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.

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.

Campus Visit Notes: Lehigh University

College:  Lehigh University

Location: Bethlehem, PA

Type of Institution: Private research university

Size: 5,000 undergraduates (plus 2,100 graduate students)

Admissions Advice: Lehigh is competitive, with an admission rate of around 30%. Business and Engineering are a bit harder to get into than the Arts & Sciences, so students should pay attention to that when balancing their college lists. For those who are admitted, however, Lehigh offers very generous financial aid with fairly minimal loan amounts.

Most popular majors: Finance, Business, Mechanical Engineering, Accounting

Words to describe students I met: Practical, well-rounded, entrepreneurial, enthusiastic, curious

Unique academic aspects: Lehigh is one of a handful of colleges which embraces both the liberal arts and professional programs such as business and engineering. They offer a number of interdisciplinary programs such as IBE (interdisciplinary business and engineering) and music and business. The college consistently ranks high on lists such as Forbes and BusinessWeek which focus on return on investment and alumni salaries, much of that due to the popularity of high-paying majors such as Finance and Accounting.

Unique social/cultural aspects: Lehigh’s Mountaintop initiative is truly unique. This is a student project space where students can develop their inventions and ideas in a collaborative, multidisciplinary environment, an incubator of sorts with peers and faculty mentors. In fact, fifty new businesses are started here every year!

Also, athletics are really big at Lehigh, a DI college and member of the Patriot League. It is one of the rare smaller universities which has a vibrant sports culture and lots of school spirit. Lehigh has sent graduates on to professional teams over the years, and has been in the NCAA Basketball tournament in recent history as well.

Colleges that seem similar: Cornell University, Duke University, Syracuse University, Lafayette College, Bucknell University

Concerns about this college: Lehigh does still retain some of the “bro” or masculine culture from its days as a men’s college. While the enrollment is fairly balanced (44% women), I still got the sense of a more male-dominant culture from my conversations with students throughout campus. Additionally, Greek life is a pretty big part of the Lehigh social scene, with about 35% of students participating. At a smaller university, this may make it a little harder for non-Greek students to make connections. Fortunately, Lehigh does deferred recruitment, meaning students cannot rush until spring semester.

Overall impressions: My visit to Lehigh was fantastic and it is quickly becoming a popular college among my students on the west coast. The campus itself is truly beautiful, and I only got to see a small sliver of the nearly 2,400 acre grounds. Lehigh reminded me a lot of my own alma mater, Claremont McKenna, in terms of the entrepreneurial spirit and the popularity of the Finance and Economics majors. I can see this university continue to jump in the rankings and in popularity in the coming years as I was really impressed with the way they blend the liberal arts, smaller classes, and interdisciplinary programs with more career-oriented majors and approaches.

Campus Visit Notes: University of Portland

College: University of Portland

Location: Portland, Oregon

Type of Institution: Private Catholic university

Size: 3,600 undergraduate students

Admissions Advice:  University of Portland is big on demonstrated interest in the application process, meaning it is beneficial for students to tour the campus, interact with admission counselors, and submit their applications early for best consideration. Though the university is not considered highly selective (~60% admission rate), the average GPA of admitted students is fairly high at 3.63 and they also pay close attention to rigor and test scores.

Most popular majors: Business, Nursing, Engineering, Elementary Education, Communication

Words to describe students I met: Friendly, career-oriented, religious or interested in religion/faith, diligent, interested in helping others

Unique academic aspects:  University of Portland students are very hard-working and focused, with a good percentage majoring in areas with a clear path to employment upon graduating (Nursing, Business, Engineering). The Nursing program in particular is very popular and has great ties to Portland’s many major hospitals and clinics. My guide couldn’t stop gushing about her experience in the program and the varied clinical rotations she’s been able to do so far. Business majors are required to do an internship to graduate, with many taking advantage of local companies such as Nike, Columbia, Adidas, Intel, and others.

Unique social/cultural aspects: For a small school, University of Portland takes athletics pretty seriously and there is a ton of school spirit. The university doesn’t have a football team, so soccer and basketball in particular rule this campus. Intramurals and weekend outdoor trips are also huge here, so it is a great fit for the active student who wants top-notch athletics facilities but at a smaller university.

The campus is located just a few miles north of Portland, so moving off campus in junior or senior year is very common. That’s probably also a product of the strict rules in the dorms. Priests or professors live in many of the dorms, as well as graduate students and other adult figures. My guide spent a lot of time reviewing all of the rules and regulations about quiet hours, opposite gender student visitors, etc. so it makes sense that students are interested in moving off-campus for their upperclassmen years.

Colleges that seem similar: Gonzaga University, Villanova University, Marquette University, Seattle University, Santa Clara University

Concerns about this college: University of Portland is not afraid of its Catholic roots, and this can be felt very clearly throughout campus, from required courses to fairly strict rules in the dorms. Though only 50% of students identify as Catholic, and only a percentage of those students actually actively practice their religion, the university still takes this mission very seriously. Because students have to take several Catholicism and religion classes to graduate, I would hesitate to recommend UP to students who do not have a strong interest in exploring faith and religion.

Additionally, I hesitate to recommend UP to students who require a significant amount of need-based financial aid. The university is not able to meet full need for any student; however, they do give very generous merit scholarships. This makes the university an excellent option for families who are too wealthy to qualify for aid.

Overall impressions: University of Portland is a college that has been coming up on my students’ lists more and more over the the last year, particularly after positive campus visit experiences. I had a great visit as well, and especially loved seeing many campus improvements such as the amazing athletics facilities and student center (Pilot House). The university’s more balanced/neutral political vibe contrasts with the extremely left-leaning city of Portland, making it an interesting place for students to experience a bit of everything. It is a great option for students who want a beautiful traditional campus with fairly easy access to a major city, students who are already focused on careers such as Nursing or Business, and students who want a close-knit and very supportive community.

