campus encounters

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Archive for the category “College Visits”

University of Notre Dame

University of Notre Dame (visited 11/21/19)

ND quad 1Notre Dame is fabulous. Visually appealing, vibrant, and with all the opportunities you could hope for, students seem to thrive. Students have the best of all worlds: top-notch academics (“professors aren’t just top of their fields – they’re famous,” said a student), arts (the fine and performing arts facilities are some of the best funded and most-well resourced that I’ve seen), athletics (the stadium fills up – and it holds several times more than the size of the student body), and more. “If you’re willing to think of things you want to do, talk to people, make things happen … sky’s the limit here.”

ND 1I contacted a junior I know who met us to show us around; he was much more forthcoming than most tour-guides would be, and we feel like we walked away with a clear picture of the types of students who would thrive, find and take advantage of opportunities, and contribute to the life of the school. “You definitely have to take the initiative to talk to professors,” he said. “You can do a lot here, but nothing is going to be handed to you.” He’s said that he’s an outlier on campus. “I’m not motivated by grades. Many students here are. I’m cognizant that I’m not typical.”

ND touchdown jesus

Touchdown Jesus

“It’s very Catholic, white, and upper middle class here. If your name is Katie, Michael, Patrick, or Brendan and are from the suburbs of Chicago, you’re going to fit right in.” He admits that he was being half-sarcastic … “it may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not but much!” It is ranked as the #1 Catholic school in the country; there’s plenty around campus to remind you that you’re at a religious school, it’s less in-your-face than I thought it might be … two notable exceptions are the Touchdown Jesus mural and the First-Down Moses statue (“someone stuck a pumpkin on his finger at Halloween!”). The university does, at least superficially, abide by Catholic policies. For example, the student told us that birth control had been banned through Health Services (not unheard of at many Catholic or other overtly religious campuses), but the ban got overturned by students who protested. He thinks that the ban was originally put in place maybe to appease donors, “but this also speaks to the fact that they do listen to students.”

ND 6Campus is huge, much bigger than I expected for the number of students (a little under 9,000 undergrads). Construction and/or renovations seem to be ongoing, and they stick with the yellow brick that they’re so famous for, although on one building, it was easy to see where they ran out of the traditional brick and used a slightly different mud. There are quite a few things walkable off campus; we ate with the student at a Chipotle right off campus where there were a couple blocks of shops and restaurants with apartments above them. Most students do live on campus, and dorms are good.

ND 7Athletics, of course, are a staple on campus, both to play and watch. On Football weekends, the student said that he knows that it’ll take longer to walk to class on Fridays “because the alumni family is back and taking up the sidewalk. The Michigan Game was the most ridiculous I’ve seen so far.” Famous people regularly come in to tailgate. The stadium regular fills up, “and it holds many times the number of students at the university – that’s how many people come to watch. People have bought places in town to stay just for this reason.” Overflow parking is on the golf course “which tells you how well they regard golf here.” They’ve recently build massive sport-specific training facilities; we didn’t go in, but we could see in through the windows at the extravagance of the equipment (including technology). These were larger and nicer than many academic buildings I’ve seen. It was definitely over-the-top, but seeing as they’re Associate Members of the Big 10 Conference, it’s clear that they’re making this a priority.

ND crown

The Crown that inspired “More is More” comment in regards to the university

Luckily, academics are also superbly well-funded. “More is more here. There’s this sense of ‘How much can you do?’ Things radiate outward.” The Physics building was used for some of the early research of the atomic bomb, and in fact, the government took it over for a couple years; they have an accelerator here and in an abandoned mine in SD. These have to be underground to avoid random particles in the atmosphere. The College of Science is separate from Arts & Letters here. They’re well known for the computing programs with options in Science-Computing, Chemistry-Computing, and Applied/Computational Math and Stats. Surprisingly, the Med School acceptance rate is only about 80% – while still well above the national average, I expected higher at a powerhouse like Notre Dame.

ND film performing arts

The interior of the Performing Arts building

The Performing Arts building (housing the Film, TV, and Theater major) is phenomenal with lots of concert halls and a cinema with THX. They have a College of Architecture and College of Global Affairs (each one with only the 1 major; Architecture is a 5-year program).

ND chapel 2

interior of the chapel

Students are good in terms of service and giving back; being here has made the student learn about the sheer impact Notre Dame has on the world. They have enough money to help students get involved in what they’re interested in. Summer Service Learning Projects (SSLP) allow students to get grants for an 8-week immersive project with a non-profit. The grant provides a stipend, room and board, and sometimes 3 credits towards a major. “Notre Dame is very much about the equality of opportunities …. Almost!” He feels like there are ways they could improve. He comes from a more progressive area in California, and he sees some of the hypocrisy here, much of it stemming from the Catholicism. For example, ND sponsors March for Life but not for Choice, even though there are many students who participate in this. “LGBTQ may not be as well funded as other things, as well, although the community is here and accepted on campus.”

ND dorm 1People are good at global-mindedness, as well. Somewhere between 60-70% of students study abroad, both at the ND-run centers in Ireland and Rome and through other programs.

© 2019

Grinnell College

Grinnell College (visited 12/7/19)

Grinnell extra journeys“Students are authentically themselves here. They’re kind of quirky in the best possible way,” said the rep.

“Yes, we’re proud of being in Iowa which we think is underrated, but we’re also proud that people intentionally come here from all over,” one student said. About 94% of students come from outside the state. “If a bunch of people are here in the middle of Iowa, there must be a good reason. Find out what it is!” Students who are comfortable in their own skin and who are “social floaters in the best possible way, who are interested in reaching out to lots of people in an unpretentious way” (according to the rep) will do wonderfully here. Adjectives used to describe Grinnellians include “purposeful, inquisitive, genuine, creative, accepting, and influential.” Students are interested in learning for its own sake; the open curriculum means that they’re taking classes with other students who want to be there rather than to check off a box.

Grinnell art 2Grinnell is well known for their strong academics and curious, intellectual students (they rank 7th in the nation for per-capita PhD production, “the quality of the education is recognized”). They have an Open Curriculum (only 11 colleges in the US have truly Open Curriculums including Brown, Smith, and Amherst). Taking classes where everyone has chosen to be there adds to the engagement. There are no core requirements other than the First Year Tutorial taken in first semester to help students get accustomed to Grinnell and college-level writing. “It’s normally a fun class. I took ‘Enlightenment in Musicals;’ we read Candide and Hamilton and got to see Hamilton on Broadway.” There’s an Entertainment budget which allows for things like the musicals. Some of her friends took classes like ‘Are we Too Clean?’ (about microbiomes) and ‘The Magical World of Calvin and Hobbes.’

Grinnell study carrels

Double-decker study carrels in the library!

