UMass v. Holy Cross

S23 accepted to two schools so far. Maybe more coming but likelihood is diminishing.

Planned major is Economics but he’s also interested in poly sci, history, and languages. Definitely wants to study abroad. Plans to pursue an MBA later on. S is very social and likes to do fun things with friends, do club sports, attend events, etc. but is not a partier/drinker. He wants to pick a school with the best academic environment (both professors/teaching as well as engaged smart students), but social fit is also important. We can afford whichever he chooses.

UMass-Amherst + Honors College + $16k/yr merit (we’re OOS now but he will have in-state tuition after 1 year).
The only public school he applied to, and by far the largest. If not for the Honors College I don’t think he would hesitate to choose HC. He does better in small classes engaging with the teachers and other students. UMass definitely has a hard-party rep but I can’t imagine it’s unavoidable. So my questions/concerns are: Is the CHC all its cracked up to be? and Is there fun to be had that does’t involve frat house ragers?

Holy Cross + $20k/yr merit.
Even with merit it’s 2x the cost of UMass. And I’ve read reviews that make me question campus life-- is there fun to be had? Are the students fun and interesting? S is not religious-- would he feel like an outsider? The academics should be right up his alley.

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This might be helpful: Holy Cross - How religious is it?

I only know one person that goes to Holy Cross, but she’s quite religious, and ED’d there because she knew that it was her perfect fit.

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You may have seen this analysis, but it may be worth posting again here: Economics rankings: US Economics Departments at Liberal Arts Colleges | IDEAS/RePEc. Note that Holy Cross places a bit higher than some highly selective NESCACs, notably Bates, Colby and Bowdoin.

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You should go to UMASS.

While you’ll have large classes in many cases, you’ll have the Honors plus upper level that will likely be smaller. You can but don’t have to party. That’s at most any school. You’ll have the country’s best food. And you’ll have more diverse students in regard to religion, politics, and more. You can also take a class at Amherst or other schools so experience an LAC that way.

The MBA isn’t relevant. You’ll need to work at least two years to get in a worthy program and the school won’t care about your undergrad.

Holy Cross is a fine Jesuit school but that does not sound like it’s for you. Welcoming does not mean non religious.

Good luck.

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I have a son who is a freshman at UMass now. I am also familiar with Holy Cross - my cousin went there and it was one of my choices back in the day (went with a SLAC instead). They are both good schools, but quite different. Socially, my sense is that UMass has more to offer - just because of size and the variety of kids (plus its proximity to several other colleges). If your kid isn’t a heavy duty partier (mine is not) it is pretty easy to avoid it. Food at UMass is excellent and the facilities are nice. I’d say the biggest drawback (for my son) is the size of some of his gen-ed sections. He isn’t a big fan of the lecture format. He is in a very, very popular major (psychology), however, so that is part of it. Classes will be smaller as he advances. UMass does give credit for AP’s of 4 or better so that can free up some of your schedule - son started with 21 credits in the bank and placed out of the freshman writing requirement. I can’t say which school will be best for your son but did want to share our experience. I don’t think there is ever a perfect school - kids tend to like wherever they land and even dream schools have drawbacks once you get there. Best of luck to your son - I know it is has been a very rough year for admissions.


I think Holy Cross sounds like a better fit academically and probably socially as a school that is not as hard partying as UMass. I think the two aspects that your choice really hinges on are 1) how much will he mind being at a Jesuit school if he’s not religious and, 2) how much does it matter that HC is considerably more expensive—even if you can afford it (would you feel resentful?).

Most oldest son is not at all religious and he went to a Jesuit school in the Midwest. He found plenty of other non-religious friends, as well as made friends with people who were religious of all faiths. Occasionally it annoyed him when the Catholic faith was brought up, but most of the time he didn’t care. The Jesuit social justice focus led to some great things on campus and I always felt, a bit more kindness. Everyone’s take on religion is different, so I would think this through and perhaps see if your son could visit again and talk to students.


Thanks for this. We would not resent paying for HC. That’s a not issue if it’s worth it. S23 is not religious but has a strong ethical/moral compass and generally appreciates clean living. He would enjoy a politically diverse environment as Bay Area CA is not that at all. I don’t think it’s a huge issue. As long as students can have real probing conversations about topics of faith (any topics for that matter).

The reviews of read of HC are just all over the map. No social life. Too much drinking. Not enough parties. Too many parties. We won’t get a chance to visit again before decisions are due.

