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What you need to know about NESCAC Schools

Let’s say you’ve decided that you want to attend a liberal arts college, and perhaps you wouldn’t mind going to school in the northeast. If that’s the case, then you’ll definitely want to know about NESCAC schools. 

What is the NESCAC?

The New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) is a group of liberal arts colleges and universities in the northeastern United States. The conference dates back to 1971, when its members were brought together out of a shared philosophy regarding college athletics. NESCAC schools believe that while athletics are an important part of the college experience, they shouldn’t take a higher priority than academics.

Along with their shared beliefs regarding sports, NESCAC schools are also known for their top-notch liberal arts programs. In fact, every school in the conference is considered a “Little Ivy” because their academics are so highly regarded. Here’s a list of all the NESCAC schools, broken down by acceptance rate. 

School State Acceptance Rate Undergraduate Enrollment Tuition
Bowdoin College ME 9.1% 1,835 $56,350
Colby College ME 9.7% 2,003 $57,280
Amherst College MA 11.3% 1,839 $58,640
Bates College ME 12.1% 1,820 $55,683
Williams College MA 12.6% 2,078 $57,280
Tufts University MA 15% 5,907 $58,578
Middlebury College VT 15.4% 2,580 $56,216
Hamilton College NY 16.4% 1,924 $56,530
Wesleyan University CT 16.5% 3,018 $57,334
Trinity College CT 33.5% 2,195 $59,050
Connecticut College CT 37.4% 1,861 $56,890


What do NESCAC schools have in common?


Let’s talk about athletics first, because it’s what brought the NESCAC schools together in the first place. Simply put, NESCAC schools believe that athletics should take a backseat to academics. However, this isn’t to say that these schools don’t value athletics. In fact, NESCAC members maintain that sports can play a vital role in a college student’s education. The belief is that students can learn just as much on the field as they can in the classroom. Former New York Yankees owner and Williams College graduate George Steinbrenner sums it up with this quote

“What Williams and the other schools understand is that you learn just as much on the line of scrimmage as you do in the library stacks. But the point is, a student shouldn’t just drink from the gymnasium fountain but from all the fountains.” – George Steinbrenner

In other words, sports are viewed as part of the student’s education and should be played purely for the love of the game. This differs from the philosophy of large universities like the Big 10 schools, where major emphasis is placed on winning championships and generating revenue. Meanwhile, NESCAC schools maintain that athletics should never get bigger than academics at the collegiate level. In keeping with this philosophy, the NESCAC abides by restrictive rules. For instance, athletic scholarships are not awarded and sports seasons are shorter than average. 

Little Ivies

Since NESCAC schools place such a high priority on academics, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’re all considered “Little Ivies”. The Little Ivies are a group of academically competitive and highly selective schools that extend beyond the NESCAC. These schools are known for their rigorous liberal arts programs. As members of the Little Ivies, it goes without saying that NESCAC schools are some of the most prestigious colleges in the nation. 

Small Student Bodies

Unlike many Ivy League colleges and Public Ivies, NESCAC colleges have very small student bodies. With the exception of Tufts University, which enrolls nearly 6,000 students, every other school has an undergraduate population hovering around 2,000. This is an attractive feature for anyone seeking a small campus culture. 

Undergraduate Focus 

Most NESCAC schools focus exclusively on undergraduate education. This means that they only offer bachelor’s degrees rather than master’s degrees and doctorate degrees. As such, most schools in the conference are actually labelled as colleges instead of universities. Tufts University and Wesleyan University are the two exceptions. 

Should I attend a NESCAC school? 

If you attend a NESCAC school, you can count on receiving a liberal arts education similar to what you would expect from an Ivy League school. The key difference is that NESCAC schools have higher acceptance rates than most Ivies, which makes them a less-competitive option. Not to mention, they’re well-suited for students seeking a small campus environment. 

But if you’re looking for a college that has a nationally regarded athletic program, you won’t find that at a NESCAC school. Sure, there’s opportunities to play sports at NESCAC schools. Just don’t expect highly competitive sports teams that draw massive crowds and play games that are nationally televised. Rather, you should attend a NESCAC school if you’re drawn to the idea of athletics serving as a supplemental part of your education.