Campus Visit Notes: Bryn Mawr College

College: Bryn Mawr College –

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.


Campus Visit Notes: University of British Columbia (Canada)

College:  University of British Columbia

Location: Vancouver, BC Canada

Type of Institution: Research university

Size: 41,000 undergraduates. 50,000+ including graduate students

Admissions Advice: UBC, like most Canadian universities, has a very numbers-centric admissions process. They focus mostly on GPA, standardized test scores, and rigor of a student’s high school curriculum. Admission requirements and standards vary from major to major, so it is crucial that students research those requirements before applying.

Most popular majors: Biology, Psychology, English, Commerce (Business)

Words to describe students I met: Cosmopolitan, independent, diverse, outdoorsy, self-motivated

Unique academic aspects: My excellent tour guide was very open about the average class sizes and the struggles to keep students engaged in their education in such large lectures. The average class size for freshman is 150 students, which is of course broken down into smaller tutorial/lab sections led by teaching assistants. To help track attendance and engagement in the large classes, professors use “i-clickers”. They can display questions or polls on the big screen and students then click in a response which is aggregated and displayed on the screen in a bar chart. This can often help guide the direction of the lecture and is a great way of keeping track of who is in class and who doesn’t show throughout the course.

University of British Columbia also has an excellent reputation for its co-operative education (co-op) programs. Students across all disciplines, including humanities, can do research or internships during their undergraduate experience for academic credit and for pay. This is much more common in Canadian schools in general, but is catching on a bit more in the US, particularly for STEM students.

Unique social/cultural aspects: UBC is a true melting pot of cultures and backgrounds. More than 21% of the students on the Vancouver campus are from abroad, and those from Canada represent many diverse cultural identities. It is a really remarkable place and great for students who want that international flair but don’t want to travel far.

I was also pleased to learn that on-campus housing is guaranteed for freshman year, and there are beds for 11,000 students on campus. I toured some of the dorms and met with two different resident assistants. They are serious about building community on campus and helping students to connect to each other (and to the university itself) during that first year.

Colleges that seem similar:  University of California-Berkeley, University of Washington – Seattle, University of California- Los Angeles,  other Canadian universities

Concerns about this college: University of British Columbia is a true research university. The college is proud of its research funding, projects, and the companies that have spun off from these academic ventures. However, I was surprised to learn that UBC still only receives half of what the University of Washington receives in research dollars each year and has nearly double the student population. This leaves me with some concerns about how this funding trickles down to undergraduates or how accessible these opportunities are for students in general.

Overall impressions: I enjoyed my visit to this campus, which is one of the largest universities I have ever visited (aside from Arizona State & Ohio State). UBC’s location perched along the waterfront is truly beautiful, and it is still close enough for students to enjoy the downtown Vancouver city life about a 20 minute bus ride away. As with any large university, it takes a student with maturity and independence to do well on this campus and to not get lost in the mix. And it is a fantastic option for budget-conscious families as the total cost of attendance for international students is around $36,000 USD per year.

Campus Visit Notes: Claremont McKenna College


College:  Claremont McKenna College

Location: Claremont, CA

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts college

Size: 1,300 students at CMC, but more than 6,000 in the Claremont consortium

Admissions Advice:  Claremont McKenna is a unique liberal arts college looking for pragmatic and real-world oriented students. The school is full of “leaders in the making” and seeks to identify these qualities in the application process. Students who are strong communicators should take advantage of an interview opportunity to stand out from the crowd. With an admission rate of about 11%, students should take advantage of opportunities to share why they believe CMC would be a good fit for their goals and aspirations.

Most popular majors: Economics, finance, government, psychology, PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics), international relations

Words to describe students I met: motivated, career-oriented, outgoing, jocks/bros, worldly, leaders, politically-active. I had the privilege of attending this college for my own undergraduate experience, so these descriptions only scratch the surface. There are some amazing and interesting people at this college and across the consortium.

Unique academic aspects: Claremont McKenna is full of go-getters. Starting freshman year, students are already looking to set up fantastic summer internships and gain real-life work experience. Fortunately the college provides support for these motivated students in the form of grants for work with non-profits, funding for science research, and a top-notch career services center. The college has lots of high-profile alumni in the finance, business, tech and public policy realms in particular, and regularly connects current student to these individuals through networking trips and speaking events.

