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Liberal arts versus Ivy League: find what fits you best, according to administrators

The ranking of Ivy League schools by their class of 2020 selectivity provided by Business Insider. Ivy League schools, known for their prestige, have acceptance rates ranging from a 5.2% to 14%, leaving a competitive and stressful application process to get a degree that can be received from many other schools. (Photo courtesy Business Insider)

With federal prosecutors charging 50 people in the wake of the 2019 College Admission Bribery Scandal, part of the national discussion has centered around whether degrees from one type of university, like an Ivy League school, is better than a degree from a liberal arts college like Westminster College.

Each of the eight Ivy League colleges are known for their prestige and academic difficulty with an acceptance rate ranging from a 5.2% to 14%.

A liberal arts college is a “particular type of institution — often small, often residential — that facilitates close interaction between faculty and students, and whose curriculum is grounded in the liberal arts disciplines,” according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).

According to research from, an organization that reviews liberal arts schools characteristics, Ivy League schools had an average four-year graduation rate of 87% and the top liberal arts colleges’ rates averaged out to 88%.

Westminster College President Beth Dobkin said in an email, that liberal arts colleges usually have a strong emphasis on student-teacher interaction as well as “high-quality teaching.”

“I definitely wanted to go to a small school so I could have that interaction with my professors […], that sense of community has definitely helped,” said Abby Jacobs, a senior marketing major at Westminster.

Universities and Liberal Arts schools compare in many ways, but they both present students with the opportunity of receiving a degree. It does not matter which school you attend, it matters what you learn at the school. (Photo by Lacey Kisko with information from Khan Academy)

According to Alexa Price, a Westminster admissions counselor and alumni from Center College, in her experience, liberal arts colleges have close relationships between faculty and students which provides opportunities for community connections.

“I still have professors that I meet for coffee when I am back home, I keep updated on all of the things that I am doing,” Price said. “I have one [professor] that I took probably six of her classes, […] she’s just been rooting for me since I was barely 18 and she still wants to know what’s going on.”

However, Madison McCarthy, an alumni from Columbia which is an Ivy League school, said in an email while she was constantly challenged at Columbia both academically and in other realms, but there were always individuals to engage with in academics and conversations that furthered her interests and options.

“[I] found a wonderful group of friends, supportive faculty and administration, and overall truly enjoyed my experience at Columbia,” McCarthy said.

Success During School

According to the AAC&U, college educations are expensive, and “students need to know that not all college degree programs are equal,” and not all prepare people for success.

A survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed in 2013, found that 40% of high school students parents strongly agree that “a vocational, professional, or technical certificate or degree program could lead my child to a good job,” and only 26% strongly agreed that “a liberal arts education could lead my child to a good job.”

The article How Ivy League Admissions Works states, “The tightly concentrated demand at the Ivy League schools can be at least partially explained by the power of the Ivy League brand name, which many high-achieving students (and their parents) equate with the only path to success and wealth. The increasing selectivity of the Ivy League admissions process only exacerbates the problem, creating hordes of Ivy-obsessed students who place unhealthy pressure on themselves to be accepted.”

Converse Hall, home to Westminster College’s admission office, on April 23. Ivy League schools are known for their high academic and social prestige, according to Business Insider, while liberal arts schools emphasize student-teacher interaction and high-quality teaching, according to Westminster President Beth Dobkin. (Photo by Lacey Kisko)

However, Richard Badenhausen, dean of Westminster’s Honors College, said “It’s less important where you can go and more important what you can do.”

“Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be,” a book by Frank Bruni, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, agrees that students futures and their worth will not be determined by the school that they attend.

“[Frank Bruni’s] point is ‘the student is far more important than the college [they] go to,’” Badenhausen said. “You could probably be successful at 200 different colleges, once we sort out some of the macro issues: private, public, small, large, how’s the program you’re interested in? After that, you’re the person who is actually important.”

According to Badenhausen, the school that you attend is less important than the skills that you learn in college: communicating clearly, working well with other people with diverse backgrounds, etc.

“That’s what we do at Westminster, we practice those broad liberal arts skills, we are going to help you succeed in all sorts of different settings,” Badenhausen said.

Each year Westminster College sees students come in as certain types of people and leave very different, with different skills and confidence in what they are able to do, according to Badenhausen.

“At a residential, liberal arts institutions, students get an entire educational experience both in and out of the classroom,” President Dobkin said, in an email. “The student who takes advantage of everything that a place like Westminster has to offer is more likely to achieve personal growth and professional success.”

Post Graduation

According to a study on Higher Education in Career Development, when assessing recent graduates for employment, employers put a higher value on experience, such as employment and internships, during school rather than academic ratings like GPA and college major.

In 2010, the Wall Street Journal did a survey on 479 of the largest public and private companies, asking them which higher education schools they liked and trusted best when they were looking to hire college graduates. The survey results showed that out of the top 25 colleges that the companies picked, only one was an Ivy League.

The book, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be,” by Frank Bruni, explains that students futures and their worth will not be determined by the school that they attend. Americans have turned college admissions into a terrifying process filled with tests, tutors, and different rankings, according to Frank Bruni. (Photo by Lacey Kisko)

President Dobkin said, in the end, students should go where they feel “supported and brave enough to take the opportunities that will be available.”

“Graduating from a liberal arts college was very helpful when [I was] searching for jobs after graduation because I had a diverse resume,” Anna Neste, a Westminster alumni. “My class schedule was not just focused around one area of study which allowed me to have a broader skill set.”

Neste said attending a Liberal Arts college gave her the opportunity to gain experience in her area of study which helped her to figure out her plans after graduation.

“I majored in International Business at Westminster [and] during my senior year I did an internship at a digital marketing firm,” Neste said. “My internship allowed me to learn new skills and helped me realize that marketing is the area of business I would like to pursue as a career.”

Senior marketing major Kori Shaw said she feels that Westminster has “enhanced [her] learning style and [academic] achievement.”

Richard Badenhausen, because learning is “hard to quantify,” it is hard to know what colleges are the best.

“It’s not something that you can see, it takes place over time, and it takes place differently for each individual,” Badenhausen said. “We can’t make blanket statements about learning, because everyone’s path is different.”


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Lacey Kisko is a senior studying communication and entrepreneurship. She is working to create a more artistic and influential outlook on everyday life. She focuses her spare time and passions on the outdoors working with photography and other design elements. You can find her skiing, painting, drawing and hanging out with friends.


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