campus encounters

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Archive for the category “Pennsylvania”

Lafayette College

Lafayette College (visited 4/23/18)

Lafayette chapel 1

The chapel with a statue of Lafayette and the insured Japanese maples.

A few fun facts about Lafayette: the original letters from Lafayette to Washington are in their archives; the 2 Japanese maples by their main building are insured for $1million each; and their Civil Rights Hall, built during the Depression, was the most expensive building on any campus at the time.

Lafayette students lawn

Students on the quad

“Students who thrive here are passionate. They tend to be extroverted, or at least not mind getting to know people,” said a rep. “This is a great networking school with great outcomes. It’s collaborative. There’s a lack of pretense here.” I’m not sure I can entirely agree with that last statement having met several students. There seems to be a great deal of pride in being a Lafayette student (not a bad thing or unusual) but it seems like students know they’ve “made it” to a selective school! However, they’re also taking advantage of all the opportunities here, and they clearly love where they are. They are highly social; students were all over the main quad in groups during their free time; that was refreshing to see!

Lafayette 3Their motto is “Why not?” Students are not sectioned off into colleges; they are simply Lafayette students. “It’s easier to take electives or change our major. It’s not unusual to see things like Computer Science majors in a History of South Africa or a Martin Scorsese class. People are well rounded,” said our tour guide.

Lafayette 6“Lafayette has been great because of the size and there are no TAs.” The intro classes are capped at 80 students; others are capped at 40 “but rarely get that big.” Professors do a lot of research, and students can get funding for this through the Excel scholarship. They don’t compete with graduate students for research. It’s fairly common to be published with the professors.

Lafayette engo lab

An engineering lab

About 25% of students are in the Engineering college; most typical engineering programs are offered as well as Engineering Studies and an interdisciplinary Engineering and International Studies Dual Degree program. Lafayette does not have a business college but offers economics. “We also have a good geology major!” said the tour guide.

I asked a couple students what their favorite class was:

  • “Cybersecurity class is pretty awesome! I’ve never been a super math person; what I like about the class is that it’s beautiful math! We learn why passwords are better than others and how to encrypt things It’s like code-breaking. This is the only class where I’ve filled up a notebook with notes; I usually don’t get past page 10!”
  • AI: “We were given a problem that we had to solve in a group using AI. It was self-driven and learning from each other.”
Lafayette arts complex 1

The Arts Complex

There is a big new $30m art complex at the bottom of the hill from Main Campus. There are steps “but it’s easier to take the shuttle back up!” There’s a new movie theater and classrooms. Students said good things about the Film and Media Studies as well as Theater. “About 1/3 of the students in the arts also major in Engineering,” said a rep.

I asked students if they felt that they could help differentiate between here and Lehigh, one of their big rivals. “Liberal Arts more of a focus here than at Lehigh; Lafayette is smaller, fewer students in Greek life, less engineering.” Lafayette students also come across as preppier (think blazers and salmon-colored pants!).

Lafayette 8

The Civil Rights House

Their Gateway career services program is one of the oldest programs around, and 93% of the class of 2020 enrolled in it. This provides 1-on-1 meetings, externships (3-5 days of shadowing), networking, and other programs with alumni (which helps keep alumni involved in the college).

Lafayette stadium 2Most students live on campus until Senior year when many move off. Food got good reviews, and a lot of local restaurants (and the CVS!) will take flex-dollars. “The food in town is amazing! There are so many restaurants. You can’t go wrong with them,” said a student. Campus life is active. Watching and participating in sports (including rugby and fencing) is popular, and they offer about 200 scholarships in 11 of their 23 DI sports teams. Approximately 30% of eligible students join Greek Life; “that’s a bit higher than some schools, but it’s not exclusionary.” Rush is delayed until sophomore year; they must have a minimum GPA (some chapters are higher) and must be in good standing with the college to rush. Most chapters have a 1-semester residential requirement: “I love it! It’s the greatest experience!” Most have 20-30 (usually juniors) living there at any given time.


© 2018


Kutztown University of PA

Kutztown University of PA (visited 4/25/18)

Kutztown 1“If you want to be a rock star, you can here because of the size and personal attention. DII athletes can also shine!” Several NFL players have come out of Kutztown as well as some basketball, baseball, and other players. Sporting events are definitely a visible part of campus life.

Kutztown fountain 3KU is an attractive school set along a major street. Although downtown is right next to campus, shuttles run regularly around town. Allentown and Bethlehem are only about 20 minutes away, and shuttles run there on most Wednesdays and weekends. For students wanting to venture further afield, they have buses that run into Philly and NYC. However, there’s a $150 shuttle/transportation fee included in the bill.

Kutztown libraryThis is one of 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Ed (separate from Penn State which is part of the Commonwealth System along with Temple, Pitt, and Lincoln). For a medium-sized school (about 9,000 undergrads), they have an amazing array of facilities including a planetarium/observatory, a German Heritage Center, and a Marine Center located in Virginia.

