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: 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.

Campus Visit Notes: Haverford College

haverford

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: 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 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.

How to spend your summer vacation (without breaking the bank)

Even though summer break is still months away, many rising juniors and seniors are asking lots of questions about how to spend their summer vacations, so I thought I’d share some of my musings with you all.

Many families assume that their child needs to head off to a fancy summer camp to get into college these days. However, from my perspective as a former admission counselor, there is need to spend thousands of dollars on these programs. They are NOT the golden ticket for admission to highly selective institutions. Sure, there are great programs out there and opportunities to explore interests on college campuses, but families often wrongfully assume this will give their child a leg up in the admissions process. Aside from special programs designated for first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students, rarely do these summer programs have any tie-in with the admissions offices at the host college.

If you’ll be entering freshman or sophomore year in the fall, you’re still a kid! Enjoy it while it lasts! Go outside and play Frisbee, have sleepovers with your friends, play video games,  and relax a little. But for students entering junior or senior year in the fall, what you do in the summer can be important for your own growth and development, as well as for college admission. Here are some ideas for rising juniors and senior that won’t break the bank:

Get a job! This is one of the most rare things to see on a college application these days. During my work in admissions, I would often see work experience on the applications of low-income students, but rarely would this show up for middle-class or wealthy students. Gaining work experience over the summer has a lot of benefits for your personal growth and maturity. It is a great opportunity to make some money to help contribute to your college education. And I have read some great essays about summer job experiences.

Shadow a professional in an area of interest. If you have an idea about your potential major or career path, why not see what that path entails over the summer? This one requires you to be comfortable networking and asking for help, whether that’s using your family connections or exploring opportunities independently. It doesn’t hurt to ask someone if you could shadow them for a week, or if there are any small projects you could assist with over the summer to get your feet wet. The worst they can say is “no”, and this is something you will hear a lot when you move on to the real world some day. So get that resume polished up and start emailing or calling!

Do some volunteer work that actually interests you. Things get crazy during the school year, and students often struggle to get those community service hours completed while doing something they actually enjoy. Summer is a great time for outdoors activities in the Pacific Northwest, so for students interested in environmental studies, hiking, conservation, etc., get out and get active! There are many organizations in the area that have opportunities for short-term work projects, such as the Washington Trails Association. If the outdoors isn’t your thing, there are many other opportunities geared towards high school students in the summer. Look for projects through your place of worship, school, parents, neighbors, or ask your college counselor 🙂

Visit colleges. Though summer visits aren’t ideal, this might be the best opportunity for you to visit colleges, especially if you are a multi-sport athlete or are otherwise very busy during the school year. Obviously keep in mind that the energy of a campus is very different over the summer.

Campus Visit Notes: Claremont McKenna College

CMC

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.