Campus Visit Notes: Pacific Lutheran University

College: Pacific Lutheran University – www.PLU.edu

Location: Tacoma, WA

Type of Institution: Private university (some Master’s programs)

Size: 3,300 students, with about ~300 in graduate programs

Admissions Advice:  Pacific Lutheran is a moderately selective university, typically hovering around a 75% admission rate. The school’s average GPA for enrolled students is high (3.66), but they do take into account the weighted GPA and course rigor. Students attending high schools in the 253 area code have the amazing opportunity to attend tuition-free if they meet the scholarship guidelines listed here.

Most popular majors: Nursing, Business, Biology, Psychology

Words to describe students I met: Friendly, down-to-earth, practical, open-minded

Unique academic aspects: Pacific Lutheran offers a January term (J-term), essentially a mini-semester where students can take one to two classes in depth for a short period of time. This is a good opportunity to dive more into a research topic or interest area, though many students also use this as a time to get some general education requirements out of the way. Students can also go abroad for their J-terms, something especially appealing to Nursing and other science majors. My guide commented on how refreshing this time can be as it allows students to learn in a more hands-on way and over a shorter period of time. Students then come back to the second semester ready to tackle their more traditional work loads.

A quick review of the offerings for this coming January shows a huge variety of opportunities. More local options include a Makah Culture class on the Olympic Peninsula or interning with a Tacoma-area non-profit, while more adventurous options include a religion course in Greece or studying baby penguins en route to Antarctica (sign me up!)

Unique social/cultural aspects: The university has Lutheran roots and does require students to take one Christianity-based religion class, plus one world religion class to graduate. PLU has one of the best overviews of their religion requirements and why a foundation in religious studies is crucial to navigating the conflicts in our world today. Check it out!

Colleges that seem similar:  University of Puget Sound, Seattle University, University of Portland, California Lutheran University, Willamette University

Concerns about this college: The Parkland neighborhood of Tacoma is, well, not the nicest place I’ve been. There is a large military base located very close to campus, so the businesses in the area cater to both military families and college students. There are some cheap restaurants, laundromats, coffee shops, and other basics,  but generally the area is run-down. Students who want to explore the outdoors or even Tacoma proper will likely need a car to get around.

Overall impressions: I really enjoyed my visit to PLU and was pleasantly surprised at the beauty of the campus, particularly the music and arts facilities. My tour guide was super friendly and enthusiastic about the school, as were the handful of other students I met who were on-campus doing summer research. The admissions office is also very welcoming and the university does an amazing job awarding merit scholarships to a large percentage of admitted students. These scholarships, coupled with a lower overall cost of attendance, makes PLU an excellent option, particularly for middle class and wealthier families who may not qualify for lots of financial aid elsewhere.

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.

 

Campus Visit Notes: Bryn Mawr College

College: Bryn Mawr College –  www.brynmawr.edu

Location: Bryn Mawr, PA, about 20 minutes from Philadelphia

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts women’s college

Size: 1,300 students

Admissions Advice:  Bryn Mawr really wants applicants to articulate why they are interested in the college in the supplemental essay. In the past, this essay prompt has focused on the Honor Code, a system of total self-governance that carries over to academics, social life, and even ensures that a Bryn Mawr student participates in all administrative decisions on campus. Bryn Mawr uses a holistic review similar to most selective liberal arts colleges. And obviously if you are a guy, don’t apply. But check out Haverford College down the street!

Most popular majors: Math, Psychology, English, Political Science, Fine Arts

Words to describe students I met: Bubbly, independent, strong-willed, activists, quirky, intellectual

Unique academic aspects: Bryn Mawr is part of a dynamic consortium with nearby co-ed Haverford College (Bi-Co). Students have unlimited course registration options across both campuses and can even choose a major at Haverford, located a short one mile away. For the more popular majors offered on both campuses, such as Biology and Political Science, each campus has its own niche and focus. Bryn Mawr’s Poli Sci program is more internationally-focused, while Haverford’s is more U.S.-centric, for example. If that consortium isn’t enough, students can also take classes at Swarthmore and University of Pennsylvania, both located a bit farther away (20-30 minutes by shuttle or train).

Bryn Mawr is also a huge producer of Ph.Ds, ranked among the top ten in the country on a percentage basis. Research and critical inquiry are really key here, and the college is a particularly great place for women to develop skills in the STEM fields. They also offer a major in Computer Science.

Unique social/cultural aspects: This college is huge on traditions. There is even a student representative appointed to be sure the Bryn Mawr traditions continue on, and to help ensure that new students are aware of the significance. One example is May Day, a day when all of the young women from all grade levels dress in white and celebrate together for the seniors last hurrah. I also learned that all of the dorms have an even split of students in each grade level, so you really do become a family with older students from day one.

Colleges that seem similar: Smith, Vassar, Haverford, Mount Holyoke, Scripps

Concerns about this college: Obviously the all-women’s college experience is not for everyone. My guides commented that “You can make it as co-ed as you want it to be”, but you still do live in dorms with women only and still have the culture of a women’s college. Despite this, retention rates are high, with 91% of students returning for their sophomore year, suggesting that it truly is a self-selecting group (and that admissions does a good job of assessing fit).

Overall impressions: This was one of the more beautiful campuses I have visited, filled with charming study spaces, grand pianos in every dorm, and impressive architecture. Aside from the physical space, I really got the sense that Bryn Mawr is a place where young women grow and flourish. Many of the students I met during my visit commented that they were shy in high school, but really gained confidence in this supportive environment. I am excited to continue to recommend this college to students interested in the women’s college experience.