Kutztown 4They offer international students a scholarship equal to 40% tuition (and students who have already studied in the US for at least 1 full year do not need to submit TOEFL for consideration for admissions/scholarships), and there are full-tuition scholarships for all eligible students.

Students interested in continuing music can do so here without majoring in it. Students selected for their string quintet get full-ride scholarships!

Business is internationally accredited, and the education program is strong – not surprising since this started as a teacher’s college.

© 2018

Moravian College

Moravian College (visited 4/23/18)

Moravian 2I had no idea that Moravian is the nation’s 6th oldest college! Founded in 1742, it beats out several Ivies. The Moravians who settled in the Lehigh Valley started it as a school “for all things women” because they believed that you couldn’t have a society without educating the women. It was also the first to educate Native Americans in their own language. The college’s first President rejected Harvard when they said they wouldn’t educate women and the poor. “We have more 18th century buildings than Williamsburg and ours are real!” said Moravian’s current President. They have one of George Washington’s end tables and desks “because he was trying to get his grand-nieces into the school. It worked.”

Moravian chapel

Interior of the Chapel

Although still associated with the Moravian Church, the college does not have an overtly religious feel to it; there is a beautiful chapel, but other than that, if you walked on campus without knowing anything, you’d never know it was affiliated. There are no religious requirements placed on students. This is a fairly diverse campus: 27% self-identify as students of color; 42% are Pell-eligible. However, it’s still very much a regional university with many students coming from a 100-mile radius (and only ¾ of freshmen live on campus). They work hard to connect with and engage students to help make sure they’re getting support to persist through graduation. Their retention rate is close to 85%.

Moravian 4

One of the newer academic buildings

Moravians are big believers in practical education. Small classes and personal experiences start in freshmen year. There are a few big classes: “A&P and Intro to Chem might have 60-70 students.” They have a robust education program, and are ranked #4 in the state for nursing (with a 97% NCLEX pass rate). It’s one of the few places that put education and nursing students into their fields in their freshman year. They also offer good Rehabilitation Sciences (OT, PT, SP); students in most of these areas will shadow physicians or other specialists for 100+ hours over the course of a semester. They provide almost $40,000 in internship stipends, particularly for non-profit work. Local corporate sponsors or alumni will help pay for this. Non-profit and service work is part of the ethos here; Moravian even offers a Peace Corps Preparation Program.

Moravian sculpture patioAll students get a MacBook Pro which they can keep once they graduate. They give everyone the same platform to even the playing field and help build cooperation. Students don’t just hear about technology in their discipline; they produce things using it. “Just because they’ve been doing something doesn’t mean that they know how to do it really well,” said the President. “They are consumers of technology but that doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. They’ve been writing since kindergarten, but we still teach writing. Can they communicate with tech? Make spreadsheets? Publish an app?”

Moravian shuttleThis is a bifurcated campus; they had separate men’s and women’s campuses that merged in 1953. There are several buildings still in downtown Bethlehem; it’s walkable (less than a mile), but there are shuttles that run every few minutes throughout the day. Students can live on either campus. “I might have to leave about 10 minutes earlier than I would otherwise,” said the tour guide. He loves living there. Freshmen can’t have cars on campus, and some often say they don’t want to live over on the downtown campus at first – but they see how cool it is. For students wanting to venture further afield outside of Bethlehem, the school runs a lot of weekend trips: Dorney Park, snow tubing, water parks, baseball games, etc.

Moravian dorms and hammock 2The Gen Ed (LINC: Learning In Common) curriculum is designed to be meaningful and many are interdisciplinary such as Math and Origami or Walking in Peace and Justice (cross of sociology and religion). Since Moravian is part of the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges, students can cross-register at any of the other 5 schools. Our tour guide had a few friends who took classes at other LVAIC schools, but no transportation is provided. “I haven’t taken any because the classes I need have been here.” I asked the student panelists about their favorite classes:

  • Refugee Crisis: This is a special-topics class (not offered every year). “We focused mostly on Syria. She brought in people from the counseling center because she was worried about the students processing things. There were also speakers from the area who had worked with refugees in Greece.”
  • Anatomy & Physiology 2: “the professor is the smartest person I’ve ever met and was really cool to learn from her. It’s hard and a lot of work but worth it when the teacher is so excited about the subject.”
  • Zoology: “The Prof worked at the Smithsonian and does a lot a research.”
  • Microbiology: “We did research on e coli on kosher and conventional chicken.”
Moravian greyhound

Mo, one of the 2 greyhound mascots who live with the President. Walking them is a work-study position

I asked a couple students to sum up Moravian – who would fit in/arrive and thrive. One said, “This is the place that people say hello and good morning; people hold doors. We have a saying, ‘When you call one hound, the entire pack comes running.’ It’s true here. It sounds stupid, it’s true.” Another one said, “I feel like they’re aware of issues around campus and they do their best to fix things.” This aligns with what the President said when he spoke to us when we first arrived on campus: “My door is open. Students come in with suggestions all the time. I have to say that I appreciate their candor and their thoughtfulness in what they tell me. They aren’t asking for frivolous things; they aren’t whining or asking for Jacuzzis in dorm rooms. They come with ideas and suggestions. We can work with that.”

