Campus Visit Notes: Villanova University

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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.

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Campus Visit Notes: Haverford College

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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: 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.