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Wells College

Wells College (visited 3/6/20)

Wells sycamore

The famous Sycamore tree with Cayuga Lake in the background

There’s a lot to be said for location! This attractive school full of brick buildings sits on a hill overlooking Cayuga Lake (which students can scuba dive in after being certified in the school pool). Many of the buildings are historic (including Henry Wells’ mansion which is now a dorm), but they’ve done well structurally to upgrade the buildings. For students wanting personal attention in and out of classes, a beautiful location (“We can watch sunsets across the lake – they’re to die for!” said the tour guide), a walkable town and campus, and rich school traditions, give this college a look.

Wells 2

One of the original buildings

Wells is small (hovering around 450 full-time undergrads), but they pack a lot of punch and live up to the “small but mighty” idea. Here, small doesn’t mean limited opportunities: there are plenty of academic and social options on campus as well as at the nearby Ivy League and selective liberal arts colleges. Wells was started as Cornell University’s sister school: Ezra Cornell and Henry Wells (also the founder of Wells Fargo) were good friends; they almost built their colleges on the same land. Today, students take advantage of this relationship with cross-registration options with Cornell and Ithaca College, both within 35-40 minutes to the south of Wells. Shuttles run to the city of Ithaca fairly regularly, as well as to Auburn, about 20 minutes to the north.

Wells stained glass aurora 2

One of the stained glass pieces around campus – this one is of Aurora, the name of the town

They’re holding steady with enrollment, but are trying to work around the national decrease in college-aged students. They went coed in 2005 and are still about 2/3 women. “We didn’t let go of our mission,” said the rep, a recent Wells grad. “There’s an ingrained sense of women’s empowerment. It’s in our traditions. Men here tend to be more open minded.” The rep told me that the administration has changed a bit, and they listen to the students. “Students have a voice. In this day and age, actually hearing students is important. They take that seriously and have implemented a lot of change.”

Academically, they’re changing with the times, restructuring programs for what students need and want. They offer some things that usually you can’t find unless you’re in a huge school.

  • Wells sci atrium

    Science Building atrium

    They offer a full major in Sustainability and a minor in Sustainable Food Systems, both of which are fairly unusual (although I’ve noticed this is becoming more of a thing in the last couple years). Often, this is found embedded within Environmental Studies instead of a separate stand-alone major. Students often mix/match the major (or minor) with business, EnviSci, PoliSci, or another major. Students implement a lot of what they learn on campus providing practical, hands-on opportunities where they’re making a real difference. “The students take a lot of pride in our recycling programs among others.” They have a fabulous new Sustainability Center.

  • Wells study nook

    A study nook in one of the academic buildings

    They offer a minor in First Nations and Indigenous Studies! This is unusual for most schools particularly one this small – but for a school sitting right in the middle of the Iroquois Confederacy, it makes some sense.

  • Book Arts Center: They have 1 of 6 original printing presses in the US, according to the tour guide. The diplomas are made on site (“Students don’t get to make their own diploma, but it’s still pretty cool!”)
  • They’ve combined Economics and Management in a single major; students can choose to concentrate in one of these within the major, but must take classes in both.
  • Health Sciences is big here. They offer minors in Holistic Health Services, Health Care Management. They also have strong pre-professional programs, and they offer a 3+4 PharmD with Binghamton (this cuts out 1 year), a 4+1+2 Nursing (this is something I hadn’t heard of – students get a BA/BS from Wells, and then get a BS in Nursing and a Nurse Practitioner Masters from the University of Rochester)
  • Wells bridge 2“We have a great Education department and NYS certification goes anywhere.” Students can complete the Inclusive Childhood Education (dual certified in Elementary and Spcial Ed) or Secondary Education They offer a minor in Education (this doesn’t lead to certification, but is a good basis if thinking about graduate studies in education or those interested in policy or other areas) and a 4+1 Program with the University of Rochester.
  • They’re looking at including LGBTQ Studies as a major in addition to the Women and Gender Studies that they already offer.
Wells DH

The dining hall

Students have to complete 2 internships; one of these can be on campus, and being a TA for a class can count. They keep strong ties with alumni, allowing for increased access to research and internships. “They’re very involved and donate a lot of money and time,” said the rep.

Gen Ed classes can be as large as 50 students, but usually aren’t that big. My tour guide’s classes ranged from 10-30 students. The Honor Code is taken very seriously here; students don’t have to take their exams in the classrooms. Teachers give out their phone numbers and invite students over for dinner, including Thanksgiving. “The right students for Wells will be those who are comfortable with the size. You’re going to be held accountable. This is a tight-knit community. We kind of have to be, given our size,” said the tour guide who is from New York City.

