Monday, July 29, 2013

"So You Don't Have To": A Visit to Elmira College


As promised, I will use this space to share my experiences visiting colleges with you. Hopefully you will find these notes useful. If you like the schools I discuss you should do everything you can to visit on your own, but this should tide you over until you can.

In late July I had the opportunity to spend a night and a day at Elmira College in New York's Finger Lakes region participating in an Open House for prospective students and also getting to spend a lot of time with members of the Admissions office, who were happy to tell me everything I wanted to learn about their school.  I was extremely impressed with Elmira; out of all of the schools I have visited in my career I would say that Elmira is one of less than five colleges that I would recommend to everyone without hesitation.

Elmira College At A Glance

Size: 1,200 undergraduates (approximately 67% women/ 33% men).
Programs of Study: 34 majors, 22 minors plus the option to create an individual major. Degrees offered are Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science. They also offer Master of Science degrees in Management and Education.
Sports: NCAA Division III; 19 varsity teams, numerous intramurals
Campus Life: 55 acre campus in the city of Elmira, New York
Costs & Aid: Tuition, room and board and fees total just about $50,000 (tuition is around $37,000).  Parents need to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).   Elmira's financial aid budget of $27 million for 1,200 students is rather large.
Deadlines: Rolling Admissions.  For students committed to attending Elmira, two ED options also exist: Early Decision I (Nov. 15th) / Early Decision II (Jan. 15th)
Tests: SAT or ACT.   Subject tests are not required


Elmira College has a lovely campus lined with tall trees and handsome buildings in the city of Elmira, New York (population around 35,000). in south-central New York state. Elmira College was founded as a women's college in 1855, and was the first institution in America to give women an education equal to that of men. The college went co-educational in 1969. Currently the gender balance is 67% women to 33% men.  

The campus is a mix of older and more modern buildings in a wide range of architectural styles. The majority of academic buildings are on one side of Park Place (a city street bisecting campus), and the bulk of the dorms, the library, the student center and the gym are on the other side. 


Despite the many different looks, the campus has a cohesive feel, and the landscaping is quite lovely. Only "The Towers" (two semi-high rise upper class dorms) look out of place, but they are off at the far end of campus, which mitigates the shock they cause to the campus skyline. 

One thing that the campus lacks is athletic fields. While there is a multipurpose (soccer and lacrosse) field next to the library, and the gym and campus swimming pool are centrally located, the rest of the college's sports facilities are located in three geodesic domes a 15 minute drive from campus.  This is certainly not unheard of (Lehigh University, for instance, has a similar setup), but it definitely makes the campus feel more "academic" somehow, at least to me. 

Benches, picnic tables and statuary abound. There are multiple fountains on campus as well, one of which is filled with chlorinated water; students are encouraged to splash about inside it, and they often do so on warm days.  Elmira seems to value tradition, one of which is the planting of irises. The flowers are omnipresent on campus, and plaques commemorating annual iris planting adorn all of the dorms. The place is lovely, though if you have an antipathy to the color purple, you may want to look elsewhere for your college education.  But on the other hand, if you dig Prince, this is the place for you!


All Elmira students must live on campus all four years, which helps build school spirit and fosters friendships. The college is nestled in the heart of Elmira, which was the home of Samuel Clemens' (a/k/a Mark Twain) wife, Olivia, who graduated from Elmira College. The Clemenses spent their summers in Elmira and it is where Twain wrote many of his classics, including The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Prince and the Pauper in Elmira. Today the city has multiple television stations, a minor-league hockey team, and a theatre (the Clemens Center) which hosts touring versions of Broadway productions. Despite the cultural offerings, most Elmira College students rarely venture into town.  The Student Activities Board is an energetic, well-funded organization which arranges for first-run movies, speakers, musical acts and social activities such as trivia contests (with monetary prizes!) on most nights of the week.  That, combined with numerous sports teams to cheer for and a lot of homework (2-3 hours per every hour of class time) keeps the students on campus.  For those who do want to get away, trips to Ithaca, Watkins Glen, and other areas are occasionally organized. Also, there are no restrictions on car ownership, which nips any cases of cabin fever in the bud.

Elmira College is home to 1,200 students, two-thirds of whom are women. The college is definitely looking to increase the number of male students, and they hope that the addition of a baseball team (which will begin play in 2014-15) will help raise the numbers.  Elmira College students come from 35 states and 31 countries, though about 50% come from New York and many more come from the Northeastern states. Elmira welcomes international students, and makes an effort to help them adjust to college life with a special orientation program.  Currently international students comprise about 9% of the student body.  Along those lines, Elmira is one of the few American colleges that offers scholarships to international students.  

Most classes are small and many have less than 10 students.  According to Psychology Professor Ben Lovett, "At Elmira, 30 is considered a huge class."  Classes are discussion based and participation is impossible to avoid; multiple students mentioned that a reason why they study so hard is to avoid feeling unprepared during class.  The academic year is divided into three sections; Term I is 12 weeks long and begins in September, Term II is 12 weeks long beginning in January, and Term III is 6 weeks long starting in April.  Students typically take four courses in Terms I and II and one intensive class in Term III.  Term III is also when most travel (domestic and abroad) takes place, nearly always as part of a class, led by an Elmira professor.  Term III trips have gone to locations such as:

  • Australia
  • the Bahamas
  • Brazil
  • the Galapagos Islands
  • the Grand Canyon
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • Nepal
  • New York City
  • Turkey
and many others.  If students do not want to travel, there are many courses to take on campus, but approximately 40% of Elmira students study abroad at some point in their careers. 

Elmira is generous with granting Advanced Placement credit, and they allow some courses to count for multiple majors. As a result, many students graduate with more than one major, or a major and a minor. Details of the requirements for graduation are on Elmira's website, but I did want to take some time to point out three aspects that I found interesting: "the Core", the Freshman Writing Course, and "Encore".

