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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

Williams College

~Williams sign 2Williams College (visited 7/29/15)

This is one of the few information sessions I’ve attended where the presenter gave more than just lip-service to the concept of fit. For example, she asked if classes of 13 seemed too big (no one) or too small (1 student) – and then told him that this might not be the right place for him.

~Williams env cntr

Williams’ entirely sustainable Environmental Center

Williams provides a great deal of opportunity for students to pursue what they’re curious about. Students must take 3 classes in each of 3 divisions but what they take is up within those areas is up to them. Majors are mostly fairly straightforward, but Concentrations (minors) are more interdisciplinary such as Justice and Law, Cognitive Science, and Public Health.

~Williams 2This is one of a few places that offers Oxford-like Tutorials: students are initially placed in groups of 10 then split into pairs. Students alternate between writing a 5-7 page paper (sent to the professor and partner 24 hours in advance) and responding to the peer’s paper (with a 24 hour turnaround). At Tutorial, they discuss it, usually with the professor simply observing. Students get really good at developing and defending a point of view. Half the students take at least 1 Tutorial (which are offered in all subject areas); most will take more than one.

~Williams 4Williams operates on a 4-1-4 schedule: 4 classes in fall and spring and 1 class in January (yes, it’s required every year). All freshmen stay on campus; after that, students can stay, do an internship, or study-away. Class offerings range from academic to experiential; all are Pass/Fail to encourage students to try something new or focus on a passion.

For the same reason, Study Abroad classes also come back as pass/fail with the exception of 3 Williams-specific programs that are graded:

  • Oxford where they’re considered full Oxford students and participate in tutorials
  • Mystic Seaport, CT focusing on oceanography. Part of the experience includes 10 days at sea on a tall ship.
  • South Africa: students study at the University of Cape Town and complete an internship.

~Williams sci cntr int

Intro science lectures can have up to 100 students (but smaller labs). One student’s largest class was “Chemistry of AIDS” with 75. Another student’s biggest class had 30 (Intro to Econ) and smallest was 7 (an English Seminar). APs can’t replace credits (ie, they must still earn a certain number of credits at Williams), but the scores can place students into a higher level and out of some of the biggest classes.

Most research funding (including Room and Board during the summer) goes to science and math but students can research anywhere. Our tour guide did research on Bilateral Relations with Russia and China. One math professor is a leading researcher on knots of all things. He took on 14 students to research knots. About 40% of those doing research will co-author a paper by graduation.

~Williams theater

The campus theater building

Williamstown is small (population: 7,000), nestled squarely in the northwestern Massachusetts Arts “corridor” with MASS MoCA just down the street. Arts are a huge deal here. The local theater is nationally known and draws big-name actors like Kyra Sedgewick, Kevin Bacon, and Bradley Cooper. “Here we are in this little town bumping into the Hollywood people.” William’s music, fine arts, theater, and art history programs are all excellent. The directors of MOMA, the National Gallery, the Gugenheim, and more are Williams grads: “It’s like we’re producing the Art History Mafia here.”

If small-town New England starts feeling too isolated, students can hop on a regional bus that stops on campus and head to Albany or Boston. The school runs shuttles to Albany and Grand Central (which may be subsidized for students on financial aid) at breaks.

~Williams Hillel

The Hillel building

There is lots of schools spirit here. About 1/3 of students play varsity sports, and stands fill up at games. Amherst is their big rival and has been since 1820 when Williams’ president took half of everything – faculty, library books, the money – and started Amherst. Several years ago, Amherst pulled a prank on Williams by carving an A into one of their fields. Williams retaliated by carving a B+ on theirs.

Most students (85%) live on campus. Up to 125 seniors can move off campus, but they didn’t have that many petition to do so this year.

~Williams dorm quad

Freshman quad

Entry Program groups together 25ish first-year students and 2 Junior Advisors to give them a “home base” and a family-feel to what is otherwise a fairly typical dorm situation. For example, they’ll do Entry Snacks on Sunday night for a “catch-up.” It is unique that they freshmen have 2 JAs grouped with them – but the tour guide bragged incessantly about how Williams mixes dorm-mates so they get to meet a variety of people – without realizing that many other places do this, too!

~Williams student cntr int

The “Main Living Room” in the Student Center

The main dining hall in the student center can get busy; at peak rush, “the wait can be 10 or 15 minutes, but there are other places to eat if you’re in a hurry.” Sunday “Kids Night” dinner (mac and cheese, chicken fingers, etc.) gets rave reviews, but the food is good overall. “This place has the best chicken tikka masala I’ve ever had,” said the tour guide.

The Outdoor Club is one of the biggest clubs; a $10 fee gets students access to everything they offer. Mountain Day (a surprise day-off from classes with picnics, hiking, etc) is a huge deal like at many other colleges. There’s also a day in the winter when classes are canceled for a day of skiing, sledding, and more, but students know about that in advance.

Admissions is highly selective, but they do accept about 40% of ED applicants “because it’s self-selecting and they often have a previous relationship with the college.” Applicants need 2 subject tests on addition to the SAT or ACT. “Don’t take both math tests, but other than that, choose whatever you want.” The Optional Supplement “really is optional. Use it if you feel like there’s something you need to add to the application.” Admissions is need-blind, and students need to submit both the FAFSA and CSS Profile. They do not offer merit scholarships; average debt at graduation is $13,000.