Unique social/cultural aspects: The Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum “the Ath” is a must-visit for students touring the campus. This event space hosts famous speakers every Monday to Thursday night, an opportunity for students to eat a fancy dinner with faculty and their spouses, community members, or even the speakers themselves. Some examples of visitors include: Anderson Cooper, Laverne Cox, Maureen Dowd, Bill Clinton, and Karl Rove. Also of note, the Ath offers weekday tea where students can load up on tea (duh!), coffee, pastries and chocolate-covered strawberries.

One of the best CMC traditions is Thesis Day. When students complete their thesis, typically a 40-70 page research paper or project, they receive a bottle of champagne from the college and proceed to celebrate in the fountain in the middle of campus. On a Monday afternoon. It is a great way of bringing together the senior class at the end of a long and stressful project.

Colleges that seem similar: Williams College, Washington & Lee, Dartmouth College, Vanderbilt University, Davidson College

Concerns about this college: CMC is one of many colleges that have been in the news lately for racial and socioeconomic class tensions on campus. As a middle class student from the heart of the Midwest, I admit feeling “out-of-place” at times during my own experience as there are many wealthy students, both domestic and international. However, I found the majority of my peers to be welcoming, curious, and respectful of my background as I was to theirs. The college is working to improve diversity on campus and provide better support for students of color. And for students from lower to middle income families, the financial aid here is amazing and one of the main reasons I choose to attend. They are need-blind and meet 100% of a family’s demonstrated need, and they have capped loans at $4,000 per year, significantly lower than most colleges.

Overall impressions: My four years at Claremont McKenna were pretty amazing, and the campus and area have only improved since I graduated. There is a strong sense of community here, and although 1,300 students seems small, the consortium makes it feel like a medium-size college with plenty of research opportunities as well. It is not necessarily a traditional liberal arts college, but you have access to a diversity of thought (particularly on the political spectrum) that isn’t present at many top-tier colleges, especially on the coasts.



Campus Visit Notes: Quest University

College:  Quest University –

Location: Squamish, British Columbia (Canada)

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts college

Size: 700 students, undergraduate only

Admissions Advice: Quest University is all about fit. While they are seeking students who can handle a rigorous curriculum and have excelled in the classroom, they are also focusing on more inherent qualities and characteristics such as intellectual curiosity, motivation, and creativity. Quest requires an original piece of work in addition to a more traditional application. Students can submit artwork, films, science projects, written work, or even videos of themselves participating in favorite hobby.

Most popular majors: Well, there is only one! Every student graduates with a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences degree (BA&Sc).

Words to describe students I met: international, outdoorsy, hippie, cultured, alternative, intelligent, genuinely curious about the world, unique, self-motivated

Unique academic aspects: Quest University uses a Block Plan where students take one class at a time for a fairly intense 3.5 weeks total. There are 8 blocks per academic year and once one block is completed, students get a five-day weekend to explore the natural beauty of the Squamish area. I happened to visit during a block break and many students were off-campus skiing at Whistler or were enjoying city life in Vancouver, a short 45-minute drive from Quest.

The first two years of the curriculum focus on Foundation courses across a wide range of disciplines, while the second two years are self-designed around a student’s “Question”. With the support of a faculty member, students design their last two years of study to explore a topic of interest in great detail and complete a culminating project, thesis, research paper or other keystone piece in an attempt to answer that question. Some example topics include:

  • “How do we push our limits?” – An exploration of psychology and exercise physiology. Student is studying hormone levels in athletes during exercise. She is also simultaneously preparing for a physical therapy graduate program in the U.S.
  • “What is the best way to educate a child?” – A student dives into educational psychology and teaching methods. Part of this project involved working in four different types of classroom settings: Montessori, public school, Waldorf and private school.
  • “What is the role of empathy in medicine?” Student designed a survey and interviewed community members and healthcare leaders, coming up with a profile healthcare in her community.

Unique social/cultural aspects: Quest students are very unique and diverse, making this tiny college seem much larger and actually very reflective of the global community. About 50% of students are from Canada, 35% from the United States, and 15% from other countries throughout the world. Students are driven and many services and resources on campus are student-run, such as the communal garden and apiary.

Colleges that seem similar: There aren’t many quite like Quest! Colorado College uses the Block Plan and has some cultural overlap, while Evergreen State College and Western Washington’s Fairhaven College have some similarities to Quest as well.