© 2018

Muhlenberg College

Muhlenberg College (visited 4/24/18)

Muhlenberg 4The tour guide at Muhlenberg was one of the best I’ve ever had! If the other students are half as much fun as him, I can see why people really want to be here. “There is a palpable sense of welcome here. People hold doors. I hope you get the sense that the students matter … because they do. They can be their true selves while they are with us,” said one of the reps.

Muhlenberg sculpture 3The rep went on to talk about what makes Muhlenberg distinct; I found this refreshing since most schools don’t – or can’t – articulate this.

  • Students are active and definitely goal-oriented. They want to do things with their lives. They want to capitalize on their experiences without sacrificing interests, so many have double discipline degree: “It’s not unusual to see people majoring in theater and physics, Neuroscience and Jewish Studies, or Bio and Business. This makes sense at Muhlenberg. We help them make it work.”
  • This is one of the most religiously diverse campuses around. “We’re 1/3 Catholic, 1/3 Jewish, 1/3 mix of others.” The Hillel pairs up with Cedar Crest, located about a mile away. Jewish life is incredibly active.
  • They offer Liberal Arts with strong professional development: “We’re just as committed to preparing for Accounting and Finance as for pre-med/law.” They’re a Top-30 accounting school where students earn 150 credit hours in 4 years! They sit for their CPAs at the end.
  • Muhlenberg book sculpture 2They’re nationally recognized for theater and the arts: “There are 350 music lessons on campus in any given week. We don’t have 350 music majors!” said a rep. “We’re in tech-week every week of the semester.” There’s a dance, theater, and/or musical production every other week. Theater, Dance, and Music are all BA degrees, not BFA. This is intentional so they can double major. There is a huge selection of classes so they can direct, do technical work, etc. The university name carries weight!
  • They’re nationally ranked for their food. Kosher dining is integrated into the dining hall so they can still eat with their friends.

As a member of the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges, Muhlenberg students can cross-register at the other 5 schools, but because they have such a range of options on campus, they usually do not. However, there are some groups that collaborate, students are able to attend events on other campuses, etc.

Muhlenberg library intFaculty are “fiercely devoted.” They are invested in who the students are and who they’ll become. Students make things happen every day at Muhlenberg and they’re empowered to collaborate with administration to make that happen. For example, they now offer a Public Health Major; prior to 2016, this was a minor with over 100 people in the program. Because of student engagement, they made it a major, and there are 2 partnerships with BU and in Philly that wouldn’t have happened without the students pushing for it.

Muhlenberg chapel int“We want to fill our seats with people who want to be here. We fill almost half the class through ED.” They will do an early read for merit and financial aid if that’s an issue before they enter into that partnership. Interviews are really important here; they value that interaction and getting to know students. They’re armed better in committee to advocate for the students.

“We don’t just have one friend group because we all do so much, so we know a lot of people who we go to support,” said the tour guide. Almost all students live on campus which helps build community. Their DIII and club sports teams are popular (to participate in and to watch) as are all the artistic performances. About 20% of students join Greek life. Traditions are really important on campus. Our tour guide said that his favorite is Candle Lighting. At Freshman orientation, they receive their candle which they light; they keep this all 4 years and will relight it again the night before graduation with their families looking on. “Usually it’s lit by alumni while an a capella group sings the alma mater right. It’s kind of transcendent. Generations before us did this. I’ve lost my laptop, but I know where that candle is.”

Muhlenberg Victor's LamentCampus is mostly attractive; there’s a large sculpture that looks very out of place against the stone buildings: “Its name is Victor’s Lament,” explained the tour guide, saying that it was meant to represent a wounded soldier being carried in Vietnam. After it was donated to the school, it was painted red because of the school colors. The sculptor was furious and withdrew his other donations.

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Lehigh University

Lehigh University (visited 4/25/18)

Lehigh staircaseFun fact: the inventor of the escalator was from Lehigh, not surprising since “we’re on a mountain. We’re constantly winded,” said our tour guide. Campus has about 27,000 stairs. One counselor asked about accessibility, and the tour guide was forthcoming: “It’s not the most accessible campus. It can be done, but it takes some planning.” The main campus is on the side of a hill; the Mountaintop Campus which is about 2 miles further up. “You might do it for the exercise, but most people ride the bus.”

Lehigh walkway 4I got the feeling that Lehigh wasn’t entirely interested in trying when the group of counselors visited. They certainly have a strong academic reputation, the campus is beautiful, and they have resources. They don’t really need to try, but I’m always a bit concerned when schools appear to rest on their laurels. However, things are clearly going well with a retention rate over 90%, but that speaks to the level of student they are attracting as much as the university itself.