Wells diversity cntr

Part of the Diversity Center

I asked her what she thought Wells did well in terms of diversity – and what they still needed to work on. “Residentially, it’s diverse. I’m comfortable in the dorms because there are a lot of people like me, but also a lot of different types of people so there’s something for everyone. The commuters … they tend to be very white, but that’s reflective of the community, not the college.” About 40% of students self-identify as Students of Color. The LGBTQ community is well accepted, and she felt that there was fairly decent religious and political diversity, although she thought that people on far ends of those spectrums may have trouble finding a community at Wells.

Wells 6The college is proactive in making sure that they’re accessible and are becoming as diverse as possible, including socio-economic diversity. They made the application (available on Common App and from their website) free in order to lower barriers. They require only two letters of rec which can be from a coach, teacher, counselor, etc. They’re SAT/ACT optional, including for scholarships. Essays can actually be anything, even a video!

Wells carriage

A picture in the library one of the original horse-drawn carriages

Traditions are strong here. One of the most unusual is that seniors arrive to graduation in horse-drawn carriages! Others include:

  • Candlelight ceremony on the first night of orientation; seniors get a champagne breakfast.
  • All students are Odd or Even based on graduation year. They have competitions and spirit games throughout the year. Men and women will form teams for dance-offs, sporting events, etc.
  • Wells Minerva

    Minerva!

    The statue of Minerva has lived through 3 fires; now she’s a symbol of good luck and will get dressed up. Seniors kiss her toes before graduation.

  • Tea Time – this started as a formal thing where people got dressed up; now it’s a Wednesday afternoon study break usually in the Café (which, by the way, is entirely student run, including the hiring).
Wells library int 1

Part of the library

To end, there are a couple final cool facts about Wells:

  • There are no 90 degree angles in the library. It’s one of the most interesting looking college libraries I’ve seen. Students can reserve study carrels and will often decorate them; the Honor code was evident walking through the building and seeing that students left books and personal belongings in the carrels without worrying about them being taken.
  • The creator of the American Girl dolls is a Wells alum.

© 2020

Wilkes University

Wilkes University (visited 3/5/20)

Wilkes sign 3Wilkes was a great surprise. Students who want a solid education in a medium-sized school on an attractive, well-maintained campus that’s integrated into the surrounding city without losing campus integrity, this could be the place for you. Wilkes offers a liberal arts education as well as great professional programs, and they do both well. “This is a place where you can make a stand for yourself, be known, double major in just about anything, get help if you want it, and figure things out. This might not be the place if you just want to hunker down, get a degree and get out. This is a place to shine.”

Wilkes banner 1My tour guide was a local student who loved being here and told me some great stories about growing up around campus. She was a dual-enrolled student in high school which went a long way in helping her decide to come here. She loved the classes before she got here, and even got to know the president as a high school senior. “If he was that nice to someone who wasn’t even really a student yet, you can imagine what it’s like when you get here!”

Wilkes statue and bell tower

A state of Wilkes, the city and campus namesake, with the bell tower and quad in the background.

This is an easily navigable, accessible campus across the street from the Susquehanna River. The central quad was redone in 2018. “They opened it up a bit, fixed up the sidewalks, put in more grass,” said the tour guide. There are some buildings across the streets into the city, but most of campus is relatively contained. Because of the location, there’s never a shortage of things to do. The student center had a multitude of posters advertising events, including 2 banners from the main activity boards with a list of upcoming events for the spring. Off campus, students can get discounted movie and bowling tickets (among other things), both located a block or two off campus.

Wilkes apts

The apartment tower

They have some historic buildings in addition to new, renovated, or repurposed buildings. The university wants to preserve and renovate these buildings, my tour guide told me. Kirby, an old house complete with original murals, sits on one of the first plots of land in the city. Across the street from the main part of campus sits a high-rise apartment building; this had been Senior Living apartments, but is now owned by Wilkes and are now apartments for students (complete with balconies!). These usually house 3-4 students in 2 bedrooms. The Business building is new and has some impressive spaces including a Student Product Store: the school funds and sells student-developed merchandise; all profits are donated to charities!

Wilkes walkway

Central walkway to the academic side of campus

“We have the flexibility and the advising to help you develop interests and follow passions and dreams,” said the rep. Wilkes is listed as having ‘More programs per student’ (it’s on a banner on campus, but I couldn’t find additional information when I searched the website) and they add more options every year according to the rep. My tour guide’s class sizes ranged from 6-100 students. “Bio lectures can be large,” said the tour guide. “All freshman are together for lecture but they’re split into smaller discussion and labs. It’s great because have a lot of exposure to the material.” She also told me that the curriculum is set up for student success (including a 90% matriculation rate to medical and other professional schools), and faculty members are highly accessible. “The English classes teach us how to use the library – this isn’t your high school library. They want to make sure we’re comfortable accessing everything that’s available to us.”

