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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

Western New England University

Western New England University (visited 5/29/19)

WNEU fountain“I chose to come here because people here looked happy. Everyone at the other school I was considering looked stressed out. I definitely made the right choice.”

I feel very confident recommending WNEU to students. I love walking away from a college with that feeling, particularly when I knew almost nothing about it to start. First, I love that WNEU made their campus easy to navigate – and particularly that their Welcome Center was so easy to find.

WNEU 2More importantly, I love that WNEU is able to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Because of this, enrollment has been going up despite the declining demographics. I spent over an hour talking to the Dean of Admission: “I love where we’re going. It’s so different from when I was in school. We’re looking to add majors and programs. The only true competition we have in the area is UMass.”

WNEU 9

The Library entrance

It’s no secret that universities face a lot of competition, particularly in the Northeast. Because there are so many institutions to choose from, WNEU has deliberately differentiated themselves. “We tend to sent trends. We get things going, and within a couple years, it seems like other places are starting to pick up on what we’re doing, but that just helps us to keep thinking outside the box.” One way they do this is by the working between the colleges:

  • WNEU sci bldg int

    The atrium of one of the science buildings

    They are one of the few schools this size to have a Law School on campus. They use this to their advantage.

    • They’ve created a BS/JD Engineering and Law program for people who want to go into patent law. “This is a really rigorous program and usually only a few students will do this in any given year.”
    • They offer a 3+3 accelerated law Students essentially finish their major/core requirements in the first 3 years and “save the electives for senior year. The first year of law school basically fills those electives, and then they get the Bachelors degree.”
  • Business:
    • WNEU solar house

      A solar house built by students; they took this to a national competition in California

      Ohio University was the pioneer of the Sports Management, but WNEU has the only other one with double accreditation. “Don’t come here for Kinesiology. Come here for the business side.” They’ve been ranked #1 in this department.

    • They have a strong programs in Arts and Entertainment Management, Sport Leadership and Coaching, and Pharmaceutical Business.
    • Accounting is ranked #2 for recruitment of students by major companies out of Hartford (only UConn beat them and they’re 4 times bigger).
    • They are 1 of only 7 schools offering classes in SAP and the only one to offer its students a chance to gain certification. Students with this often get a $6,000-8000 bump in salary. They also offer SAS certification in Business Analytics. Market Analytics is also getting big, especially for non-profits.
  • WNEU lab 2

    One of the labs

    Engineering puts students into labs immediately as freshman, they complete group projects every year, and every student gets a paid internship before graduation. The university has good relationships with United Technology, Smith & Wesson, and many more. Some freshmen even get internships because the program is so strong, but they can’t earn credit until junior year.

  • WNEU Sci and PharmHealth Sciences has almost doubled in size in the last couple years. It’s their version of pre-med.
    • Pre-Optometry and Pre-Physician Assistant are 4-year tracks that aren’t capped.
    • Pharmacy is a 6-year program (2 in pre-pharm, 4 in pharm). They only take 65 students into the program each year, and the SATs are required. If they’re accepted, it’s early-assurance. If they earn a 3.3 GPA in the first 3 semesters with no grades lower than a C-, they’re guaranteed a seat without the need for rec letters or tests. “This helps the students know that it’s really what they want so they can change their mind and still transfer credits into another major. It also helps the school by not having them transfer out of the professional program.”
  • WNEU psych classes

    A poster helping students navigate the multitude of options within the psychology department

    In the Arts & Sciences, Criminal Justice and Psych are the biggest majors.

    • CJ offers concentrations such as Homeland Security and Terrorism, Victim Studies, Criminal Investigations (like the forensics w/o the science), legal studies.
    • Psych: offers both BA or BS (more research oriented) with more than 15 tracks (not a concentration) such as clinical, sports, forensics, environmental psych, and industrial/organizational.
    • Forensic Bio and Forensic Chem are also popular.

WNEU 6I love that they offer so many accelerated, direct-entry, and 4+1 programs. “Anything we can do to help out the student and maybe save them a bit of money is beneficial.”

It’s amazing how deliberate they are in helping students find the right fit, even if that isn’t WNEU. “The resources and the opportunities make it the right fit. I’d rather lose kids who don’t want to be here than try to convince them to come and then lose them. That doesn’t help anyone. If we can’t support you, if we don’t have the major you want, then I’m going to tell a student to look at another school.” This plays a huge role in retention.