They draw “thoughtful, engaged students who know how to make their own fun.” There was an Ugly Sweater party the night before I was on campus; organizations can apply to serve alcohol at events on campus: students with 2 forms of ID can get a wristband to drink. This is a campus where students WILL have a life, even in a town of 5,000 students. I spoke to a senior from St. Louis: she wanted a small town for college. “Would I live here for 10 years? Nope. But 4 years is good. I wanted good friendships and people with the same goal of hard academics.” Another student said, “Cities will always be there. I may never have a chance to live in a small town again.” I asked several people about their favorite thing to do off campus:

  • Grinnell Coffee shop

    The downtown Coffee shop

    “The things I like to do are because of the people I’m with, not necessarily what I’m doing.”

  • “There’s a park about 15 minutes away which is great when it’s more green and warmer!”
  • “The Taproom downtown; it’s got a great chill vibe.”
  • Bowling or working at the coffee shop. There’s also a movie theater.

I arrived about 40 minutes early for the info session and tour, so I walked downtown. It took less than 10 minutes for me to meander to a coffee shop recommended by the student working at the Admissions desk. It was an amazing locally run place, and at 9:30am on a Saturday, there were already 4 students there with textbooks and computers. The tour guide later told me that it’ll get more packed with students as it got later in the day.

Grinnell dorm 1

One of the dorm quads

Students are guaranteed 4 years of housing on campus, but juniors and seniors can apply to move off. Dorm rooms are spacious. There are 3 sets of dorms (about a block apart) as well as several Language and Project houses (like LLCs). Those students can have lower meal plans because they have kitchens. The food is very good; the dining halls have longer dining hall hours and plenty of late night options. I ate lunch with the rep at the dining hall; options were plentiful, and there was almost no wait for food despite being there right in the middle of lunch. (As a side note, a hot topic on campus right now is that students are trying to unionize the dining hall workers).

Grinnell dorm 3

Another dorm quad with sand volleyball

“We have so much space on campus.” There are a lot of student initiatives like the swing sets. “It’s so squeaky! I know it gets used because I can hear it at all hours.” There’s a huge athletic center – larger than you’d expect at a campus this size. Students can rent kayaks and even learn to kayak on their pool.

Grinnell pagodaThey have a $2B endowment for 1,700 students so there’s a sense of inclusive, equitable culture. They’ve ranked in the top 3 most economically diverse liberal arts colleges in the country which they can maintain because they’re able to support students in a multitude of ways. Students will be surrounded by people of a variety of backgrounds. No one is left out. People take advantage of the fabulous academic and financial resources. The tour guide said, “It was on my list of places where I could play AND work really hard. There was a great vibe; there was something about the community here.” All classes finish at 3:50 “but some labs run long depending on what you’re working on.” This allows for intense extra-curricular involvement, as well. Students don’t have to choose.

Academically, there’s more choice than you might expect at a college this size.

  • Grinnell atrium Humanities

    The atrium in the new Humanities building with the facade of the older building still in use.

    They’re just finishing a major renovation of the humanities building (and have a Center for the Humanities); they’ve kept the original façade and built out around it, so the atrium is really amazing! One of the students raved about the building: “The sciences always get the big fancy buildings because of the labs; it’s more rare to see such a great building just for the humanities. We have a central hub.”

  • They offer 3+2 engineering, pairing with Iowa, Wash U, and Columbia
  • Concentrations are interdisciplinary: they offer things like Science, Medicine, and Society; Studies in Africa, Middle East, and South Asia; and Global Development Studies.
  • Grinnell original bldg

    The original academic building

    Languages are a big deal here, including less common languages such as Arabic, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese.

  • They operate the Center for Prairie Studies; they own 35 acres of Prairie nearby.
  • The tour guide established the LGBTQ Oral History Project and did 6 interviews already in Central Iowa. He’s also been doing research by looking at HIV pamphlets in Latin American and the stigma of HIV and how these can influence people’s attitudes.
  • All students can get 30 minutes of music lessons per week; music majors get 1 hour.

Grinnell 4There’s a long tradition of social responsibility: they graduated many architects of FDR’s new deal “including many women – pretty radical for 1919.” Grinnell was founded by abolitionists. Social justice and caring for others is something they look for in their applicants. This is one of the more internationally diverse colleges with 45 countries represented on campus (about 20% are international).

Grinnell lang house

One of the language houses

In applications, they look for evidence that students will be successful and engaged. What will you bring to the community? They recommend trying to take at least 5 of the advanced classes that the school offers. They want to see that you’re curious and up for a challenge. This is a rigorous school so they want to know you can handle it. Interviews are optional. The priority scholarship deadline is 12/1 “but really not a major deal if they apply after that. There’s still money.” They keep their ED acceptances under 40%. Their admissions decisions are Need-blind. Average indebtedness is about $19K, the lowest in Iowa, including the state schools.

Grinnell hammocksStudents are “surprisingly global-minded” (and the school can fund study-abroad for students because of their endowment). More than 70% of students have an off-campus study experience with credits transferring back. Financial aid and merit aid are portable. They have several research locations that are mentored advanced projects (MPA): more than 50% of students complete these. 150+ students conduct research each summer for 4 credits with a minimum stipend of $3,400. Course-embedded travel is popular; there’s a $400 fee for a month of international travel, but if that’s an issue, it can be waived.

© 2019

Central College

Central College (visited 12/4/19)

Central pond 4Central College is a hidden gem located about 45 minutes from Des Moines. Students are out and about (even on a cool day in early December) and are helpful and friendly, going out of their way to provide directions or talk about their experiences on campus. “You’re going to have people who want to get to know you, who see you every day, in a residential community. Some come with anxiety issues, that sort of thing – and they blossom because professors nurture them, take them out of their comfort zone, help them do things they didn’t think they could do. People get comfortable and then they’re doing things they couldn’t imagine doing. You’ll get true, genuine support here. Faculty will be blunt – good and bad – when it’s warranted. Students don’t try to get legs up on others.” Combine that level of support with a tuition price point of $18,400 and you have a solid, affordable education that will provide personal and academic growth.

Central quad 2I spent about an hour talking to the Maryland rep, a recent Central alum. “My freshman year, I was all about athletics. I was not inclined to go to class. I just wanted to play basketball. I ended up having to go to my local community college to bring grades up and turn myself around.” He appreciates how much people here approach students on personal level. “I was exposed to so many different opportunities right from the start. They were ready and constantly there. My advisor and class dean were emailing. Professors were keeping me accountable and I had support. I felt like I had a bunch of moms and dads around. That was my concern coming from Texas – it had to be the right fit coming from that far from home. Interactions were all great.” Professors would invite them to Thanksgiving, but they’d also put their foot down when they have to put their foot down. “There are immense opportunities for growth.”

Central entryStudents who thrive are those who are involved in their communities, maybe who come from the same type of small towns where they know everyone. Those who struggle are those who just want to do their time and be anonymous. This is a 4-year residential community; “it’s helpful because about 40% of students are from outside Iowa. There are more students from Arizona than from Minnesota,” said one of the students I talked to in the chapel. (The rep told me that they’re starting to get more East cost and Southern states represented). Another student said that 75% of students stay on campus at least 2 weekends a month.

