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.

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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: 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.