Wilkes lab

One of the science labs

Engineering has been one of their longest standing (and one of the largest) majors, starting when this was still Wilkes College, Bucknell’s Junior College. They offer three specialties: electrical, environmental, mechanical (all accredited), Engineering Management, and 4+1 bioengineering where they can graduate in 5 years with a masters degree. “You can’t beat it,” said the rep. This is all done on campus so students don’t have to transfer like with a 3+2 program. Students get hands-on experience in the first year, and Lockheed Martin is nearby, providing easy access to internships as well as being an employer of many grads. Wilkes students know how to use the equipment; “not to speak bad of the big schools, but a lot of them have the GAs running the programs.” For admissions into an engineering major, they look for a 1080 SAT/21 ACT and a 3.25 GPA with higher grades in math and science. They recommend that students complete Pre-Calc in high school in order to take Calc 1 (a pre-req for many of the sciences) in first semester.

Wilkes 4Nursing has the top NCLEX pass rate in northeast PA on the first try (around 98%). Incoming students can declare nursing as a major and can be admitted as long as they have at least a 1020 SAT/21ACT and a 3.3/88 GPA. Once in the program, they can continue as long as they meet the grades for each class. Wilkes doesn’t cap the number of students in the program but are strict with the standards. Students start clinicals in their 2nd semester of sophomore year, mostly at the local hospital 5 minutes away; another is less than 15 minutes away.

Wilkes engo bldgTheir Pharmacy school was also a great surprise. It’s unusual to find a school this size – and one that doesn’t simply focus on health sciences – offer this. They offer an accelerated 6-year PharmD with a cap of 90 seats. This is a different application process with additional requirements such as 3rd rec letter and a special pharmacy essay; applicants will get the prompt through the app when they indicate they’re interested in the program. If they meet requirements for admission to the university, the Pharmacy department will review the applications and invite people to interview. Applicants need at least a 1080 SAT and a 3.0 (although usually they won’t be as competitive unless they’re above this).

Wilkes screening room

The Screening Room in the Communications building. They have extensive resources for students in this program.

The arts majors are also good. BFAs are offered in Musical Theater and Digital Design and Media Art (a BA option is available in DDMA) which combines graphic design, animation, game design, Virtual Reality, and website design. Some business students tack this on if they’re interested in branding, billboard design, etc., or Communication Studies will add it to focus on PR or marketing. All Communication students must complete 3 separate experiences with a co-curricular program like the radio station, the newspaper, or the TV station for a total of 3 credits. They also need to put in some hours for a grade for several classes. There’s a possibility to work with an on-campus PR agency, as well. Theater Arts and Theater Design and Tech are BA degrees, not BFA. Anyone can participate in productions, regardless of major. Music, Dance, and Studio Art are offered as minors.

They have some interesting minors including Global Cultures, Sports Psychology, Policy Studies, Workplace Writing, Environmental Policy, Sustainability Management, and Business Analytics.

Wilkes dorm quad

A dorm quad

There’s a 2-year residency requirement for students living more than 60 miles from campus, but they guarantee housing for all 4 years. About 70% of students do live on campus. They have a range of housing options, including 12 old mansions that house 10-50 people in doubles, triples, and quads. Freshmen are allowed to live in these as well as in more traditional suites or hall-style dorms. There are also apartments above the YMCA and the Vegan restaurant across from the Comm building. “You have to be pretty lucky to get those!” Usually housing is done by deposit date. Freshmen have unlimited meal plans; others get options. The food is good; I ate lunch in the dining hall on the 3rd floor of the student center. It has great views of the quad, and even though it was spring break with limited service, the food quality was excellent and there were students in the dining hall.

Wilkes banners

Some of the signs in the student center advertising events

There’s some major school spirit here. “People definitely go to games!” said the tour guide. Football in particular gets packed. The stadium is located across the river, about a 10 minute walk over the bridge, but there are shuttles as well. (This is also where freshman can park if they bring a car; commuters and faculty get the parking spots closest to campus). Each sport team gets paired up with another team and is required to attend another team’s events, but people generally attend anyway. My tour guide is a golfer; she said that usually the golf teams support each other because it’s such a specific type of competition. “No one wants to be standing around for 6 hours watching people golf, particularly when you need to walk the whole course.”

Wilkes 3There are some good athletic facilities on campus, but not enough, according to the tour guide. She’d like to see some money put into expanding these. There’s a good gym with a basketball court, a small gym, the hanging ropes course, etc, but no workout facilities for the students. They get memberships to the YMCA, about a block away from some of the res halls. She likes the facility, but would also like something that’s just for students.

