I would guess that most of the readers of Ephblog think pretty highly of Williams (some regular commenters excepted!).  The fabled “purple bubble” doesn’t completely disappear once we graduate.  But many others are more skeptical.

I recently came across a thread entitled “How many colleges are “better” than Williams?” on the DC Urban Moms message board.  This question used to open discussion was “I’ll give the nod to HYPS, but where does Williams fall after them?”  The thread generated lots of discussion.  If you have time, you might enjoy browsing through some of the comments.  Here are some of the interesting ones.  We can make a good guess as to where that person went to school.

One. Amherst.

Perhaps the same commenter wrote this:

Amherst has very good placement at the top graduarwvand professional schools. I think better than Williams and Pomona, probably Swarthmore also.
That’s basically anecdotal, but an educated anecdotal from going to these schools, having friends at each of them, attending a top graduate school and reviewing a lot of resumes. I’ve hired several Amherst grads (based on their post-college education and experience) but no one from any of the other LACs,I think

You can see more after the break.

These two appear to not be big fans of small liberal arts colleges:

HYPS, Amherst, Williams? You believe Amherst and Williams are better than Chicago, Columbia, Penn, Duke, Dartmouth…?


I’d go to any ivy first. Also MIT, Cal Tech, Stanford, U Chicago, Johns Hopkins, and probably Berkeley


This one was more balanced:

Williams is around Dartmouth/Penn/Brown level. My Ivy pecking order goes H>Princeton>Y>Columbia>Penn>D>B>Cornell

There are only three other LACs that I’d call equal, not better or worse, and that’s Amherst, Swarthmore, and Pomona. Pomona in particular is a rising star in the same way Stanford is overtaking Harvard in many aspects. They were the most selective LAC by acceptance rate, had a 55% yield for their recent class (much higher than Swarthmore’s 40% or Williams 45%), they enrolled the most diverse student body of any top LAC in their recent class, and their endowment per student is the largest of the four, fifth only to HYPS. With the Forbes rankings I think they’ll only get more selective. The 5 Claremont Colleges are also selective, with 4 of the 5 representing the lowest acceptance rate among top 50, non-military LACs, and Scripps the second most selective women’s college after Barnard.

Williams is definitely more prestigious and has a richer history of successful alum than Pomona, however.

Bowdoin, Carleton, and Middlebury aren’t far behind (comparable to places like Rice, Emory, Vanderbilt in rank), though they’re poorer on an endowment per capita basis and not as selective.

While I’d disagree, this commenter at least had a position which made sense, at least for some:

Amherst, without a doubt. Williams is great, but what else is going on in the town? At Amherst you’ve got a great town AND access to Northampton and the rest of the Pioneer Valley.

After reading this, I wonder why this kid did not end up at Williams:

My son is going to Harvard, but Williams was his top choice at first (he applied ED but was deferred–>accepted). After visiting Harvard he felt Williams felt much less resourced and much more isolated, though he saw its appeal and felt the initial reasons he had for applying early were accurate to the school. He also met many kids at Williams admitted days who were choosing the college over all of the other Ivies.

Williams was his favorite LAC that he visited. He also visited Swarthmore, Amherst, and Bowdoin, but didn’t have the same “love” factor with them. He didn’t even consider Pomona (didn’t know about it at all).

This commenter offered a slighly provocative view.  By the way, have others seen the acronym AWS standing for Amherst/Williams/Swarthmore:

For the culturally/intellectually elite set, Williams–and Amherst and Swarthmore, also certain highly selective women’s colleges–has more cache than HYP. This is often because it is simply assumed that one will go onto graduate school at a top university, whether it be HYP, MIT, Stanford, Chicago, etc. Any Joe Schmoe would be impressed by HY, but only those who have fairly privileged backgrounds would know to apply to AWS.

I like this person’s conclusion, but I’m not sure if s/he is helping our reputation at all. The conversation doesn’t make us look good, in my opinion:

Williams gets mega respect from anyone in the know. Flyover trash and rubes are the only morons who don’t know Williams is one of the finest schools in the world.


Very, very few human beings have heard of it.


The humans I care to associate and converse with know about Williams. I don’t care what middle management, flyover, poor schmucks think of it.

Is this true?

Keep in mind that Williams, and many other top LACs, has an extremely high percentage of recruited athletes. Near 40% of every class, I think. This may or may not be a point in its favor.

I think this is pretty interesting, and has the ring of truth:

It’d be around Dartmouth’s level (~10%), honestly. The college is so isolated that it turns off a lot of applicants. Williams gets almost 1000-1500 less applicants than ASP, even though it consistently does better on the most well-known rankings (US News, Forbes). The other three are less isolated and have additional consortia systems to give more resources.

But drew this response:

Isolated colleges produce better students, better college experiences, deeper friendships. College isn’t so you can be a Kardashian popping bottles in some nightclub.

While there is something nice about hearing how poorly prepared Amherst students were for graduate work, the rationale would also apply to Williams:

As a prof, I was shocked by how poorly educated/prepared some of the Amherst students I encountered were for graduate work. Smart kids (so good grades, recs, scores) but their intellectual growth had been kind of stunted by lack of exposure to a wider range of faculty. And I know that the range of course offerings in my (non-STEM) field that would have been *available* to me at a top LAC was a fraction (1/4 – 1/3) of what I actually took as an undergrad.

But this professor had almost the exact opposite opinion:

My experience as both a graduate of a SLAC and now having been a professor at two major research universities is that students who come out of SLACs are better writers, tend to be more intellectually engaged, and more confident conversationalists in seminars. I’m not particularly [fazed] by the smaller availability of courses offered at SLACs–the fact is that most students don’t maximize the number of courses in their undergrad departments anyway. Also, going to a larger university doesn’t mean that a student will end up actually taking a variety of courses within the discipline–in fact when you have a larger department with more course offerings, there is a greater likelihood that a student ends up specializing too early. The experiences and insights gained by taking undergraduate courses in other disciplines are invaluable for future academics, and liberal arts requirements are more likely to be found in the curriculum of SLACs than in larger universities. This is not to say, of course, that graduate of larger universities don’t end up with great educations, but rather than the focused attention on undergraduates has major advantages, especially in terms of going to graduate school.


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