Williams v UNC v St Andrews

Yes he didn’t apply to any conservatories. I think he has enough passions to find his way at Williams and I do agree it’s pretty hard to say no to Williams.


I think it really depends on what your son is looking for in his college experience. My son is a graduate of Williams. He spent a wonderful four years there and would do it again in a heartbeat. But I would be the first to say that Williams’ remote, insular location is not for everyone.

Has your son visited Williams? The students that seemed happiest to me were those that chose Williams because of its rural setting, not in spite of it. My son had always lived in mega sized cities, both in the US and in Asia, and thought he wanted an urban environment, but when he visited something about the Williams’ campus spoke to him. He’s back in a city now, but he cherishes the time he spent in that mountain village.

About 40% of the student body double majors, often in disparate disciplines. Experimentation is encouraged both in depth and breadth of study.

My observation is that many Williams students are involved in an artistic activity (art, music, drama) AND either participate in a team sport or outdoorsy activity. This balance of academics/arts/sports etc, to me, personifies the Williams student. Two of my son’s closest friends were serious musicians and although they ultimately chose other career paths, they performed regularly at Williams, and music continues to be an important part of who they are.

My son found the nurturing and supportive faculty a huge plus, both during his time at Williams and afterwards in the form of graduate school recommendations and job/career advice and references. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.


Thank you for all these thoughtful bits of advice !

I have talked with many students at UNC that say getting psychology classes is very tough. High demand and not enough sections.

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There are definitely music opportunities at UNC. He might like the Clef Hangers acappella group, UNC Clef Hangers - YouTube

I think he would have opportunities to golf while at UNC if not being on the team. Check out UNC’s Finley Golf Course. Hard to beat St Andrews for golf, but there is Pinehurst with its famed Number 2 course right down the road from UNC.

Great weather at UNC, too.

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My D attended St. Andrews starting Fall 2019 and left March 2020 when COVID closed the school. (Full disclosure she elected to transfer back to a US school in 2020). The town is gorgeous and very charming but it is small with somewhat limited entertainment options. Golf is available as are many other sports but they do not play much of a role in the over all school atmosphere. It is not UNC. Likewise, the social side of St. Andrews is very student driven. As it’s a small town there are a good restaurants but limited in number, same with pubs and there’s only the student union for “night club/dancing” options unless one ventures to Dundee which is about a 20+ minute drive. Students organize social events such as the Wellie Ball, Glitter Ball, Christmas Ball, Fashion show as well as smaller parties in their flats. There is a good sized American cohort at St. Andrews as well. As far as music I believe there are some choral/acapella groups but I don’t know if there are theater/musical opportunities too.

As far as academics there is slight flexibility compared to English unis but it’s nothing compared to how US schools function. Students can choose up to 3 subjects to study first year and they can only “major” in up to 2 of those starting second year. It’s very difficult if not impossible to switch to a completely different course starting second year. The academics are much more self driven, students are expected to self teach/independent learn quite a bit of the material and external help from professors is limited….think office hours for maybe 1-2 hours per week. Professorial strikes are also quite common (that was an eye opener for us). There is much less hand holding/mentoring than in the US. Uni students are adults and the school treats them as such.

St. Andrews is an amazing place for a student who knows what they want to study and wants to do so in a very in-depth way. There are no gen Ed requirements, slight opportunity to explore many academic areas before choosing one, it can be impossible to have 2 majors because the classes literally meet at the same time and that’s the only time they meet (my D wanted to double major in Economics and Classics but the intro classes met at exactly the same time so classics was out starting day one.

I’ll also add that St. Andrews is experiencing a fairly significant housing crisis. They tore down a large dorm prior to COVID and it’s replacement has yet to be started coupled with 2 overenrolled classes in 2020 and 2021. Housing is only guaranteed for first year.

Lastly keep in mind the travel component as far as cost and time. Direct flights to Edinburgh are rare from the US and it’s over an hour drive to St. Andrews from there.

I can’t comment on Williams or UNC except to say that since they have such different vibes/culture/physical size/location it seems a visit to each would be a critical piece of the puzzle for your son.


Thank you for all this helpful information on St Andrews. He has visited UNC and Williams already. He visited St Andrews but only to play golf and did not have a university tour as it was a few years back. We re going to see what revisits / visits we can squeeze in before the decision deadlines

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For someone who doesn’t know what they want to do, Williams will be the easiest for exploration. Although large publics offer everything, there are typically limitations on who can access certain classes, with majors being given priority. He can do his junior year abroad, even in Scotland.

