Campus Visit Notes: Seattle Pacific University

SPUCollege:  Seattle Pacific University

Location: Seattle, WA

Type of Institution: Private Christian university

Size: 3,200 undergraduates (+ 900 graduate students)

Admissions Advice: SPU is all about relationships. It is a small and supportive community, so the admissions office likes to get to know applicants before they even apply. The average admitted student has a A/B average in high school classes and 1130 on the SAT. They are also generous with merit scholarships for a high percentage of admitted students, often in the $15,000+ per year range. Awards are based primarily on scores and GPA.

Most popular majors: Business administration, psychology, nursing, communication, political science

Words to describe students I met: Friendly, conservative, welcoming, West Coasters (70%+ from WA & CA), religious

Unique academic aspects:  As a Christian university, SPU has a number of majors and minors related to religion, theology, and counseling. For example, the Reconciliation Studies major is a great match for students hoping to work for non-profit organizations, ministries, churches, or as social workers. Additionally, they offer a Global Development Studies major for students interested in working as missionaries, aid workers, or for non-governmental organizations both here and abroad.

SPU has also grown its Engineering and Computer Science programs in recent years because, well, Seattle is a good place to be for jobs in those fields. Students in these programs must complete an internship to graduate.

Unique social/cultural aspects: Dorm life is a big part of the student experience at SPU. My tour guide raved about all of the social activities and traditions that take place in the dorms, and how common it is for students to make lifelong friends in those first few weeks of freshman year. Each dorm has Resident Assistants, Student Ministry Coordinators (per floor), and an elected hall council charged with promoting community, planning events, and otherwise helping students to connect to one another.  As a result, my guide and other students I’ve met commented that SPU students don’t often get off campus to take advantage of the social and cultural experiences in Seattle. For some students, the tight-knit on-campus community is a plus, while for others it may be a negative.

Colleges that seem similar: Azusa Pacific University, Whitworth University, Warner Pacific University, Calvin College

Concerns about this college:  As with any religiously-affiliated college, the experience isn’t for everyone. SPU is on the more liberal end of the Christian university spectrum, and they do not require students to profess their faith to gain admission to the college. They also do not require chapel attendance. However, students are required to take three fairly intense classes on Christianity, and more than 75% of their fellow students are part of the Christian faith. As a result, SPU is a best match for students who are Christian or those who are very open to exploring faith and spirituality during their college years.

Overall impressions: SPU is a great option for students seeking a religious education in the heart of a large, progressive city. The school is small and administrators are very supportive of their students, from the admission process until graduation. I’ve been continually impressed with SPU’s support of transfer students who often face many more barriers as they continue their higher education.


Campus Visit Notes: Lafayette College

College: Lafayette College

Location: Easton, PA

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts

Size: 2,500 students

Admissions Advice: Lafayette is growing and expanding beyond its traditional reach in the upper-middle class communities on the east coast. They are seeking to diversify the college in terms of geography and ethnicity, and have many great programs aimed at attracting these students. Like most colleges, it is becoming increasingly competitive each year. Currently, the acceptance rate is around 28% and the average admitted student has a 3.5+ unweighted GPA.

Most popular majors: Engineering, Psychology, Biology, Economics, Visual & Performing Arts

Words to describe students I met: well-rounded, social, researchers, active, hard-working, friendly

Unique academic aspects:  Lafayette is truly a unique college. It is one of only a few small liberal arts colleges in the nation to offer a range of Engineering majors, including chemical, electrical and computer, civil, mechanical, and a more general engineering studies degree. They also have a computer science program. Research opportunities for students in STEM fields are much easier to come by than at larger universities, and I was thoroughly impressed with the facilities and professor access my guides talked about during the tour.

On the seemingly opposite end of the spectrum, Lafayette also excels in the social sciences and sends a huge number of students to study abroad programs each year. They offer interim programs in both January and May, giving students the chance to do shorter study abroad programs as well as the more traditional full semester programs. Recent interim offerings include the study of healthcare in Cuba, geology in Iceland, and evolution in the Galapagos Islands, among other courses of study.

Unique social/cultural aspects: Lafayette College is one of the smallest schools with full-fledged men’s and women’s Division I athletics programs. Soccer and lacrosse have been particularly strong in recent years. The football rivalry with nearby Lehigh University is one of the most intense rivalries in the nation. This college strikes a good balance between academics and athletics, and gives students the chance to root on DI teams where they are likely to know at least 1-2 members of each team.