Students are active around campus and in the community which makes sense since campus itself is integrated into the surrounding city. Events on campus are open to the community; performances and the art gallery are big draws – in fact, they bring some big deal exhibits to campus, including Andy Warhol and Picasso. Students volunteer at after-school programs which serves over 500 local students. The Wilkes Adventure Education group is a big deal; they have a hanging ropes course, rock climbing wall, etc. They do offer Air Force ROTC on campus; they’ve paired with King’s College (about 2 blocks away) which hosts Army ROTC.

© 2020

Wofford College

Wofford College (visited 2/25/20)

Wofford mascot

The Terrior mascot

If you’re looking for the smaller academic environment located in a small city and with DI sports and big-school school spirit, check this place out. “Wofford is unique for our area,” said a rep. “If you want a liberal arts northeast college feel but in the south, we can do that. If you’re interested in school spirit and that balance of having popular sports but on a small campus, we can do that. You can have the rah-rah game day experience without being lost in the crowd.” One of the tour guides echoed that: “About 20% of students are on varsity teams. We compete at a high level and are on TV, but you also know the students you’re cheering for on the court.” The other tour guide said that she loved the school spirit here: “You’ll see the terrier everywhere!” (As a side note, they also have an Equestrian Club – not NCAA – which is “not highly competitive, but active”).

20200225_160333

Near the entrance to campus

I’d wanted to see Wofford ever since a student had her heart set on it several years ago. I see why. They’re doing something right with an 89% retention rate and an 81% 4-year graduation rate (well above the national average, even compared to the 6-year rate). This solely undergrad, highly residential campus currently has 1725 students. The rep shared that they may expand by a bit over the next few years but will cap at 1800. Campus is beautiful and well maintained, people are incredibly friendly, and students seem genuinely happy and are making the most of their experiences.

Wofford fountain 2

One of the fountains around campus

Wofford takes care of its students (and they take care of visitors – I can’t tell you how far good signage goes to help new people navigate; it makes a huge different when people feel welcome on campus and aren’t feeling lost). There are multiple ways for students get involved and feel connected to at least one group, but many are involved in multiple ways. They start off with a 5-day new student Orientation with a field day, Summit Adventure, community service, and more. The president makes a point of spending time with students, including randomly picking 12 names every month for dinner at the president’s house. One tour guide said that she got picked her first month on campus. “That was a bit daunting, but it was a great experience!

Wofford atrium 3They offer an impressive array of academic choices for a school of this size, and because classes are smaller, students are more engaged. “As professors, we talk less and ask students to do more.” The majors are fairly standard for a smaller liberal arts school (with the exception of Chinese, Intercultural Studies, and Business Econ). What really impressed me were the Concentrations which includes areas such as Medicine and the Liberal Arts, Middle Eastern/North African Studies, 19th Century Studies, and Computational Science. The tour guide told us that language majors/classes are the 2nd most popular on campus; this shows up on the types of majors and minors the school offers, many of which incorporate language study into the major, even if they aren’t strictly majoring in that language. All students must take a language class (they can’t test out) but they offer a lot of options, includes more unusual languages like Arabic and Chinese.

Wofford hammocks

They have multiple hammock frames around the quad for student use

They’ve been running an Interim Session (like a J-term) since the early ‘70s, so they have this down to a science. “Having it incorporated it so well into the calendar is great,” said one of the students. Students take advantage of this time to complete internships, take travel courses, do research, take a class to get ahead or just for fun, and more. They offer traditional classes as well as things like knitting or sustainable fashion, furniture design, craft brewing, and fiction telling through LEGOS and stop-action animation. For those wanting to get off campus, they often get linked with someone in the strong alumni base. “People are all over. DC, Charlotte, Atlanta, and other cities are teaming with alum who want to help current students with shadowing or internship experiences.”

Wofford greek 2

Part of Greek Village

Almost all students (about 95%) live on campus all 4 years, including local students. That speaks volumes about the community and the dorms. Seniors live in apartments in small houses clustered around a small quad that has a village feel to it. Although almost 50% of students get involved in Greek Life, there’s no Greek housing, so students do stay relatively integrated into the dorms and have diverse friend groups. They’ve recently built a beautiful Greek Village, but the houses are social/meeting spaces rather than residential. Frat houses are open Thursday through Saturday to Wofford students who are at least 18 years old. These become good places for the community to come together. The tour guides rated campus food as 8 and 9 out of 10. They said that people particularly loved the pancakes and the smoothies. Also, some local restaurants take flex bucks. One guide raved about “Miss Cathy’s” (“That’s not its real name; it’s just what everyone calls it because she runs it,” the guide said) which provides bagged lunches with a hot and cold option. “She knows who you are and your order by the end of the week.” They like that they can do a grab-n-go between classes; this is the first school I’ve seen that offers this (or at least the first that let us know that it was an option).