Every new student takes "the Core", an interdisciplinary course that combines social science, natural science and the humanities into a multi-cultural exploration of major ideas in human history.  In Term I students take "When Worlds Collide", and in Term II "Order and Chaos".  I am generally opposed to "required courses", but I like it when colleges do programs like this one.  Every new student will be taking a similar class (though led by different professors, and thus reading different material), so they have something in common.  During their first two terms new students also take a course on writing. The class meets three days per week, including a 30-minute long private session between student and teacher. The writing program is designed to improve everyone's writing, and is individually tailored to each student's needs.  I like this because it guarantees that after the first year, Elmira students will have no excuse for poor writing.

Elmira also has a program that is unique in my experience.  While many colleges and universities strive to inculcate an understanding and appreciation of the arts, Elmira's Encore program takes it a step further.  During the first two years, Elmira students are required to attend 6 music, theatre and/or dance performances per term, and to write a 3-5 page paper.  Artists are brought to campus (many from New York City) and give talks and master classes along with their performances so that students will learn about the craft, as well as the art.  All performances on campus are free, and Elmira students can attend shows at the downtown Clemens Center for $5, which is a deep discount from ticket prices for the general public.

The library holds a quarter of a million volumes, and is home to a very large computing center. They have also recently acquired ten e-readers loaded with current titles that students can sign out for two weeks.  According to my tour guide, the library is a very popular place, and nearly everyone uses it regularly. In fact, the majority of freshman dorms are clustered near the library to make it easier for students to study.  The library also hosts the Center for Mark Twain Studies. The entryway to the library holds stickers noting that it is a "Safe Zone" for LBGTQ community members. A later conversation with some students revealed that they found Elmira to be a tolerant place that welcomed all manner of diversity.



As mentioned above, all students (except those whose parents live in the city of Elmira) must live on campus all four years.  Freshman dorms are typical, with smallish double rooms.  Following the first year, student housing is determined by lottery, with the exception of "the Cottages"(pictured at right). These apartment style dwellings are assigned based on points.  Students earn points for participating in the life of the college (one earns points for being on a team, joining a club, etc. More points are awarded if one is a leader of an organization).  After talking to so many people, this seems like a very "Elmira" thing; the college encourages student involvement.  As Casey Smith, a member of the class of 2015 told me, "The clubs are what keep me here" and "it's hard to not be a leader at Elmira".

Elmira College is a "selective" institution, admitting about 75% of every year's applicants.  That said, the Admissions staff works very hard to make sure that they create a class of 300 students who will make the most of the chances the college offers.  In addition to the SAT or ACT (scores average in the mid 500's in all three SAT categories and 25 in the ACT) and the Common Application, Elmira strongly encourages interviews.  The day I was there about 75 families attended the Open House and tour, and at least half of the students took advantage of the chance to be interviewed.  The Admissions staff makes a concerted effort to get to know the applicants, and if they believe that the "fit" is right, they will go to bat to help students get accepted.  Zack Ciaramitaro, a member of the class of 2014 and a leader of the Student Activities Board told me that the "very personal approach" of the Admissions Office made him feel like he mattered, which is what led him to choose Elmira over other colleges. The regular admissions process is handled on a rolling basis, with decisions being issued beginning in early October.  Students who are interested in Elmira are encouraged to apply as early as possible. Those students who are convinced that Elmira is their first choice can apply to one of two binding Early Decision programs.  ED I has a deadline of November 15th (with notification by December 15th) and ED II has a January 15th deadline (with notification by January 31st).


Elmira offers substantial merit scholarships and a very interesting incentive scholarship.  The Honor Scholarships are designed to attract high achieving students.  Class valedictorians and salutatorians can receive full-tuition awards, renewable for three years.  Other scholarships are available for students who combine good GPA's with above average test scores. The program must work, because the college claims that 13% of the student body were ranked number one or two in their high school graduating classes.  Also of note, out of state students who visit Elmira before January of their senior year will receive a $3000 annual scholarship upon admission.  This is a pretty hefty return on the investment it takes to travel to Elmira.  My school is only a two hour drive from Elmira, so you better believe I will be encouraging my students to make the trip to this fall's Open House!

I was knocked out by Elmira College.  This is a place that has been well-managed and everything seems to have been done for a reason.  The newest dormitory (Meier Hall, pictured above) is impeccably built, and features details (like a fitness room in the basement, soundproofed music rehearsal rooms, and a study area next to the laundry room) that could only have come from students.  Even the picnic tables dotting the campus come from student input requesting more seating areas. I also loved Elmira's commitment to long-standing traditions--their new non-denominational chapel is covered with stained-glass windows depicting each one.  For instance, students are given a beanie hat on their first day of orientation bearing their year of graduation.  They wear the beanies throughout orientation (culminating in a tug of war versus the seniors) and then wear them again the night before they graduate.  Having attended a college with nearly no traditions, I find customs like this to be quite charming.

Elmira College is a good place for people who seek challenge and the opportunity to become better students and to be exposed to a wide array of educational and cultural opportunities.  For students seeking a small college where they can have close, mentoring relationships with their professors, Elmira should be high on the list.  Students interested in sports (several teams are highly competitive, and the women's ice hockey team just won the national championship), community service (there is a 60-hour service requirement) and leadership (opportunities abound long before one's senior year) would do well to consider Elmira.   Seek out Elmira's representative if they visit your school or local college fair, or schedule a visit to see the campus if you think you are interested.  I think you will be impressed. Please share your thoughts about Elmira in the comments below, and good luck on your college search!



Thursday, July 11, 2013

"So You Don't Have To": A Visit To Oberlin College



As promised, I will use this space to share my experiences visiting colleges with you. Hopefully you will find these notes useful. If you like the schools I discuss you should do everything you can to visit on your own, but this should tide you over until you can.


In early July, while passing through Ohio, I had the chance to visit Oberlin College. As I mentioned in my previous review of Case Western Reserve University, the students at the school where I work in Northeastern Pennsylvania are largely unaware of colleges and universities in Ohio; I hope these blog posts can help to change that. Please note that the following summary will mainly discuss the liberal arts experience at Oberlin; if you are a talented musician, and are considering auditioning for the Oberlin Conservatory, you will want to make sure to take a tour focusing on that experience.


