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    What You Need to Know About NESCAC Schools

    By Zach Skillings

    Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: February 5th, 2024
    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 9.0% 1,835 $56,350
    Colby College ME 9.0% 2,003 $57,280
    Amherst College MA 9% 1,839 $58,640
    Bates College ME 17% 1,820 $55,683
    Williams College MA 9% 2,078 $57,280
    Tufts University MA 11% 5,907 $58,578
    Middlebury College VT 13% 2,580 $56,216
    Hamilton College NY 14% 1,924 $56,530
    Wesleyan University CT 19% 3,018 $57,334
    Trinity College CT 34% 2,195 $59,050
    Connecticut College CT 41% 1,861 $56,890

    What do NESCAC schools have in common?


    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. 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.” 

    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 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 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 labeled 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 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. 

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • The NESCAC is an athletic conference that includes Bowdoin College, Colby College, Amherst College, Williams College, Tufts University, Middlebury College, Bates College, Hamilton College, Wesleyan University, Trinity College and Connecticut College
    • All the NESCAC schools are also Little Ivies, which means they have stellar academic programs 
    • Academics are valued highly over athletics at each of these institutions, but they still encourage involvement in extracurricular activities
    • These schools have several things in common such as their belief about athletics, small student bodies, and emphasis on undergraduate education

    Frequently asked questions about NESCAC schools

    How are liberal arts colleges different from regular ones?

    Liberal arts colleges tend to focus on creating curriculums that curate a well-rounded education. Other schools will likely emphasize research or specialization in a specific field of study.  

    What sports does the NESCAC have?

    The NESCAC has women’s and men’s sports and about 13 teams each that students can participate in. Both have teams for basketball, baseball/softball, ice hockey, soccer, cross country, golf, rowing, lacrosse, squash, swimming, tennis, and track and field. Women also have volleyball while men’s sports include football.

    What is the best NESCAC school?

    The answer to this question really depends on the individual student and what they are looking for in a school. In many rankings, Williams College and Amherst College rank at the top. However, students can receive great educations at any of the NESCAC schools!

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