Central 2Athletics are a big deal here – almost 75% of students are varsity athletes! I asked how the non-athletes fare on campus, or if they feel left out. “We do a great job of including non-athletes. We have over 100 clubs/organizations if they don’t want to be involved at all, but a lot will come watch the games because they’re fun – but they can also be a student manager or in the AT program if they want to.” They’ve recently renovated the athletic center with football locker rooms, a new wrestling center (the biggest in nation!), and a student athlete lounge. Phase 2 will include a bigger AT room. Football brings in the most fans; softball, basketball, and wrestling round out the other top sports.

Central pond 5They have a great pond that’s the central focal point of campus. Many traditions center around this pond. The Lemming Race at Homecoming involves students dressing in costumes, running from the library to the pond, jumping in, and singing the fight song on the island. Students will ice skate on the pond in winter. In the spring, they hold Spring Fling boat races – they get boats but no paddles. Often, students are tossed in on their birthday “but only if they’re jerks!” said a student. Other traditions include the first-year dinner at the President’s house (“He always makes himself available!”), Kahoot Night, pumpkin carving contests, and Twas The Night Before Finals (late night breakfast).

Central mapCampus is located in Pella, a town of 10,000. There’s plenty to do: movies, bowling, restaurants, cafés, shopping – but the rep says, “They need to promote more of the what’s going on around town. They have an app and social media that they should make more use of.” They’re also only a couple miles from a lake which provides other types of activities. If students get sick of the campus or town, Des Moines is 45 minutes away, so there’s easy access to the bigger city. The Student Activity Board runs airport shuttles for break, and there’s a bus that stops in town that’ll run to Des Moines and Chicago.

Central chapel 1They don’t have traditional dorms on campus; they’re all suite style with a common room, bathrooms, and bedrooms. “They have a lot of lounge space, and upkeep is good.” Freshman suites often hold 7-8 students so they have a core group of people to get to know. Upperclassmen suites are usually a little larger, and there are multiple townhouses on campus for upperclassmen, as well.

“We have a relationship with the Reform Church, but we are not affiliated with the church, if that makes sense.” There are scholarships of members of the church. There is a beautiful chapel on campus, but other than that, there’s no real sense that there’s any relationship with religion (no sculptures, crucifixes, etc). Students are not required to attend chapel services/masses, nor are they required to take classes.

Central sci cntr

The newly revamped Science Center

Academically, the school promotes exploration. They want students to explore as much as possible. Students don’t try to get a leg up on each other; the atmosphere is fairly collaborative. The general education core is typical Liberal Arts, covering a wide variety of topics. “They do a good job of innovating and revamping the curriculum. We pick the brains of students and faculty.” They have a week-long Career Kick-starter with hands-on workshops on Interview skills, resume building, etc. and will teaching them about internship opportunities. He’d like to see more money spent on renovating some of the older classroom buildings. They’ve recently completed Roe which is made of 80% recycled materials like banana peels in the floor!

Central bridge

The bridge is supposed to represent the bridging of academics (the Liberal Arts) but also of people and ideas.

The rep is proud of the diversity initiatives, many led by students, that have been put in place since he arrived on campus several years ago. The week after I visited, he said there were going to be multiple Diversity and Inclusion discussions involving faculty, staff, and students. “They try to promote a culture of inclusion here. We’re always asking, How can we improve things? What issues are students facing? In defense of the college, they were not as aware of the issue before and had the “if not broken…” attitude, but that’s changed.” Students are becoming more self-aware and understanding what the initiative is. “When it’s diverse, it’s more fun. You get to experience a lot more and learn a lot more. It speaks to the development of character, as well.”

Central 1I asked him what it was like to be what it was like to be in what I imagined was a fairly significant racial minority on campus: “Initially it was overwhelming being here as a student of color. Students coming in need to be prepared. They will be the minority, but we’re yielding more students of color so we’re changing the tune of voices here. We’re trying to better ourselves and educate ourselves. Now it’s become more of an education and then we’ll transition into the phase of brainstorming and implementation.”

There’s no application fee and no essay “so they don’t lose anything by applying,” but they’re not currently using Common App. Their cost of attendance is just under $50,000 with 2 levels of scholarships (4K and 8K) and Scholar Day possibilities that are stackable.

The rep ended with this: “The things that happen here may seem small, it may seem insignificant, but it’s going to allow you to thrive in the real world! Check out the numerous opportunities, the character development, the professional development which is so underrated! There are so many intricacies at a college like this that are not taught at the DI and DII levels! There are top-notch individuals here! This is the type of education you want.”

© 2019

University of Iowa

University of Iowa (visited 12/5/19)

Iowa students 4“If you’re interested in health sciences or STEM, this place is a gold mine,” said one student – but Iowa is well-known for many other things, including their Honors and Writing programs. Named in the Top 5% of public universities, Iowa is one of the smallest Big 10 schools. Campus is highly walkable and split by the Iowa River. West Campus has mostly the medical complex, athletics, graduate programs, and a few underclassmen res halls. East campus has most of the undergraduate programs and res halls. Iowa City is an amazing college town with a lot going on (and Cedar Rapids, the 2nd largest city in Iowa, is 25 minutes up the road). You just can’t go wrong here!

Iowa quad 3

The view towards West Campus from the Pentacrest

Iowa City has been ranked the #1 College Town; 70 restaurants, cafes, bookstores, etc are alumni owned! It speaks volumes for the town (people want to stay) and town-gown relations. The town and university grew up together in the mid 1800s. “When you’re thinking about a university, you should be thinking about the town as well,” said the tour guide, and there are lots of places to go directly off campus, and 3 bus systems (campus, city, and county) run along or through campus. There are enough students (24,00 undergrads/31,656 total) to almost make campus a city unto itself. The 4,800 first-year students participate in On Iowa!, the extensive orientation program which includes Target and Froyo runs, Kickoff at Kinnick stadium (with fireworks!), food crawls (sample foods around the city for free!), and more.

Iowa old main

The old capital building

Cars are welcome, but not for getting around campus. “This is a very walk-able campus and city.” During the Honors College Presentation, the Director asked one of the students, “When do you have to leave for your 9:30 class?” She quickly said, “9:23” – and she wasn’t kidding! The middle of campus is the Pentacrest: “We’re cooler because we added the 5th side,” said a tour guide. The old Capital building (which had been the capital before it moved to Des Moines and is now a functioning museum) sit in the middle of the Pentacrest. It’s a defining building and a good landmark. The East Side res halls are about a 3-minute walk to the middle of campus where most of the academic buildings are located. It takes 6-10 minutes from the West Side halls. Most people do walk; the Campus Bus (with 18 routes) gets used more in the winter.