WNEU 10Another way they help prospective students is to tell them where they stand if they bring a transcript and test scores to their visit. Many programs (particularly business and Arts & Sciences are test-optional). “We can let them know if sending in test scores is a good idea or not in these cases when we look over stuff.”

“We’d rather take the B/B+ students who work hard and have been involved in school life because they’re the ones who will take advantage of more opportunities. The 4.0 kids are often more focused on the books. The others are looking to get involved and do really well here. We’ll have the kids who struggled or didn’t want to come here to give tours. They’re the best ambassadors we have.”

WNEU cupola 2One of the perceived drawbacks of the college is the location, “but this is NOT the same city it was 20 years ago. It’s no longer on the Dangerous City List,” said the rep. Springfield is the 3rd largest city in Massachuetts and the city of Firsts (Basketball, Goodyear tires, and the Webster dictionary to name a few). The casino has come in, people have moved up from Hartford, and there’s quite a bit of revitalization. There are resources available for students, not just in the city but the region.

WNEU mascot 2

The Mascot statue which students ride

Campus is also booming. They have clubs for transfers, vets, and commuters so they look out for all sorts of students. One of the most popular “and one of the most welcoming clubs I’ve ever seen” is Warp, a gaming club. They’re looking into adding E-Sports, potentially starting it as a club. There are a number of popular traditions, including:

  • Students are supposed to ride the Bear statue (the mascot) before they graduate
  • Painting the rock to advertise something
  • Midnight Madness – intro to winter sports
  • Bear Olympics: this part of transitions program in the first 3 weeks. Every dorm and a Commuter Team all compete. I think it’s great that they include commuters in this; they often get left out of dorm competitions.

Sports are also popular, both to play and for students to go watch. They’re starting a Women’s Ice Hockey team in 2020 (this may help balance out the gender imbalance – they’re currently at 60% male which makes sense because of their engineering programs). The rep would love to see an ice hockey rink built on campus. “We’re losing talented players because other places have the rink.” He’d also love to build up the arts a bit more. They have an established theater program but no black box. He’d love to combine Sports Management and Business Analytics. Some Masters programs could be added and increase the offerings – but this just links back to WNEU being on the cutting edge. Everyone is thinking about the next thing there.

© 2019

Duquesne University

Duquesne University (visited 5/26/16)

~Duq Power Plant and downtown

The “Power Plant” which houses the gym and other student services is connected by a walkway to the main campus. Downtown is right behind it.

I can see why students love Duquesne. School pride is high … yes, their athletic teams do well, but the school also looks after its students academically, socially, and spiritually. Although located in downtown Pittsburgh, Duq is a cohesive campus in its own right. “Duquesne feels like it’s own city,” said one student. Once on campus, you feel like you’re completely away from the city, but the views of Pittsburgh from around campus don’t let you forget where you are. “A 15 minute walk will get students almost anywhere they want to go in town,” said one of the reps, and students take advantage of all the city has to offer, from internships to Pens tames (student tickets cost $28), and using the river trails for walking, running, and biking.

~Duq statue 3Founded in 1878 by the Spiritans (Holy Ghost Fathers), Duquesne clearly holds onto its Catholic identity. Twice during the information session, people said that they “serve students so they can serve others” and they “serve God by serving students.” They also said that they are “Catholic by founding, Ecumenical in everything they do.” 50% of the students self-identify as Catholic. However, no one could give me statistics on how many of the other 50% self-identify as non-Christian. An admissions counselor said that they did have students of other faiths, but wasn’t able to quantify anything to give a sense of how many.

~Duq housing for priests

Housing for some of the priests living on campus.

The campus is attractive with some parts prettier than others; some of the larger buildings have an institutional, concrete feel, but other parts are gorgeous with green quads and brick buildings. These older parts of campus have a much stronger sense of the Catholic identity with more sculptures and a large crucifix on the lawn of one quad. Other part of the campus have almost no reminders of the Catholic heritage. Priests still live on campus, but we didn’t see any walking around as we were touring.