Lafayette also has a vibrant Greek life on campus, with approximately 30% of students participating in fraternity or sorority life. Again, this is more typical of a larger university, but is available and quite popular on this small campus. My tour guide wasn’t a member of Greek life and didn’t feel pressured into it in order to have a social life; however, it can be a big part of a student’s college experience if he/she desires it.

Colleges that seem similar:  Davidson College, Bucknell University, Lehigh University, Union College, Colgate University

Concerns about this college: I spoke to several students during my tour who noted the lack of ethnic diversity was a concern about the campus. However, as I mentioned above, this is something the college is actively working on as they expand their recruitment and seek to grow in the coming years. Additionally, Lafayette has a strong reputation for Engineering and Economics programs in particular, but is less-known for other majors in the social sciences, arts, and humanities. One student I spoke with (majoring in Government and Law) was concerned about her job prospects as compared to her peers majoring in the more popular fields of study, noting that there haven’t been as many internships and recruiting events for students majoring in more traditional liberal arts realms. I’d say this isn’t unique to Lafayette, but is something for students to take into consideration.

Overall impressions:  My experience at Lafayette really surprised me. I expected the college to be much more focused on engineering and computer science, and much less social. However, the students I met were all interested in a range of different academic majors and were engaged in clubs I wouldn’t have expected to exist on this campus (feminist club, LGBTQ club, social justice groups, etc.). The social life includes so many elements of a larger university experience for students seeking DI athletics and Greek life, but within a small, supportive, and highly collaborative liberal arts setting. This is a college that has flown under the radar, but, because of its truly unique blend of opportunities, I can see it becoming a much more popular choice (and one I would highly recommend) for students in the coming years.


Best Apps to Use on Your College Tours

All too often, families leave a college tour no more informed than before their visit. Below are a few suggestions for smartphone apps that will help you dive deeper than the typical campus tour and get the most out of your college visits.

1) Use AirBnB for your lodging to experience where real students live and play off-campus.

If you are hoping to attend a larger university in an urban area, you likely will not live in on-campus housing for your entire four-year experience. In some cases, you may not even be required to live in dorms during your freshman year. If this is the case for the colleges you are considering, why not experience the college town or city like a college student? Tour guides will showcase a dorm (or two), but rarely if ever will they show you off-campus housing.

Some of the benefits of trying AirBnB:

  • You’ll save money. AirBnB has a variety of choices to fit your budget and, chances are, the majority of these options in the young and hip part of town will be cheaper than the 3-star hotel in the middle of the tourist zone.
  • You’ll have more opportunities to meet students and hear unfiltered opinions of the campus and area.
  • You’ll get to experience the restaurants and nightlife that real students experience at that college.

2) Use Yik Yak to find out what students are talking about on that campus.

This social media app shows anonymous postings from people within a ten mile radius only. It is primarily used by college students to gripe about professors, talk about the previous night’s festivities, or poke fun at a common occurrence on that campus. Often the feed reads like a comedy show full of one-liners. Occasionally students will comment on the culture and social scene of the school. However, people tend to post either really funny or really negative experiences or comments, so take everything you read with a grain of salt. I certainly wouldn’t add or eliminate a college from your list based on what students are saying on Yik Yak, but it can provide some interesting insights into life on that campus while you are there.

Some perspectives you might glean from checking out Yik Yak during your visit:

  • How dominant is Greek life for the school’s social culture?
  • Are students stressed out about certain majors or classes?
  • Is the campus cliquey or do students interact across their majors, racial identities, or socioeconomic backgrounds?
  • What is the dynamic between the student body and the administration?
  • What is happening on campus tonight (or this weekend)? This will likely yield very different results from a college website which lists school-sanctioned events only.

3) Download the college’s visit app (if they have one).

More and more colleges are entering the application age and are developing their own campus tour apps for Android and iOS. Some apps are fairly simple and include maps and directions for prospective students, while others include a consolidated list of special events and presentations open to the public. Other apps are intended more for students and parents who are unable to visit the campus and feature self-guided tours including interactive photos and videos.

A few of the benefits of utilizing a college’s visit app:

  • You won’t get lost (as easily) and you won’t have to try to zoom in on one tiny building on an impossibly small campus map on your phone.
  • It can demonstrate how tech-savvy (or not) a college is. At many schools, students and faculty were involved with the app’s development.