Oberlin College At A Glance

Size:
2,900 undergraduates (2,300 in Arts and Sciences and 600 in the Conservatory)
Programs of Study:
50 majors, plus the option to create an individual major. Degrees offered are Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Music and a 5-year double degree program leading to a Bachelor of Arts AND a Bachelor of Music degree.
Sports:
NCAA Division III; 22 varsity teams, numerous intramurals
Campus Life:
440 acre campus about 35 miles west of Cleveland
Costs & Aid:
Tuition, room and board is a little under $60,000 (tuition is around $46,000).  Parents need to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student AidAND the CSS Profile (a product of the College Board which costs some money).  Oberlin will meet 100% of demonstrated aid.
Deadlines:
Early Decision I (Nov. 15th) / Early Decision II (Jan. 2nd) / Regular Decision (Jan. 15)
Tests:
SAT or ACT.   Subject tests are not required


Oberlin College has a lovely, tree-lined campus in Northern Ohio about 35 miles west of Cleveland. Oberlin has a long history of commitment to equality and social justice; it admitted women and black students in the 1830's, over a century before that was true in most of the country. Oberlin is known as one of the most "liberal" liberal arts colleges in America.  Having graduated from Hampshire College, which takes a back seat to no one in the contest for "most liberal" campus, I found Oberlin to be a welcoming, friendly place.  Despite some well-publicized harassment incidents in recent months, the college's commitment to diversity and progressivism is unabated.

The campus is a mix of older and more modern buildings but it has a very cohesive feel. The bulk of the campus buildings are within a few blocks of each other in the heart of the small town of Oberlin (population around 8,000). There are also extensive playing fields and woods. Despite Cleveland being an easy drive away, it is apparently not a popular destination, because there is so much to do at Oberlin.  Over 500 (mostly free) concerts, 30 plays and 3 operas are held on campus each year, and with movies, sports, and more than 200 student organizations many Oberlin students find themselves challenged to take advantage of all the offerings presented to them. If you are worried that you will get cabin fever, don't worry.  While cars are "actively discouraged" for first-year students, a large percentage of the student body have automobiles so you can probably get a ride from a friend.
The College is home to around 2,900 students, which means that Oberlin College is pretty much the biggest thing going in town.   55% of undergrads are women, and 45% are men (which is pretty close to the national average of 57% women to 43% men). Most classes are small (fewer than 30 students) and many have less than 10 students.  Classes are discussion based; my tour guide proudly noted that "professors challenge you to read and to speak" and that most Oberlin students eagerly rose to the challenge.  There is no core curriculum, though students must take two courses in each of three distribution areas (Humanities, Social Science and Natural Science).  The main library holds over 2 million volumes, and there are separate libraries for art, music and science.  The library is so central to the student experience that the college president holds weekly office hours there, which sounds pretty cool.

Oberlin students are very busy with their studies and extra-curricular activities.  Besides the normal semester schedule, they are required to do three "Winter Term" projects in January (though most do four). These projects can be academically or personally enriching, and can range from learning an instrument, traveling, or doing an internship. During one Winter Term, a student invented a monitoring system that shows at a glance whether the current water and electricity use of a building are above or below average. The displays are located around campus to encourage students to be aware of their use of energy resources.  Students can also apply to teach their own classes through the "Experimental College Program", which is a very nice option.  I had the chance to teach a class during January Term when I was in college, and it was that experience which clarified my desire to become a teacher.

The learning and living facilities at Oberlin are excellent. The science building has more laboratory space than classroom space, and several buildings (including a dormitory and the music building) are LEED certified.  One really awesome space was the environmental science building. Primarily powered through solar electricity, the Lewis Center (no relation) also boasts a "Living Machine" which uses plants to recycle the building's waste water.  As a result, the building is carbon positive, generating more energy than it uses.  The facility is run by students, who have launched a "poop campaign" paying their peers a quarter for every time they use the building's toilets. As my tour guide pointed out, the quarters come in handy on laundry day, and you have to go anyway!

Most activities on campus are student run, and music is omnipresent, from the practice rooms to the recital halls to the radio station, to "the world's largest collection of jazz recordings".  There are 11 varsity sports each for men and women, including swimming and diving, track and field, and field hockey. Numerous intramural and club options also exist for people seeking to indulge their competitive urges. Varsity teams are part of the North Coast Athletic Conference and mostly play other colleges from Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois

Oberlin requires students to live on campus for three years, but housing is guaranteed for all four years. The dorm rooms are spacious. There are three main dining halls on campus, which get 50% of their food from local sources. Additionally, about one-fifth of students participate in co-operative housing, or the "Program Houses" organized around languages or cultures where like-minded students can live.  In these houses students are responsible for cooking and cleaning and essentially for running the building. There is no explicitly "freshman" housing, so everyone lives together, which I find to be more healthy. Dorms are co-ed, and the bathrooms can be, too.  They have the very interesting "E-system", which lets the current occupant of a restroom determine whether it will be for men, women, everyone or private during the duration of her/his stay.  Pretty neat!

One other amazing option at Oberlin is the art rental program. For $5 per piece, students can rent original artwork from the collection of the college's art museum to keep in their rooms for the term. And I'm not talking finger painting here, but actual masterworks from Picasso, Chagall, Mapplethorpe and others. The program has been in existence for decades, and none of the pieces have ever been damaged or stolen, demonstrating the kind of trustworthy community fostered at Oberlin.