~Duq dorms 3

Some of the dorms on campus

Almost 2/3 of the 6,000 undergrads live on campus, including 95% of freshmen. Freshmen and sophomores who live at home with families can commute; they are assigned a Commuter Assistant, an upperclassman who acts as a mentor (sort of like an RA for those living on campus). The Commuter Center in the union offers a study room, lounge, and computer room, and they organize special events to allow the commuters feel connected to each other and the school. Students can move off after sophomore year, but the college sets aside two dorms (1 suite-style, 1 apartments) specifically for upperclassmen.

~Duq rock gardenThe retention rate from 1st to 2nd semester freshman year is well into the 90s; freshman to sophomore year retention is in the high 80s. Students want to be here. The average class size is 28; they made a very big deal about this, seemingly skirting the issue of how that translates into actual class sizes. I did learn from the tour guide that Honors classes are capped at 18. All of her non-Honors classes have been bigger than that. There are plenty of lecture classes, as well, particularly at the intro level. Her largest class had 170 students.

~Duq fountain 3Students had lots of good things to say about the college and had a hard time thinking of anything they’d like to change. One tour guide said that it’s sometimes hard to find gluten-free food options … but did say that the food tends to be great, a fact supported by the fact that the school is ranked as “1 of the best 75 college for food.” Another student said, “Sometimes public transportation can be difficult, but everything is walkable, so it’s really not that big a deal. There’s a bus stop on the corner of campus that goes right to the airport.” Also, the subway (which is limited in Pittsburgh) is free! An admissions rep said, “It goes under the river now. Prepositions are important: you pay to go OVER the river, but you don’t pay to go UNDER.”

Students can choose from 80 majors within the 9 schools, including several interdisciplinary dual degree programs.

  • Biomed Engineering is an undergraduate program.
  • They offer a 5-year Forensic and Law degree, one of the few in the country that’s accredited.
  • The 3+3 law program allows students to major in anything within the Arts & Sciences or the Business schools and then transition into the law school. In order to do this, they must score in the 60th percentile on the LSAT.
  • Students declaring an Education major automatically get a minimum of 50% off their tuition; this could go up if their GPA is good enough.
  • The Music school offers a BA in Music as well as a Bachelor of Music in Performance, Music Technology, Education, Therapy, and Music with Elective Studies in Business.

We talked to three students; they said that their favorite classes were:

  • Public Policy: It’s taught by an army 3-Star General. “He’s really well-informed, and he makes the class interesting. It feels like we’re really going work for the Government.”
  • Uncovering Ireland during study abroad. “It’s nothing I ever thought about taking and I learned a lot! It was taught by guy who wrote Irish History for Dummies.
  • Cadaver Lab: “It’s insane to see all the nerves and tendons on a real human.”
~Duq crucifix

One of the quads; this one has a large crucifix on one side.

A lot of students do Study Abroad: Duquesne runs several programs including their Italian Campus in Rome, Duquesne in Dublin, Maymester, summer programs specific to majors, and Spring Breakaway courses. Students have the option of doing other approved programs, as well.

Although technically Duquesne will accept students on a rolling basis, there are a few deadlines to keep in mind:

  • Early Decision has an 11/1 deadline.
  • Students interested in the Biomedical Engineering, OT, PharmD, PA, and PT programs must apply under the Early Action deadline of 12/1.
  • The application fee is waived for all students who apply by 12/15.

~Duq athletic fieldStudents applying for programs in the Liberal Arts, Business, or Music schools do not need to submit test scores, but if they choose to send them in, Duquesne will superscore. Although they like to see recommendation letters and essays, these are optional for most programs except for health sciences which require them. Generally, the university is looking to admit people with at least a 3.0 (although the average tends to be much higher than that), with the Health Sciences needing a higher GPA and scores. Once admitted to Duquesne, students go directly into the program of their choice. Students must audition for the music school, but the university recommends that they apply to the university first. They will get a letter that they’re academically admissible and then will be fully admitted if they pass the audition. If they don’t pass, they can reaudition or talk to the admissions people about transferring to another school.

© 2016

University of South Carolina

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA (visited 4/4/14)

~USC fountainUSC had one of the best organized visit programs I’ve seen; in a way, it has to be with the numbers of people visiting. They had an individualized welcome packet for each person, info sessions in two areas to make it feel less impersonal, and tour guides with a list of people assigned to their tour, partially based on region so they could talk to a student as close to home as possible. My tour guide, a PoliSci and Journalism double major from Burlington, NC, transferred here after freshman year because she wanted a big town feel and liked the idea of being in a capitol city for the political science opportunities. She feels like she has plenty of opportunities for education and recreation; off campus, she likes to go to 5 Points which is like their version of College Town.