Iowa 7“As a college town, this is a more liberal community, but go 20 minutes south, and it’s super conservative,” said one of the reps. “Adult-wise, we’re more liberal. Students seem to have a better balance politically.” This is also one of the most racially diverse cities in the state. “When I was a student here, there weren’t a ton of other people with my skin color, but I’ve always felt safe and comfortable here. Even my father said he was ok leaving me here for 4 years. I’m raising biracial children here and it’s fine.” There’s a huge LGBTQ community which gets plenty of support: in fact, Iowa was the first campus to have an organization. “It can be a transition from a cultural standpoint if students are coming from a heavily Hispanic or black high school, but it’s ok. There are communities,” said another rep. There are cultural houses (there’s lots of food there), events open to all, and groups which tend to be some of the most popular on campus. The university is even adding some transportation options to get them home on weekends and breaks.

Iowa honors dorm

The honors dorm

They have an impressive Honors Program with lots of facilities ranging from a separate dorm to a building with lounges, libraries, and more. The only thing students need to do is apply to Iowa. After being admitted, students are eligible to apply to Honors via the application on the Honors or Admissions website. There’s no GPA or score threshold; “We don’t have a checklist we’re ticking off.” Just over 90% of those who completed the application last year were admitted. The students who take the time to do this are striking students. “If you look like qualified Honors students, we’re going to admit you.” The total number ranges from 10-15% of a class. “Right now, it’s hovering around 12%.” There are essays involved. “Have fun with the prompt!” said the program director. “We want a peek into who you are based on the essay – and yes, it’s different from the other essay on your application. Think about how you want to introduce yourself to us. Be selfish. Be yourself. If you’re funny, be funny. If you aren’t, don’t force it! If you like research, show that off. If you don’t … maybe you don’t want to go to college.”

Iowa Greek

One of the multiple Greek Houses

They have both honors within majors AND an Honors Program – students can do either or both. To graduate with University Honors, they need 12+ Honors credits and 12+ experiential learning credits. “Experiential learning is a trendy phrase, but it’s vague.” There’s no limit to the number of classes, and students can also turn anything into an Honors class with a contract with the professor. Joining Honors right out of high school isn’t your last chance – if you regret not joining, you can apply once here. However, there are 3 opportunities that are only available in the 1st semester: “there’s no getting these back if you join later.”

  • Iowa quad 1Students can participate in the 1-credit, 4-day Prime Time program in August before classes start. They get 1 credit. “Parents love it because we avoided all the traffic.” They select top 3 areas of interest and can do some research. Varsity athletes and members of marching band will have conflicts with this.
  • Honors-only First-Year Seminar, often led by professors rather than TAs. “In Honors Classes, you learn more and have fun. It doesn’t feel like more work. It’s not accelerated. College is already hard!” Once student chose Volcanoes because it was totally different from her majors.
  • Living in the Honors Res Hall (there’s space for 350 students). “You can only live there right out of high school. Plenty of people DON’T live there and are perfectly happy; it’s just one option.”
Iowa mosaic

Mascot and mosaic in the Athletic Center

Over 95% of first-year students live on campus, but it is not required. There are no designated first-year housing. Students must apply to housing with a $75 non-refundable (but also non-committal) fee; it just secures your spot in line. There are LLC options and huge Greek Houses, some of which are located up to a mile off campus; I passed several driving into campus. There were multiple houses overlooking the Iowa River, not a bad place to spend a few years!

Campus food is some of the absolute best I’ve ever had in a dining hall; the rep said that faculty and staff often eat there because it’s so good! The counselors ate with 3 reps, and we were there at a busy lunch time, but we had a very short wait for food. The stations are well set-up and staffed, and there are plenty of tables for students. They had a spectacular noodle bar with choices of ramen, rice, and udon noodles with multiple vegetables, meats, and sauces to choose from. The coconut red curry sauce was spectacular! Students said that the River Room at the hotel is the best place to use their meal plan. “They alternate between pasta and stir-fry bars.”

Iowa brain rock 2

The Brain Rock that students will rub for good luck before exams

Admission decisions are based on the Regent Admission Index (RAI) Scale: (3xACT composite) + (30xCumulative GPA) + (5 x number of years of HS courses completed in the core subject areas). Different colleges have different requirements. “Always know which one you are applying to!” A&S is the easiest. Students must apply before 3/1 for scholarship consideration; “this is a hard deadline.” The priority deadline for need-based aid is 12/1.

There’s no shortage of academic offerings. Students say that they’re challenged (a popular tradition is to rub the “Brain Rock” sculpture for good luck before exams), and they can work in any interest they have. Business and education are competitive; Pharmacy and nursing are most competitive.

Iowa leisure pool

The Leisure pool – the hot tub is in the back left; the rock climbing wall and tv are on the right.

There’s plenty to do on campus. They field 24 Varsity (Big 10) teams which bring out a lot of fans. Most games are free, but basketball is $70 and football costs about $150 for season tickets. “Volleyball gives the best t-shirts,” said a tour guide. There’s a movie theater on campus, and the ‘Leisure Pool’ (“we’re not allowed to call it a lazy river,” said one of the tour guides) has a rock-climbing wall on the side, a gigantic screen for movies/tv shows, and a hot tub (students will laminate their notes and bring them as they watch ‘The Bachelor/ Bachelorette.”) Students will play Canoe Battleship in the main pool: “picture 3 students in a canoe armed with buckets, all trying to sink the other people first.”

© 2019

Eastern Michigan University

Eastern Michigan University (visited 11/20/19)

EMU YouareWelcome

The massive “You Are Welcome Here” sign; there are other versions of this around campus

Few schools have surprised me as much as EMU did. Although this may feel like it gets lost in UMich’s shadow (they’re only about 20 minutes from Ann Arbor), this vibrant, attractive campus offers students a huge array of academic, athletic, and social opportunities at an amazing price point – and it’s been named as “A Best Campus in the Midwest” for 17 years running by Princeton Review. It’s also one of the most diverse campuses I’ve seen: 1/3 of students self-identify as domestic students of color; many students were wearing hijb; students come from all 50 states and 83 countries; 48% are Pell recipients; and 25% are First-Gen students.

EMU CommonI would absolutely recommend this college to students: it’s accessible (physically, financially, and academically); it has a great vibe; and it has all the academic and social options/ opportunities of a larger school without the crazy cut-throat feeling at some places. “I love the eclectic mix of students here. You learn so much because there are a lot of perspectives,” said one of the tour guides.

EMU student Center

The student center and part of the pond.