Oberlin College is a "most selective" institution, admitting about 33% of its applicants.  The College's financial aid budget is a very healthy $57 million and aid packages average $35,000.  75% of Oberlin students receive some kind of aid. Oberlin is committed to meeting 100% of demonstrated need for all applicants, including international students (though there are fewer dollars for allocated for international students). As noted above there are three deadlines, November 15 for Early Decision I, January 2 for Early Decision II and January 15 for Regular Decision.  Note that ED programs are binding, which means that they are for students who consider Oberlin to be their number one choice.  Applicants must submit scores for either the SAT or the ACT, and most accepted students score around 700 in each category of the SAT (the writing section is ignored) and around 30 on the ACT.  Applicants use the Common Application, with an Oberlin supplement.

According to the admissions office, a range of students come to Oberlin, but the best fit is a student who is bright and intellectually curious, with a real love of the arts (visual and performing) and concern for the environment.  Oberlin students have a strong commitment to community service and "doing good in the world".  Students who have demonstrated strong interest in Oberlin are preferred, so if you are considering Oberlin, a visit of your own would be a good idea. 

Oberlin is a very interesting school that would be a great place for the right student.  Its history is amazing, the campus is lovely and northern Ohio is a very nice place to live, with nearby Cleveland offering all the benefits of a major metropolitan area. Seek out Oberlin's representative if they visit your school or local college fair, or schedule a visit to see the campus if you think you are interested.  I think you will be impressed. Please share your thoughts about Oberlin in the comments below.  And good luck on your college search!


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"So You Don't Have To": A Visit to Case Western Reserve University



As promised, I will use this space to share my experiences visiting colleges with you. Hopefully you will find these notes useful. If you like the schools I discuss you should do everything you can to visit on your own, but this should tide you over until you can.

At the end of June I had the chance to pay my first visit to the city of Cleveland, Ohio. While I was there I toured Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), and found it to be as impressive as its reputation would indicate. Working as I do as a college counselor in Northeastern Pennsylvania, I've found that many of my students tend to overlook the Buckeye State when researching colleges.  Based on what I've seen, I will encourage them to reconsider that approach in the future.  To quote legendary rocker Ian Hunter, "Cleveland Rocks"!

Case Western Reserve University At A Glance

Size: 4,300 + undergraduates
Programs of Study: 87 majors, minors and interdisciplinary opportunities, including intriguing options such as "Aerospace Engineering", "Gerontological Studies", and "Nutrition"
Sports: NCAA Division III; 17 varsity teams, 13 club teams, 20 intramurals
Campus Life: 150+ acre campus in the University Circle area of Cleveland
Costs & Aid: Tuition, room and board is a little over $56,000 (tuition is around $40,000).  Parents need to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application forFederal Student AidAND the CSS Profile (a product of the College Board which costs some money).  Limited need-based aid is available to international students.
Deadlines: Early Action (Nov. 1st) / Regular Decision (Jan. 15)
Tests: SAT or ACT.   Subject tests are not required

Case Western Reserve University has a large campus in the University Circle section of Cleveland. It is about 5 miles away from the stadia of the Indians baseball team and Cavaliers basketball team, and about 6 miles from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Browns stadium.  Cleveland has numerous well defined neighborhoods, and University Circle is one of the nicest.  It is three blocks away from the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic (a mammoth medical complex that sprawls over several city blocks) and contains CWRU, the University Medical Center, the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as the Museum of Art, the Western Reserve Historical Center, the Cleveland Institute of Music, and the Cleveland Botanical Garden.

The campus features a surprising amount of green space, is bicycle and pedestrian-friendly, and is steps away from the Little Italy neighborhood and its many shopping and dining options. Students also receive free passes on Cleveland's public transit system to facilitate travel to and from internships and other opportunities in other parts of the city.   For families concerned with safety, the campus police were out in force during my visit (on a Wednesday morning) and my tour guide said that it is held to be true that "you can't go five minutes without seeing a campus police patrol".  This definitely seemed accurate to me. In short, if you are looking for a relatively safe urban campus with easy access to a plethora of cultural, educational, and social experiences, CWRU may be for you
The University is home to around 4,300 undergraduates and a little more than 6,000 graduate students.   56% of undergrads are men, and 44% are women (which is practically the opposite of the national average of 57% women to 43% men). Despite the size, about three-quarters of classes have fewer than 30 students, and 59% have under 20.  Classes with more than 30 students are videotaped and the video is available for up to five years to facilitate studying. CWRU emphasizes interdisciplinary learning and seminar style classes; in fact, students must participate in the SAGES (Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship) program for all four years, culminating in a senior capstone project.

Case Western students can study in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Case School of Engineering, the Bolton School of Nursing, and the Weatherhead School of Management. Each feature highly-ranked programs; during the info session we were told that CWRU has "the #25 ranked medical school, #12 program in family medicine, #9 program in social work, #8 program in health law, #13 program in international law, #8 program in biomedical engineering, #5 private nursing program, #15 accounting program and #1 finance program."  I've previously noted that one should take college rankings with a grain of salt, but they are still helpful indicators of program reputation, if not quality. One should definitely dig deeper than these numbers, but I was impressed when they pointed out that nursing majors get twice as many clinical hours compared to the national average.  I was also intrigued by their "Spring II" course for Juniors: following a term-long exploration of a global issue, students accompany their professor for a 2 week trip to the country they studied.

Case Western Reserve University is justifiably proud of its academic heritage; the Chemistry building has a large exhibit featuring all of the faculty members who have won the Nobel Prize. Their heritage of scientific discovery goes back over a century, and the Michelson-Morley Experiment is commemorated in multiple locations on campus.  They also have an apple tree that is a scion of the tree under which Newton supposedly sat when he began to conceive his theories of gravity. But they also have a sense of humor.  On the tour we were shown the physics building, which has the names of famous physicists prominently displayed over the windows.  We were told that the building was built before Albert Einstein gained international prominence, so his name is omitted; but across the quad is an Einstein Bros. Bagel restaurant to try to make up for it!