Lehigh Main 2Students are smart and driven, but “there’s no shame in failure here. Clearly we don’t want it, but professors will say things like, ‘Who’s going to remember? Just go for it.’ Everyone goes to office hours, group study, tutoring,” said one student. Another said, “People want the best versions of themselves. We’re collaborative and I know that’s not the same everywhere. I feel lucky that I can go to professors or friends for help.”

Lehigh walkway 2I asked the student panelists to try to differentiate themselves from Lafayette (a big cross-over school). One said, “We’re a bit more outgoing. Here we like to do a lot of different things. At Lafayette, it seems like they like to focus more on one thing. I’m a little loud and don’t always know what to do, but felt I’d be supported here because I’m all over the place and can try lots of things.”

An admissions rep described Lehigh as “large enough to be powerful, small enough to be personal.” The tour guide agreed: “It’s large enough to meet new people but still see people you know.”

Lehigh engineering 2“We’re academically focused, but not academic-exclusive,” said a student. Campus social live is active: “It’s never a matter of IF something is happening – it’s which of the number of things I’m going to choose,” said one of the student panelists. University Production brings in SNL comedians, concerts, bbqs, movies, and Broadway Shows (Kinky Boots, Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder). During the Olympics, they had giant viewing party and put up an ice rink on campus for curling and skating. 95% stay on campus on the weekend. When they want to get off campus, they often go to the North Shore (the “Steel Stacks”) located about a mile away; a book store, bowling, skating, thrift shops, movies, and more are all there.

Lehigh lower centerLehigh admits students to college, not to majors; students can only apply to 1 college. Arts & Science and Engineering jockey year to year for the largest college. However, this isn’t like a large research school – students can move between the colleges: “There’s nothing stopping you from exploring in other schools and there are options.”

They have 3 distinctive, integrative programs that they spent a great deal of time talking about. Students must apply specifically to the first two:

  • Integrated Business and Engineering: students complete the core curriculum of both and select a concentration in either area. It’s accredited in business but not engineering in 4 years. Some stay the extra year to get the accreditation.
  • IDEAS (engineering and A&S): Students choose 2 concentrations and find the intersection between the two. ”Build bridges of specialization rather than islands,” said the rep. “Lets them understand and cross the divide.”
  • Comp Si and Business is dual accredited. Students do NOT need to apply specifically for this program.

Lehigh 9Other programs worth noting:

  • “We have phenomenal psych and international relations majors,” said a rep. Students wanting more specialized programs can choose majors like Cognitive Science or Behavioral Neuroscience.
  • They’re going to start a College of Health “but it’s not clearly defined yet. We’ve held a number of town halls to find out where we can make an impact.”
  • “The sciences are already something we do really well here, and we’re great at finding intersections between disciplines,” including their Health, Medicine, and Society major where they look at community health, data analytics, the state of health care, sociological and environmental determinates of health, etc. Students in this major are usually NOT looking to do allied health/med schools.
  • The Engineering school offers many of the more unusual specialties including Energy, Aerospace, Materials Sciences, Polymers, and Nanotechnology.
  • UN Partnership: Lehigh has NGO status with the UN so students get special clearance and access there. They send a bus every WEEK (more Business majors go than any other student) and just had their 10,000th visitor to the UN. Ambassadors speak on campus (Syrian just came).

Lehigh arts quadThere’s very little merit aid given out but quite a bit of need-based aid. They require the tax returns and a 3-page form on their website which is school-specific, including non-custodial parental information. If they don’t apply for aid on time, they won’t get a package. “We meet need, but we meet 100% of institutional need – so we tell you what the need is,” said a financial aid officer.

Lehigh 5Several people brought up diversity as an area of growth. In terms of racial diversity, the largest percentage is Hispanic. Surprisingly, only 3.5% of the students are African-American, said a rep. “We’re working on that.” Other areas seem to be better: they have trans students on campus, gender-neutral bathrooms are sprouting up across campus, and there are active LGBTQ groups that do outreach and education, including speaking with groups like Greek Life about inclusion.

© 2018

Cedar Crest College

Cedar Crest College (visited 4/24/18)

Cedar Crest gazebo“Women’s colleges are on the verge of a renaissance. Society benefits by the women who go there,” said Cedar Crest’s President. Just over half of women from women’s college complete a graduate degree compared to 38% from Liberal Arts colleges and 28% from flagship public universities. They’re also more likely to graduate in 4 years; more likely to engage in the high-impact experiences like research, internships, study abroad; and more likely to be in positions of leadership after they graduate. Only 2% of all people with college degrees graduate from a Women’s College but comprise 1/3 of Fortune 1000 Board members.