If you’re not quite ready to embrace these apps during your next college tour, try to at least supplement your visit with researching that school on social media and through student review sites like Unigo, College Confidential or Niche. The standard campus tour is still essential part of the college research process, but it can be even more effective if combined with the use of social media and apps.

Campus Visit Notes: Reed College

College:  Reed College

Location: Portland, OR

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts

Size: 1,400 students

Admissions Advice: Reed College is all about fit. Most applicants have top scores and GPAs, so readers look beyond that and focus on elements like intellectual curiosity, interest in interdisciplinary learning, and communication and debate skills. They place a high value on letters of recommendation (again, ideally with a focus on fit) and the supplemental essay.

Most popular majors: Biology, Psychology, English, Math, Physics, Social Sciences

Words to describe students I met: intellectual, quirky, scholars, independent, inquisitive, liberal

Unique academic aspects:  For a school with such an “alternative” reputation, Reed College actually has quite a strict set of core requirements. For example, every freshman will take the Humanities 110 seminar which includes interdisciplinary courses based on Greek, Roman, and Mediterranean literature. Additionally, there are a range of core requirements across arts/humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, among other areas. Reed wants to make sure students come out of the experience knowing how to think critically about a range of interconnected topics and ideas.

Reed is also a science powerhouse. Students majoring in the sciences get their own lab space and funding for materials (if needed) as they complete their senior thesis projects. They have strong connections with other universities, such as 3 + 2 engineering programs with CalTech, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Columbia University, and a computer science degree partnership with University of Washington.

Unique social/cultural aspects: Renn Fayre (aka “Renaissance Fair”) is kind of a big deal at Reed College. This multi-day celebration is thrown by the junior class and takes place after seniors turn in their thesis projects. It features a parade, parties, crafting, fireworks, and many other activities.

I was also impressed to learn about the fine and performing arts facilities at Reed, and just how common it is for students to take classes in these areas. The campus has two theaters, a new performing arts center, tons of instrument practice rooms, and dance studios for use by classes, student groups, and even the community in general.

Colleges that seem similar:  Brown University, Oberlin College, Lewis & Clark College, Grinnell College, Pitzer College

Concerns about this college:  Reed often doesn’t receive serious consideration from my students because the college doesn’t have any sports teams. Sure, there are a range of PE classes and club teams students can join, but there aren’t opportunities to support your team and show your school spirit in a more formal, traditional way. Additionally, much like neighboring Lewis & Clark College, the campus political vibe is extremely left-leaning. While vibrant discussion and debate are common on campus, students likely won’t get much exposure to conservative viewpoints here.

Overall impressions: Reed lived up to its quirky and intellectual reputation. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the amazing academic culture on campus and opportunities through programs like “Paideia” and the the celebration surrounding the completion of senior thesis projects. The campus was quiet, calm, and beautiful – a perfect setting for deep reflection and focus – while the exciting city of Portland isn’t too far away. My visit confirmed that Reed isn’t a school for everyone, but for the right student, it is an amazing place to grow intellectually.

Campus Visit Notes: Haverford College


College: Haverford College

Location: Haverford, PA (about 12 miles from Philadelphia)

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts

Size: 1,300

Admissions Advice: Haverford is a very selective liberal arts college, admitting approximately 20% of applicants in recent years. They place a high value of intellectual curiosity, motivation, and love to see applicants take the initiative on admissions interviews. They also fill a fairly large portion of their entering class through Early Decision, so this is a great option for the student who knows Haverford is the right college for her/him.

Most popular majors: Political Science, English, Biology, Economics, Psychology

Words to describe students I met: driven, collaborative, humble, research-oriented, involved, community-builders

Unique academic aspects: More than half of Haverford professors actually live on campus! This, coupled with very small classes and lots of seminars, ensures that students are really engaged with faculty. Because there are no graduate students around, faculty rely on undergraduates to assist in their research, and it isn’t uncommon for students to get published before graduating. Additionally, all students are required to complete a senior thesis project.

Despite being a small college, Haverford has a great reputation in the science community. The National Science Foundation ranks Haverford highly for sending high percentages of students on to engineering and science PhD programs, and students regularly receive prestigious fellowships and research funding in these fields.

