In our recent blog “College Rankings: What They Do – and Don’t – Measure,”  we discussed misperceptions about college rankings, especially the US News and World Report (USN&WR) rankings.

But most people don’t know there are actually two completely separate USN&WR rankings: one for large National Universities and another for smaller National Liberal Arts Colleges.

Table A: USN&WR 2022
Top 10 Universities vs. Top 10 Liberal Arts Colleges

UniversityRankCollegeRank
Princeton1Williams1
Harvard, MIT2Amherst2
Yale5Swarthmore3
Stanford, UChicago6Pomona4
UPenn8Wellesley5
CalTech, Duke, Johns Hopkins, NW9Bowdoin6
Claremont McKenna8
Carleton, Middlebury9

Why two lists? Because large National Universities and small National Liberal Arts Schools are completely different. Ranking them together is like comparing vanilla and chocolate ice cream – who could possibly say which is “the best”?

Even so, many students and parents pay attention only to the USN&WR National University list. The result? Ever-increasing competition as students apply to the same schools, producing discouragingly ever-diminishing acceptance rates.

In this blog, we’ll discuss why Blue Stars believes parents and students should consider adding National Liberal Arts Colleges to their school lists.

What IS a “Liberal Arts College” vs. a “University”?

A university has multiple “colleges” or divisions:

  • undergraduate College of Arts and Sciences, and/or Schools of Engineering, Business, Computer Science, and Journalism
  • graduate schools of Arts and Sciences, as well as professional Schools of Business, Law, Medicine, Journalism, Engineering, and/or Veterinary Science

A liberal arts college is like a large university’s undergraduate College of Arts and Sciences “cut and paste” off on its own as a separate institution.

What Do National Liberal Arts Colleges Offer?

A degree from a “Little Ivy,” as some of these smaller colleges are known, can be just as valuable – educationally and financially – as a degree from an Ivy League university.

An Excellent Education

  • Rankings that combine smaller liberal arts schools and large, national universities show some smaller schools outrank Ivy League universities. In the College Consensus rankings, Williams College ranks #6 and Pomona ranks #8 – both above Cornell University at #10. Including Amherst at #12, all three rank above Columbia University (#17), Brown (#18), Dartmouth (#24), and UPenn (#25).
  • The undergraduates of many National Liberal Arts colleges – Harvey Mudd, Swarthmore, Carleton, Reed, Grinnell, Williams, Haverford, and Pomona – earn the most PhD’s of all college undergraduates, adjusted for school size.
  • High percentages of National Liberal Arts College graduates are admitted to top professional schools: law school admissions rates for Smith College in a recent year were 82%; 80% for medical school. For Vassar, law school admissions rates were 90%; medical school 85%.
  • Professors at National Liberal Arts colleges teach only undergrads – even in labs and discussion sections. This, plus the typically smaller classes at these schools, enables students to form strong relationships with professors, perhaps leading to better mentoring and research opportunities – and stronger recommendation letters.
  • High-achieving students from National Liberal Arts Schools may have a better chance of being nominated for selective and prestigious post-graduate fellowships than they would at an Ivy League university that would have more – and maybe stiffer – competition

STEM Majors

  • Many parents and students believe “the liberal arts” don’t include the STEM fields, but liberal arts colleges offer degrees in mathematics, the “pure” natural sciences (physics, chemistry and biology) and Computer Science.
  • Some – like Swarthmore and Smith – offer engineering majors. Many others offer “3-2 engineering programs” through which students attend the liberal arts college for three years, then earn a second engineering degree at schools like Columbia, Caltech or Dartmouth
  • In addition, some liberal arts colleges, like Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, offer Business majors.

High Return on Investment

  • A 2019 report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce calculated that liberal arts colleges have among the best ROI’s of all universities and colleges: 40 years after college, “The ROI of liberal arts colleges rises to $918,000, nearly $200,000 higher than the median ROI of $723,000.”

Conclusion

By now it should be clear that National Liberal Arts Schools match large National Universities in academic reputation, admission to graduate and professional school, and financial benefit. Students at smaller liberal arts schools can gain top-tier educations, earn salaries just as high as – if not higher than – those of graduates of larger schools, AND get into top-tier graduate schools.

We suggest that parents and students “free themselves” of the “large university bias” to choose the schools that are truly the “best fit.” BONUS – some of the most prestigious National Liberal Arts Schools may also be easier to get into:

  • The “Top Three” USN&WR National Universities – Princeton (#1), Harvard (#2) and MIT (#3) – had 2021 acceptance rates of 6%, 3.43% and 4.7%, respectively.
  • The “Top Three” USN&WR National Liberal Arts Colleges – Williams (#1) Amherst (#2) and Swarthmore (#3) – admissions rates were 15%, 12% and 9%.

How Blue Stars Can Help

Blue Stars’ years of experience means we know the wide range of options available in college size, specialization, programs, and outcomes. We will work with parents and students to create a school list that helps students  “to and through” college, presenting clients with possibilities they may never have considered but which may just be each student’s perfect fit.

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Published On: August 26th, 2022 / By / Categories: Art School, College Admissions Tips /
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