May 27 2007

Mankiw on the undergraduate experience

Published by at 7:45 am under Education,Teaching

Greg Mankiw’s Blog: Colleges vs Universities

A couple of days ago I had a conversation with one of my graduating seniors about whether or not she’d major in Economics at Wellesley next year. She wanted to know more about the department, so we went online, looked at the research being done by the professors, looked into their academic and professional backgrounds, and tried to get an idea of the caliber of the department there. I blogged about our conversation here. This morning I found this old post by Greg Mankiw recounting a conversation he had with former senator George McGovern about the difference between Harvard and Wellesley.

Here’s Mankiw’s advice:

The most important choice a high-school senior faces when choosing
where to be an undergrad is between research-oriented universities and
teaching-oriented colleges. If you go to a place like Harvard,
Princeton, or Yale, you get a famous faculty. But the first priority of
that faculty is their own research and writing (and blogging!?), and
they are more likely to shower attention on grad students than
undergrads. If you go to a place like Amherst, Swarthmore, or Williams,
you get a faculty whose first priority is undergraduate teaching. But
you do not have a menu of graduate courses to sample from, and you do
not have as vibrant a research atmosphere to experience. It is a tough

I’ve had this exact conversation with my AP and IB students who seek advice about where to go for college. I think Mankiw sums up my own views about the differences between large universities and smaller liberal arts colleges nicely. Personally, perhaps speaking as a teacher myself, I think the most important aspect for undergrads to consider is their access to professors, class sizes, and quality of teaching. Save the big name universities with famous faculties for graduate school, when you’ll get the attention you deserve.

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About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Mankiw on the undergraduate experience”

  1. Shaunon 29 May 2007 at 10:08 am

    Thanks for the thoughts. Terminology is a confusing thing in US higher education. I have tried to highlight this in my posting over at

  2. […] Close over at Welkerwikinomics shares a recent conversation he had with his student around the difference between colleges and […]

  3. Helenon 03 Jun 2007 at 6:07 pm


  4. DavidTayon 16 Aug 2007 at 9:23 pm

    Always plan with the end in mind. Yes, getting a higher education is great, but what is the purpose of going to college? It is to find a better (in many cases a higher paying) job than a person who doesn't find it necessary to go to college. In my oppinion, unless you plan to become a historian or somthing along those lines, going to a "top" university, like Harvard, will get you that better job. Furthermore, since those "top" college's endowments are so large, they will also have the facilities to facilitate your own case studies, even if you're intrested in the history of the development of the small nation of Muyuanians living extinct the ocean floors of the Atlantic.

  5. Micheal Thompsonon 23 May 2014 at 11:57 am

    That's a good thing that you have tried these students to convince more about getting into college. Choosing for the best course is one thing important too.