UPenn vs Northwestern vs Williams

Hi. Intended major: Mathematics. Almost sure I will go to a grad school.

But interested in sound/media/communication technology and processing. This means I would be very likely to do Engineering (electrical I think) and CS (Yes, EECS is strong in UCB which also accepted me, but I simply do not like UCB that much)

I kinda have posted this in Reddit, but just want to see if there is any other advice. Did not apply FA so the price is not a factor.


  • Ivy League → School reputation/ Connections/ Resources.
    Many people, even including my parents, say it is not that important, but I do think it would be something shining on the resume.
  • Good location
  • A pretty good communication school (#3 in ranking)
  • A large flexibility. As someone who is not certain about his future career, UPenn is pretty well-rounded and balanced in almost all the directions I may go toward. I can do math, or engineering (dual degree/internal transfer are not guaranteed tho), business-related (dual degree/ internal transfer to Wharton are even more unpredictable).


  • Was accepted to CAS, could be hard to transfer to Engineering
  • UPenn is especially known for its Wharton. So if I am not a business person and not going to do Wharton… Imagine a UPenn without Wharton, is it still as prestigious as it is with Wharton? Also I know UPenn has a bunch of Coordinated Dual Degree Program, so this makes me wonder if the school would concentrate more resources on Dual Programs and Wharton? (well, if you ask admissions this question, the answer must be no. but… )
  • I have heard from a quite large number of sources that UPenn’s Math Department is not that awesome. Do not if it is accurate, but…
  • The school is quite preprofessional, but I personally enjoy more academia-centered environment.

Note: Despite I have the most cons for UPenn, it is still on the top of my list.


  • Accepted to Communication (top in the nation) and Engineering (Equivalent to UPenn’s engineering at least in ranking) Dual Degree
  • Got invited to Murphy Scholar program that would provide quite a lot resources for me, including some research funds that I have no idea if I would ever be able to use.
  • Although haven’t visited, I know the campus is gorgeous.


  • Northwestern’s School of Communication, although being ranked at the top, is especially known for its Theatre major. I have confirmed with some NWU students and it seems that few people in the SoC actually do anything about the underlying technology behind communication. Rather, it focuses more on the artistic/humanities side. i.e., Communication here is much more treated as Humanities than STEM.
  • Chicago is a quite good city, but it seems the job opportunities are more concentrated in the West/East Coast.


  • Is the very top of LAC.
  • Have worked with several professors there, and found them amazing.
  • Enjoyed the vibe–academia/ close relationship between students and professors
  • Could be very helpful for grad school application.


  • Location. I have spent 4 years in a boarding high school located in some hilly forest in New England. I have visited Williams and it seems like a larger version of my high school.
  • Going to a LAC, at least for me, would mean I HAVE TO go to a grad school. Although I am inclined to gain a master or even PhD degree, I do not want to limit myself.
  • Being a small school means a closer community, but it also means many class/research topics are simply not available as the number of professors is also small. And being a LAC means the course difficulty/ research level might be limited to undergraduate only.


  • My struggle stems from my uncertainty toward my future career. UPenn would be the best choice if I want to go to business/financing industry, and I feel like my future in UPenn is full of uncertainty as who knows if I could, if I want, transfer or dual degree.
  • Northwestern gives me the most abundant resources, including the Dual Degree and a Scholar Program, that I could develop my own career using the resources. But for some reasons I still think UPenn has a bigger name (mostly because of the Ivy title). And even it has a solid communication program, it is not geared toward the communication “technology” that I am fond of; also, UPenn’s communication school is ranked #3, so the comparative advantage of northwestern is at risk.
  • Williams would be the nicest place to study. If I am 100% sure I will continue to do research/ even tenure track, Williams could provide me a very solid foundation for future study of grad school. The biggest concern is that if I do not want to live in utopian academia (or maybe not), Williams seems to be off reality. At the college level, it is different from high school. I have to worry about reality, about making a life, about making money–yes, these mundane stuff.

First off - Congratulations! You have 3 amazing choices. FWIW, I attended Northwestern undergrad (and was in the School of Speech for a year), went to Penn/Wharton for grad school, and my son attends Williams (and he will be joined by his younger brother in Sept who selected Williams over Penn).

My advice is not to worry too much about specific rankings or majors. All 3 schools will have excellent research opportunities and will be very well regarded by grad schools. At Williams, you will probably have better access to professors, but if you are proactive, you can get to know profs well at Northwestern and Penn too.

A few thoughts: Penn and Northwestern may be the most pre-professional schools in the country. Both score extremely well among corporate recruiters. Williams has perhaps the best alumni connection network (and the oldest) in the country. My son got his summer internship by working the alumni network.

I disagree that you would have to go to grad school if you go to Williams or that all corporate recruiting at Penn is for Wharton.

My suggestion is to select the school where you think you will be the most comfortable in making friends, enjoying the surroundings, and building academic connections.


All are great options. However, I do understand the concern that a rural LAC may be too similar to four years at an elite prep boarding school. For many, it is a valid concern.

Labeling Penn or Northwestern as pre-professional does not do justice to the level of intellectual discourse that occurs daily both in and out of the classroom. Even if you attend Groton or St. Paul’s School or a similar prep boarding school, you will be engaged intellectually while also learning practical applications of the theoretical.

Absolutely no wrong choice among your three options. Regardless of your decision, you will be surrounded by a community of brilliant, motivated, and engaged learners and instructors.

P.S. Switching majors at Northwestern is easy. Students are permitted to double or triple major.

FWIW The out-going President of Northwestern University (Marty Shapiro) was a long time President of Williams College before accepting the position at Northwestern.


I’ll just add a small tidbit and it may not apply to you but I know of a student perspective math major that had Williams as a choice and eventually eliminated it because he was concerned he may run out of Math classes to take at Williams due to their smaller catalog compared to larger research schools including his eventual choice.


In case you are not aware, there’s a minor in sound design in the communications school at Northwestern. Also if you are interested in the intersection of math and business, look up MMSS or Kellogg certificate programs there. There’s also MS in management studies at Kellogg that’s only open to Northwestern undergrads to apply. Good luck!


Congratulations on having three wonderful choices!

The math department at Williams is very well-regarded. Its majors are very happy and really love it, reportedly finding it to be both intellectually stimulating and a warm, friendly community within the department.

I am not sure why you feel you’d have to attend grad school more after Williams than after the others. While a number of Williams math majors go on to PhD programs in mathematics or other related subjects, it is also popular to major in math and go straight into a job in one of two industries into which Williams grads go in very large numbers and where alumni connections and the Williams reputation are particularly strong: investment banking and management consulting.

You will not find specialities at Williams in sound/media, communication, or engineering. Basically, anything practical is not a major at Williams (LOL): it is as pure a liberal arts destination as one can find! So if you want to specialize in those right from your undergrad years, Williams is not the best choice.

You sound like you are really thinking about each option and have a good sense of what you want. Best of luck!

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@jsluo888 - Which college did you choose?

Thank you all for your suggestions. After weeks of thoughts and struggles, I have finally decided to commit to UPenn.


Great. Enjoy your college experience!

Congrats! Go Quakers!