Wofford sr apts 2

Some of the senior apartments

I was a bit disappointed in one of the tour guides who seemed less able to answer questions. For example, she wasn’t able to tell me what she thought the best change had been since she arrived on campus (she was a senior, so she had 3.5 years of experience to talk about) – she gave me a vague, generic answer that change was happening all the time and rattled off a few new buildings. It’s good to know that Wofford is serious about keeping up with the needs of the college for space (they’re putting up a new dorm, for example), but it didn’t personalize the experience or give much other insight into the student experience. She also seemed surprised that I asked about traditions on campus and said she’d have to think about that (which is weird: I could tell people about traditions at my alma mater by the time I finished the 3-day orientation!). The other tour guide, a first-year student, stepped up and told me about a bunch of things:

  • Wofford bikesFirst 54: Wofford plans activities every day for the first 54 days of school; this acknowledges that they started in 1854.
  • Tailgating: They’ve been listed in the top 10 of small schools with big tailgaiting traditions.
  • They also liked that they bring carnivals, food trucks, and other fun things onto campus.

Wofford is test-optional, and they only take the Common App. There are a few specific scholarships that require test scores, but students will be given full consideration for general merit aid without standardized testing. Their acceptance rate varies greatly between applications types: about 90% in Early Decision, 60% in Early Action, and about 30% in Regular.

© 2020

Clemson University

Clemson University (visited 2/26/20)

Clemson main 4

The iconic building that’s on many of their promotional materials. There’s a bell tower here where students can actually learn to play the bells. “You hear some weird stuff coming out of there!” said one student.

I asked one of the students what I should tell the high schoolers I work with about Clemson: “Clemson is awesome. That’s all.”

While not necessarily an attractive campus, this is a vibrant one! “The typical Clemson student is open and willing to join things. This is an involved campus,” said one of the six students I spoke with at the welcome center while I was waiting for the info session. “If they are willing to try things, they’ll be successful here.” Another student said that she chose Clemson because she wanted a true college town environment. People definitely get that here.

Clemson students

Part of the res life area – student center, dining options, etc

“I thought it was going to be huge and scary,” said another student. “I was intimidated, but didn’t feel that way at all after the first day. I got lost and frustrated my first day, and a senior stopped and asked if I was ok, then walked me to class.” Another student also said that she was excited to see how small it can feel while still being so big. The campus is set up in “rings” with academics at the center, surrounded by residential life (dorms, food, etc), and then sports and other auxiliary program making up the outermost circle. Our tour guide said that most things within the academic ring only take 5-10 minutes to walk to. “I can get across the whole campus in about 15-20 minutes.

Clemson tiger paws

Tiger Paws

Athletics are very much a part of campus life, and a lot of people know Clemson because of their athletics They field 19 NCAA DI teams, offering the sports you’d expect (although they do only have a women’s crew team, not one for men); football and basketball, as you could probably guess, are the most popular. School spirit is high, and Tiger Paws are everywhere painted on sidewalks. Clemson pride can be felt throughout the state “where everyone is either a Tiger or a Gamecock!” someone told me) and among alumni.

Clemson Death Valley

The view of Death Valley, the football stadium, from campus.

Death Valley, their football stadium, is part of campus. This is great, since so many schools have stadiums far enough away to require shuttles. Game tickets are all free, although there’s a lottery for football tickets. “When I was a freshman, I didn’t miss a game,” said one student. They do designate a certain number of tickets for each class so the free tickets aren’t simply snatched up by seniors. If they don’t get free tickets for the student section, they can still buy tickets. They’ve been ranked #2 for their fan base; people pack the stadium. The football players run down The Hill from the field house into the stadium at the beginning of games; they also rub the Rock (which came from the actual Death Valley in CA) for good luck on the way into the Stadium.

Clemson dorms

Some of the dorms

Many events are held in Death Valley, as well, including Greek Rush. “You don’t go building to building like at other places. Having it all in the arena is great because you feel like you’re in it as a group, and there are places to hang out, rest, and talk to people in between meetings.” Almost ¼ of students participate in Greek Life. Most of the students I spoke to are involved and had great experience. Rush happens the week before classes start in the fall, “but you can drop it in the first 2 weeks if you end up not liking it,” said one student. They also don’t have to rush first year. One student chose to rush 2nd year and said he had a great experience. Students can’t move into Greek Housing until Sophomore year, “and it’s optional.” There are no separate houses, but instead, there’s a Greek quad; organizations have a hallway in a house with 2 other sororities or frats. There are currently 12 sororities (and in the process of adding 1 more) and 20 frats; 8 of the Devine 9 are on campus. However, “life here isn’t just about Greek life. Do what you love – it’s inclusive.”

