With the graduation of my son from Williams College in 2019, as a parent, I’m convinced that a liberal arts education from a small college is superior to large universities. After four years of Williams College, I am very impressed with the institution, their organization, faculty, and the opportunities available to every student.
Small Liberal Arts College Advantage
I grew up in California, went to college in California, and like most West Coast parents, I was conditioned to view the large private universities and University of California institutions as the gold standard of college education. I readily admit that I was wrong and can now see the glaring deficiencies of my college experience at UC Davis. The deficiencies are not a failure of the any of the large universities. They are just the nature of the system trying to push through five or ten thousand students each year to graduation.
What makes Williams College and other small liberal arts colleges special? It comes down to the faculty and the opportunities offered by the college. I hate to break the news to some people, but just because a professor at a large university has lots of international awards, books, and patents, this does not mean he or she is an effective communicator, mentor, or teacher. I asked my son how he was able to get such good grades in all his classes, in addition to just pure study, he said he took advantage of the professor’s office hours and regularly communicated with them.
At Williams College, and other similar colleges my son was considering, the class sizes averaged 20 students. There were only 550 students in his freshman class. Some of the upper division classes and seminars had even less students. He lived on campus all four years. Williamstown is somewhat isolated in northwest Massachusetts. There are not a lot of big city attractions to divert your attention. Because it is a small town, it would not be uncommon to bump into professors at the coffee shop, grocery story, getting ice cream, or on the trails jogging.
Rigorous Courses and Opportunities
Small liberal arts colleges are not apologetic about their high standards and rigorous curriculum. As parents, Williams College was always in communication with us about the variety of support programs for students who might be facing challenges in their academic or social life. Overall, my communications and interactions with Williams College was outstanding. I was always able to reach a friendly voice on the phone to discuss financial aid or logistical issues such as the study abroad program.
The study abroad program is one of the several opportunities offered at many liberal arts colleges. Our son went to London to study for a semester. Other than air fare and additional tuition costs related to the exchange rate, all the details were handled by either Williams College or their contractor that facilitated the enrollment and housing. Our son Walker mentioned how he was surprised at the moderately challenging nature of courses at the large UK university he attended compared to Williams.
We did not see our son much over summer breaks. He took
advantage of Williams College and the academic research many of the professors
are engaged in. Between his freshman and sophomore year he worked in the chemistry
lab at Williams for a professor. Between his sophomore and junior years, he did
independent research at Williams in chemistry. The summer before his senior
year he worked with his chemistry professors to secure a summer internship at
UC Davis for a professor there doing research. Walker said that the time spent
in the lab at UC Davis really helped him define what path he wanted to take
after he graduated.
Williams College Graduation 2019
Perhaps nothing illustrates the accomplishment of graduating from Williams College than the week before the commencement. The faculty and administration understand the tremendous amount of work and sacrifice the students have experienced in their four years and appropriately celebrate it. There are several formal receptions and gatherings for seniors before family and friends even arrive for commencement weekend.
On Saturday of commencement weekend there are numerous award ceremonies to honor students who earned Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi inductions, along with athletic and musical accomplishments. The Ivy Exercises acknowledges all the students who were awarded prizes from different departments or specific endowments related to academic accomplishments. Then there was the beautiful baccalaureate ceremony held in Chapin Hall that has inclusive religious themes of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
Sunday morning, on the library quad, the 230th commencement of Williams College took place. It was wonderful to see all the graduating seniors process in the quad. Kevin Roosevelt Moore played his emotional and high energy America the Beautiful rendition. After the commencement, a large buffet was provided for everyone in attendance.
At the end of the weekend I was even more impressed with Williams College than I was when my son was a freshman. My son was truly fortunate to have attended Williams and he did not take it for granted. Normally a very frugal individual, I was surprised to read in the Ivy Exercises program that he was one of 72 graduating seniors who had already made a senior gift to the Alumni fund. At first, I was miffed that he did not dedicate the gift in honor of his parents OR his professors at Williams. He made his gift in honor of the “powder hounds”. The powder hounds were his close friends at Williams that he bonded with over the four years at Williams and supported him. I love his honesty and I honor his acknowledgement of the special life-long friendships he made at Williams.
Many family and friends have commented at how proud I must be of his accomplishments at Williams. However, I am more impressed at what he has done. He inspires me to work harder on my own historical research and writing projects. Walker does not like the term smart as in, “your son is so smart”. As he correctly points out, while intelligence helps, it is just shear grit and work that is really the foundation of academic achievements. It was fabulous to see so many young people, from across different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, be recognized for similar feats of academic excellence as my son during the Williams College graduation events.
If your son or daughter mentions they are thinking of a small liberal arts college, keep an open mind. Many of these colleges don’t have easily recognizable household names, but that does not mean the education they provide is any less valuable. I contend the atmosphere and opportunities at small liberal arts college are greater than those large universities known more for their football and basketball teams. The next chapter for my son will be attending MIT in the PhD. program for chemistry.
Other blogs related to high school and college.
- Strategically Selecting Colleges To Increase Admission Potential
- Parents Giddy Over Williams College Freshman Send-Off Party
- Moving Your Child Across Country To Attend College
- Is a High School IB Diploma Worth the Sacrifice?
- Happy Williams College Freshman Returns Home for Christmas Break