Concerns about this college: Obviously with a college so small and so unique, students need to be sure before they enroll that this is a good academic and social fit for them. Quest tries to ensure fit by interviewing all potential students for admission, but there still are students who transfer out seeking a more traditional university experience.

Overall impressions:  This is probably one of the coolest colleges I have ever visited (and I’m currently at over 130 college campus visits). Though I picked an absolutely horrible rainy winter day for my visit, I still thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the Squamish area and the charming little campus. The admissions staff and tour guides are beyond welcoming, and I am confident entering students would benefit from this support throughout their four years.

*Note: Thanks to Brad @ Quest for providing me with the sunny day photo above!

Campus Visit Notes: University of San Francisco

College:  University of San Francisco

Location: San Francisco, CA

Type of Institution: Private Jesuit university

Size: 6,700 undergraduates, just over 10,000 including graduate programs

Admissions Advice: USF has a fairly holistic application review process and looks at everything from GPA/test scores to letters of recommendation to a supplemental essay. They are looking for students who will fit in with the social justice mission and will be engaged members of the campus and greater San Francisco communities. I was pleased to learn that the college has greatly expanded its scholarship awards, ranging from $5,000 – $22,000 per year for all four years. Awards are based primarily on GPA, test scores and class rank.

Most popular majors: Nursing, business, kinesiology, communications, psychology

Words to describe students I met: Diverse, social, engaged, hip, alternative, cultured

Unique academic aspects: USF is adapting to the booming tech economy of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. They recently added a Data Science major, essentially a computer science and math major that prepares students for careers in manipulating and interpreting big data. The college has historically been known mostly for its nursing and business programs, so it’s great to see the addition of this interdisciplinary major.

Business students also have the opportunity to take classes at the downtown campus in the financial center of San Francisco. Typically these are upper-level courses that allow greater access to business, tech and finance leaders working in the downtown area. USF is huge on connecting students to service opportunities and internships throughout the San Francisco area.

Unique social/cultural aspects: The mix of students on campus is truly interesting. You see people of all ethnic backgrounds, styles of dress, and personalities wandering around and hanging out with each other on campus. No single ethnic group makes up more than 30% of the student population, reflecting the diversity of this city. On the socioeconomic spectrum, USF enrolls 30% Pell-eligible students and 20% international students, so there is a huge range of socioeconomic backgrounds as well.

Colleges that seem similar: Loyola Marymount University, University of San Diego, Fordham University, Santa Clara University, St. Mary’s College of California

Concerns about this college: USF only guarantees on-campus housing for one year. After that, students are left to find their own options in the heart of the most expensive city on the west coast (and it may even be more expensive than NYC due to the tech boom). Students who want to live within a mile of campus will be paying a lot and will definitely need to get creative with finding affordable housing. Students on more of a budget may need to go as far as the Sunset district, a solid 20-30 minutes away. The college offers financial aid for housing at around $13,000/year, an amount which may not completely cover a student’s off-campus housing and dining in this city. On the flipside, students will be pushed into the realities of the world earlier than at highly residential colleges in the middle of nowhere.

Overall impressions:  This was my second visit to the USF campus. The first visit was years ago when I attended a health careers and graduate school fair and presented to several of the pre-professional student groups around campus. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about student life, housing, and the non-academic aspects of attending this college. The admissions staff is extremely friendly and professional, and they really do want every visitor to have a great experience. I loved the views from the hilltop area and watching students enjoy the sunny 70 degree February day on the main campus. And if you have a chance to visit, be sure to walk into the gorgeous St. Ignatius church.


Campus Visit Notes: Washington State University

College:  Washington State University –

Location: Pullman, WA

Type of Institution: Public research university

Size: 20,000+ undergraduates, about 30,000 total including all campuses and graduate programs

Admissions Advice: Washington State has a fairly straightforward admissions process using an index of GPA and test scores (this also carries over the scholarship awards).  There are ways for students to be admitted that fall below the criteria, however. They use a rolling admission model with a Jan 31st deadline, so I advise students to apply early and find out within a few weeks. Added bonus: No essays are required for general admission!

Most popular majors: Animal science / agricultural studies majors, business, kinesiology & sport science, hospitality, engineering, journalism. (They have 150+ majors/minors so there is literally something for everyone).

Words to describe students I met: outgoing, full of school spirit, laid-back, welcoming, collaborative

Unique academic aspects: As a land-grant institution, WSU has really excellent programs in agriculture, food science and zoology. They have the only vet school in the state and will soon open a new medical school in Spokane. This is a great launching point for students interested in hands-on research with animals in preparation for graduate programs and fellowships.