During the information session we were told that the university has over 150 student organizations, including 50 performance groups, 11 media organizations, 16 religious organizations, 24 multicultural and international groups, 20 community service groups and 22 fraternity and sorority chapters.  Nearly a third of all students participate in Greek life. Athletically, the Spartans compete in the NCAA Division III University Athletic Association against schools such as NYU, U of Chicago, Washington U of St. Louis, and RIT.  Inexplicably my tour guide did not show us any of the athletic facilities on campus, so I cannot comment on the gyms or sports fields.  The website gives some information, but if you are interested in sports or recreational athletics you may want to request a special tour of the facilities if you visit.

Case Western has multiple residential options.  Students are required to live on campus for the first two years. First-year students live in "residential colleges" organized by themes, such as "Growth Through the Arts", "Knowledge Through Multiculturalism", "Engagement Through Sustainability", or "Leadership Through Service".  I think that themed houses are a super option for college living, and I am very impressed that CWRU makes this available for their first-years.  It can be hard to move away from home to live with strangers; themed housing helps make it more likely that students will live with compatible people.

In addition to the residential colleges the new upper class dorms are LEED certified, featuring many energy-saving features and suites of 2 to 9 people. The dorms are spacious and well-equipped. One super-cool feature was the television screens in the lobbies of the buildings updating students on the current status of the washers and dryers in the laundry rooms, as well as the arrival times of the local buses.

CWRU is a "most selective" institution, admitting just under 40% of applicants.  Over 80% of students receive need-based aid, which is made possible by an endowment of over $1.5 billion. As noted above there are two deadlines, November 1 for Early Action and January 15 for Regular Decision.  Applicants must submit scores for either the SAT or the ACT, and most accepted students score between 600-700 in each category of the SAT and between 29-33 on the ACT.  Applicants use the Common Application, with a Case Western supplement.

According to the admissions office, a range of students come to CWRU, but the best fit is a student for whom academics are the top priority, seeking a campus that is "urban, but not too urban".  Case Western students are focused, and very few come as "undecided"; while many change their minds over time, approximately a quarter of incoming students arrive planning to be pre-med or nursing majors. People who want to explore multiple areas of study are welcomed and encouraged; Case Western Reserve University prides itself on giving lots of freedom to its students. 

This was a very interesting place that seems to have something for everyone.  Its history is amazing, the campus is lovely and boasts seven libraries with millions of volumes; the main undergraduate library has 60 miles of books!  Cleveland is an underrated and often ignored city, but it has a lot to offer. If you are considering Case Western Reserve University you should note that they encourage visits; in fact they find that the enrollment rate is much higher for students who visit than for those who do not.  I'm sure that part of this comes from seeing the great location and facilities first-hand.  Please share your thoughts about Case Western Reserve University in the comments below.  And good luck on your college search!


Monday, July 8, 2013

"So You Don't Have To": A Visit To The University of Chicago



As promised, I will use this space to share my experiences visiting colleges with you. Hopefully you will find these notes useful. If you like the schools I discuss you should do everything you can to visit on your own, but this should tide you over until you can.

At the end of June I was in Chicago to visit some colleges.  The day after I saw  DePaul University I took the trip to Hyde Park to take a look at the University of Chicago. Besides knowing that the University is one of the most selective in the country (accepting about 1 out of every 6 applicants), I did not have a lot of information about the school.  I will share what I learned on my visit below, along with some pictures that I took on the tour. I have to note at the outset that this was about the worst tour I've ever been on--I can't believe that they are always this bad; supposedly there were 215 visitors that morning, so maybe they were a bit overwhelmed.  If you are interested in the University of Chicago I encourage you to make your own visit if at all possible. 

University of Chicago At A Glance

Size:
5,000 + undergraduates
Programs of Study:
58 majors, minors and interdisciplinary opportunities, including intriguing options such as "Chicago Studies", "Fundamentals: Issues and Texts", and "Big Problems"
Sports:
NCAA Division III; 19 varsity teams, 30 club teams, 40 intramurals
Campus Life:
250+ acre campus in the Hyde Park area of Chicago, right along Lake Michigan
Costs & Aid:
Tuition, room and board is just south of $60,000 (tuition is around $42,000).  Parents need to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student AidAND the CSS Profile (a product of the College Board which costs some money).  The University is "need blind" and guarantees to meet 100% of demonstrated need.
Deadlines:
Early Action (Nov. 1st) / Regular Decision (Jan. 2)
Tests:
SAT or ACT.  The SAT writing section is ignored.  Subject tests are not required

The University of Chicago has a large campus in the Hyde Park section of Chicago (South Side) along Lake Michigan.  It is about seven miles south of the Loop.  When I visit urban colleges I like to use public transportation since that is what most students will do.  To get from my hotel in the Loop (right by the Art Institute of Chicago) I took a bus ride which lasted for about 40 minutes (lots of stops).  Coming to the University from downtown one doesn't really enter Hyde Park, but you do ride through the Bronzeville section of the city. This section was the heart of the "Great Migration" of African-Americans to Chicago in the years after World War I, at a time when the "Harlem Renaissance" was happening in Chicago just as much as it was in New York.  There are lots of historic sites in Bronzeville, and many interesting murals on buildings.  Unfortunately, it is not a prosperous area (it was the home of the disastrous Robert Taylor Homes housing project).  To get to the Hyde Park neighborhood requires going around to the other side of the campus.  Hyde Park (the home of the Obamas) is one of the most desirable upscale areas of Chicago, but it was not part of my tour. If you visit, I encourage you to take some time exploring Hyde Park.


On the day I visited the campus was the site of major renovations, which apparently happens every summer.  There are no signs anywhere on campus directing people to the admissions office (which is not labeled as such) so I spent a lot of time wandering around (along with a family from New Jersey) until I found it.  On the journey I passed other people asking for directions to the library.  It is a shame that they do not have campus maps on display.

Like DePaul, Chicago uses a quarters calendar, which enables students to take more classes over four years than they would at a school using a semester schedule. In fact, the extra classes are why 25% of University of Chicago students do a double major.  One-third of classes are part of the core curriculum, one-third are in the student's major area, and one-third are electives.  The core curriculum is a hallmark of the University, and is described in this .pdf. The goal of the Core is to give every student "a common vocabulary of ideas and skills". During the info session I learned that the University of Chicago prides itself on the "life of the mind", and boasts that their students are "constantly learning". While this is generally true at every college, it is definitely emphasized here; between the info session and the tour the phrase "life of the mind" was used at least six times.