Cedar Crest buttons

Pronoun buttons in the Diversity House

Cedar Crest was founded in 1867 because a Lehigh Valley father who was angry that there wasn’t anywhere nearby to educate his daughters. (At the time, it had a Christian affiliation but is no longer affiliated.) Access is a big part of the mission while holding fast to its women’s college identity.

Cedar Crest diversity stairs

Steps in the foyer of the Diversity House

Almost 40% of students self-identify as a student of color, making CC the “most diverse of LVAIC campuses.” They have a beautiful new Diversity house including a Muslim Prayer room: there’s a foot-washing station and a kitchen so students can break Ramadan fast together. The Jewish students join forces with the Muhlenberg Hillel (about a mile away) for Shabbat, trips to Israel, etc. and they can stay there during High Holidays if they’d like. LVAIC schools come together 2x a year for conferences, usually one about race and one about LGBTQ issues. When students were asked if they’d be comfortable living with someone who identified as non-binary, 28% said yes (and if someone identifies as female, they can apply to CC). In terms of socio-economic diversity, they recognize that not all students can travel home or have a place to go over breaks: dorms stay open and some meals are offered. Every student can work on campus for 20 hours a week.

Cedar Crest 3“We encourage the ‘and’ here,” said a professor. “Students don’t have to choose; if they want to explore different things, we help make that happen.” They are ranked #5 in student engagement in the northeast. “We’re intrusive; I’ll even check to see if they’re swiping into the dining hall.” Several other things help make them distinctive:

  • FYE: includes First-year Friday: speakers (budgets, eating right), comedians, trips.
  • The new Sophomore Expedition: students are encouraged (but not required) to go on the all-expense-paid study trip in sophomore year. A gift from an alumna covers all expenses except the passport. “We’ve seen interesting things: students catch the travel bug, they change majors because of what they’ve seen/done.”
  • Cedar Crest 2Undergrad Research (often alongside PhD candidates).
    • Some research is done in a 2-course sequence: they set it up in the fall and conduct it in the spring. A Bio major in started in her 2nd week of college.
    • Many participate in the LVAIC undergrad psych conference. “In freshman year, I’m trying to pull them out of their shell. By senior year, I’m trying to shove them back in…We know that oral presentations aren’t everyone’s strength, but it needs to develop – but we can also encourage other strengths, too.”
  • Guaranteed Student Employment: they find that this is a valuable retention tool; anyone who wants can work 20 hours a week. They try to tie it to majors to make it more meaningful.
  • Honors is an interdisciplinary program. “It’s not harder; it’s different.” It’s not going over the reading, it’s connecting it to other things. “My favorite is Botany and Art.”

Cedar Crest quadThere are lots of interesting, specialized majors for a school this size. “We’re responsive to Gen Z; they want to get credentialed.” This shows through their hands-on, career-prep options; the sciences (in many of their forms) are particularly strong. The curriculum is adaptable with majors, minors, and certificates (and they get an advisor for each one!).

Cedar Crest 1For admissions, they superscore both SAT and ACT. Usually scholarships are given starting with a 3.4 GPA and 1070 SAT/21 ACT. They have a Departmental Scholarship Day in early November where they can earn an additional $1,500 per year up to 4 years. “The day is less about the scholarships opportunity and more about sitting with faculty and see that the focus is on teaching and learning.” The 10th Annual full-tuition scholarship competition (early February) is by invitation only; all participant gets $500 per year but can compete for 5 full-tuition 4-year scholarships. The top 25 will receive the following additional scholarship.

60-70% of incoming class will live on campus; the rest commute from 60 miles. One student said that she’d like to see more money spent on dorms because people are currently waitlisted for housing. The Food is got high marks, particularly the “Sundaes on Sunday.” Freshmen can have cars on campus; parking is free. There are lots of LVAIC inter-collegiate events (trips, sports, etc) and students get discounted tickets for events on other campuses. There’s an aquatic center on campus but it’s not run by Cedar Crest. However, students can use it for free, and several events like Battleship (using cardboard boats) and scuba classes are held there.

© 2018

Lincoln University (PA)

Lincoln University (visited 5/2/18)

Lincoln quad 2

The Quad

Surprisingly, this is a fully gated campus with security booths at the entrances (although to be honest, the fences are pretty low; they wouldn’t actually keep anyone out – but you can only drive onto campus at the couple check-points).

This is a fairly rural campus; the nearest small town is about 3 miles. Students are NOT impressed with the location simply because there is nothing to do. “Cars are pretty necessary to have a social life off campus.” Lancaster is just under an hour away, and both Philadelphia and Baltimore are just over an hour from campus. “Students need to create their own fun here.”

Lincoln Greek patio

One of the Greek “patios” with benches, grills, and affiliation sign

Students like the camaraderie on campus. Almost all of the 2,000 undergrads live on campus. It’s small enough to know people, see people all the time, and get to classes easily. “Everyone is social. You kind of have to be since there’s nothing else to do around campus.” There is some stuff going on around campus “but it’s a dry campus, so don’t expect they typical large party scene.” There is some Greek life but it does not dominate the social scene. The DII sports are fairly strong, and they do have a football team. Games are actively attended.

