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.

So you got into college. Now what?

Another year, another admission decision season. This is probably the most emotionally draining couple of weeks in a young person’s life (until they move to college a few months down the line…) The decision time brings tears of joy, tears of sadness and sometimes strange surprises as colleges experience huge increases or decreases in their applicant pool compared to previous years.

So what happens after you get that admission letter, or, hopefully, multiple admission letters?

Financial aid and scholarships – More information on this should be coming your way if you have not received it yet (via email, your college portal, and/or postal mail). Most colleges will get this information out within a few days of the admission decision as it is obviously an extremely important piece of the puzzle. Click here for more information on evaluating financial aid packages.

Admitted student events – You’ve wooed your colleges, now it’s their turn to woo you back! Colleges will roll out the red carpet for admitted student preview events held throughout the month of April. Students and parents will have the opportunity to tour (or re-tour) campuses, learn about housing options in great detail, meet current students, sit in on classes, and interact with faculty. At some colleges, don’t be surprised if the president and top faculty are around to greet you.

Phonathons and other outreach – Many colleges have student volunteers call admitted students to talk about their experiences at the college and answer any questions. This is a great opportunity to ask about those things you don’t necessarily want to ask when parents are around. What’s the dating scene like? What does the campus look like on game day? Am I going to make friends easily here? Don’t be shy on these calls. You are already admitted to the college and this is a great chance to see if it would be the right social fit for you.

Don’t forget the national deadline to decide where you will go to college is May 1st.

Changes in tuition at Washington’s public universities

UW campus

In case you missed it, Washington state’s public universities are about to do something practically unfathomable in the age of skyrocketing college costs: They are decreasing tuition. Tuition rates for the state’s public four-year universities will decrease by 15-20%, which equates to $1,700 – 2,100 per year, depending on the university. This is welcome news for the thousands of students and families who rely on loans and/or student jobs to pay the tuition bill each year.

Below are two articles with more information on these changes and how this will be rolled out over the coming years.

Seattle Times article

Huffington Post

However, for parents who have invested in the state’s GET program over the last few years, these changes are not necessarily welcome. In response to the tuition decreases, the GET program has been suspended for two years as the state figures out exactly what to do. The state also announced it will be refunding units purchased over the past four years for interested families. Here is a statement from the committee’s most recent meeting with an overview of the refund terms and timeline.

Seniors: How to stay ahead of the chaos this fall

Senior year has arrived!  You all know that now is the time to focus on developing your college list and writing that standard college essay. Your high school counselor will likely give you a checklist of items to do this fall focused on getting applications prepared and submitted on time. However, here are a few less well known (but still important) things seniors should focus on in the beginning of the school year:

Letters of recommendation requests 

If you are applying to Common Application colleges or, generally speaking, selective universities, be sure to identify teachers to write your letters of recommendation early. Look through your college list and see how many letters are required and from whom. The most competitive colleges will require two letters of recommendation from teachers in core academic subject areas (math, science, language, social studies, English) plus a counselor letter. Some colleges will allow you to submit an extra letter from someone outside of those traditional subjects as long as the letter will shed light on something new about you. Some valid examples of others you might ask: employer, fine arts teacher or club adviser.

The key part is asking early. If you attend a large public high school, that popular English teacher may be asked to write over a hundred letters of recommendation (literally), so asking at the beginning of the year will make sure you’re on the top of the list. Also, as you might suspect, your teacher will be more enthusiastic about writing letters earlier in the year compared to deadline time.

Scheduling admissions interviews

As an alumni interviewer for the past several years, I can tell you that the students who contact me earlier in the interview season have a slight advantage. They are demonstrating their interest in the college early and showing me that they are on top of things. On my end, I am refreshed and excited to start interviewing students each year in September and October. Once the holiday season approaches in November, I am often starting to get burnt out on interviews and need to begin saying no. Friends who interview off-site for other colleges (Pomona, Occidental, etc. ) echo my sentiments. Typically you will be able to request admissions interviews starting in September, so prepare early!

Have the financial fit conversation with mom and dad

It is absolutely crucial for students and parents to have a conversation about financial fit before the college list is finalized and applications are submitted. Parents should use this as a tool to teach their child about budgeting (students are, in fact, about to enter adulthood!). Have a frank discussion about finances and establish some boundaries for total cost per year, loan amounts that you are comfortable with, student employment expectations, etc. Decide what is best for your situation and make sure that your college list includes schools that are more of a financial safety based on total cost of attendance or likelihood of qualifying for financial aid or merit scholarships. Getting on the same page early ensures that there aren’t awkward conversations later once decisions and award letters come out.

Trends in Admissions: Lessons from western U.S. conference (SuperACAC)

In mid-May, I attended the western region’s biggest professional development conference for college admissions folks, high school counselors and independent college counselors: SuperACAC. As a part of my commitment to continuing education, I attend at least one conference every year to stay current on admissions trends and college updates. Here are my top takeaways from this year’s conference.