The University is home to around 5,000 undergraduates and an equal number of graduate students.   51% of undergrads are men, and 49% are women (which is quite different from the national average of 57% women to 43% men). Proximity to graduate schools yields numerous research opportunities for undergrads, which is pretty cool.  Nearly all undergraduates live on campus (housing is guaranteed for all four years).  Dorms are integrated, meaning that all classes live together--there is no "freshman housing" as such for first years.  Houses are administered by graduate student "resident heads" who we were told are "like your cool aunt and uncle".  Having had a cool aunt and uncle, I know what to expect, and I suspect that the dorm staff at U Chicago would be a let down, but that's just me.

For a school that emphasizes academics, the tour was remarkably disappointing--we were not taken into  any academic buildings, nor were we shown dormitories or libraries.  Maybe they don't have libraries---no, just kidding; they have multiple libraries.  It would have been nice to see them first hand, but for now the website will have to suffice.

During the info session we were repeatedly told that, "contrary to rumor, the University of Chicago is not the place where fun goes to die".  Emphasis was placed on the 400+ student organizations, and the fact that most students participate in athletics.  The University competes in the NCAA Division III University Athletic Association against schools such as NYU, Case Western, Washington U of St. Louis, and RIT.  Interestingly, we were shown the athletic center, pictured at right.  While no mention was made of this, fraternities and sororities appear to be an increasingly big part of campus life, with over 20 Greek organizations competing for student membership. About 8% to 10% of students are in fraternities and sororities.  We were also told about the campus-wide scavenger hunt that is an annual feat of competition, one-upsmanship and smarty-pants cleverness between the houses.

In addition to being one of the most selective universities in America, U Chicago is also among the richest, with an endowment of over $6.5 billion.  This financial stability enables them to be need-blind in admissions.  What this means is that the ability to pay has no influence on one's admission.  Furthermore, the University guarantees to meet 100% of the need of domestic and international accepted students. According to the financial aid website, the average student receives $37,500 in scholarships. Additionally, their "Odyssey Program" guarantees to replace Federal loans with University grants for all families who earn less than $75,000 annually. Because of this, if for no other reason, outstanding students from lower income families should consider the University of Chicago; the chance to get a world-class education without going into debt is increasingly rare.

One other thing that I thought was noteworthy.  About half of students receive need-based aid, which indicates that the other half come from fairly well-off families.  As I mentioned, I took the bus to campus, and when I left the majority of passengers were not students (though it was a Saturday in June, which may not be a realistic basis for a judgement). During the tour, when asked how students get downtown, my guide said "it isn't hard to get a cab" and "most students have cars".  While this may have just been a personal idiosyncrasy, it led me to wonder whether there may be a sense of privilege among the University's students and a reluctance to engage with the community.

As noted above there are two deadlines, November 1 for Early Action and January 2 for Regular Decision.  Applicants must submit scores for either the SAT or the ACT, and most accepted students score over 700 in each category of the SAT and over 32 on the ACT.  According to the info session, the high school transcript is the most important piece of the application portfolio; they seek evidence of students who took the most rigorous curriculum possible, with A's and B's and an upward grade trend.

For years, the University of Chicago was famous for it's "Un-Common Application", but now they welcome students to use the Common Application, but with a twist.  In addition to the standard Common App essay, applicants have three other written pieces to submit.  During the info session we were told that "60% or more of applicants look similar" (meaning that they are high achieving students with great test scores), and that the essays are the tool that the admissions office uses to help gauge the "fit" between the student and the school. The first supplemental essay asks "Why are you applying to the University of Chicago?"  They seek specific details and a high level of familiarity with the school.  This is further reason why a visit is advisable. An optional second supplemental essay asks students to "discuss your favorite things".  This is a chance to go in depth about something the student has a passionate interest in.

The third supplemental essay is where the "Un-Common Application" still echoes.  It is a place for an extended essay on a very quirky, deliberately vague theme.  Some examples that were shared with us include:

  • "Tell your favorite joke and explain it without ruining it"
  • "Find x"
  • "Where does Waldo really live?"
  • "If you could dissolve anything, what would it be and what would be the solvent?"
  • "How do you feel about Wednesdays?"

Clearly this last essay is where creativity, cleverness and thoughtfulness will be at a premium.  In summary, if you apply to the University of Chicago, don't save the essays for the last minute!


This was a very interesting place that cried out for a better tour.  Its history is amazing, the campus is lovely and they boast a faculty with eight Nobel Prize winners.  I have no doubt that it provides a good education, and Chicago is a great city in which to attend college. If you are considering the University of Chicago you should note that they encourage visits and interviews (alumni interviews can be arranged if travel is impossible).  Please share your thoughts about the University of Chicago in the comments below.  And good luck on your college search!


Sunday, July 7, 2013

"So You Don't Have To": A Visit to DePaul University


As promised, I will use this space to share my experiences visiting colleges with you. Hopefully you will find these notes useful. If you like the schools I discuss you should do everything you can to visit on your own, but this should tide you over until you can.

At the end of June I was in Chicago, and while I was there I paid a visit on DePaul University.  I didn't know too much about DePaul (besides it's famous basketball history), and no students from my school have applied there for four years, so this seemed like a good opportunity to learn more about DePaul. I really enjoyed my visit; in the following paragraphs I will provide a summary of the information presented at the information session, along with pictures I took during my tour. 