Clemson innovation center

The Innovation Center

Clemson is, of course, known for its engineering programs, but it’s also got amazing agricultural, health sciences, and business programs among others. Students raved about their experiences in and out of the classrooms. They work well with their students to prepare them for life after college and were just ranked #1 for Career Services (2020)

  • Nursing is direct entry. It is possible to apply to get into nursing once here, but “This is one of the most difficult switches – you can, but I would not recommend!” said one of the students. She transferred from engineering when she realized that it wasn’t for her, and she’s graduating a semester late. She thinks the program is a bit harder, but it’s worth it. “If you’re a Clemson grad, you get a GPA boost when you apply to grad school because it’s notorious for being difficult.” They had a 100% NCLEX pass rate last semester on the first try. “You’re required to Kaplan benchmarks every semester. No one in my cohort has failed a benchmark so far.”
  • Clemson engineering row

    “Engineering Row”

    One of the students in the welcome center was a Mechanical Engineering I asked him if he knew he wanted mechanical coming into college. “I knew I wanted engineering but not what kind. I always loved math and physics and I’m good with my hands. The first year here in the department was great because I could figure it out.” All students interested in engineering start in the General Engineering program. They have access to a lot of resources, including a seminar class that he estimates 45-50% of engineering students take. They hear from a variety of faculty in different areas and get to learn about various types of engineering before declaring a track. Some more unusual options include Biosystems, Automotive, and Environmental.

  • Clemson 10They’re one of only a few schools in the country to offer a Packaging Science
  • They have a Turfgrass major! As the Land Grant institution SC, it’s not surprising that they offer unusual and strong agricultural, environmental, and other similar programs in their College of Ag, Forestry, and Life Sciences.
  • Their Architecture department is part of the Arts& Humanities School, as is Landscape Architecture and City Planning & Real Estate Development. Architect students are actually required to study abroad (and there are programs for all majors, even in engineering).
  • A few other programs of note include Aerospace Studies, Graphic Communications, Construction Science & Management, and Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management.

I asked the students what their coolest class was and what they liked about it:

  • Clemson 1Consumer Behavior: “It’s a whole different way to think about marketing. There’s lots of psych to it. We’re learning about what catches eyes – placement, colors, etc.”
  • Creative Inquiry: “This is a research program for undergrads. It’s not exactly full-on research but more engaging and hands-on in smaller classes. I’m working in a Social Media Center looking at tweets that were banned. My class and the federal government were the only ones who had access to these tweets! I got an internship that used Sales Force because I knew about it. It’s a really cool application and it was great to see the trends and give the info back to the government.” These are team-based investigations lead by faculty, and students can take these classes outside their major; the engineering student did one in business looking at qualitative research.
  • Nursing: “ All my classes involve sim labs which is cool.”
  • Molecular Cell Bio: “I bet you never heard that before! The class was hard but teacher was great. She’s genetically reversing a dino from a chicken!! There are only 3 groups doing this – she’s trying to make it grow a longer ‘velocoraptor tail’.”

Clemson 9Clemson is clearly doing a lot right with a strong 93% retention rate and 83% grad rate. Currently, they accept about 50% of their applicants but are becoming more competitive. Just over half (56%) of accepted students are in the top 10% of their high school class. They ask students to rank their first two choices of major on the application, and they look at this as part of their application. “Don’t put the same thing down twice,” recommends a rep. “If you don’t give us a backup, you’re kind of backing us into a corner if we can’t get you into that major.”

Clemson library

The main library

The rep also recommends that applicants use the “tell us about yourself” section to tell them things that you feel that your transcript or test scores don’t show. Test scores must be sent directly from testing agency (they don’t allow self-reported scores). For Merit Scholarships, all applications must be on file by Dec 1 and completed (aka supporting documentation – transcript, scores, etc) by the end of December. For Restricted (need-based) scholarships, grants, loans, the FAFSA should be filed by January 1.

There are a few alternative paths for acceptance into Clemson that are by invitation only. These are by invitation only; students can’t self-nominate or apply to this. There’s a question on the application if they’re open to starting in the summer, but it’s offered by admissions to those who express interest and are qualified.

  • Bridge Program: students accepted into this live on campus and receive all the perks of being a Clemson student, but their first year classes are taken at Tri-County Community College. They must maintain a 2.5 GPA there and then “transfer” into Clemson in sophomore year.
  • Tigertown Summer Bound: these students come in the summer as a cohort and must successfully complete 2 classes; then they can start full-time in the fall term.

Just over half of the students (55%) are from South Carolina, but since freshman are required to live on campus, people get to know others quickly and it ends up not being a suitcase school. Housing placements are done in order of when students sent in their Clemson application, not on date of acceptance! The tour guide said that she lucked out – she wasn’t planning on applying to Clemson (“much less go here!”) so she applied late, but she was paired with someone who know this was her first choice and applied in September so they got some of the best freshman housing.

