Campus Visit Notes: Villanova University


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: 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.

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: 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: 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 –

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.