DePaul At A Glance

Size: 16,000 + undergraduates
Programs of Study: 275 academic programs.  Ten schools and colleges, including Business, Communications, Computing and Digital Media, Liberal Arts & Social Sciences, Science & Health, Education, Theatre, Music, New Learning, Law
Sports: NCAA Division I (Big East); multiple intercollegiate club teams and intramurals
Campus Life: Two campuses in Chicago; one in Lincoln Park and the other in the Loop.  Suburban campuses for non-traditional students. Only 3,000 students live in campus housing.
Costs & Aid: Tuition, room and board is just south of $50,000 (tuition is around $33,000).  Parents need to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  Many merit scholarships are available based on academic achievements, special talents and service and leadership.
Deadlines: Early Action (Nov. 15th) / Regular Decision (Feb. 1st)
Tests: Test Optional

DePaul has two primary campuses; the main undergraduate campus is in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, while some of the graduate programs are in the heart of downtown Chicago's Loop district.  Lincoln Park is on the North Side of Chicago, one neighborhood south of Wrigleyville, home of the Cubs.  Every student spends time at both campuses; to facilitate this start time for classes at the two campuses are staggered by 40 minutes to allow students to travel from place to place. 


The Lincoln Park campus has a large "Welcome Center" which houses the undergraduate admissions; the admissions office in the Loop is for graduate students and transfers.  In addition to the large lecture hall pictured at right there is an expansive seating area (with complimentary beverages) and tons of literature about each of DePaul's majors. 

I visited DePaul on June 28, 2013, which also happened to be the day of the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory parade. According to reports, more than a million people flocked to the Second City to celebrate; I don't know if this made the audience at DePaul bigger or smaller, but there were around 60 people at the 2:00 info session, and the group was broken up into 6 different tour groups.  Only one of the visitors was wearing Blackhawks gear, which was not the case in the rest of the city!

During the info session I learned that DePaul is the largest Catholic university in America, with an undergraduate population of over 16,000 and total enrollment of around 25,000.  The presenter also made sure to point out that the university is "among the most diverse" schools, with 32% of the student body being people of color.  DePaul was founded in 1898 by the Congregation of the Mission, and is named for St. Francis de Paul. Like their namesake, the university places a strong premium on community service.  They are proud of having over 100 community service programs, and there is an office on campus devoted to helping match students with the right programs.  In addition, many  courses have a community service component. 

This commitment to service is serious.  Students "with an exceptional record of community service" will be invited to apply for one of several community service and leadership scholarships of $8,500.  Please note that scholarships are only available to students who apply Early Action!  In addition to these scholarships, I was struck by a truly unique (in my experience) housing option.  Each year a small group of students is given free room and board to live in the Vincent and Louise House. As it was explained during our tour, these students open their doors to the community, and feed anyone who comes in.  It must take a very special person to be so dedicated.  Many students at my school volunteer at the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen in nearby Wilkes-Barre, but this is several steps beyond that.  My hat is off to those young people who "live simply so that others may simply live".

At the undergraduate level, despite having 16,000 students, DePaul prides itself on professors teaching 100% of the courses--no classes are taught by graduate teaching assistants.  In the info session we were told that the average class size is 17.  During the tour, on the other hand, we were told that in certain areas (such as the humanities) the average could be more like 25-30.  Supposedly no class is larger than 70.  When I was a graduate teaching assistant at Purdue University in the 1990's, we had history classes of over 300 people, so in comparison 70 is pretty reasonable. 

You can see the areas of study listed above; students do not have to declare a major until the end of their second year and 45% enter "undecided".  Some highlights that were mentioned included a 5 year BA/MA program in the College of Education (where students begin their fieldwork in the first year); pre-med, pre-vet and pre-dental programs in the College of Science & Health; and the College of Computing and Digital Media, which is the "largest in the country".  DePaul bills itself as the "most transfer friendly" university in Illinois, and they "love AP credit".  45% of students do an internship prior to graduation; to help with this, there are generally no Friday classes. DePaul is organized on a "quarters" system, as opposed to the traditional semester system.  There are four 11-week long quarters (summer is optional); as a result, students take 8 more classes over four years than their peers at colleges with semester schedules.  This helps many students to double-major or to have a minor in addition to their major. 

Sports-wise, DePaul is well-known for their basketball programs (men and women); they do not have a football program.  As a varsity softball coach, I was pleased to see a very large sign near the multi-sport stadium that houses softball and soccer advertising the DePaul nine (who made the Big East semi-finals this year. The Blue Demons (whose name is an interesting choice for a Catholic school) offer 6 varsity teams for men and 7 for women.  In addition to the Division I athletic programs, DePaul boasts numerous other activities, including club ice hockey, and esoteric clubs such as the skydiving team ("Freefall DePaul") and innertube waterpolo ("The Sassy Seahorses").  Recently there has been some controversy over the $300 million new basketball arena that will open downtown in 2015.  Critics decry the $100 million contribution from a city that is closing dozens of schools and firing hundreds of education professionals.  But to be fair DePaul is also opening a brand new library and a "state of the art" new theatre building in 2013; so the institutions priorities are reasonably straight. 

The Lincoln Park campus is compact, covering 8 square blocks and is only a 12 minute walk from end to end.  It is in a residential area and there are shops nearby, but it is not what I would consider a "destination location" like the Loop (where DePaul's buildings are all within a couple of blocks of each other).  Students are given passes on the Chicago Transit Authority trains and buses which helps them to take advantage of their location in one of the greatest cities in the country.  On-campus housing is limited, optional and not guaranteed; as mentioned above, less than 20% of students live in Lincoln Park or the Loop (where the university students occupy 5 stories of a high-rise shared with other colleges).  Only 75% of freshmen live on campus. Lockers for commuter students are located throughout campus, which must help a little.  

The Lincoln Park campus features a very nice student center that houses offices for student organizations, lounges (with more lockers), a small chapel and several very attractive dining options. The meal plan is good for $1000/quarter but the money does not roll over--as a result students often come in for binges at the end of the term to use up the money in their accounts.  Speaking of student accounts, DePaul students get $12 worth of printing per quarter on network printers. That works out to 15,000 pages per quarter, or in English: there is no need to bring your own printer! Another helpful service is a campus shuttle service that runs from 6pm to 6am; this can be a great benefit on a cold Chicago night!