Lincoln library 2

The Langston Hughes Library

This is the country’s first degree-granting HBCU; it was renamed for Abraham Lincoln after the Civil War. There is a lot of history to the campus, and many of the buildings are named for famous alumni including Thurgood Marshall and Langston Hughes. The school went coed in the 1950s, and like other liberal arts schools, is a little more than half female at this point.

Lincoln science cntr

An academic building

They offer majors that are typical at a liberal arts school with the exception of Pan-Africana Studies and Biochemistry-Molecular Biology. Students say that it’s easy to connect with professors and they seem to care. However, their retention and graduation rates are pretty low, and not much seems to be in place to help students persist through their undergrad degree.

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Dickinson College

Dickinson College (visited 5/16/17)

Dickinson city sign“We’re global, international, and sustainable. We’re a very green school, 12th on the Greenest School List,” said the admissions rep giving the info session. A Sustainability major was added last year, several campus buildings are certified on the 3 LEED levels, and they own/operate a certified organic farm about 10 minutes away from the main campus. Students work and do research on the farm. Some students are doing work on toads: they’re building an eco-system and a pond to attract a specific species. Others produce biofuel, grow much of the produce for the dining hall, or work on composting 600-800 pounds of waste from campus and around town. “Students will camp there for classes,” said the tour guide. Students can apply to be an apprentice there after graduation and live full-time on the farm.

Dickinson 1Another of Dickinson’s draws is the Global perspective. “We’ve been doing the global thing for a long time. We were doing it when it wasn’t fashionable. It goes back to Benjamin Rush when we were just starting,” said the rep. Over 1/3 of the faculty have international experiences. The Global Mosaics research program allows students to do interdisciplinary, international work. The college requires that students complete 3 semesters of a language; there are 13 offered to choose from (including Hebrew, Greek, Russian, Portuguese, and Chinese). Language classes got high praise from the tour guides: “We’ll do things like spend a day in the campus art gallery. We’re learning and using real-life language skills.”

Dickinson statueThe Study Abroad program has a nationally strong reputation. There are 15 Dickinson Centers (faculty chair the 2 domestic (NYC and DC) and 13 international centers including England, Australia, Japan, Beijing, and Bologna) and 24+ partner programs. “We’re not in Antarctica yet…” Students can and will study abroad in English, but many also in another language.

Dickinson townhouses

Some of the townhouses, an option for upperclassmen

Town-gown relations are good. Campus is only a couple blocks from downtown Carlisle, so there is a lot within walking distance including 35 restaurants. The college hosts a community orchestra in which local people participate. “We’re too small to have one on our own.” Getting around town is easy, and the school runs shuttles to the train and airport (Harrisburg, BWI, and others at breaks).

Dickinson 9

More housing options

Dickinson has remained financially stable through economic ups and down. They intend on staying a small school (about 2400 students), even though their incoming class is about 10-15 students higher than usual. Traditional dorms serve most of the first and second year students. Upperclassmen can live in houses and apartments owned by the campus. There’s also a range of Special Interest Houses which include language and cultural houses, the Tree House (sustainable living – they’ll have competitions to see how little energy they can use/who can take the shortest shower), Greek Housing, The Dog House (they’ll foster/raise/train puppies to be guide dogs or support animals), etc.

Dickinson lab 2One of our tour guides was a junior from Chattanooga; she came for the International Business program which is well-known and well-regarded. Social Innovation & Leadership, Biochemistry & Microbiology, Econ, Law & Policy, and PoliSci also get high praise. Classes, not surprisingly, are small (capped at 35 but rarely that big) and “real world.” The phrase “Broader Picture” got used a lot in relation to academics. When I asked about the students’ favorite classes, both cited those where they could use what they learned in practical ways. One of the tour guides raved about her Calculus class (maybe a first for me!): “We actually used it for calculating the amount of DNA there is in cells. Another guide talked about interpreting in clinics in town for her Spanish for Health class.

Dickinson planetariumThe physics department runs a Plasma Lab which can only be used in the summer because power has to be shut down around campus in order to use it! There’s also a planetarium used for more than science classes: the Astronomy Club uses it, the college runs “Star Nights,” and even the Greek Myth class will use it!

The Innovation Competition is a way to fund novel ideals or projects around campus. Teams of 3-5 students must be interdisciplinary (representing majors in at least 2 of the 3 schools) and the idea must be sustainable. Recently, an idea that won the $2000 prize was a Coffee Cart attached to a bike called “The Peddler.” They sell fresh ground and French press coffee.