Although there’s a lot to do on and directly off campus, this is also a big outdoorsy school. More than 100 miles of Lake Howell border campus; the SC Botanical Garden borders campus; they sit in the Foothills of Blue Ridge Mountains; and campus is halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte on the I-85 corridor if they’re looking for the big city experience.

Some of the favorite traditions include:

  • Clemson Ice Cream! They have a student-run creamery which was started about 100 years ago in what was then the Dairy Science department.
  • The Clemson Ring: They have the 2nd highest percentage of people who have school rings (“The other university just has more people,” said one of the students). “It’s a great source of pride. The ring ceremony is almost as popular as graduation. Families come to see us get our rings.”
  • Wearing Orange on Fridays: “Alumni still do it!”

© 2020

Southern Wesleyan University

Southern Wesleyan University (visited 2/26/20)

SWU signSWU (and they pronounce that as one word) is a small, pretty, highly faith-based campus located about 10 minutes from Clemson. The main entrance appears quickly; I was driving in some fog on the morning I visited, and luckily the GPS warned me. Although the sign is large, it’s angled in a way to make it easy to miss until you’re on top of it.

SWU swingThe people I met were friendly and welcoming. I had planned on just asking for a packet of information, maybe talking to a student worker for a few minutes, and taking a bit of time to wander campus. The student at the desk introduced me to a rep who sat and talked for awhile, despite her just getting her day going and (I’m sure) having other things to do. When one of the tour guides came in, she took me on a personal tour on the golf cart since there weren’t any families registered for the 9am tour that day.

The tour guide was a senior bio major from the local community. “I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else!” she told me. Most of her family had come here, and she would make the same decision again if she had it to do over again.

SWU ministry center 2

Ministry Center

The rep emphasized the community and relationships with others on campus. Although that has developed into the totally clichéd catch-phrase du jour, I think it’s probably true here. This is very much a Christian campus, and the students choosing to come here are living by a particular code of ethics that “lends itself well to community.” There are service days, mission trips, and other things to link students to each other and the wider community. That being said, I did ask fairly directly how she would distinguish this school from several other highly religious institutions that are scattered throughout the Bible-Belt (including a few within about 45 minutes of SWU). I’m not sure I got a full answer, but she did try: “I hear that relationships here set it apart from others. This is a great place for students who want a small environment, research, and opportunities for personalization.”

SWU chapel 2

The chapel has lots of media!

“We’re faith in action, not just name. We emphasize making a change and working for Christ. We see every vocation as a calling, not just the ministry.” It is a dry campus, as one would expect, and there are limited visitation hours in the dorms – and signs on the doors clearly stated that doors were to be open and feet on the floor. Students must take 3 required religion classes as part of the Gen Eds, and they must earn 24 chapel credits every semester. “A few people complain, but they chose to come here; if you’re not into this, SWU isn’t for you.” Chapels are held every Monday and Wednesday. Church services on Sundays usually don’t count towards this, “but people go anyway because they want to.” The tour guide told me that the style of chapel services varied; some were musical (they have gospel choirs, chapel band, etc), etc. — they put out a schedule of chapels at the beginning of each term so students can plan to attend those they’re more interested in. They also hold Spiritual Emphasis Weeks where students can earn up to 5 chapel credits; often classes are canceled on Tuesdays and they hold special events. In addition to a Religion major (concentrations in Ministry, Worship, and Youth/Children’s Ministry), students can choose Church Music (BM degree) as well.

SWU media green screen

The communications room with the green-screen against one wall

They have a new program working with the County Disability Services. They have a special education facility for adults; they have jobs here and at Clemson (they can ride the CAT bus) and can even take some classes. Special Education majors work there, and can even be RAs in the facility. The participants are selected by Disability Services since they know who will be successful, would qualify for the classes, and benefit from the program.

SWU old church

Freedoms Hill Church

This is a great community for people who love being outdoors. There’s 100 acres of woods on campus, high and low ropes courses, bike trails, and more. There’s a small town within a couple blocks of campus, and Clemson is about 10 minutes away. Students can participate in Army or Air Force ROTC on Clemson’s campus.

One of the buildings on campus is the Freedoms Hill Church which was a stop on the Underground Railroad (and still has bullet holes in the door). “It smells like history!” said the tour guide. They were going to tear the building down, but the campus saved it.

SWU Crime house

Bard to see through the fog, but this is the crime house

There’s also a Crime House where the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science majors can do hands-on work on forensic investigations.

The new dorm is great! It houses about 250 students, coed by wing. There’s a small fitness center and a small chapel in addition to a great central lounge (the 2 single-gender wings come off of here) with a fireplace and coffee bar. The housing deposit determines placement. The rooms are huge and are set up suite-style (2 bedrooms with a bath in between.