I understand UMass better. It’s a pubic flagship. With all the pros and cons that come with that.

According to the last CDS, the entering class at HC was 72% white. Umass 56%

Geographic diversity - HC will be Northeastern. It’s not well known outside. Umass will also be Northeastern but will have more geographic diversity given its large population. But also will be much more concentrated in Mass.

When I look at what you are seeking (or not), I’m not sure how the College of the Holy Cross Crusaders even came into the discussion vs the many other LACs out there. But at least at Umass you can incorporate nearby Amherst for an LAC experience.

I think at any school you can party or not. There will be like minded at both.

HC will be more white and wealthy but that may or may not be of importance to you. But since you mentioned diversity…

Good luck

It’s clear that @tsbna44 and I are definitely seeing the opposite sides of the coin here. Perhaps that’s helpful in trying to get a variety of viewpoints. I do agree that a private school is likely to have more students from wealthy backgrounds.

We are in the Midwest, but Holy Cross stands out as a top 35 LAC. It’s also a bit larger than some other colleges and has D1 sports. Unfortunately, my S23 was only able to tour it in August when it was him and all the athletes who had arrived early on campus. I do think you would find HC political diverse, as that is typical of most Jesuit schools. The religious aspect will make some students who are more moderate/conservative feel more comfortable applying but the social justice focus on service to others, poverty, immigration issues, etc leans more liberal.

On the flip side, nothing particular stands out to me about UMass compared to a bunch of other state flagships. I’m assuming that was chosen because your family will be in MA.

I do believe that good students can find their people and flourish anywhere!


I’d try to revisit the final options (whatever they turn out to be) on accepted students day.


I wanted to jump in because we gave Holy Cross a very hard look last year. I think we went twice maybe three times (and we are from 9 states away!). I thought the campus was beautiful. The city of Worcester, however, is gritty, and that about sums it up. HC is perched on a hill with fencing around it, so the campus itself seemed very safe (unlike some of the other schools in the area). But there are no restaurants/shops in walking distance unless you cross over some busy roads at the bottom of campus, and even then its not a charming area.
The students we saw seemed cute and fun - I would argue that most had the look of sporty athletic kids from the Northeast.
I loved the architecture and the vibe of the school but at the end of the day it wasn’t a great fit for my student.


The many other LACs that are so focused on diversity they can’t find a way to accept my kid!

He applied to many. Waitlist and rejections across the board except HC.

He is interested in political diversity bc he hasn’t experienced much of it being in the Bay Area. ethnic diversity here is plentiful and not a priority for his college selection.

UMass was selected because he liked New England and needed a safety school. We didn’t know we were moving there until after he was admitted.


I was trying to provide stats as ultimately the OP’s son needs to decide.

Perhaps it’s my bias as a non- religious but Jewish person but I can’t understand any level of Jesuit or Catholic for any person like this - so I admittedly do have that bias.

Diversity can take many forms - race (UMass), religious (UMass), geographic (likely a toss up with UMass more in state but a wider reach and HC more regional (NE).

I can’t speak to what is important to OP.

No question on average HC will have smaller classes. But UMASS Honors has required classes such as Ideas That Change The World And an Honors discussion based seminar amongst others. And Amherst is close by. And public schools do offer smaller classes in major. OP can certainly check. And just because an LAC has smaller classes doesn’t mean they’ll be discussion based - but that can also be checked.

But while yea I think UMass makes all the sense here, ultimately OP has to decide what is best for them.

But yes, I’ll admit I’d question a non religious person applying to HC vs say Clark to stay local or Connecticut or F&M to stay on a similarly ranked level. So to me this situation could have been anticipated at time of application unless something has changed since.


I’m sure there are many LACs that would want your student and some may still be out there, accepting applicants.

There are also smaller publics out there that are definitely still accepting applicants.

My question is moreso - why HC?

Doesn’t matter - your son chose to apply and obviously it’s a strong school and congrats to him on the acceptance. And in RD no less which is even more impressive.

But i guess I’m wondering the logic in applying to this school ? Did you apply to other Jesuit / Catholic /Christian ? Did something change since then that now makes the HC choice uncomfortable ?

Edit - I remembered you posted a chance me so I went back and looked. Not sure if the list was complete but you showed

Notre Dame (maybe)
Ga Tech (maybe)
Wake Forest
Holy Cross

Your question was fair - No Safeties - are we ok or not ?

