Campus Visit Notes: Scripps College

College: Scripps College

Location: Claremont, California

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts college for women

Size: ~950 students total; 7,000+ including neighboring colleges in the Claremont consortium

Admissions Advice: As the Claremont Colleges become more popular, so does Scripps. The majority of successful applicants are at the top of their high school class and have strong test scores as well. (Scripps is one of a handful of women’s colleges that still require SAT or ACT). Because the entering class is very small, each application is read very carefully and holistically. Scripps is also one of the rare colleges that both meets 100% of a family’s financial need and awards some merit scholarships as well, even for students without financial need.

Most popular majors: Media studies, international relations, psychology, biology, English, studio art

Words to describe students I met: Independent, strong-willed, artistic, liberal, open-minded

Unique academic aspects: Scripps prides itself on its interdisciplinary core curriculum, a 3-semester series of classes that each woman must take to continue her education at the college. The focus of these classes center around “communities”, examining past and present problems with a variety of lenses. The Claremont Consortium is another unique aspect of academic life at Scripps. Students have the opportunity to seamlessly register for classes at any of the other nearby colleges and are even able to choose an off-campus major as well.

Unique social/cultural aspects: The social life at Scripps is fairly diverse, and isn’t necessarily in line with the “traditional” college experience. For example, while there are parties (occasionally hosted by Scripps), the majority of students will venture to the other Claremont Colleges for their party fix. Though many Scrippsies participate in DIII athletics on the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps teams, there isn’t a ton of school spirit surrounding sports teams.

Instead, Scripps students can be found attending ballroom dance shows, a cappella performances, gallery nights, and open mics. The Motley Coffeehouse regularly hosts student speakers and performers and provides a creative outlet for Scripps women. The coffeehouse is run by students, and there’s even an opportunity for talented bakers and chefs to sell their pastries at the shop. I spent many nights studying, learning, and listening at this coffeehouse during my college years at neighboring Claremont McKenna. Scrippsies can also be found soaking up the sun at the pool year-round, or hanging out with suitemates in the beautiful dorms.

Colleges that seem similar:  Wellesley College, Mt. Holyoke College, Bryn Mawr College, Smith College

Concerns about this college: As the college becomes more competitive, I’ve found it difficult to figure out what Scripps is looking for in applicants each year. The college is trying to become more ethnically, socio-economically, and geographically diverse, which is great. However, as a result, it is very difficult for even the strongest students to gauge whether they will be admitted in a given year. Though the admission rate is currently hovering around 25%, significantly higher than the other neighboring Claremont Colleges, it is still very tough to be admitted. For this reason, Scripps is a “reach” school for anyone in my opinion.

Overall impressions:  The Spanish and Mediterranean architecture, the intimate study spaces, the rose garden, and the shimmering blue pool put this campus on the top of my list of most beautiful campuses in America. I thoroughly enjoyed the many classes I took at Scripps during my time at Claremont McKenna, and really felt a strong sense of community and collaboration. I would highly recommend this college to students looking for the best of both worlds: a small and supportive community of young women, but surrounded by the resources and opportunities of a medium-sized, co-ed university.

 

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Campus Visit Notes: Villanova University

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College: Villanova University

Location: Villanova, PA (about 15 minutes from Philadelphia)

Type of Institution: Private Catholic research university

Size: 6,500 undergraduates; over 10,000 including graduate programs

Admissions Advice: Villanova has become incredibly popular and competitive in recent years. I was shocked to learn that the average admitted student GPA is now a 3.7+ unweighted, and average test scores are around 1400 SAT / 32 ACT. Wow! It is even more competitive for prospective business & direct entry nursing majors. Additionally, while Villanova does award merit scholarships up to $15,000 per year, these awards are mostly based on scores and GPA and the cut-offs are incredibly high.