SWU new dorm lounge

The lounge of the new dorm

They have a great gap year program called One Life that involves travel. Usually students will do this right out of high school, but there are options for doing it once they’ve started college. They earn 30 credits so they aren’t actually behind. I spoke with a student working at the coffee bar (thank you SWU for the coffee!) who had participated in the program. “It was the best thing I’d ever done. There are a lot of weird boundaries and rules like we’re not allowed to have our cell phones for a lot of the time. Vulnerability is encouraged. Looking in from the outside, you’d ask why anyone would ever do this. We joke that it’s like a cult, but it’s an intense discipleship. It helps you find god’s calling even if you don’t want to go into the ministry.” He’s studying Media Communication and couldn’t be happier. Right across from the coffee bar (which is entirely student-run, by the way) was a new media room with one wall serving as a green-screen.

I asked the tour guide about the LGBTQ community. She did say there were a few people who self-identified as members of the group, “but we are a Christian school. We love the person. We’re all sinners. We don’t condone actions, but we love the person because that’s what we’re called to do as Christians.” We talked about the choice to attend a school with this set of expectations: “It’s like going to Chapel. If that’s not something you’re comfortable with, this isn’t the place for you.”

© 2020

Converse College (soon Converse University)

Converse College (visited 2/25/20)

Converse main bldg 2

The main building

Here are a few fun facts: 1) “Our pool is famous!” said the rep. “This is where Julia Robert’s character learned to swim in Sleeping with the Enemy.” 2) They have one of the largest music libraries in the south. 3) This is the only women’s college (for a little while yet!) in the nation to compete at the NCAA DII level, including an acrobatic/tumbling team. They do have an IHSA Equestrian team (which is NOT part of the NCAA).

Converse 4Converse is well worth taking a look at if you’re want a smaller school with a lot of academic, social, and athletic options located in a small city with accessible off-campus options and near an airport and other public transportation (so easy to get to for students coming from a distance!).

I knew almost nothing about Converse before arrival other than it was a small women’s college located in Spartanburg, about 5 minutes from Wofford. I expected it to be a bit overshadowed by its neighbor – but quickly learned that it’s holding its own. This is a pretty campus with plenty of green space and easy access to the wider Spartanburg community. I left impressed with the school. I was a little bit put off at first … although they had clear admissions parking spots and signs for Admissions pointing to the main building, once I walked into the main entrance, it was eerily quiet (granted, it was about 4:15 in the afternoon) and no sense of where the admissions office might be. I had gone a little too far and went in the main entrance rather than a door down the building a bit the right. I guess the couple balloons tied to the porch banister should’ve been a giveaway!

Converse quad 1

Some of the academic buildings

In February 2020, the Board voted to change their name to Converse University AND to go coed by 2021. They’ll continue to have Converse Women’s College under that umbrella as well as Converse University International. “We already have male students on campus for evening and graduate classes. It’s just broadening that.” Eight campus buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the large main building. In addition to offices, the dining hall is in there, so all students come through on a regular basis. There’s also dorm space in one wing.

Converse statue 2

Part of the quad with one of the many statues around campus

They recently slashed tuition by 43%, so that now sits at $19,500 (2020-21 school year). Scholarships are now lower since they’re already starting at a much lower price-point. Out-of-state can get an additional $1,000 scholarship. Sliding Scale is 60% GPA, 40% test scores. Went test-optional in November. If they don’t want to submit, they select that on the app. They scrutinize the transcript more and work off a different scale. They have some stackable awards: to get a named Music scholarship, you have to major or minor; for smaller ones, you only have to participate in an ensemble. For Dance, they have to be in the minor (there’s no major); for Musical Theater/theater, you don’t have to major or minor.

A few of their traditions include:

  • Converse dorms 2

    Some of the dorms

    Big Sis/Little Sis – incoming students (including transfers) gets paired with someone in junior class. They get hints and gifts during the first week, and then there’s a reveal night.

  • Every student in Even Years become Pink Panthers; Odd Years are Red Devils. The Bigs will make horns/tail or panther ears/tail for their Littles (and sometimes these get worn at graduation!). Sometimes there are competitions.
  • Opening Convocation: Faculty and Staff in are regalia, the Honor Code gets signed (And then hangs in the Main Building), and there are picnics and other frivolity.
  • Founders Day with a picnic on the lawn with fried chicken and Strawberries & cream for dessert (the founder’s favorite meal).
  • Each class has a special ceremony in the spring. Freshman pick their mentor (advisor, another student, coach, etc – whoever helped navigate the first year) and they present the pin to the student. Sophomores get a Sisterhood Bracelet. Juniors get Class Rings.

Classes are typically capped at 25 students (usually those are Gen eds); most classes are smaller. All students take a First Year Seminar which is fairly typical to what you’d find at other schools.

They have a few fairly specialized majors for a school this size (a little over 1,000 undergrads):

© 2020

 

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.”

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