DePaul seemed like a very friendly, welcoming helpful place. While this should be expected in admissions offices, it is not always the case.  In addition to the admissions staff, I saw friendly smiles in every building.  As we left the science building, we were joined by an older woman wearing the uniform of a food service worker.  She heartily welcomed us to DePaul and asked if anyone on the tour was a science major.  When nobody replied in the affirmative she said what a shame it was that she wouldn't see us, but she urged us to come back and "visit Miss Brenda anytime".  I love those kind of interactions, as they are genuine and human and also indicate that the school might be a nice place to work (or at least has happy employees). 

As noted above there are two deadlines, November 15 for Early Action and February 1 for Regular Decision.  Early Action is for students who really have their act together, because the deadline is, well, early!  Remember though, that most merit scholarships are awarded to EA applicants, which could serve as incentive to get started quickly (though there are still some funds available for students who meet the regular deadline).  De Paul is test optional, meaning that standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT are not required.  That said, the average SAT of students accepted in 2012-13 was 1100-1200 (Critical Reading and Math), or 24-28 on the ACT.  Students applying test optional must complete four supplemental essays, which can be time consuming and challenging, but is a great choice for good students who do not test well.  DePaul uses the Common Application and they place a lot of weight on the essay(s).  They consider the transcript to be the most important part of the application and look for an upward grade trend throughout one's high school career. 

If you are interested in visiting DePaul you should note that they encourage "customized visits".  On a customized visit the prospective student is given a CTA pass, access to the dining service, sits in on classes and gets a meeting with a professor of their choice.  DePaul is worth a visit.  I look forward to telling my students about this school, which I now consider to be something of a "hidden gem".  Please share your thoughts about DePaul in the comments below.  And good luck on your college search!


"So You Don't Have To": Notes From Visits to Colleges

Despite the date above, this post is continuously updated to include links to all of the posts in my series "So You Don't Have To".  Thanks for reading!

In my role as a college counselor I have visited many colleges and universities all over America. For the past couple of years, I have written detailed blog posts about these visits here on the blog. I call the series "So You Don't Have To", because I try to describe the experience of attending the information session and taking the standard campus tour.  That said, if you find these colleges interesting I strongly encourage you to visit them in person, if at all possible.  

The following is a list of the colleges and universities in this series, as well as some brief information about each. Please note that information about deadlines and costs were accurate as of the date I wrote the post, but have undoubtedly changed--to be sure you should check on the institution's official website. I hope you enjoy reading these articles!


  • Guilford College-A small, somewhat selective private college in Greensboro, North Carolina.
















I cannot stress enough the importance of visiting colleges. Students and their families who are engaged in the college search process are contemplating making one of the most expensive purchases of their lives. Just like you wouldn't buy a house or a car based only on a marketing website, choosing a college without setting foot on campus is not recommended. That said, sometimes visits are difficult (or impossible) to schedule due to distance from home, cost or other factors.  This is one reason why an experienced veteran college counselor is a valuable asset. 
For those of you who have never gone on a college visit they typically include an hour-long "information session" in the admissions building, and depending on the size of the school may be held in anything from a small conference room to a large auditorium.  Nearly all info sessions include a PowerPoint presentations, and many now include professionally shot videos describing the college.  During the info session the presenter (usually an assistant or associate director of admission) will discuss the size of the school, the fields of study available, activities and other fun things to do on campus, as well as something about the admission timetable and requirements (such as standardized tests).  There is often time allotted for questions, and since these sessions are designed to appeal to students and parents alike, don't be surprised if most of the questions are asked by someone's mom instead of by prospective students.

Either before or after the info session you will have the chance to take a tour of the campus on foot, led by a current student who works for the admissions office. This tour is very important, and can often "make or break" a family's decision. During the tour the guide will walk backwards while pointing out important campus locations, sharing personal anecdotes and giving her perspective about why you should choose her college.  This backwards walking trick is cool, and you can always tell the people who are taking their first tour, because they usually gush their admiration of the tour guide's ability to walk backwards and talk at the same time. Perhaps I am jaded, but it takes a lot to impress me.  The bar was set by my tour guide at George Washington University, who was BLIND!  He walked backward with his white cane, and counted his steps while talking. He always knew where he was while leading us over several city blocks in downtown Washington, D.C. After that, even the best tour guide will be fighting for second place.

Remember that in nearly every case the route of the tour is established by the admissions office.  It is typical to see the gym, a "typical" freshman dorm room, the library, a "typical" classroom (especially if there is an awesome, expensive, high-tech new academic building to show off) and a dining hall.  It is also likely that campus security features will be highlighted to assuage the fears of the parents. You should feel free to ask questions about what you are shown, and also about what you are NOT shown.  I always get suspicious of colleges that do not take tours into dorms or the library. Similarly, ask the admissions office for a voucher to eat at the dining hall--tasting the food in advance can be very helpful at decision time. Also, the tour assumes the physical ability to walk long distances, climb hills and stairs, and keep up with a fast-moving group.  If you or a member of your party has a disability that will impede the ability to take the normal tour, call ahead and schedule a special tour; the admissions office will almost always be able to accomodate you. Finally, I encourage you to take photos during the tour; especially if you plan to visit multiple schools, as they will help you keep track of important features.

At my school,  each of the counselors visits multiple colleges every year to be able to expand our "college knowledge" and to be able to give good advice to students who may not be able to travel.  I have usually written detailed summaries of my visits in memos to my colleagues, but from now on I will publish them on this blog for everyone to see. I will avoid trying to make judgements about the schools and will instead focus on summarizing what was presented during a typical tour and information session.

I hope you like this series, and encourage you to leave comments.  And remember, that despite the tongue in cheek title of the series, this should not serve as a substitute for a physical visit if you have the chance to make one.  Colleges place great weight on "demonstrated interest"; if you take the time to visit their school, it will mean a lot to them and may redound to your benefit come decision time!