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Which One Is Better For Student’s Growth: Liberal Arts Colleges Or Ivy League Colleges?

In the life of every student comes a crossroad that’ll set the course for the rest of their lives, at least professionally — and that crossroad is called college. When it comes to choosing a college, students are often faced with whether to go for an Ivy League vs a liberal arts college.

It’s understandable why making the right choice between the two can feel overwhelming and even confusing. On one hand, students may feel like it’s just college, on the other hand, the right college could simply put, be life-changing.

The right kind of knowledge leads to making the right choices. On that note, let’s look closely at what each of them means.

What is an Ivy League college?

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the growth trajectory of an Ivy League vs a liberal arts college.

Ivy League is a collective title which refers to eight prestigious universities, namely Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown, Princeton, Pennsylvania, and Cornell.

While the terminology itself is rooted in football (these universities formed an inter-collegiate agreement governing football), today Ivy League has come to be associated with prestige and the topmost quality of education.

Every student, especially those applying abroad, dreams of getting accepted into these hallowed institutions. The reason is that these universities carry a great deal of goodwill and open the choicest of opportunities for students.

What is a liberal arts college?

Not too far behind in the realm of academic aspirations are liberal arts colleges. And although Ivy League colleges are wildly sought-after, it would be naïve to overlook this group of colleges.

Liberal arts colleges are rooted in a wide variety of cultural, intellectual, and social studies and activities. Their approach is more holistic, and these colleges aim to impart broader, general knowledge and intellectual capacities.

Liberal arts colleges are particularly appealing to students who want to pursue education and careers in critical thinking, social impact work and other humanities.

The top eight liberal arts colleges every student should consider are Williams College, Amherst College, Middlebury College, Wellesley College, Pomona College, Oberlin College and Vassar College.

These are also the colleges we will be taking into consideration while drawing comparisons further down this article.

What’s the right choice?

While public opinion is one thing, when it comes to matters of one’s career, it always helps to look at the data and make objective analyses. And that is exactly what we have done.

Let’s look at what liberal arts and Ivy League colleges have to offer across acceptance rates, early pay and median salary pay:

  1. Acceptance Ratios:

What exactly does the acceptance rate mean?

Simply put, it is the rate at which a school accepts applicants. The percentage of students accepted into a school against those that applied; determines the acceptance rate of that school.

This means that the school with higher applications will reject more students, and therefore have lower (more impressive and more competitive) acceptance rates.

It is important to note that the acceptance rate only refers to the percentage of students that have been accepted, and not the percentage of students who choose to attend that school. The latter refers to something called yield rate.

Acceptance rate is an important metric for colleges because it is a factor in their ranking by third party sites such as US News College Rankings, which influences future aspirants as well.

However, this is not the only metric to choose from, as middle-tier colleges are known to game the system by adopting tactics such as dropping application fees, to attract a larger number of applications.

In general, the acceptance ratio of Ivy Leagues is higher than that of liberal arts colleges, as students prefer the former for better pay opportunities, social capital, and other such factors.

If you are a student with aspirations to make it in the world of business or of earning a higher pay right at the outset, then Ivy League is the obvious choice for you, as employers are always happy to Ivy graduates what they are worth.

After all, Ivy League colleges are not just institutions, they are brand names.

  1. Early pay

We touched upon higher pay aspirations in the above point. In this segment, we’ll dive a bit further into it and look at graphs that show the median salary for alumni (who have done only Bachelor’s) with 0-5 years of experience.

As we can see from the above graphs, the early payment of Ivy League universities is significantly higher.

Having said that, a liberal arts college like Claremont McKenna shows a higher early pay than an Ivy League Brown University.

On average, the yearly pay for Ivy League is almost USD 10,000 higher than the average of liberal arts colleges: source.

  1. Mid-career pay

Having covered the early graph of the respective alumni, how do things turn out ten years down the line for students on either side?

The following graphs show us the salary of alumni (who have a bachelor’s degree only) with 10+ years of experience.

Once again, we see that the average median pay of Ivy League alumni ranks ahead of that of liberal arts alumni.

While the average difference is around $15,000, you will observe a dramatic difference between the median pay of Ivy League Columbia University and Liberal Arts Wellesley College.

Meanwhile, the mid-career pay of Swathmore, Williams and Claremont McKenna is significantly higher than Columbia, Cornell and Brown.

The net pay increment of Ivy League colleges vs liberal arts colleges

We have already understood that Ivy League Colleges Alumni average mid-career pay is higher than the liberal arts colleges alumni.

However, while the Ivy League Colleges alumni have a clear head start (in terms of higher early career pay), it would be prudent to steer clear of using direct comparisons of mid-career pay to make any final decisions.

Rather it is far more interesting and insightful to compare the net pay increment of ivy league vs the liberal arts colleges.

Calculating NET pay increment percentage

The net pay increment (%) is higher for liberal arts colleges. The simple math helps us break the general myth that the growth trajectory of Ivy League Alumni is higher. We can clearly see how liberal arts colleges alumni also have higher growth.

The bottom line? Knowing your priorities, goals and aspirations will help you identify which institution is the right fit to help you get where you aspire to be. In addition, always do your thorough research, and choose a college that makes sense for YOU, rather than what’s trending.

(All graphs:

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Harsh V Singh

Harsh V Singh

Manager - Creative Content.

An avid book reader and a traveller.

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