I got an email this week from a California mother who was happy that her child would be a attending St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a wonderful public liberal arts college, in the fall.
Her husband, however, remained skeptical. He worried that his daughter would be jeopardizing her chances of going to graduate school if she went to an obscure liberal arts school. He thought she’d have a better shot at attending graduate school if she earned her bachelor’s degree from a large state university in California or elsewhere.
Here’s my answer to that: Nonsense.
Students who attend liberal arts colleges enjoy many advantages that students at large public institutions often don’t. At liberal arts colleges, there is a much greater chance for undergraduate research. Classes are routinely small. Instead of 200 or 300 in Calculus II, you may have 15 or 20 students. Students have more opportunity to develop bonds with professors because the learning is in small settings and not lecture halls. And remember, it’s the professors who are writing those graduate school recommendations.
Okay, you might be wondering, but where are your facts to back up your claims?
To answer the email from the mom, I tracked down a report produced by the National Science Foundation that examined where scientists and engineers, who had earned PhD’s, had obtained their undergraduate degrees. The majority of schools in the top 50 list of PhD-producing schools were liberal arts colleges.
When the NSF looked at what schools were producing the most PhD’s, per 100 undergraduate degrees granted, only three public institutions made the list – University of California-Berkeley, William and Mary College and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.
Without further ado, here are the top 50 schools where graduates ultimately received a PhD in science or engineering:
- Cal Tech
- Harvey Mudd College
- Reed College
- Swarthmore College
- Carleton College
- University of Chicago
- Grinnell College
- Rice University
- Princeton University
- Harvard University
- Bryn Mawr College
- Haverford College
- Pomona College
- New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology
- Williams College
- Yale Univeristy
- Oberlin College
- Stanford University
- Johns Hopkins University
- Kalamazoo College
- Cornell University
- Case Western Reserve
- Washington College
- Brown University
- Wesleyan University
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Macalester College
- Amherst College
- Duke University
- Beloit College (My son’s school.)
- Bowdoin Collge
- Wellesley College
- Ressenlaer Polytechnic Institute
- Earlham College
- Franklin and Marshall College
- Lawrence University
- University of Rochester
- University of California-Berkeley
- Dartmouth College
- Occidental College
- Hendrix College
- Vassar College
- Trinity University
- College of William and Mary
- St. John College
- Bates College
- Whitman College
- Brandeis University
- Hampshire College
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she has just released an eBook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree. Follow me on Twitter.
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I have to admit that I love liberal arts colleges because of the attention they pay to undergraduates. I think this list reflects that commitment to undergraduate education.
Lorie suggests that perhaps there are factors outside the liberal arts phenomenon that you can attribute to the success of liberal arts colleges in producing scientists. I am sure there are.
I think you have to be pretty savvy parents and/or teenagers to appreciate the differences between the mission of a college versus a university. Families that don’t know the difference are usually going to end up at a state university.
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Lorie, I think that it’s important to consider factors like that. While many of the smaller schools on the list are indeed pricey, however, many of them (like Grinnell) also have the resources to cover %100 of their students’ demonstrated need. This kind of aid ensures that deserving students of extremely diverse backgrounds (socioeconomic and otherwise) get to go to these colleges rather than just privileged students with lofty cultural and monetary capital.
Beloit is around 1300.
St. Johns is something like 500 undergrads.
However, is it possible that these schools, most of which are quite pricey, produce more grad degrees because the students who attend have more opportunity to go to graduate school or are more likely to have been pushed by their parents?
Latest enrollment for Earlham is 1,127.
I am proud of #8 Grinnell College. It shows what you can do with a large endowment for state of the art labs and no graduate students so faculty focus on undergraduates. It is perhaps the smallest college on the list at 1600, but near the top.