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College Admissions: 10 Western Colleges Worth a Summer Road Trip

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


An extraordinary small liberal arts college, plus Steve Jobs slept here: Oregon's Reed College. Photo: Reed College.

Here on the East Coast, students and their families often focus on the plethora of fine colleges in the Northeast. Middlebury, Bowdoin, Williams and other highly competitive liberal arts colleges have no shortage of Eastern applicants. And while many families know about Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA and USC, few realize that there are some top-notch smaller liberal arts colleges out West. Many of these Western colleges are also in a city vs. their Eastern counterparts in the wilds of New England and upstate New York. So, if you are taking a family trip this summer, here are a few colleges out West that you may want to explore:

The Claremont Consortium

This eclectic alliance of 5 colleges and 2 graduate schools is located an hour from Los Angeles. The undergrad members include: Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, Pomona and Scripps. Enrollment ranges from just 775 students at Harvey Mudd to a little over 1500 students at Pomona. Each college has areas of strength, from writing to engineering, and one is all women (Scripps). Students apply to one college, but may take courses at any. Most students also enjoy bouncing from one nearby campus to another on weekends for sporting events and parties. Admission at all the colleges is highly competitive, with Pomona accepting just 15% of applicants.

Colorado College

This is a unique school with about 2,000 undergrads set in the bustling town of Colorado Springs. Students take courses on the “block plan”, which means that they study one subject at a time for 3 and 1/2 weeks. The average class size is 13, and the school caps all classes at 25 students. Students here love the outdoors and can often be found hiking or skiing during their time off. One-third graduate with a major in natural sciences, although the college is home to fine language, literature and history programs. CC is test-flexible, but you will need a strong GPA to be among the 34% admitted.

Occidental College

If you are looking for a top liberal arts college in LA, look no further. Occidental has a big city location with about 2,000 students, and easy access to the ocean and the mountains. Undergrads often take advantage of off-campus jobs and internships in the metropolitan area. And the warm climate extends beyond the classroom with an abundance of activities to enjoy-- from a popular Glee Club to sports, politics and yoga. With an acceptance rate around 44%, slackers looking for an easy 4 years in LA need not apply.

Reed College

Highly intellectual and quirky, Reed is different than many colleges. Students are very focused on academics and sports are not a popular pastime here. The mood on campus is liberal and most students are driving toward the goal of graduate school. However, weekend parties abound and they are famous for their annual Renaissance Fayre which lasts for 3 days. Set in the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon, Reed is a great place for serious academics to enjoy 4 years. They only accept about 43% of students though, so study diligently if Reed is on your radar.

Rice University

Houston is home to big oil money, cowboys and the elite Rice University. You will study hard at Rice, but as you might guess, Texans also party hard. Rice is renowned for its “Annual Night of Decadence” party. The university has an amazing “residential college” system of dorms which students love, and there is no shortage of on-campus activities. Although famous for their sciences, Rice is strong in most areas of study. With 3,500 students, only 21% of applicants are offered admission.

Whitman College

Walla Walla, Washington may be famous for its onions, but it is also home to Whitman College and 1500 undergraduates. Often described as the “perfect college town”, students adore Walla Walla. Surrounded by the beauty of Washington state, Whitties enjoy great academics, popular intramurals and a friendly campus. Although it is often compared to its counterpart, Reed in Oregon, Whitman is less intense academically and more “sportsy”. Only 47% of students are accepted, and Whitman fills about 20-25% of its entering class during early admission each year.

While all of these colleges are highly competitive, students should consider that many colleges strive for geographic diversity. And while a student from Massachusetts may get stack ranked against dozens of their classmates at a nearby college in Maine, they will rarely find that situation at a western college. So, remember that demographics can be a helpful strategy to employ when considering colleges.

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, college counseling and athletic recruiting services for students. www.collegeadvisorsonline.com.


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