One of the most impressive about the college is their cost: starting in 2016, they stopped charging additional tuition for out-of-state students; I’ve seen other colleges provide scholarships to qualified students that can bring the cost down to in-state tuition, but not just a flat price at a state school. The total Cost of Attendance is just under $25,000 for students living on campus! That’s almost unheard of. They base tuition on 26 credit hours per year; it could go up a bit for more credits (that is a little unusual; traditional credit load is 30 per year). On top of that, they provide scholarships (students may qualify for more than one but may only receive one) such as:

  • EMU 54Ward Graduation Scholarship: Students with a 3.0 GPA and a 1030 SAT/20 ACT can apply for this; after successfully completing the first 2 years and paying fixed-rate tuition, EMU will pay the tuition for years 3 and 4. Students must live on campus all 4 years to get this scholarship. They must complete 30 credits a year (aka be on track to graduate on time) and keep a 2.0 GPA while at EMU.
  • The Presidential Scholarship is the only competition-based scholarship with applications due by 11/1. Students need a 3.5+GPA and 25+ACT, must write an additional essay, and interview. Usually about 20 students are selected a year for this.
  • Emerald Scholarships are worth up to $8,000 per year depending on grades and scores.

EMU 3For admissions purposes, the lowest GPA they’ll accept is a 2.0 but “we’re on a sliding scale,” said the rep. “If you have a 2.0, you’ll need a higher test score.” However, they’re still a selective school with under a 50% acceptance rate.

Campus is impressive; while there are still a few buildings with utilitarian 1970s architecture, much of it is updated and attractive. Founded in 1849 as a teachers college (the first in Michigan and the first outside of the original 13 colonies), now it offers over 200 majors. 88% of classes have 35 or fewer students. Interesting things about their programs:

  • EMU elem sci class

    Elementary Science Education classroom

    They have an Elementary Science Education classroom! Students get a feel for what it’s like and they teach real lessons in the community. “It gets them all geeked up. It’s the least antiseptic science class you’ll ever see because we have all the kid stuff,” said the professor we spoke to in the classroom. She’s was incredibly engaging! “We teach them a lot of fun stuff about how we eat – chocolate, spice, etc. Even Chili Day to learn how it affects the body.”

  • “The Rocks in the science building get moved around. We don’t know how,” said one of the tour guides. There are astronomy classes and $5 planetarium shows on Tuesday and Thursday. There’s a specialized Science Writing Center.
  • EMU sci rocks

    The Science Department rocks

    Within the School of Engineering &Tech:

    • Visual and Built Environments department which houses Construction Management, Fashion Marketing Innovation, and Simulation/Animation/Gaming majors, among others.
    • Tech & Professional Services houses Hotel Management (the university owns a hotel), Paralegal, Aviation Flight Management and Management Technology.
  • They have some strong interdisciplinary programs including Data Science & AnalyticsChildren’s Lit and Drama/Theater, EnviSci and Society, and Africology and African-American Studies.
  • They have multiple specialized science programs including Fermentation Science (in Chemistry) and Science Literacy (specialized for different science majors).

EMU project centerThey have a Project Center (like a writing center) in library where students can get help for all types of projects including how to put together presentations. Students can get prizes for studying: they check into study centers, writing center, the library, etc. They’ll actually have areas where people will check to see if they’re on social media – “3 strikes and you’re out for the day! You have to give up your study carrel.”

EMU fountain 1About 5,000 students live on campus; about 2/3 of first-years and almost 25% of all undergrads live on campus. There are a lot of off-campus housing options for students who want to move off; the tour guides said that housing was fairly easy to come by. They do encourage people to stay on campus by providing housing stipends for living in the traditional dorms (not the campus apartments).

EMU quad 1Campus life is active. There are movies shown every Friday, they offer great trips like to Zoo Lights, there’s Greek life, and athletics keep athletes and fans busy. They’re NCAA DI except for football which is NAIA.

We got to eat lunch with our tour guides as part of the tour (it was optional – it was placed on purpose at the end if people had to leave, but we stuck around). This was smart on EMU’s part! The food was good, although it was fairly standard dining hall fare. There were enough options to satisfy different dietary styles. This particular dining hall was a bit on the small side for a university this size; it was busy but never packed during our time there (at peak lunch times). There are plenty of other options, as well.

© 2019

Coe College

Coe College (visited 12/6/19)

Coe quad 1Coe’s campus has a great vibe and has the benefit of being located within Cedar Rapids, the 2nd largest city in the state. Students who want an actual campus with green spaces will find that here, but Coe isn’t isolated; the city is easily accessed. “There’s a huge advantage of being 1 mile from downtown. They can walk in less than 15 minutes, and they can ride cities buses for free. You get a wealth of opportunities here.” Coe ranks #15 nationally for internship opportunities (nationally and internationally) and has been named a “Top Producer” for Fulbright winners. Students get solid academic training and multiple opportunities to put knowledge into practice.

Coe city map

A picture of Cedar Rapids showing some of the connections that Coe has around town

One of the first stops on the tour was the C3 (Creativity, Careers, Community) building, and I was able to talk to one of the people working there. “They can demonstrate to employers that they can do the work.” The entire point of what they do is to get students off campus and into Cedar Rapids and beyond. Sometimes they can leverage work-study so students can work in a non-profit in town! This is the first college I’ve heard of that has moved Alumni Affairs into the Career Center. The Alumni base is strong; there are over 4,000 in the local area who will reach out. “We understand the link between students and alumni! It’s rare that we have students with an interest where we can’t connect them to someone in that field.” There are some incredible opportunities for students at Coe:

  • Coe ampitheaterCurt Menefee, the NFL commentator, is a Coe Alum. He just announced a fully funded summer internship in LA for a Coe student focusing on Sports Journalism, sports management, or another similar field.
  • Sandeep Giri works at X Labs (Google) reserves an internship for a Coe student majoring in math, physics, or comp sci.
  • This is a Research Experience site, 1 of only 5 small schools funded by the National Science Foundation, usually reserved for grad students. They get housing, food, and a stipend. Usually about 60 students selected; priority is given to Coe students, but some availability for others to come (including Harvard).
  • Science faculty is internationally renowned, including glass research: they’ll send students to Corning, CERN (collider in Switzerland), etc.
  • They’re located in the Medical Corridor with major hospitals and clinics where students shadow for surgeries, complete clinicals, and more.
Coe dorm 2

One of the dorms

Fewer than 40% of students come from Iowa, so this isn’t a suitcase-school. Students tend to stick around. About 1/3 of students are varsity athletes, and games are a big deal. One tradition is for teams to ring the bell on the corner of the quad when they win. Ringing the bell also marks a student’s beginning and end of their time at Coe: they ring it during orientation and again at graduation. Greek life is fairly active, but certainly not the only thing on campus to do including socials between chapters and a lot of philanthropic work (including chapters that will pair up to work together). Coe was listed as one of the top 10 schools that “does Greek right.” They have a coordinator who oversees everything Rush isn’t delayed, and there is separate Greek Houses. Students who wish to live together are places on the top 2 floors of some of the dorms.

 

Coe field station board 2

White board where students expressed how they felt about the field station

There are multiple ways for students to study off campus, including May Term, a 3.5 week travel-course which go to a variety of places domestically and abroad — and Coe will actually pay for the students’ first May Term! They also offer a New York Term (which they call the “Ultimate Liberal Arts Experience”) and a Wilderness Field Station in Minnesota which runs 2 month-long summer programs.

