought so too:

And it was the one my D first saw and apparently inspired her to decide on the spot, “This is where I want to be.” But I acknowledge @YoLo2 's observation about the large expansive lawn is a fair one when evaluated on a snowless winter day and the many trees have no leaves. In the spring and fall, though, I think it comes together quite nicely (snow, of course, makes everything beautiful).

The other thing I’d add about the Wes campus is that if you appreciate an inventory of beautiful and historic old buildings, Wes can go toe to toe with any campus in the NESCAC. Again, the layout and flow isn’t to everyone’s liking, but the buildings themselves represent a very nice collection of classics from different architectural traditions. On this point, while I myself truly like cohesion in campus architecture, like Conn’s, there are several buildings on the Wes campus that are more aesthetically impressive and interesting (to me) than any single building at Conn. I’d say the same thing about Amherst, which while in an idyllic location and cohesive and well manicured, is overall less interesting to me. So in the same vein, I think the Williams campus is more beautiful than Amherst’s. Wes also has the distinction of having Henry Bacon’s fingerprints all over their campus.

There is a little bit of “rough and tumble” around the edge’s of Wesleyan proper (not like Trinity though). As Wesleyan continues its campus renewal efforts and continues to acquire property around the area, I think the future of the physical campus is a good one.

Lastly, I’m firmly in the minority here, but I think the “Butts” get a brutal rap. Given their age, they’ve held up exceedingly well and they are very well kept up to date on the interior. While not stunningly beautiful (like the new dorms set for Middlebury), they make for a cool example of mid-century modern IMO. A little more landscaping would do it some favor.

But if you need the more classic option, Wes has numerous choices, from old mini-mansions to Bacon-designed buildings, that will suit your tastes. The dorms I personally dislike are the old ones at the top of Foss Hill. I don’t think they’re long for this world.

Last two thoughts: Andrus is one of Wes’ coolest and distinctive features. Go to a game in the fall and let me know what you think. My other favorite NESCAC campuses are Williams, Conn and Middlebury, while my favorite physical setting would be Bowdoin - being from the west, views of “mountains” (sarcastic air quotes intended) and other topographical features are not what move me in New England. :wink:


Agreed on both points. The Bowdoin campus buildings aren’t at the top end of the conference line IMO - except for the domed building, which I especially like. It’s the quaint park-like setting and surrounding area that make it great for me. In a way, it’s like Brown and Skidmore, both campuses that really benefit from the surrounding neighborhood. The walk up to the campus from a row of beautiful white painted homes, some of which are Inns (we stayed at one) is just perfectly bucolic. Brunswick is also super cute, if not a bit limiting.


That looks like an Econo Lodge.

1 Like