Most popular majors: Business, nursing, communications, engineering

Words to describe students I met: spirited, outgoing, jocks/athletic, active in community service, preppy

Unique academic aspects: Villanova’s undergraduate business program was recently named the #1 program in the country, a fact that the university administration and student guides were not shy about during the presentation and tour. The campus was filled with signs and posters about this distinction, and you could really feel the pride the school has for this particular area of study. Internships and Co-ops are popular, and, unlike at many universities, students who participate are still able to graduate in four years. I was impressed to learn about the networking and recruiting events for students looking for full-time employment as well.

Unique social/cultural aspects: This medium-sized university holds the largest student-run Special Olympics event in the world each fall. Becoming a member of the Villanova Special Olympics committee is a competitive process and a big deal, as they are charged with organizing the event which brings thousands of athletes, coaches, volunteers, and media outlets to the campus. It is also very popular for students to participate in community service trips over breaks, often with small groups of fellow students. Villanova is tied in closely with Habitat for Humanity in particular, and sends dozens of students on programs throughout the United States each year.  

Colleges that seem similar: Boston College, Notre Dame University, Cornell University, Lehigh University, Marquette University

Concerns about this college: I was a bit concerned about the way some of the students I interacted with spoke about women and issues of diversity on the campus. My guide even remarked that women attend Villanova to get their “Mrs.” degree while our group stood under the Corr Hall arch. Perhaps I am just particularly sensitive to this coming from super liberal Seattle, or perhaps it was just the particular students I spoke to during my tour, but I left the tour wondering if some young women would feel out-of-place here.

Additionally, Villanova isn’t able to meet a student’s full financial need, or at least not yet. This university may not be the best match for students with significant financial need, as the school only meets an average of 80% of a family’s financial need through loans, grants, and scholarships.

Overall impressions:  I enjoyed my visit to Villanova and see how it could be a great match for the right kind of student. The university was incredibly proud of their 2016 NCAA DI Men’s basketball victory; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many signs and posters displaying school spirit and pride on any college campus. They are also on a remarkable rise in the rankings and in popularity, even outside of the east coast. Villanova is a particularly great match for students interested in direct entry nursing programs, business, and engineering, students interested in a “work hard, play hard” social life, and those seeking a more conservative political culture and campus dialogue.

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.

 

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

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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.

How to Write a Stellar “Why Us?” Essay

For students applying to selective universities, the “Why Us?” supplemental essay can be a very important part of the admissions process. The Common Application makes it incredibly easy for students to apply to a large number of colleges with the simple click of a button, but more selective universities seek specific details on why a student is interested in their college or university. Smaller colleges and more selective universities tend to include a supplemental essay in the application as a way of ensuring that the student understands the mission and culture of that unique university. However, larger and less selective universities are now also including similar essays. With many students applying to ten, fifteen, even twenty colleges, the “Why Us?” essay can be the deciding factor for students on the cusp.

So what makes a thoughtful and quality “Why Us?” essay?

• Change the response to “Why Me”. Students should use the essay space to talk about why they would be a good fit at that specific college. Applicants should tie in their academic and extracurricular experiences to opportunities at that college.

• Be as specific as possible. Responses to this essay should be extremely specific to that college, and the response should ultimately be something that could not be used for any other college. When writing about an interest in a specific major, students should go beyond just mentioning the program name. Rather, they should talk about specific classes they hope to take, or a particular professor who is doing interesting work at that university.

• Write about experiences on that campus or meetings with representatives or alumni. Chances are the college has tracked a student’s interaction with them over time; however, it doesn’t hurt to reiterate this demonstrated interest. If a student had a meaningful interaction with an alumnus or admission officer, or if the student fell in love with the college during a campus tour, these are great examples to cite in the essay.

What should students avoid?

• Location, location, location. If a student is applying to college in California because he loves sunshine, this might not be the best topic to write about in the limited essay space. Likewise, if a student is excited to attend a college because it is a mere 1.5 hours from NYC, it suggests the student is more interested in activities off-campus than spending time at the college itself. Certainly location is a big factor in choosing a college, but it should not be the focal point of this brief essay.