 

In the last 7 years, they’ve been expanding their enrollment, so the physical campus AND curricular offering are expanding. The majority of classes have 10-15 students; intro level may have 60-70 in the lecture with labs or discussions of 8-12. About 40% of students will double major.

  • Coe art int

    Part of the Arts building

    The rep is partial to the curricular changes happening in the music dept:

    • There’s a musical industry emphasis. Students are releasing their own music on spotify. “the record label that they stay involved in is great.
    • They have pre-music therapy, musical theater, and jazz tracks.
  • They have a Center for Health and Society.
  • PoliSci: because Iowa is the first to caucus, they get a lot of candidates visiting campus. One of the students got a press pass for the LGBTQ forum that had 10 candidates participating. “She raved about her experiences.”
  • Coe fire pit

    One of the campus fire pits

    Students interested in direct-entry Nursing need an interview and have a 3.7 GPA and 27 ACT. However, the vast majority go through the standard application in their sophomore year. Regardless of entry, everyone is on the same path with classes in the first year. Usually about 30 seats are available so they can maintain one-on-one relationships that students are guaranteed for 3 semesters with a nurse practitioner.

  • They have an Organizational Science major
  • Students in Environmental Studies and Envi Sci have worked on expanding the campus sustainability efforts to include lighting from solar panels, a green roof on the student union, rain gardens, and a permeable parking lot.
Coe bell

The bell that’s run after athletic victories, by First-years at orientation, and by graduates. 

Athletics are a big deal, and the tour guide said that “the majority of students are athletes.” In their first year, they have study tables which he thought was helpful in his transition to college. Those are only required after the first year if they don’t have the required minimum GPA. Students like coming out for games; the community is very supportive of each other.

A few other traditions the tour guide enjoys include:

  • Flunk Day: on one day the spring (usually after break), classes get canceled, and there are activities. They announce this by running through dorms with air horns at 5am.
  • Late Night Breakfast when faculty serve breakfast at midnight.

© 2019

Calvin College

Calvin College (Visited 11/22/19)

Calvin quad 5Calvin is intensely and intentionally Christian in all they do. Two people called this one of the Christian “academic powerhouses” (compared specifically to Wheaton in Illinois, the other in the Midwest; Gordon and Messiah would also be similar type schools on the East Coast). Their 3 tenets are Think Deeply, Act Justly, Live Wholeheartedly; faith informs all they do. They’re affiliated with, and their beliefs stem from, the CRV church, “but at the end of the day, we want to open arms to people.” Their pastor is the first woman in the world to be ordained by the CRC.

Calvin 5What impressed me most was people’s willingness to help. They’re overwhelmingly friendly and go out of their way. Calvin organizes a great visit program, Fridays at Calvin, but part of the program involves choice – which panel, which class, or which tour to take. Sometimes this necessitates finding our way to places on our own. At several points during the day, students stopped to ask if we knew where we were going and offered directions or walked with us.

Calvin chapel 3

Friday’s chapel – it really was full! All students wanted to be there. They project the lyrics on the screens

I was visiting with another counselor, so we did a bit of “Divide and Conquer.” I attended the parent panel (she went to the student one). At the panel, someone asked about faith-specific rules: “It’s an option. You’re not required to go to chapels which is special because the people there want to be there.” (The Friday chapel we attended right before the panel was a Song-Fest, typical for a Friday – and it’s usually standing room only). All students are required to take 2 religion classes. Faculty members sign a faith statement (students do not) and must be active in a local church. Every year, they have to create a statement of how it will be tied into their class. One student said, “I think it helps tie in aspects of life and faith to each other.” The professor added: “the point of Calvin is that everything is informed by your faith. We regularly talk about things. In my engineering classes, I’m doing a series where we talk about Christian virtues of honesty and humility. Those take intentional practice and are vital to being good engineers.”

Calvin 11This is a Liberal Arts college. One professor said, “We get to explore creation in all its facets. You’ll take classes in subjects you aren’t so familiar with. It’s a chance to cultivate curiosity. Faculty feed that. They love to teach and they love their faith. They’re happy to talk about what it means to be a Christian in X field.” Another professor on the panel said, “You have a chance to shape your professors with the questions you ask. We want you to think deeply, Act Justly, Live Wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal and justice in the world. We want you to know how your story matters to God. We’ll walk with you in the process, but that’s the goal during your time here. Ask questions about what you’re passionate about and do hard work in a personal learning environment.”

We asked the students on the panel how their faith has grown or been challenged?

  • Calvin chapel 4“I went to a Christian school k-12. I took a Christian theology class this term going through basic Reform views – that class taught me more about my faith than in 12 years of Christian school. I look at things differently and see why people believe it. I never thought the class would do anything like that. We’re challenged to see how things fit together.”
  • “I’ve been getting involved in a local church. It helped me make my faith my own. It’s been cool to uproot and replant myself across the country and be intentional about that. Also time management – making devotions a priority hasn’t always been consistent.”
Calvin sci atrium

Atrium of the Science building

There are 50+ denominations represented among the 3700 students. Students come from 65 countries, and 17% self-identify as domestic students of color. One of the reps said that Calvin is unique in that the community as a whole doesn’t identify strongly politically. They’re about 50/50 among faculty AND students. “The world is full of people who don’t agree with you. The faculty facilitate ways to learn to have respectful dialogue. We challenge your beliefs and your faith.”

Calvin is deliberate in how they want students to Live Wholeheartedly: “We want you to be plugged in whether that’s through art, chapel, or other interests. During freshman orientation, students participate in StreetFest, a half day of service. They’re partnered with community groups to learn and get connected to the community. Campus is located about halfway between the airport and downtown (about 10 minutes to either); they can ride the city buses for 50 cents. The Beltline is a little hard to walk because there aren’t sidewalks, but doable. There are 2 malls and lots of stores within walking distance. Anyone can have a car on campus.

Calvin walkway

Walkway across a main road to some of the athletic facilities and the Conference Center where many of us visiting for Fridays at Calvin were staying.

They help students find ways in which students can figure out the answer to, “How do your gifts and talents benefit the world?” “Caring for God’s creation is part of justice.” Sustainability is a big deal here. Through the Clean Water Institute, they’re working to clean up one of Michigan’s most polluted watersheds. The Food Recovery Network helps to eliminate waste and feed the hungry. They reclaim 1,000 pounds of unused food every month to take care of hungry people in the community. The Calvin Prison Initiative cares for those who are on the fringes. They’re taking courses into a local prison.

Calvin arena

The largest DIII arena in the US. This is full in their games, particularly again Hope! There’s lots to do on campus.