Dickinson original mascot

The original “Triton”/ mermaid on display in the library

As with any school, there are a myriad of traditions, including the ubiquitous “Don’t step on the seal or else…” and the popular, symbolic walking onto campus (in this case through a building) and then back out at graduation. Senior week before graduation is full of traditions and fun for the seniors, including a beer garden on the quad and a bowling trip. The mascot, The Triton, has it’s own history and pranks revolving around it. The founder had asked a local merchant to make a Triton for the top of the cupola, but they got a mermaid. For decades, this would be stolen by seniors who bargained with professors before giving it back. The original is now on display in the library.

© 2017

Gettysburg College

Gettysburg College (visited 5/18/17)

Gettysburg 5

One of the oldest buildings on campus

So few admissions reps take the time to hone in on what makes them different from their competitors, so I was impressed that the rep took the time to address differences between Gettysburg and other nearby liberal arts schools. She also took the time to personalize the discussion based on what the students were interested in; this was one of the least-scripted/canned talked I’ve attended.

Gettysburg original interior

Although buildings have been renovated/updated, they’ve kept as much of the original structure intact

One of my students asked about diversity on campus; later I asked what the best change had been since she arrived on campus. Her answers built on each other: “We’re not the preppy school anymore. Nine years ago, students did kind of look alike. It’s just not that anymore. The diversity of types of students here is the most positive and noticeable shift I’ve seen.” Diversity is still an “active discussion topic at small Liberal Arts colleges. Most of us care about diversity. What it boils down to is that we’re still largely American Caucasian.” Right now, they pull in 7% of their population from abroad, but more this year’s freshman and incoming classes are higher. Another 15% self-identify as domestic students of color. About ¼ come from PA. Politically, students are pretty evenly split across the spectrum. There are active Muslim and Jewish populations. “We have a lot of types of diversity, and it’s growing.”

Gettysburg quadThe college is holding steady at 2600-2700 undergrads: “It’s just big enough that you’ll know some people really well; other people will show up at graduation and you’ll realize you’ve never seen them before.” This happens despite being a completely residential campus. Placement in the freshman dorms is determined by the First-Year Seminar students enroll in. After the first year, students have lots of housing options. There are theme houses (entire homes) for interests such as Science, Blue Note (music), and the Civil War. They have also bought what used to be hotels that are currently used as dorms. Food is good; we ate at one of the “Grab-and-go” options, and the students all liked the food, saying it was better than the food from the full dining hall at another school we visited. They’re currently gutting part of union to make room for more food options, and the Dining hall is being added onto.

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The library where snacks are served during finals to keep kids going!


Gettysburg’s academics don’t disappoint; the top 5 Academics are ranked on par with Dartmouth. Our tour guide turned down an acceptance from Cornell to come here. “There hasn’t been a day that I haven’t thought this education was worth it.” A few academics of note include:

  • Conservatory of Music: students can major or minor outside of this! That’s unusual. Also, any student can be involved.
  • Not surprisingly, history is strong, and they offer a Civil War Era Studies
  • Psychology has a strong experimental Psych focus and some behavioral components. It’s one of the largest majors. The Neuroscience minor pairs nicely with this.
  • The biggest major is Organizational Management (what they call their business program).
  • Gettysburg 6The Health Sciences major is unusual for a school this size. They combine physics, bio, and chem in how these relate to the human body.
  • Every class has a Peer Learning Associate. They students who have already taken the class, so they are able to run extra help or review sessions, supplemental labs, or provide tutoring.
  • The biggest classes are Intro to Bio and Psych could have 30 students; labs cap at 16. The tour guide’s classes ranged in size from 8 (French) to 24 (Astrophysics).
  • It’s relatively easy and common to get paid research assistant positions, even starting freshman year.

Gettysburg lincoln statueThe Honor Code mostly focuses on academic integrity but also how students interact with each other. Things can be left in the library and not touched. Students look out for each other, and even after graduation, people help others out: they have the same number of alumni connections as Notre Dame. Traditions are tightly held here. A big one is attached to Pennsylvania Hall (one of the oldest buildings) on campus: during Orientation, students file up the stairs and through the building to the other side; on Graduation Day, they do the reverse of this. During orientation, they also walk as a group to the cemetery (a mile away) where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. Campus sits right in town within walking distance to downtown and parts of the battlefield. Town is unique in that there are 2-3 million visitors here every year. Freshmen can’t have cars on campus unless they’re on the Equestrian Team which practices about 15 minutes south of campus.

Gettysburg original bldg

The original building on campus and one of the haunted buildings; students graduate on these steps.

Gettysburg ranks on several Top 10 Most Haunted campus lists. Pennsylvania Hall was used as a Civil War hospital, so it (along with many other buildings on campus) has its share of ghost stories, including people taking the elevator to the basement and seeing the hospital and doctors when the doors opened.

© 2017

Pennsylvania State University

PENN STATE UNIVERSITY (visit 7/31 – 8/1/16)

penn-state-4For such an overwhelmingly large flagship institution, campus is surprisingly manageable. Students can walk across the main part of campus in probably 15-20 minutes, and there are buses that loop around regularly. Beyond that, for students wondering about finding their place among 45,000 undergrads, “there are tons of ways to make the campus small.”

