Which university is better suited for YOU? Comparing Research Universities and Liberal Arts Colleges

Students often choose a college based on prestige or reputation. However, each college has its own identity, along with having different opportunities. Colleges can be sorted into: Research Universities and Liberal Arts Colleges.

What are Research Universities?

Research Universities are institutions that are focused on specific fields of study and give students opportunities to conduct research at high levels, under the guidance of top experts and world class faculty.

Some distinct characteristics: Large student body, Strong alumni network, Competitive, Expert staff, Access to more resources, Many extracurricular activities

Examples of Research Universities:

  • Private Universities: The Ivy League (Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University), Stanford University, University of Chicago, etc.
  • Public Universities: Georgia Institute of Technology, The University of California System (UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, etc.), The University Texas System (UT Austin, UT Arlington, UT Dallas, etc.), University of Virginia, University of Michigan etc.

(you can find the full list by clicking here).

Pros Cons
Increased opportunities (research, study abroad, internships) and extracurricularsGPA inflation/deflation based on which school
Connections with alumni and established researchersLarge classes (often difficult to stand out and harder to connect with professors)
Large student bodyDepending on the school, less undergraduate focus (primary attention is given to graduate students)

What are Liberal Arts Colleges?

Liberal Arts Colleges (LACs) are institutions that are heavily focused on undergraduate study in the sciences and liberal arts (philosophy, literature, math, physical and social sciences).

Distinct characteristics: Small student body, Heavy undergraduate focus, Closer connections with faculty, Small classrooms, Strong alumni network

Examples:

  • Private LACs: Amherst College, Claremont McKenna College, Colorado College, Grinnell College, Williams College, Washington & Lee University, etc.
  • Public LACs: Johnson State College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, University of Illinois at Springfield, University of Minnesota Morris, etc.

    (you can find the full list by clicking here).
ProsCons
Small Student Body (a larger population may be overwhelming for some people)For students who are social and like meeting a diverse body of people, a small student body may not be ideal
Increased Flexibility in curriculum (LACs usually allow for exploration within majors and concentration)Less activities and extracurriculars to choose from
Connections with professors and faculty (less population allows for more one on one time)Depending on the school, isolation from city life (most LACs, however, have a college town feel)

Weighing out the pros and cons of these universities can be highly advantageous before you decide your college list or matriculate at an institution. To find more information about a particular research university or LAC, visit their websites, attend virtual information sessions, watch student vlogs, tour the campus (in person or virtual tours), attend college fairs, and reach out to current students and/or alumni.

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