(c) 2015

Austin College

Austin College (Visited 3/2/15)

~Austin swings and ctyrdAustin College, despite the name, located in Sherman, TX, about 45 minute north of Dallas near the Oklahoma border, NOT in the city of Austin! This small city of about 30,000 people has a traditional downtown area which is being revitalized and hosts multiple festivals and other events throughout the year. One student raved about the amazing food in Sherman: “such good mom and pop restaurants!” There are also parks they’ll play Humans vs. Zombies. One student said that the town is ok but, “I wasn’t looking for a city. I was looking for a school.”

~Austin streamTravel to Sherman can be more of a challenge for Out-of-State students but doable. People fly into Dallas or Waco and can get shuttles provided by the college if they plan ahead. There’s also a TAPS bus (“a Roo-route”). We asked students why people should look here instead of other small, selective schools that may be closer to home. “It’s warmer!” one said immediately. Others mentioned research opportunities and the relationships developed on campus.

In addition to the main campus in Sherman, Austin College runs Lake Campus located about 15-20 minutes away. Students, faculty, and staff have access to the 30 acre area simply by scanning their ID at the front gate. Groups can use it for events, and the university often holds a Kite Festival there.

Courtyard of the Language Immersion House

Courtyard of the Language Immersion House

~Austin swings

Swings overlooking the quad

About 80% of students live on campus. Freshmen live in clusters within larger dorms, and they’re matched to their roommates based on Meyers-Briggs. Approximately 25% of students go Greek here (and another Greek chapter is being added next year). There is no official Greek housing, and it’s a delayed rush with students completing their first semester before participating. Students also have the option of living in language-immersion housing. This year, they are offering Japanese, Spanish, French, Chinese, and German. Students agree to speak in that language while in the residence. A native speaker also lives there, and there are common areas and kitchens where students can hold activities, cook meals (although they’re not required to eat there – they have a regular meal plan, as well!), etc.

~Austin chapel 1

Campus Chapel. The school is “Presbyterian in name only.”

Austin is on the College That Change Lives list, and I asked the students how it has changed their lives:

  • Through research and internships. “I love my Communication/Inquiry (CI) class with the professor who will be my mentor for all 4 years. He got me involved in molecular research 2nd semester freshman year and I’ve worked with him ever since.”
  • Through tennis. “I didn’t even plan on playing, but now I’m the captain of the team. One thing leads to another thing here. I didn’t plan on being a French minor, either. There are a lot of opportunities.”
  • The diversity. “I went to a homogenous Christian high school. Here, I’m friends with people from such different backgrounds.”
  • “Because I play basketball, I can’t go away for Jan Term. We took our own trip and it meant a lot.”
  • “Realizing that I was smart enough to do this. This is the American Dream for me. I got a scholarship that allowed me to stay and finish. People are telling me that now I can go to Law or Grad school.”
  • “It pushed me out of my comfort zone.”
  • “Everyone makes mistakes which is normal. Here there are people to help you along the way.”

~Austin sci cntr 4

Sculptures made by students.

Sculptures made by students.

One of the Admissions representatives said that “A Liberal Arts Education is the most liberating and practical.” Students have the flexibility to explore several majors, but are also taught the skills they need to be hireable: critical thinking, problem solving, writing, etc. Students must complete at least 3 Jan-Term programs (but are welcome to do all 4). Some of this is career studies. Unusual or strong majors include: Global Science, Technology, and Society; Cognitive Science; Western Intellectual Tradition; Nonprofit Organizations and Public Service; and Southwestern and Mexican Studies.

~Austin atrium 2

The atrium of the Business Office.

Business majors can declare concentrations in Administration, Finance, Econ, Accounting, or International Economics and Finance. The Student Managed Investment Fund is a class that students can take for credit in which a group of up to 20 students are given a Million Dollars to invest (under the supervision of a professor!) that “consistently beats the market.” All profits go towards funding scholarships at the college.

We asked students, “What’s the coolest class you’ve taken?”

  • Rock and Roll History
  • How Allies Broke the Nazi Code: “We learned how to do computer programing, the history of the war, we watched Imitation Game.”
  • Asian Food Culture Class. “We went to a cooking school in Dallas and rolled sushi and made Korean BBQ. It’s taught by an Econ prof just because he thinks it’s cool.”
  • Algorithmic training. They got $50K to trade and invest during an in-class competition.
  • Andean Nations (history)
  • Business Ethics
  • Tibetan Religion.
  • Monsters Among Us where they read The Lord of the Ring, made a website, analyzed and compared The Walking Dead to Dorian Gray.
  • Wine Tasting. “Next year there will be a beer-brewing class!”
~Austin library atrium

Library

Although graduates have always been successful, the college recently started the Gateways Initiative which is specifically geared towards students wanting to continue onto professional grad programs (law, medicine, etc). Austin has partnered with graduate schools to help with admissions, scholarship, internships, and other pathways towards these professional schools.

When we asked both faculty and students what they’d like to change, improve, or fix, this is what we got:

  • “We don’t want to be something else, just get better at what we’re already doing. It would be nice to increase scholarships and faculty salaries, etc.”
  • Food is ok, but gets boring.
  • “They focus a lot on the abroad experiences and it’s great and amazing but I would like to see more projects in a smaller or more local scale. I think this is something they’re working on.” (She also mentioned that Alternative spring breaks can be as little as $35.

© 2015

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