“We’re clearly a public university, but when you look at grad and retention rates and what students are doing here, we look like a more prestigious private university.” Their retention rate freshman-to-sophomore year is 93% (30% above average) and their graduation rate is 87%, so they must be doing something right in terms of getting students connected to the university and to each other!

penn-state-sundial-2University Park is the state’s land-grant institution and is the main campus of the Commonwealth Campus System, but there are branch campuses all over the state, some campuses housing as few as 600 students. The curriculum is exactly the same regardless of where they do the work. “Math 101 at York is the same as Erie is the same as University Park,” said an admissions rep. “Regardless of where you start or where you graduate from, the degree says The Pennsylvania State University. A common path is the 2+2 plan: students complete 2 years at another campus to do the prereqs. As long as they have the minimum GPA, they can move right over. It’s not a transfer since it’s the same system, and it’s cheaper to start somewhere else. We have our own nuclear power plant, our own airport, our own zip code,” said a rep. “It simply costs more to run this campus.”

penn-state-flowersThe University Park campus receives 80-100,000 apps every year. Currently, the only way to apply to PSU is through the My Penn State Account (although they will eventually use the Coalition App). They highly encourage students to submit applications by November 30. Although admissions is rolling, the criteria goes up after that. Students who apply by 11/30 get an answer by the end of January. Decisions are posted on their Account 1-2 days before the letter is sent; they also accept their offer through the account.

penn-state-cafeStudents can list a first and second choice campus as well as the Summer Start option. This gives them as many opportunities as possible to be admitted to the system. Summer Start is not remedial, but gives students a way to get acclimated both the campus and the academics (they’ll take 2 3-credit classes that summer). There are about 10,000 students on campus over the summer, some as part of this program, some working, and some doing research.

This is a Research 1 Institution, and they’re ranked in the top 5 in the nation for internships. Last year, they received $800 million for undergrad research; students in all majors have opportunities to participate.

penn-state-3Despite the university’s size, classes average 25-30 students, and surprisingly mostly taught by professors. “With the exception of CASS 101 (Required), I never just had a TA teach a class,” said a student on the panel. The biggest lecture hall on campus seats 725, and many of the students had at least 1 class in there. The largest classes were 650 in Intro Physiology, about 700 in Philosophy of Love and Sex; 720 in MicroEcon (“There were maybe 5 free seats in the lecture hall”), and 200 in Physics. However, the smallest classes ranged from 10 to 20 (often Freshman Seminar). Freshmen are guaranteed 2 classes of 30 or fewer: FYE and English 101.

penn-state-edu-bldgThe students on the panel listed these as their favorite classes:

  • Human Development and Family Studies. “The prof was amazing. She was really family-oriented and used her own family as examples. The class was interactive. She’d have students tell stories so I got to know people in the lecture hall. It felt unique.”
  • Forensic Science: “We’re learning about all cases like OJ Simpson from a professor who worked in the FBI during all that.”
  • Accoustics: it’s about how speech and hearing all work together “behind the scenes.”
  • Intro to Business Management: “It was taught by an interactive Prof. He played games to get people involved and would throw the football into the crowd. Whoever caught it had to answer. Sometimes people were sleeping and he’d hit them with the football to wake them up.
  • Entomology: “I’m not a bug person, but by the end, I thought it was cool because I could identify the bugs I didn’t like!”
  • Differential Equations: “I had the BEST math prof on campus. He would draw sharks on everything.”
  • Ballroom Dance class
  • Childhood Temperament and Behavior: “We got to do research for part of the class.”

penn-state-arts-and-archNursing is their one direct-admit program. “If they are not accepted as freshmen, they will not earn a degree in nursing from Penn State.” For all other majors, students start in the school they’re interested in but don’t declare their major until the end of their 2nd year after they finish the pre-reqs and have the minimum GPA. The Department of Undergrad Studies is for people who don’t know what they want to do yet. “Undeclared does not mean unguided,” said a rep. “They still get advising and help determining what they want to do.”

Schreyer Honors College is “one of the best in the nation;” students can participate in it at any of the 20 campuses. This requires a separate application; about 300 students are accepted per year. It comes with a $4500 scholarship/year and students get priority scheduling. There are separate living options that they take advantage of if interested. They need to write a thesis, which is mandatory in order to earn the honors designation on their degree. Students can do this at any of the 20 campuses. Each one also has separate honors programs.

Housing is not guaranteed, and only about 50% of people will stay on campus after freshman year. “Off-campus living is great but you have to plan a year in advance. By the end of October, you need to know where you’ll be living the next school year or you’re going to be scrambling. It’s kind of ridiculous especially for freshmen. It’s like taking a leap of faith in some ways because you jump in and don’t even know for sure if you like living with the people yet.” They have an off-campus living fair that coincides with Parents Weekend.

© 2016

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