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Which is better small liberal arts university or prestigious?

In my area there are plenty of both and when it comes time to apply I want to know which is better to study at. I want to know things like pros and cons and cost wise and all that both entail. college university higher-education university-applications liberal-arts prestigious-university

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Ken’s Answer

Hi Nada!


It really does not matter where you go to college! The most important thing is how you apply yourself and what you make of the experience.


I started at a community college and finished at a four year school and really enjoyed the experience. The community college had more reasonable costs and smaller classes than I would have experienced starting out at a four year school and my credits transferred. Community colleges also have more of an opportunity to become involved in intern and coop programs, so you can earn and apply you knowledge as you complete your studies and learn about the inside of the career areas which you might be considering.


When you are considering any school, go talk to the head of alumni relations to arrange to meet and talk to graduates of that school who are working in your areas of interest to see what they are doing, how they go there, and how you feel about it. Choosing a career area and a school is like buying a pair of shoes. They may look great, but you need to try them on and walk in them for a while to determine proper fit and comfort.


Please let me know if and how this might have helpful.. Please keep me informed. I would like to follow your progress.

Thank you again for the amazing advice Ken! I will be sure to check this out! Nada D.
You are welcome. Happy to help. Best of luck! Ken Simmons
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John’s Answer

Okay, Nada: you already have some really good advice from two wise advisors, so I'm just going to add on to what they have said, but give you a little more specific answer. I worked at both Harvard University and Williams College -- one is large, the other small. Both are prestigious. However, the difference between the two apply to any schools of similar size. It is often the case that the larger institution will have more resources at its disposal and provide more academic options than the smaller school. This is certainly the case at Harvard.


At the smaller institution, on the other hand, with fewer students and perhaps fewer resources, you have a much better chance of getting more personalized attention. At Harvard, for example, many of the classes are taught by graduate students, with the famous professors only delivering lectures in large classes. At Williams, there are no grad students, so each class is taught by one of the full-time faculty and the class size rarely exceeds 20-25 students. So, when it comes time to graduate and you need letters of recommendation for jobs and grad schools, you'll have a better chance of getting a good letter at the smaller school. So, there are advantages to the smaller school.


Now, as to the question of prestige . . . having a degree from a top school will never hurt you . . . however, it may not help you as much as you like. For example, let's say you're from North Carolina and want to teach after you graduate. You might have a better chance at getting a good job having gone to NC State rather than Harvard because you'll know the system in that state better than any Harvard student. And, your recommenders may have good contacts for you to follow locally. Prestige tends to be an advantage more when you are looking nationally. But, as those who provided advice before me, prestige is often less important than you think. Best of luck with your planning and let me know if you have more questions.

Thank you for the help John!!! Nada D.
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Alexis’s Answer

There are so many factors involved that would make one college a better choice for you than another.


Prestige is one thing, sure, but if you'll be there for 2 or 4 years, I believe the city or surrounding area a college is in makes a lot of difference. Where do you want to live and learn? Where will you really stretch yourself and step a little bit out of your comfort zone? And what industry do you eventually want to work at?


Also, that small liberal arts school might have a much better program in what you are interested in than that large, prestigious university.


At the end of the day, as Ken mentioned, where you go isn't as important as what you do there, and how you make the best of your time while there.


Enjoy looking for the right place!

Thanks for the advice Alexis! It is much appreciated! Nada D.
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Keith’s Answer

Hi Nada,


Size and prestige are not closely related to an institution being a University or Liberal Arts College. In other words, there are prestigious liberal arts colleges and less prestigious universities, and vice versa. Many students have asked similar questions about the value of attending a prestigious institution--I've copied my advice below:


Generally speaking, the most important thing is the effort you put in while you're in school, not the school itself.


There are, however, some advantages and disadvantages to more or less prestigious schools. For example, if you are planning to go to graduate or professional school, a more prestigious undergraduate degree can help. Similarly, some employers may recruit at certain schools but not others. Again, this assumes you work hard, not just have the name of the school.


On the other hand, many big name schools are fairly poor in some programs. For example, some Ivy League schools have minimal engineering and science departments. Many of them compare poorly to the flagship public universities in these areas.


Finally, I will say that I attended a prestigious undergraduate institution, and a less prestigious graduate institution. The less prestigious school had fewer resources, and less prestigious companies recruited there, and the students weren't quite as well prepared. But I do think I got more out of my time there, because I put more into it. I think among students at big name schools, there is a tendency to coast, under the assumption that as long as you have the right name on your degree, nothing else matters. That would be a mistake.

Thanks for the wonderful advice Keith!! Nada D.
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Gloria’s Answer

Hi Nada,

In my experience. there are very few careers that benefit from earning a degree at a prestigious school. They are very small subsection and I don't believe that there is a best in Liberal Arts. You should look for a school that meets your needs. Does the school offer programs that interest you? Can you afford it without going into outrageous debt? Does the culture of the school match your values? The power of a diploma is a mixture of where you learned and what you do with your degree. Small schools allow you more one on one time with teachers and closer connections to the students. The value of the school is only what you do with the degree that you earn. You are the most important element in the equation.

Gloria
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