My tour guide, a senior in the animal science program, already had one publication under her belt and had been doing research since her freshman year. For the motivated student that isn’t afraid to seek out opportunities, WSU could be a great fit. Students have access to research with less competition from their peers.

Unique social/cultural aspects: School spirit is alive and well at WSU. The football field is beautiful and located in the mix of other campus buildings, bringing the community together to cheer on the Cougs. Just on the other side of the football field are tons of off-campus apartments full of students. It is common for students to live in dorms for freshman year only and then move off-campus, but still close enough to walk.

Colleges that seem similar: University of Oregon, University of Montana,  Boise State, Oregon State University, University of Idaho (just 15 minutes down the street)

Concerns about this college:  Pullman isn’t a metropolis. It is a college town which swells to 35,000 people during the academic year, the majority of whom are students. There is a great little airport nearby but access to bigger city experiences and amenities are quite far away. Additionally, WSU does have a party-school reputation though Greek life represents only 1/4 of students. I’d argue this isn’t anything to be concerned about as it is a large enough university that students of all social scene preferences will find their niche, whether it involves late night video gaming sessions, theater groups or the party scene.

Overall impressions: I really enjoyed my WSU visit! After years of working in admissions at UW, WSU’s sworn enemy, I have a special place in my heart for this “rival” college. My tour guide was among the best I’ve ever had and I was really impressed with the visit program as a whole. I really felt a strong sense of community on campus and around Pullman. And how can you not love a campus tour that ends with some ice cream from the campus creamery? (Seriously. You should try it.)

Campus Visit Notes: Boston University


College:  Boston University – 

Location: Boston, MA

Type of Institution: Private research university

Size: 16,500 undergraduates, over 30,000 including graduate students

Admissions Advice: Boston University has become increasingly competitive in recent years as the university pushes to move up in the rankings and due to the fact that the college has decreased the freshman class size. Nearly 20% of students are international, further inflating test score and GPA statistics. The university highly values demonstrated interest and there is a big difference in admission rates for Early Decision, so students with a true passion for the university have an advantage.

Most popular majors: Communication/Journalism, Business, Biology, Health Sciences

Words to describe students I met: Preppy, bros, outgoing, wealthy, confident, active

Unique academic aspects: BU has a range of programs for students with varying interests, from a 7-year accelerated medical school program to a popular two-year liberal arts program for undecided students. The combined med school program has an acceptance rate of 2.5% (!), so it truly is only for the most passionate and prepared undergraduates. The College of General Studies, on the other hand, is a great place for students who want to explore different disciplines while fulfilling general education / graduation requirements. It is a great way for the undecided student to stay on track, something which can often be challenging at larger universities.

Unique social/cultural aspects: Hockey is big at Boston U, and the Terriers have a rich history in the sport. The team has won multiple national championships over the years and tons of rowdy fans can be found at games throughout the season. Not only are sports big on campus, but in the nearby neighborhoods as well. BU is very close to Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, so students have ample opportunities to enjoy the city’s sports culture just a few blocks away. A good portion of BU students can be described as “bros” or “jocks”, though Greek life is not as large as one might expect (only about 13% of the student body).

Colleges that seem similar: New York University, George Washington University, University of Southern California, American University, Fordham University

Concerns about this college:  Boston University, like many universities in hip urban coastal cities, has tons of students just dying to get in, many of whom are willing to pay full tuition. Boston U has historically been stringy with financial aid and scholarship money, a concern the admission officer I spoke to agreed with fully. However, he said the college is trying to improve its financial aid and scholarship reputation to attract a more diverse range of students. I’m excited to see how this plays out in the coming months and years.

Overall impressions: Boston U’s campus is long and spread out, and very well-integrated with the surrounding city. A metro line runs right along the length of the campus with easy connections to other parts of Boston, and the nearby Allston neighborhood is a fun place to be a college student. I had visited the campus nearly fifteen years ago and was happy to revisit and see the changes in the neighborhood and campus improvements. The college has a lot to offer students interested in business, film and journalism who don’t want to be overwhelmed in NYC or LA, and is a good alternative for those who don’t want to attend a massive urban university (though 30,000 is still pretty large). Overall it was a good visit with a great and enthusiastic tour guide. And I’m very excited that at least one of my current seniors will be enrolling next fall.