~USC flowers 2~USC bikes 2Almost 2/3 of USC’s 20,000 students are from in-state, but they attract students from all states and more than 100 countries. NC, VA, MD, GA, and NJ are the most highly represented states outside of SC. Campus is breathtaking; the central campus has trees, bushes, and flowers everywhere, and students were out enjoying the quad. Although there are major roads surrounding campus, this is very much a pedestrian campus. All students can have cars, and there are garages available which alleviates parking issues and helps maintain the beauty of campus. Campus is highly walkable, and people walking in groups and socializing, but there is a campus shuttle for those who want it. It’s also very safe; the only time our tour guide had heard of anyone using the blue light was when someone who was allergic was stung by a bee and needed an epi-pen.

~USC hammocksQualified students wanting more of an academic challenge can participate in one of two “challenges”: the Capstone Scholars, a two-year program to which applicants are given automatic consideration. The scholars live together in one of the largest residence halls, located in the Humanities area of campus; it looks a little like a “spaceship” which also has a revolving restaurant on the top floor (the only one in SC). They take special classes and take a trip abroad every May (last year it was to Iceland; this year it’s Greece). It is possible to transfer into the Honors Program afterwards. The other option is the Honors College which has been ranked as #1 in the nation. This is a four-year program and is highly competitive, requiring an additional application consisting of six essays and two letters of recommendation. Classes are much smaller; students get priority registration as well as other benefits.

Museum

Museum

Students wanting an “Early Answer” (their version of Early Action) must submit their application AND have all test scores and transcripts in by October 15. They’ll take the highest composite for ACT and superscore the SAT. To be considered for the Capstone or Honors and for scholarships, applications must be in November 15. Scholarships are given to approximately 1/3 of students and are awarded based on GPA and test scores. Since the applicant pool changes every year, they don’t have specific GPA or score cut-offs. Notifications are sent out after 2/1 when the see the complete application pool. Their application includes an “Optional Personal Statement.” The rep said, “Use it!! Here’s an Insider Tip: Tell your story! Brag on yourself a bit. We’re holistic; we want to admit a well-rounded person.”

~USC quad 4Students tend to continue being well-rounded and involved once they get on campus. Last year, students completed 472,152 service hours and raised $1.3million for charity. 1100 students studied abroad last year in 50 countries. All freshmen must live on campus; housing options include 17 Living-Learning Community as well as more traditional dorms. There are 22 dining options in 13 buildings (and they brought us into one of the traditional dining halls about halfway through campus and let us get drinks). About 20% of the students are involved in one of the 40 fraternities and sororities on campus, and housing is available in the Greek Village. They have 400 organizations and an active performing arts community (their theater was used as a Civil War Morgue; theater students do a haunted tour in there every Halloween). Gamecock Pride is huge. Many people participate in sports, and many more go out to support the athletes at games.

They m~USC observatoryake admissions decisions without taking a declared major into consideration, so no major is capped. Students complete a Common Core in first two years so it’s easy to change major or double major. Of the 95 majors, some of the more unusual or noteworthy include:

  • Arts & Sciences: Criminology, Marine Science, Religious Studies
  • Business. International Business #1 in the country for 16 years straight
  • Mass Communication: Journalism is most comprehensive of its kind, including Print, broadcast, and more
  • Engineering and Computing: undergrads can minor in Aerospace Engineering (and stay for a Masters)
  • Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management. Students complete internships at places like Gucci, the NFL, Marriott, Verizon, and the Olympics.
  • Health Sciences: They offer a 6-year PharmD as well as Nursing which is competitive: students are admitted to lower division of nursing and start clinicals in first two years.

~USC theaterOnly 3% of classes have more than 150 students; 75% have fewer than 40. Our tour guide’s classes have ranged from 19-200. Her favorite class so far has been her Environmental Studies class. She liked the practical nature of the education, such as when they walked around campus at night to study the university’s energy usage and see what might be improved. She also loved her National Parks elective because it was so unusual.

The USC campus also houses the National Advocacy Center which trains 15,000 judges, lawyers, and others in the legal profession every year.

© 2014

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