Unique social/cultural aspects:  Haverford, like neighboring Bryn Mawr College, is proud of its Honor Code. Students are charged with self-governing and regulating across both social and academic realms. For example, take-home tests are the standard, and student juries often oversee disciplinary action for their fellow students.

Additionally, Haverford is a “wet” campus, meaning that alcohol is allowed on the campus. Many other liberal arts colleges follow this model (including my alma mater, Claremont McKenna). This policy ensures that students who do plan to take part in the party scene are doing so on campus and in a safe environment, instead of driving off campus. That said, Haverford doesn’t have Greek life and isn’t a huge party school by any means. However, there are often joint social events with Bryn Mawr just a mile away.

Colleges that seem similar: Carleton College, Pomona College, Swarthmore College, Claremont McKenna

Concerns about this college: Haverford definitely feels like a bit of a suburban ‘bubble’ just a short distance away from one of the largest cities in America. Though the student body is actually quite diverse for a liberal arts college, it definitely does not reflect the diversity of the Philadelphia area. Partnerships with programs like QuestBridge are helping to bridge that gap, however.

Overall impressions: I thoroughly enjoyed my extended visit to Haverford. I got to hear from an admissions representative and learned just how seriously they take their holistic review. I also heard about research and academic life from a very impressive panel of current students and faculty, and I enjoyed strolling the beautiful campus with our tour guide. Haverford seems like the perfect place for the hard-working student who thrives with collaborative work, and loves being motivated and inspired by his peers. Though it is a small campus community and feels a bit like a little family, Philadelphia is just 20 minutes away, and the consortium with Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore, and University of Pennsylvania ensures that students have lots of academic and social options.

Activities in the College Admissions Process

Students and parents stress out about the extracurricular activities and leadership section of the college application. It is, after all, one of the few pieces of the application that students are in control of throughout their high school years. Students decide how to spend their free time and, in the senior year, how to present this in the application. Extracurricular involvement will generally help students in the admissions process. Occasionally extraordinary involvement and achievement can override weaker test scores or academics. On the flip side, a student with excellent grades and test scores but no outside interests may be viewed as dull, someone who may spend all of his/her time in college at the library or in a dorm room.

There are numerous articles, checklists and apps out there telling students what they need to do to get into college these days. Students must demonstrate leadership, show commitment to their communities, be well-rounded but simultaneous highly-specialized. Colleges want students who have shown long-term commitments to a small number of clubs, activities and causes over students who occasionally sign the attendance sheet for lots of activities. Students are lead to think that there is a magic formula of involvement that colleges are looking for in the review process. Far too often students are given false information, misleading them into highlighting and overvaluing certain types of involvement and leaving out important details for activities they think are less valuable in the admissions process.

Below are some common misconceptions and myths about activity resumes, coming directly from conversations with students and parents over the years.

-To be admitted to a university, I have to have a lot of community service hours.

This is, for the most part, false. And this is probably the biggest myth out there. Colleges recognize that not all students have the luxury of spending their free time volunteering with a local organization. Despite what students have been told, they don’t have to pay thousands of dollars to teach English in a far-off land to get into college these days. Admissions officers recognize that high schoolers may have to help support the family after school, or that not everyone enjoys hands-on community service work.

However, there may be some cases where volunteer work is at the top of the list. If a student is applying to Jesuit colleges (which generally have strong service and social justice missions), they will likely look for community involvement. Community service work shows alignment with the Jesuit mission of improving the community through actions. Additionally, if a student is applying for direct admission to a nursing or other health professions program which requires patient interaction, admissions officers might look for related experience working as a hospital volunteer or with a community health organization.

If a student has truly has been committed to an organization or cause throughout his/her high school years, this isn’t to say that they should leave this out of the application. Include any activities done over a longer period of time. Students should not waste a spot on the activity log describing small project they did for a few hours one Saturday afternoon two years ago. The quality of the experience and length of commitment are key to helping students stand out here.

-Independent interests or hobbies are not really extracurricular activities.

Is your student a voracious reader of a certain genre of literature? Does she spend her free time learning how to code by watching YouTube tutorials? Just because these aren’t formal activities doesn’t mean students should leave them off of the activities section. Colleges are looking for students who are curious about the world around them. Exploring interests independently shows a student can take initiative and is a researcher. These are excellent qualities that show that a student is ready to take on the challenges of the independent learning structure of college classes. If possible, students should share a concrete accomplishment from this independent exploration. Some examples: Active Instagram photography account with 1000+ followers. Has read more than 30 books on a specific topic and considered “expert” among friends and family. Plans to continue studying this topic in college.