All freshmen and sophomores live on campus unless they’re living at home with parents. There are on-campus apartments for upperclassmen; finding an off-campus rental can be hard, but a lot of people rent from relatives or someone they know. 98% of first-year students live on campus. Dorms are all suite-style, and they intentionally try to place a pair of freshman with a pair of sophomores. “Living there is one of my favorite things about Calvin. Events like Dorm Worship on Wednesdays are great. We have events through the weekends. We had a karaoke night a couple weeks ago.” Students say that the campus tradition “bind alumni whether they graduated this year or 20 years ago.” One of the favorites is Chaos Night which is a dorm vs. dorm competition. Students dress up in theme costumes. There’s always 1 dorm that mysteriously wins. “We don’t know if they’re practicing in the middle of the night.”

Calvin mineral museum

The Mineralogical Museum

Calvin offers all the usual opportunities such as research and internships (at least 85% of students will do at least 1). Faculty push students to the front of research projects. “They’ve already proven themselves in their fields, so if they can lift students up, they will. Students are often the lead researchers.” The college sponsors an award-winning Lecture Series in January with world-renowned experts; these are also open to the community.

I asked the panelists what their favorite class to take/teach had been?

  • Calvin 11Interpersonal Communications: it built one-on-one relationships. It’s applicable to all aspects of life and the professor is engaging.
  • My Kinesiology class. It was the first in the major. I discovered learning about muscles and how the body moves. It’s been really fun.
  • “Tough question – it’s like choosing a favorite kid! If I had to choose, I’d say teaching Vibration Analysis to Seniors. There are lots of examples I can use, but it’s a sweet spot where the math and the other engineering classes come together and a ton of opportunities where students can say “OOOH, that’s why we learned that!”

A few academic programs worth noting include:

  • Calvin NM observatory

    The Astronomy Program is linked in to the Control Room at the NM Observatory

    International Development Studies (these students have to study in an underdeveloped country), Rec Leadership Minor, and Therapeutic Recreation.

  • Their World Languages program is one of the best I’ve seen at a college this size, including many less commonly taught languages such as Dutch, Korean, and Greek. They also offer Netherlandic Studies.
  • Strong STEM including several engineering concentrations, Biotechnology, Astronomy, 3 Neuroscience tracks (bio, chem, and psych), and Scientific Computation & Modeling.
    • They’re near the Miracle Mile comprised of several hospitals.
    • Pre-med students can apply for the Early Assurance Program in conjunction with MSU; there’s also 1 spot open at UMich that guarantees an interview. This is one of very few Full Tuition scholarships. They’ll be considered after filling out the Sponsored Scholarships form (only available after admission) and must go through an intensive interview process at Calvin and Michigan.
Calvin 8

The Science Building

Calvin offers a summer program called Entrada, open to high schoolers having just finished junior or senior years. They take one class in a month; if they earn a B- or better, they earn a $4,000 scholarship/year to Calvin and earn college credit (which can be transferred).

© 2019

 

Goshen College

Goshen College (visited 11/20/19)

Goshen quadGoshen is a hidden gem. If you’re looking for an “interesting, eclectic place,” this might be for you! It’s a warm and welcoming community with a socially and environmentally aware mindset and a globally-focused curriculum. Students are happy and engaged; academics are rigorous but not overwhelming; the social life is active – all on a beautiful, brick-filled campus. Fun fact: new college Presidents get dunked in the fountain in front of the library.

Goshen convoGlobal awareness and competency is a key part of life on Goshen’s campus. All students complete at least one Study-Service Term (SST) abroad, although there are alternatives for students who are unable to go. For example, nursing students can go to Nepal as part of their program without losing clinical hours. The programs focus less on the popular Western cultures and emphasize both cultural immersion and service. This has been ranked at the #4 best study abroad program in the nation. Not surprisingly, a lot of students will do a service year after graduating.

Goshen arborAlthough campus is cut in half by the railroad, it’s accessible and very walkable. There are also lots of bikes and long boards around (and the Trail along the canal right off campus that even gets plowed!). The have a Native Landscape Garden running alongside the train tracks; an annual Burn is done in the spring by students in the Sustainability Major.

Goshen quad 2“Walking through campus, it was a feeling I could only describe as peace,” said the tour guide. “It may sound cheesy, but that’s what we’ve got.” It’s a fairly residential campus, but not entirely. Students must live on campus until they earn 90 credits or are 22 years old. About 30% of students true commuters (living at home with family) with maybe 45% total living off campus. That being said, campus is active: we visited campus from about 5-7:30pm, and students were out and about around campus. The dining hall was full. People were taking advantage of spaces. The tour guide said that there’s a lot to do on and around campus – a couple things worth mentioning were Slip-n-Slide kickball and Bad Karaoke Breakfast Bash.

The city of Goshen has a population of 32,000 which helps support lots of things to do. “Night life in downtown is really good,” said the tour guide. The students we ate dinner with said that there was a lot to do and that First Fridays in town were popular. Many business owners are alumni who didn’t leave town. They support the students with discounts, hiring them, etc, and the college supports them in return through placing orders (t-shirts, etc). There’s also an interurban trolley between Elkhart and Goshen for students wanting to go a little further afield without too much effort.

Goshen chapel

The campus chapel (also used by the community)

Although this is a Mennonite school, they are open and welcoming to people of all or no faith. The rep said that they have students from 41 Christian and 12 world religions on campus. Students of any level or denomination of faith will be comfortable here. Acceptance is the primary goal: “It’s an interesting, eclectic place.” For some people, this would be too much in terms of individual differentness. “Here it doesn’t matter. We’re do inclusiveness on purpose.” The rep, who grew up in nearby Angola and got her Masters here at Goshen, told me that some local churches have stopped giving scholarships to students if attended Goshen because of the colleges inclusiveness towards the LGBTQ community (who are very safe and welcomed on campus).

Goshen concert hall

The concert hall

Their Mennonite numbers have been dwindling from about 48% to 28% over the years, reflective of the general population in the church. They’ve been popular with students from similar denominations such as Quaker. Students do need to earn 12 convocation credits per term. Convos can be whatever the students want them to be: it could be students presenting about their SST experiences, an author speaking, etc. “Sometimes they’ll offer it for campus events like bbqs, sports, or theater performances,” said the tour guide. “These aren’t faith-based. You can also get credit by going to chapel, but there are enough other options that you can completely fulfill it without ever doing something religious.” As Mennonite institution, they do house the Mennonite Historical Library, one of the largest collections of primary source material. “You can do genealogy there.”

I’m really impressed with the range and quality of academics offered here:

© 2019

Alma College

Alma College (visited 11/19/19)

Alma is the place to go if:

  • Alma signYou want to learn (or already know) how to play the bagpipes! Or perhaps you just want to hear the Highland Band, the kilted marching band, or hear bagpipers before football games. Can you tell they’re proud of their Scottish theme?
  • You want to join the “winning-est MUN team” (Alma was in a jeopardy question for this!)
  • You’re looking for an incredibly diverse and accepting campus: this has been voted the most LGBTQ+-friendly campus in the state, the college is the most racially diverse it has ever been (“and we’re only getting better”), and inclusive of people of any or no faith.
  • Alma MUN house

    The MUN house

    You’d like to join or watch the National Champion Percussion Ensemble or the nationally ranked (1st or 2nd depending on the year) Cheer & Stunt team (“It’s very acrobatic/gymnastics based”) that competes mostly against DII teams.