If he has thrived at a NE BS, he will thrive at Williams. Lots of BS grads head to LACs for this reason. And lots choose big schools because they want a change. Your son probably can say which camp he’s in.

Personally, I would pick Williams.


And remember, by doing the W&M/St. Andrews dual, you’re still paying W&M tuition prices while you’re over in Scotland. I know you mentioned that cost isn’t a primary factor, just an additional data point.

I’ll co-sign what others have offered. Williams appears to be the best fit.


I think this comment from Parentologist pretty well sums it up.

The St. Andrews/W&M program sounds pretty choppy to me - especially for someone who’s still looking to find his direction. He’s not going to be able to play on the golf team at UNC.

Williams looks like the ideal fit to me - which doesn’t mean it is because it has to be the right fit for him. Williams has some amazing opportunities like the Oxford style tutorials and the January semester, which both provide opportunities to experience a different side of yourself and help a student discover their passions (in addition to singing and golf). A small LAC may be a luxury, but it sounds like you have the resources to pay for graduate school. So, my vote would be for Williams where he can get a great general education p, find his major, and specialize in grad school.


I don’t want to reiterate what others have said, but based on what you have said about your son and his known experiences and preferences, I think that Williams would be the best choice.

While Williams might not offer as many exotic or pre-professional majors as the larger schools would offer - a common difference between LACs and universities - what they do offer is absolutely outstanding, and the academic support and student-prof interaction are second to none. So if he wanted to explore, his advisor and/or profs would help him chart a path to slake his thirst.

So I think Williams is the best choice based on what we know about him, and given the academic quality and support.


Interesting because my son currently has St Andrews and Williams as two of 4 current acceptances. He’s still waiting for more decisions but LOVES Williams. He’s going to decline the BA/MA Honours program at St Andrews for IR/Econ. He is concerned about some experiences students have had with housing and quality of professors at St A. He will also be declining a flagship state school. He will also be withdrawing from a few WLs as he isn’t interested in pursuing those anymore.

Wishing you son the best of luck as he figures it out. We will be attending Williams Accepted students days so he can get a feel for the school and what he thinks.


Another big thumbs up for Williams here. I had the choice between a top state flagship and chose Williams despite the slightly higher cost after some generous financial aid. In retrospect, I see that decision as one of my life’s best. For me, attending Williams was a life changing experience in all the good ways! At the time I applied, I hadn’t the foggiest clue what I wanted to do after college must less study at college. Williams will allow your son time to explore any of his interests without having to feel rushed or pressured to declare a major. And do factor in the incredible faculty relationships that many students develop and the strong and loyal alumni network that will open many doors!


Is the student really agnostic between these 3? That doesn’t really make sense to me. When I look at these choices I see:

  1. Williams:I went from a BS to a college like Williams (though less isolated)- approx 2500 students. It was/is a great school, with lots of amazing resources- but I transferred out after 2nd year, b/c it was just too small, too far from the world, too much like BS.

  2. StAs/W&M- a lot of the comments above don’t allow for the 1-2-1 structure, or the difference in scale. StAs is in a tiny town- but 9K undergrads. First year you do all the fun things, then 2nd year over to W&M (smallish town, but not far from the world; 6.5K students). Your cohort goes with you, so you aren’t starting from scratch.

  3. UNC-CH- full on 20K undergrads. The RDU conurbation has a lot going on, but is also spread out and really car-oriented.

So for the OP’s student: is it baby bear, mama bear or papa bear?

That’s interesting. We are also really excited about Williams and plan on attending the admitted student days also!

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Nice bear analogy! I don’t think my son is indifferent— Mom is just weighing it all up (slight tendency to over analyse things :)) At the end he will choose himself for sure !

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For what it’s worth, would also mention that the close working relationship with profs in the lab, tutorials and seminars is very unique to Williams and the hands on learning that happens at Williams is hard to find elsewhere. Many grad students, MBAs, management consultants, bankers etc. often point to that hands on learning as being the foundation of their careers.


Yes the more I read about Williams the more impressed I am with all aspects. Looking forward to the revisits-

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UNC has offered my son merit scholarships this week- they sure know how to time the hard sell well :slight_smile: with these and in state tuition the cost is quite attractive- I want him to choose the best fit for him- let’s see how he feels after revisits. Thanks again for all your good advice !