-Paid work does not count as an activity and should be left out of a college application.

False, false, false. In fact, just the opposite. This is actually one of the rarest activities to see in an application these days! Even though a student may be slightly embarrassed about that job at Trader Joe’s, a part-time job is an extremely valuable learning experience. Students should highlight their achievements on the job, including praise from a manager or any formal promotions they’ve received. Students might even consider writing a full-length essay about the lessons they learned during a summer job if they care to elaborate further or have interesting stories to share. And often if a student has a part-time job throughout the school year, it explains more limited involvement in other types of activities. Don’t devalue this!

-Colleges don’t want to admit religious students, and writing about religion is too controversial.

If a student is active in church or a religious group, he should definitely include this in the application. Colleges are looking for students with a variety of beliefs that they will share on campus and in classroom discussions. However, if the student goes to church once a year or vaguely recalls having a bat mitzvah a few years ago, this might not merit a spot on the activity resume. Stay away from controversial or polarizing topics (gay marriage, abortion, capital punishment, etc.) when writing about involvement in religious activities to avoid alienating the reader.

So, what’s the point?

Admissions officers will only spend a few short minutes reviewing the activity log and/or resume, so students must make sure they clearly outline the activity, commitment level and role. Admissions officers are truly looking for students who show deep involvement in a few things as opposed to students with a huge range of narrow involvement. They are seeking students who have developed into leaders through an activity – increasing responsibility is key! What they want to know after reading this section is how the student will contribute to the social and extracurricular life on their campus. They want to find students who will continue their involvement in college and make the university community even stronger.

Campus Visit Notes: Muhlenberg College

College: Muhlenberg College

Location: Allentown, PA

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts

Size: 2,200

Admissions Advice:  Muhlenberg values demonstrated interest in the review process, so students should really try to build a relationship with their admission representative over time. Campus visits, interviews, and interactions during high school visits are just some of the ways of helping them get to know you and your interest in the college. Though the college is test-optional, they do want to see scores for students seeking merit scholarships. And finally, this is more of a regional college, so students from farther away (West Coast) may have a slight advantage in the process as they seek to diversify the freshman class.

Most popular majors: Business, Biology (pre-med, pre-health tracks), Theater, Dance, Psychology

Words to describe students I met: Articulate, well-rounded, friendly, artistic, grounded

Unique academic aspects: Muhlenberg is one of the unique liberal arts colleges which also has a pre-professional focus and culture. Business is a popular major, and lots of students come here to prepare for graduate programs in the health sciences, so it doesn’t feel quite as removed from the job market compared to other liberal arts colleges. It is common for students to seek out internships as early as freshman year, and the career services center is very strong.

Also, for such a small college, Muhlenberg really takes Theater seriously. They have 7-9 productions a year, with those offered in the summer done by professional actors in collaboration with students. There are also 12 black box productions and generally 15-20 one-act or shorter theater productions a year. They offer several majors within Theater, including stage management, directing, and technical theater. The facilities I saw were pretty awesome, and the Theater student I met (double majoring in English) choose Muhlenberg over other more well-known programs because of the tight-knit and supportive community. Scholarships are available and an audition, interview and/or portfolio are recommended for the best consideration.

Unique social/cultural aspects: As mentioned above, there is an interesting mix of theater and fine arts culture and support on campus,  as well as strong programs in business and pre-med. I was also surprised to learn that there are 4 fraternities and 4 sororities at Muhlenberg, and about 20% of the total student body participates.

Colleges that seem similar:  Franklin and Marshall College, Trinity University, Ithaca College, Skidmore College, Rhodes College

Concerns about this college: I didn’t get much time to explore the surrounding area of Allentown, but it did not strike me as the most exciting place to go to college. There is a district with restaurants, art galleries, theaters, etc. within a mile walk of campus, and there are plenty of the college student basics within a short drive. It is also about an hour outside of Philadelphia and 1.5 hours from New York City, which students take advantage of from time to time.

Overall impressions: After hearing about the college in a presentation last year, I was intrigued and excited to learn more. This campus visit did not disappoint. It really feels like a family, and the students I met were bubbling over with enthusiasm for their college. Muhlenberg is a great place for students with an interest and appreciation for the arts, interfaith dialogue, career preparation, and a well-rounded college experience.