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Ivy League or Liberal Arts College? How to Choose

written by: Heather Marie Kosur•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 12/7/2011

Choosing between an Ivy League or liberal arts college can be difficult. What should you be thinking about to help you in your decision? The following tips will help make the choice a little easier for even the most conflicted student.

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    Choosing a College

    Choosing between Ivy League and liberal arts college experiences can be tough. If you are among the few fortunate enough to have the choice between two incredible institutions for higher education, there are a few things to keep in mind before making the final decision.

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    Ivy League: Pros and Cons

    Ivy League universities include Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, and Dartmouth. These schools are all located in the Northeastern part of the United States and are part of the same athletic conference. Many of these schools are among the oldest in the country and have had significant time to build and bolster large endowments as well as prestige and pride.

    The pros of an Ivy League school are numerous. While you may receive a rigorous education anywhere in the country, the networking possibilities of an Ivy League education are very impressive. Many of the top businesspeople and political leaders have attended Ivy League Universities. The connections made at any one of these institutions can definitely bolster career moves after graduation, due to the loyalty and sense of community these Universities share.

    The cons of the Ivy League, however, can play a significant role in the choice to attend. Ivy League schools tend to be incredibly competitive due to the influx of the “best and brightest” in the country. For some, this pressure proves too much.

    Cost can also be a limiting factor. A great education does not come cheap and many students and parents can accrue large amounts of debt to finance such a University. The location of the Universities can also require many students to move across the entire country to attend, requiring plane tickets to visit home. While financial aid is available for some, it can be tough to get and can effect the decision to attend in the long run. For many families, the stress of having a loved one so far away can also be detrimental.

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    Liberal Arts: Pros and Cons

    Liberal arts schools can be a great alternative for students and parents looking for a great education outside the Ivy League. Many liberal arts schools are just as rigorous as Ivy Leagues in their admission guidelines and admit students ready to work hard and learn as much as possible. These schools tend to be smaller, allowing for increased financial aid for qualified individuals in some schools.

    Liberal arts schools focus on a well-rounded education, allowing students to take multiple classes outside their chosen major. The small school size allows for smaller class size and more one-on-one time with the professor. Students can often take up leadership roles in multiple organizations due to the small size, allowing students to flourish rather than slip through the cracks.

    However, liberal arts schools are not without their downfalls. Liberal arts colleges can be very expensive. The classes are smaller and there can be less variety in the course offerings. There may also be fewer activities in some schools due to smaller enrollment. While liberal arts colleges are excellent institutions, some would argue that there is less clout from a liberal arts degree than an Ivy League degree.

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    How to Choose

    In the end, choosing between an Ivy League or liberal arts college is a personal decision. Depending on the student and the family, there are many factors to take into account. The best advice, however, is to focus on making the best choice for the student in the long run. Depending on the program he or she is entering, one school might stand out and be worth the investment. One thing is certain: you can’t go wrong with an Ivy League or liberal arts school and that is something to be grateful for.

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    • Cummings, John P. "Costs and Benefits of an Ivy League College Diploma - by John P Cummings - Helium." Helium - Where Knowledge Rules. Web. 05 July 2010. <>.
    • Ellis, Shilo L. "The Benefits of a Liberal Arts Education." Tips for Choosing a College. Web. 05 July 2010. <>.
    • Lorenz, Kate. "What Does an Ivy League Degree Get You? - Careers Articles." Jobs, Careers, and Job Listings - AOL Find a Job. AOL, 26 Jan. 2009. Web. 05 July 2010. <>.
    • Rockler-Gladen, Naomi. "Liberal Arts Colleges." Suite 101, 21 Jan. 2007. Web. 5 July 2010. <>.