My response was yes - you’d get into HC and Trinity - but if not then you can still apply to the Alabama or Arizona’s of the world. You have UMASS instead.

So I’d ask - why did HC make the original list (and Notre Dame, etc).

I assume something has changed?

The good news is your son will be attending a great school this Fall !!

And it could be his experience will be wonderful at both.

Hopefully he can visit both again, spend substantial time walking the campuses and talking to the kids to see how he feels.

Good luck.

He is not uncomfortable with the Catholic aspects. We are just doing due diligence to make sure it’s going to be a good environment for him. He applied to several Catholic schools.

His list was reach heavy and we knew there was a chance he would end up with exactly two options. (he still has 4 more to hear from though). The LAC options with 25-40% acceptance rates are a mixed bag based on his priorities. He looked at several online and two in person. HC was by far his favorite. Excellent language programs, beautiful campus, larger student population, D1 sports.

Not sure why you think he wants to apply to more schools at this point. He has two excellent options (and maybe more) and is just trying to weigh the pros and cons.


We crossed messages. I just wrote back.

You raised the point of potential discomfort at HC. If he’s not uncomfortable and that’s his choice, then that’s great. But you noted he’s not religious. I read others thrive in Jesuit schools but I have a hard time understanding that. But @MBWhitney gave a clear example here opposite my belief.

You question the social life and while it’s not 100% on target, @shmom41 notes some of the direct area shortcomings.

Hopefully you can visit both but in your most recent note it sounds like your son favors HC. And if so, that’s great.

It’s an impressive get - good luck to him.

Holy Cross seems to me to be a good academic fit for everything you have described. I am partial to smaller colleges, so that factors into my thinking. I think that your son will find everything he’s looking for at HC academically and will have no regrets. The students are bright and will have probing conversations from a variety of points of view.

I know several people who have gone to Holy Cross. Two are now attorneys - one a federal prosecutor. I think that they are typical of a lot of students at HC - pre-professional types who take their class work seriously and are headed for law, medicines, business, etc. On the social side, one of these attorneys was involved in campus theater and met his future wife there. Another was an athlete and played basketball to his hearts content. HC does have intramurals and club sports although UMass, being a bigger campus is going to have bigger “leagues”.

You mentioned that your son wants more diversity of thought than he finds of the SF Bay Area. I’ve visited SF but have not lived there, so help me out. My stereotype of SF is that it is very left if center, so I’m assuming that he wants more balance on the right? If that’s the case, then he’ll certainly find that at HC where he’ll encounter the full spectrum. I haven’t encountered any Trumpers from HC although I may have missed them, but there are definitely pro-business/small government conservatives there. And there are certainly the social justice liberals whom others have mentioned. So, either side of the spectrum will be challenged.

In many ways Worcester is a tired, old, abandoned factory town. But don’t be fooled. Distressed real estate also provides opportunities. I know 2 young couples who have recently bought homes in Worcester because their jobs in Boston are now part time remote. They can het so much more house for their money in Worcester than in Boston. This is a trend and these trends revitalize a city. It starts with coffee shops (which one friend owns) and it expands to small clubs with live music. All if this is going on in Worcester, but you have to explore and you have to find it because it’s not down the street from HC. There are bigger concerts and bigger events in the Palladium and in the DKU Center. And HC kids love their on campus sports. And one of the reasons that young professionals with remote jobs GI to Worcester is that they can be in Boston via train in an 90 minutes.

The fact that you’ve read comments all over the map about HC is because everyone has their own experience anywhere. Your son’s experience will be his own. You can check www.■■■■■■■■■ if you haven’t already for student comments, but It seems to me that the best way to get a feel I’d to go to the source. Admissions should be able to arrange face time with current students as well as Facebook chats. When it’s a difficult decision, accepted students days are probably worth the investment of time & money.

On the other hand . . .

I absolutely love Amherst, Massachusetts. It is absolutely my favorite college town. Tons of things for kids to do. It’s a large, bustling campus with lots going on. And nearby Northampton is even better in some ways. A busy Main Street with lots of shops, restaurants, and live music. County Fair in the fall. Smith College and museums. Popular children’s author Mo Willems lives there. The Northampton/Amherst area is the second largest booking venue in New England with small clubs and big concert halls. It can’t be beat.