  • University of California- Berkeley will soon be the first UC school to accept letters of recommendation from teachers or counselors. In this same session, admissions directors from several of the UC campuses walked our group through their comprehensive review process. The review is nearly identical to the review I conducted on thousands of applications to the University of Washington, so I leave feeling much more confident about advising students on admissions to the UC system.
  • The Common Application is adding more than 60 new member colleges this application cycle, which is good news for students. However, much to my dismay is the fact that colleges can now decide whether or not they want to require essays and recommendations. These two application components are absolutely vital to helping a student showcase their unique qualities and story to a school. And the recommendation is a great way of providing context for a student’s GPA, test scores, curriculum, etc. I’ll be curious to see the impact on application numbers for colleges that move to optional essays and recommendations, and will be curious to see what attrition rates look like a few years down the road. I suspect that colleges with fewer requirements will see an increase in applications but they may not be admitting and enrolling students who are a great fit – there is only so much that numbers can reveal about a student’s interests and personality! More information on these changes and others can be found here.
  • A lot of the discussion centered on financial aid and college affordability, an area that is constantly evolving. I learned about some excellent resources for families seeking more thorough support with managing their assets and savings in preparation for sending a student to college. Financial planners with this focus can become a part of professional associations such as the National College Advocacy Group or Higher Education Consultants Association (of which I am a member). I’d encourage families to seek out financial advice from folks who are actively involved with these groups and have a strong commitment to this aspect of financial planning.
  • In a survey of the nation’s top universities (top 100 national universities + top 100 liberal arts colleges), 54% of admissions representatives responded that they have viewed a student’s social media accounts and/or conducted online research of applicants. Cornerstone Research administered this survey and their findings are quite interesting. As admission becomes even more competitive, colleges really are turning to social media and other avenues to learn about prospective students.

A few words of wisdom on evaluating financial aid packages

The majority of the nation’s college and universities finished releasing their admission decisions just a few days ago. Now students and parents are frantically scheduling trips for “Admitted Student Days”, where colleges try to convince you to choose them over the competitors. But before booking a flight or hotel, I encourage families to review their financial aid and scholarship package. Why waste your time and money visiting a school that isn’t financially feasible for you to attend?

At many schools, students and families won’t receive their financial aid and scholarship packages until a week or more after the official acceptance letter. If you’re one of the lucky full-pay families who don’t require financial assistance, by all means go ahead and schedule those visits to any school you are seriously interested in attending. But, if you completed the FAFSA or are hoping for other support to defray the cost of college, you may want to hold off on visiting until the award letter is in hand. Even if you utilized the Net Price Calculator for you chosen schools, financial aid availability and formulas can change a bit from year to year.

While colleges and universities have a noble mission of educating young minds, they unfortunately don’t always have the student and family’s best interests at heart when it comes to financial aid. Their goal is to fill the freshman class and sometimes this means they can get away with providing financial aid and scholarship packages that are somewhat misleading. Letters often confuse students and parents with vague terms or the use of last year’s tuition amounts. On top of that, colleges present this information in different ways, making it very difficult to truly compare your options.

Here are a few things to be aware of as you review your financial aid and scholarship award package:

Colleges often front-load merit scholarships and other financial support. What this means is that your package as an incoming freshman may change drastically after you complete your first year on campus. Unfortunately this practice is becoming increasingly common as colleges compete for the best and brightest. My advice? Read the fine print associated with any grants or scholarships you’ve been awarded. Is this renewable for all four years of your education? (Side note: Is it realistic for you to graduate from this school in four years?) If the scholarships are renewable, do they require an additional application later on or is renewal automatic? Does maintaining the scholarship require a certain GPA or involvement on campus? Be sure you fully understand this award and how it continues (if at all) to support you beyond the first year.

If your package includes loans, be sure you understand the interest rate and payback terms. Another practice that is common (but less so now) is the inclusion of loans in your financial aid package without a full explanation of the interest rates, monthly payments and loan terms. If this isn’t clear in your award letter, call or email the financial aid office to ask before accepting any offer. Email is best because then you’ll have a record of this exchange in case there are any issues later on, but expect to wait a few days for a response.

Understand the true cost of attendance and what is/is not included. Schools may present a separate “fees” or “other” category to include various additional costs of attendance besides tuition itself. If those costs aren’t outlined clearly in the letter, ask! While one school may include an estimated budget of $1000 / year for transportation costs, another school might leave that out of their award. Textbook costs are another potential big expense (hundreds of dollars a semester) that may or may not be included in your cost of attendance.

If you’d like to read more tips about evaluating your financial aid offer, check out this piece from the Huffington Post or this Forbes article. Educate yourself and don’t be afraid to ask questions on the front end!