  • You’d like a campus with “massive Sumo squirrels that are friendly, calm, and well-fed.”
  • You’re looking for an intense but highly supportive academic and social environment.

Alma chapelIt seems like Alma would be a hard sell for people coming from a distance – but it should NOT scare people away! “We’re sort of the northernmost Liberal Arts college in the state. There’s a stereotype that most students are from the UP, but they’re not. Many come from the suburbs of Detroit. For others, this is a big town.” For those coming from a distance, shuttles run to airports at breaks. Many students fly into Detroit (2 hours away) because it’s a hub and cheaper, but Grand Rapids (1.5 hours) is an option. They’re also good about getting people to other places as needed; for example, they’ll take students to Lansing for the GRE when they don’t have a car.

Alma lounge 1

Highland Java

Students mostly come from Michigan, but they pull from all over: “Most students come here for A Thing – football, MUN, the Highland Band,” said the rep. “They end up falling in love and stick around. We’re like the mafia, but not scary! Once you’re in, you’re in for life!” The Assistant Provost agreed: “I grew up in the Midwest and did everything I could to get out of it. They were looking for a person to come in for a year. I haven’t left.” That was 6 years ago!

Alma dorm 1

One of the dorms

Campus is highly residential; 90% live on campus (and must live here all 4 years unless living within 20 miles with family) and the students aren’t bored. When we visited, students were everywhere – studying, socializing, staffing tables for clubs, walking around campus. The small town is also safe and accessible with things to do (movies, stores, cafes, restaurants). They are Rail Trails for those who want to walk, run, or bike. Students said that there was plenty to do off campus when they wanted it, but usually were so busy with classes, athletics, performing arts, and clubs that they forgot they were in a smaller town. There’s even a PickleBall team; the tour guide is playing in the intramural finals for that.

Alma donuts!“The community is about encouraging and building people up. We go to events and support each other. We want everyone to have opportunities.” They even host an annual Silent Party; people are giving headphones for music – or can choose not to listen to anything – to acknowledge that some people have auditory sensitivities and need a quiet place but still want to be with other people.

Alma Sci Tech buildingAcademically, “it’s intense. No one is going to say it’s easy,” said a student. Alma runs on a 4-4-1 schedule, different from the big public institutions. Students take 4 4-credit courses in the first 2 terms and 1 in Spring Term that runs from the end of April through Memorial Day. Everyone is required to complete 2 spring terms. Graduation is in April so seniors can be in the job market early (although they can stay if they want). Many spring courses involve travel. Also, they grade differently: instead of pluses or minuses, grades are A, AB, B, BC, etc.

Alma Remus

Remus hanging out in the greenhouse

Classes, of course, are small. The tour guide’s largest class had 34 students; the largest she’s in this year has 21. There’s quite a bit of innovation in the classrooms. For example, they’ve partnered with Google to link up/partner classes between colleges in real time. “A friend of my mine took one of these and loved it,” said the tour guide. They have a planetarium which is used in and out of classes. All students can borrow film equipment for class projects or just for fun. They have a giant tortoise named Remus who lives in the science courtyard in good weather and the greenhouse over the winter.

Fine and Performing Arts are huge here:

  • Alma Scot muralsStaying true to their Highland/Scottish “heritage”/theme, they offer Highland Arts, including Highland Dance and Piping & Drumming. They offer a Scottish Arts Scholarship for students coming in with a high level of skill in these areas.
  • There are a lot of music classes offered; students do not have to be in the major to take advantage of these. They’ll bring in teachers for any instrument a student wants to learn. I asked where they’d find a bassoon instructor in small-town Michigan; the tour guide laughed and said, “They contract with music teachers in public schools or anywhere else they can find them.” She’s learning to play the bagpipes (which are a big deal here).
  • Alma mini concert

    a lobby set up for a recital

    Students give lobby recitals on a regular basis.

  • There are multiple choral groups to join. The Select Choir goes to Scotland and Ireland every other year
  • Their Kilted Marching Band is competitive to get into and people come to games as much to see them as the athletics.
  • They have a Midi Lab to record their own music.
  • They offer majors in Music Composition, Dance, Musical Theater, and more.
  • Community members join the orchestra.

Alma Heritage Center 2They’re moving away from the cafeteria-style Gen Ed and towards a more scaffolded, integrated experience. Everyone’s required to take a FYS class and English 101, but they’re piloting a new program that combines these into one full-year course. Students cannot test out of a foreign language – but if they test into a higher level, it’ll also count for a humanities course. They’re creating new interdisciplinary majors including:

Other things to note about their academics include:

  • Alma Heritage Center 2They have Applied Physics/pre-engineering but no engineering majors.
  • Nursing: students still take a liberal arts core in addition to their major. The school has a great relationship with the local hospital.
  • The sciences are incredibly strong, including Public Health, biochem, and biotechnology. This is one of undergrad schools in the state to have a cadaver lab (they get 10 a year from the Michigan grad school).
  • The Psych dept focuses on research, including Neuroscience,
  • The Entrepreneurs in Action business class runs Highland Java, a popular coffee spot on campus.

Alma artworkStarting after the sophomore winter term, students can apply for a $2500 Venture Grant for use in spring term or summer internships. Students can also partner with NY Arts or different organizations in DC, Chicago, and Philly for a semester (housed with other college students through agreements with other universities) and transfer in 16 credits. There’s also the Posey Fund for about 40 students per year – our tour guide went to India for 7 weeks over the summer.

Alma rockThe minimum admissions scores are 960 SAT/18 ACT. They take a weighted GPA but only take what the school gives them; for admissions, it’s not as big a deal, but the scholarships depend heavily on the GPA, so high school counselors should convert this and email the admissions reps. GPAs of 3.4GPA or higher are eligible for Scholar Summit which means up to $4000 more. There are also several competitive scholarships for art, STEM, faith leadership, etc.

We asked people what they thought Alma did really well:

  • We support individual students in helping them along the path they choose. It’s so rare to come to a campus where they’re all focused on student success. It’s a piece of core identity.
  • We hold ourselves to high expectations. If people have negative experiences, there’s a team that jumps on that.
  • We’re the perfect place for the student who doesn’t want to have to decide. There are very few things that you can’t do both of (like marching band and football team).

Historically, retention has been around 80%. The Provost’s goal is to get students linked in to a group earlier. The 4-year graduation rate is about 60% “which is higher than you’d think given the retention rate,” said the provost. “We hear that often from counselors that this is the school of choice for students coming from diverse backgrounds.” About 35% of students are fully Pell-Eligible and 30% are First-Gen students. They have a strong track record of being successful with retaining and graduating these populations.

© 2019

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