Not only can your son find small classes in the honors program, but he can cross register at prestigious Amherst College just across town, easily accessibly by a bike ride or shuttle bus. The other members of the 5-college consortium are harder to access, but they’re also available if they offer a special course that suits his interests. And all 4 of the other schools in the consortium are LACs with bright, motivated students, small classes, and accessible professors. Students can take up to 2 courses per semester through this 5 college exchange and can occasionally take a 3rd if spots open up after add/drop. Check with UMass about their specific policies.

Your son wants to go to college in New England. You absolutely cannot get more of that New England college feel than in Amherst or Northampton where it seems like half the people walking the streets in the latter are college students. When the leaves change in autumn, you know you are in New England. The mountains loom behind you with the Berkshires off to the west and there’s easy access to the outdoors all around you. Robert Frost taught at Amherst College and Emily Dickinson lived right in the heart of town where her former home is open to the public as a museum.

I’m not trying to make your decision any easier. But in some ways the decision is very easy. Want a small SLAC with access to Boston? Go to HC. You won’t regret it. Want a big school while still having access to small classes at an elite SLAC? Go to UMass. Best of both worlds. Both options have their charms. It all depends on what you want.

In closing , I’ll quote a nephew who went to RPI in run down Troy, NY. When I asked how it was to go to RPI, he said, “I loved it. I made such great friends.” In the end, that’s what it often comes down to anywhere. The rest can be just a distraction.


Thanks for all this. I will have my son read it over. We are moving to Amherst in August. We love it there. D attends Smith, so we are familiar with the 5-college system. I think S23 would be happy at either and we are going to leave the decision to him.


Congratulations to your son. CHC is an excellent LAC and academics are top notch. But you already know that. We have a recent CHC graduate and one starting in the fall, so we are very familiar with the campus vibe and student involvement activities. There are many, many clubs and activities to get involved in. Club sports are big, and a new student athletic facility, “The Jo” is a great space for the entire campus to stay healthy. There are parties but that does not dominate campus social culture, kind of there if you want it. There is plenty of fun to be had.

Our kids aren’t particularly religious and this has never made them feel like an outsider at all. It’s a non issue. The Jesuit aspect is most evident in the social justice slant of the college and the school strives to educate not only smart but thoughtful people doing something greater than themselves and work for the common good. I will say the college leans left, is progressive and very social justice oriented. (Check out Professor Isaacs/Chem professor on social media).
We’ve been so impressed w CHC and are thrilled to be going back to Worcester in the fall. (And by the way, Worcester is a city on an economic upswing with lots to do and students regularly go out to eat and explore the town. It’s not what people think it was 50 years ago, but that stereotype dies hard here on CC…).
I have nothing to say about the other school because we had better options for a state flagship. Best of luck to your son.


You do realize that your son is likely the beneficiary of diversity here? Holy Cross has probably rejected a kid with higher stats than yours- but the Adcom’s reaction to “another kid from Fairfield CT, active in his parish’s youth activities” was a collective yawn…So THAT kid is going to Stonehill or Providence or whatever his safety is… and complaining that diversity kept him out of HIS first choice, HC! A Bay area kid, non-religious IS diversity at some places (and not at others, which you are learning).

I am a big HC fan-- and U Mass, but I see a lot of airspace between the actual educational experience. I don’t think you have a lot of students at HC who are there to get their ticket punched (parents say you’re going to college- so off they go). I don’t think you have a lot of students at HC who are intent on finding the easiest major they can with the fewest “hard” courses.

There are- of course- fantastic students at U Mass who challenge themselves and are serious about their education… but they are much more concentrated at HC. I think faculty at HC are there specifically to teach undergrads; as in most Catholic institutions, teaching is the higher calling, not the other things faculty need to do to survive (publish, research, go to conferences to prove to the provost that they are serious academics). Not that the HC faculty doesn’t do that- of course they do- but teaching undergraduates is what you signed on for, and I think in general the faculty relish that.

Your son can make U Mass more like HC in terms of classes to choose, professors to work with, his peer group. HC is too small for a kid to make it like U Mass…

But IMHO, HC punches above its weight in several areas- intellectual vigor and rigor being the most obvious. The college understands that it has the double whammy of Worcester (on the upswing for sure, but it’s not Boston or Seattle or Austin) AND being perceived as a religious institution. But that gives it the luxury of assembling a class of kids who really want what they are selling-- a great education and a lot of academic engagement.