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.

2016 Summary: Parry College Counseling

It’s been an exciting year for Parry College Counseling and my awesome group of seniors! This year I worked with a total of 23 long-term seniors as part of my package programs. This group of students mostly attend Seattle Public Schools (Garfield, Ballard, Roosevelt in particular), with a few Bellevue and other suburban students in the mix as well. And I’ve expanded beyond just the Seattle area, working with students remotely from Alaska to eastern Washington.

This year I’ve had the pleasure of working with students from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and family situations, including pro-bono students needing full financial support to attend college, first-generation students, underrepresented minority students, seniors from single parent households, and everything in between.

I also worked with 40 additional students on an hourly basis, assisting them with tasks such as essay brainstorming and editing, interview coaching, college list development, and transfer admission preparation.

Below are the acceptances my seniors have received so far through either early action, early decision, or rolling admission. The majority of admission decisions will come back in March. I’m also excited to share that my seniors have received a total of over $2.2 million dollars in scholarships so far!

Harvey Mudd College, Muhlenberg College, Tulane University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Santa Clara University, University of Portland, Boise State University, Beloit College, Trinity University (Texas), Sierra Nevada College, Marquette University, Loyola Marymount University, University of San Francisco, University of Denver, Regis University, Carroll College, Montana State University, Pacific Lutheran University, Willamette University, University of Arizona, Colorado State University, University of Colorado-Boulder, Butler University, Kent State University, Whitworth University, Washington State University, Goucher College, Arizona State University, Alaska Southeast University, Western Washington University, College of Wooster, Linfield College, Oregon State University, College of Idaho, Coe College, Gonzaga University, Misericordia University, Seattle University, University of Redlands, Lewis & Clark College, Fordham University, Chapman University

Thanks for following along on this journey. Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2017!

Campus Visit Notes: Lewis & Clark College

College:  Lewis & Clark College

Location: Portland, OR

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts

Size: 2,000

Admissions Advice: Lewis & Clark offers a great test-optional opportunity for students who shine in areas other than SAT or ACT, and those who choose to apply without scores are still eligible for merit scholarships. It is a moderately selective school, admitting about 60% of applicants in recent years. Average GPAs are high and readers pay attention to “fit” as demonstrated through their supplemental essay.

Most popular majors: International Affairs, Environmental Science, Psychology, Biology

Words to describe students I met: progressive, curious, globally-minded, creative, outdoorsy

Unique academic aspects:  Lewis & Clark is a popular school for my students with interests in international studies, sustainability, and other social science fields. More than 60% of L & C students study abroad, and there is a big focus on this aspect of the college’s mission throughout the student’s educational experience. Though Lewis & Clark is most known for strengths in the social sciences and languages, there are also excellent opportunities for science and math students. For example, they offer a 10-week science and math research program where students conduct paid research and end their time with a publication.

I was also really impressed to learn about all of the orientation and welcoming activities for students as they transition to college. There is “Exploration and Discovery”, for example, which places 18 students together to learn about college level expectations and campus resources. This same group then spends the second semester together in another course in the faculty leaders’ area of expertise. The Pioneer Success Institute is another example of this excellent first-year support.

Unique social/cultural aspects:  Lewis & Clark’s social culture is seriously progressive. For starters, the college has gender neutral bathrooms and housing options. They are consistently ranked as one of the most sustainable campuses in the country. All buildings must meet LEED certification standards, and the campus electricity is from alternative sources (wind power). While this isn’t necessarily that unique on the west coast, I felt like Lewis & Clark took this to the next level through both academics and the social culture of campus.

Colleges that seem similar: Willamette University, Whitman College, Dickinson College, Pitzer College, Colorado College

Concerns about this college:  Lewis & Clark would not be a good place for a more socially or politically conservative student. The campus culture is very left-leaning, as is the city of Portland, which means that students may not get much in the way of balanced debate in the classroom. Another concern is that while L & C is located in Portland city limits, it is still a solid 20+ minutes from downtown Portland, depending on traffic. So though the brochure says “Portland”, this is essentially located in a wealthy suburb of the city. The college does provide regular shuttles to downtown, however.

Overall impressions: The physical space and greenery of this campus is absolutely beautiful. I particularly loved walking across the wooded ravine which separates the academic and residential portions of campus. I wasn’t a big fan of the architecture of the residential portion of campus, but that isn’t a reason to rule out this college. This is a great fit for students seeking a traditional liberal arts college experience with very progressive, idealistic, and internationally-minded fellow students.

What to Do As Deadlines Approach

The wave of early action and early decisions deadlines has come and gone. Some students have clicked submit and are anxiously awaiting decisions. But for the majority of students applying to college via regular decision, deadlines are rapidly approaching. The University of California system deadline is November 30th, while the University of Texas deadline is just one day later. Most private college application deadlines fall on January 1st or 15th, giving students a few extra weeks to polish up essays during winter break.

Tensions are high for students, parents, counselors and teachers as many components must come together to form the final and completed college application. Below are some common questions and stress points for students in particular, answered from the college admissions office viewpoint. Every college is slightly different and it is always best to go straight to the source for all application deadline information, but these are the general rules when it comes to submitting application materials.

Can I submit my application before letters of recommendation or standardized test scores are received?
Generally yes. If students have completed all parts of the application, they can and should click submit. Most colleges will wait to review application materials until everything has been turned in, assuming those materials are turned in within a week or two of the actual student application.

My test scores are delayed. Who should I contact?
Every year, Collegeboard and ACT experience delays and technical difficulties during the chaotic application season. There have been multiple such issues already this fall, still weeks away from many official regular decision deadlines. If students are unable to obtain their scores or are having any other issues with supplemental materials, they should contact the college’s admission counselor for their region or high school.

I clicked submit, now what?
Give the admissions office at least a week to process application materials and begin matching transcripts, letters of recommendation and other supplemental materials. Be sure to regularly check the email address you provided in the application. This is the primary way colleges will reach out to students to ask questions, request additional information or pass along login information for their own online application portal (if they have one). If materials are still shown as missing a week or two after the deadline, or if the student has not received confirmation of the application, students should call or email the admissions office to check on the application status.

What about financial aid?
Colleges expect prospective freshman to complete the FAFSA to be considered for federal financial aid. Deadlines vary from college to college, and depending on the application type you select, but my advice is to always apply early! The FAFSA has recently changed and now relies on tax information from two years ago (prior-prior year), so for current seniors applying for Fall 2017 start, parents will apply for aid using 2015 tax return information. The application already opened on October 1st, so if you haven’t completed it yet, put this at the top of your list.

Some colleges also require the CSS Profile, another financial aid application which asks more in-depth questions about a family’s financial situation. Typically the CSS Profile is used by private colleges and highly selective universities, but there are of course exceptions to this. Deadlines for the CSS Profile are usually in line with the FAFSA deadlines.

When will colleges notify students of the decision?
The short answer – it depends. Every college has different approaches to the review. Some will review applications immediately and give students decisions within 2-3 weeks of submission. Colleges with large volumes of applications or selective universities will typically need more time. This is especially true for colleges which require an essay (or multiple essays) and colleges who use a holistic review process. Information on the notification timeline should be easily searchable on the college’s admissions website.