• Sports teams, mascots, and school colors. Applicants should not waste the supplemental essay space with a response focused on athletics. Application readers know their school colors and mascot’s name already, so students should not simply re-state those facts. One obvious exception would be the student who is planning to play a sport and is a recruited athlete.

Keep in mind the majority of these supplemental essays are very short, between 100-300 words on average. Students don’t generally have space to write a well-developed multi-paragraph essay, so essays that get straight to the point often work best. The main Common Application essay is a better place for students to showcase their unique writing style and voice, while the supplemental essay is the perfect place to pinpoint interest and interactions with the college. Outside of the evaluative admission interview, it is the best place for students to paint a picture of themselves as future leaders and community members on that campus.

Campus Visit Notes: Swarthmore College

College: Swarthmore College

Location: Swarthmore, PA (20 minutes from Philadelphia)

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts

Size: 1,550

Admissions Advice:  Swarthmore is competitive (17% admit rate), so GPA or test scores alone will not get a student in the door. In fact, the college is scaling back on testing requirements for next year, doing away with the SAT II subject tests as they didn’t find these exams to be strong predictors of success in college. The review is very holistic, and reviewers focus on factors such as intellectual curiosity and diversity of perspectives. They have the luxury of selecting students to build the class they desire.

Most popular majors: Computer Science (yes, really!), Math, Social Sciences, Biology

Words to describe students I met: friendly, studious, worldly, well-rounded, intellectual

Unique academic aspects:  Swarthmore has an interesting option for students in their academic majors. A student can choose to take a seminar, a class of 6-12 students that meet for a few hours once a week. The classes are often held in more informal meeting spaces and include food and vibrant discussions of student research and writing. At the end of the seminar, each student is evaluated by a completely independent third party, either someone from industry, or professors from other institutions. They receive a regular degree, Honors, or High Honors as a result. This not only encourages the student to really know the subject matter, but also motivates faculty to teach and engage with students at the highest level.

They are also one of the few liberal arts colleges to offer Engineering. The program is small, graduating just 15-20 students per year, but these students go on to very successful careers in the field or graduate study at top research institutions.

Unique social/cultural aspects: I was surprised to learn that the school actually has two residential fraternities and one sorority. The campus has lot of activities on the weekends, though it is also popular for students to take the train in to Philadelphia for bigger city activities. If a student chooses to go off-campus for an event, or even a party at another college, they have an app where students can set their expected return time. If they aren’t back around that time, a resident assistant or other campus member will be notified and will get in touch to check that everything is alright. This is a school community which trusts students to make good decisions, not a school where RAs and public safety officers are looking for an excuse to get people in trouble.

Colleges that seem similar: Brown University, Carleton College, Yale University, Harvard University, Princeton University, Pomona College

Concerns about this college: Though they are a part of the consortium with Bryn Mawr and Haverford, Swatties don’t utilize this quite as much due to their distance (20-25 minutes) away from the other campuses and ability to get most of their needed classes right at home. In fact, students are not allowed to take classes at the other schools if they are already offered at Swarthmore. Some students do access U Penn classes as the train to Philadelphia literally runs through campus; however, it is still not quite as connected as the Claremont Colleges, for example. While this isn’t necessarily a concern, it is definitely something for students to be aware of if they are primarily attracted to the consortium aspect.

Overall impressions: Swarthmore feels like the quintessential liberal arts college. Facilities were modern and beautiful across the board, from dance studios to science labs. The college really invests in its students and supports them in all disciplines. Everyone I interacted with during my visit was extremely enthusiastic about the college, from the tour guides to the Vice President. I think this would be an excellent match for a well-rounded student who is constantly asking questions and seeking to better understand the world around her, someone who is not afraid to work hard, debate peers, and take charge of her own education.