LAC safeties/matches

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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: LAC safeties/matches
By Astarblaze (Astarblaze) on Friday, August 27, 2004 - 08:10 pm: Edit

My college list is very top heavy, and I'm having a difficult time finding safety schools that I would enjoy attending. Any suggestions?

1600 SAT
790/750/610 SATIIs writing/lit/math 2c (definitely retaking the math in oct with some other tests)
4.13 weighted average
class rank 3/251
will have taken 7 aps (all that are offered) by graduation

good (not super) ecs in music, esl tutoring, outdoors environmental volunteer work, a research project, a few other things

dream schools:
Whitman (in WA state)

I'm looking for a good, well rounded lac, strong language/environmental science/international relations/music programs if possible, access to mountains, hiking, backpacking, in a warm to freezing type climate (i.e. not really hot).

By Garland (Garland) on Friday, August 27, 2004 - 08:38 pm: Edit

You'll get into a bunch of the ones you listed, but for a real safety, how about Bard?

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Friday, August 27, 2004 - 08:53 pm: Edit

As long as you put together a solid application (read "The Gatekeepers"), I don't see any reason why Colby and Smith shouldn't be very solid likelies. The #4 (out of 225) ranked student in my daughter's decent public high school got into Bowdoin this year, so I would say that many of the schools on your list (Carleton, Oberlin) are not really reaches. I don't think Brown, Williams, Amherst, and Dartmouth are going to depend on the strength of your overall application. Have to categorize them as reaches for just about everyone, but I think you'd at least be in the running.

If you want some true safeties in addition to Whitman, you might look at Mt. Holyoke and some of the LACs from #25 through #50 on the USNews list -- Skidmore and the Pennsylvania schools (Gettysburg, Dickenson, etc.)

BTW, I'm not sure that Brown meets your geographic criteria all that well. It's an urban school in Providence and not really all that close to the mountains or spectacular hiking.

By Mini (Mini) on Friday, August 27, 2004 - 09:00 pm: Edit

Languages programs at Williams are traditionally weaker than the rest of the program. Amherst music isn't nearly as strong as Smith's (nor its environmental sciences.) But these are all great schools. Music at Middlebury and Colby are not superb - they may be enough, though. But taken together, the 5-College Consortium has much, much more music than any of the other places, except Oberlin, and that only if you are in the Conservatory. (We researched this one HARD).

I'd second Bard and Mt. Holyoke as safeties (my d.., with very, very similar interests and ec's, used it that way, and both offered her very substantial merit aid and need-based packages.) Overall, I'd say Mt. Holyoke has more - it is larger, and it has the 5-College thing.

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Friday, August 27, 2004 - 09:16 pm: Edit

I'd also say that you can safely consider Whitman to be a safety. Just remember that you don't need the same type of safety that someone with an 1100 SAT and a 3.2 average needs. Don't know if you've looked at it, but you might be interested in Dickinson in Pa. as a safety - exceptional language programs (they claim to graduate the most language majors of any school in the US) and simply amazing international programs.
Best of luck!

By Momrath (Momrath) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 03:33 am: Edit

For another safety idea, I'd recommend Hamilton: a good, well rounded lac, strong environmental science/international relations programs and access to mountains, hiking, backpacking. I have no idea about music or language there, though. Your list is reasonable with matches as well as reaches, quite attainable, especially if you're considering ED. You really only need one safety so you can sleep nights. Do some thorough research, apply to the one that most appeals, then put it out of your mind.

By Jamimom (Jamimom) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 07:39 am: Edit

With your stats, your list looks pretty good. My only suggestion is not to ignore your safety schools as they are only safeties if you show some demonstrated interest in them and can see yourself at those schools. If you are going to apply to all of those schools, and cannot find the time to do this, I suggest replacing a few with a school that is an absolute safety--usually a local school or state school that requires little courtship during the app period.

I say this because each year I am seeing schools that should be safeties/matches increasingly using demonstrated interest as an important criterion and kids are just very transparent in referring to schools as their safety. Their body language, facial expression, their voice tones do not take a psychologist to figure out that a school is "just a safety". Ideally, a safety is a school with easier admit numbers that still captures a student's imagination and is a realistic choice. Reality is that it does not work that way.

Now you look like much thought went into your list and your safeties are well chosen. If you can give all of those schools the attention they need, you do not need an absolute safety as your stats dictate that any school is really a match for you and most are safeties. So it is really up to you and how you are going to tackle the app process. I think you do have an excellent list.

By Voronwe (Voronwe) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 09:22 am: Edit

Why isn't Bowdoin on your list? My nephew goes there - it is higher ranked than Middlebury, more kids belong to the Outing Club (lots of mountain hiking) than any other, their Environmental Science program is absolutely stellar, as is its government program, and the climate is not hot!!!

By Dave72 (Dave72) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 02:19 pm: Edit

Oberlin looks like a very good match for you, strong in all the curricular areas you list (a brand-new environmental science building, for example, and excellent music opportunities for College as well as Conservatory students). No mountains in northern Ohio, unfortunately, but otherwise I'd say it fits your interests particularly well.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 02:29 pm: Edit

>> I think you do have an excellent list.

I agree. It looks like a good list to me, too. The reaches are reasonable, there are good solid matches, and a couple of schools that are legitimate safeties with a well-contructed application.

By Astarblaze (Astarblaze) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 03:53 pm: Edit

Thanks everyone for the comments and suggestions.

Garland and Mini- I hadn't looked much into Bard before, so I don't know much about it, only that its extremely liberal (which I wouldn't mind), has a good music program (this is a conjecture) and looks to have access to hiking and other outdoors activities. Anyone know about the immediate decision plan? Any other comments on Bard?

Mount Holyoke has been on and off of my list. What makes it different from Smith? The Northampton area greatly appeals to me, despite being a little less close to the outdoors compared to the more rural areas of other schools I am looking at.

Carolyn and Interesteddad- Dickinson looks promising, although I am worried about the prevalence of frats and sororities. Any idea of how big a role the Greek system plays on campus? How big is alcohol?

Brown does not meet much of my criteria at all. However, my parents' best friend's father is an alum of the school. We stayed with them to visit the school, and I really liked the atmosphere- friendly, funny, happy students, and much freedom to design one's unique educational path. I've been debating whether to leave the school on my list.

Bowdoin and Hamilton both appeal to me. However, I don't think they would really be safeties- more like good matches. Despite having good stats, it seems like admissions these days- at least at the more competitive end- depend more and more on the roll of dice, and how well your application is packaged, and I'm just afraid that my roll won't turn up on the right die face, if you understand what I mean. So I do think I need at least another safety- I will apply to at least one state u- my counselor is pushing for me to apply to all three-but I don't consider any of them real safeties because I do not seriously want to attend any of them. But thanks for the vote of confidence.

Jamimom- I agree with the importance of demonstrated interest. All the schools on my list are places I feel I would be very happy attending. Carleton, Oberlin, and Whitman I have yet to visit, but from all that I have heard and read, I would enjoy studying at all three. How much interest do I need to express besides what I put in the application? I do not know if I will be able to visit Whitman, the only school I consider a real safety, because of travel costs, so how important is a visit and interview? Perhaps an alumni interview would suffice. I believe they would realize, from my stats, that their school is a "safety" for me, but it's not "just a safety," and I don't want to give off that impression.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 04:47 pm: Edit

>> Mount Holyoke has been on and off of my list. What makes it different from Smith?

It's easier to get into. Holyoke would be a pure safety for you, plus it's a really good school.

>> Dickinson looks promising,

I honestly know very little about Dickenson. My daughter added it to her list as a drop-dead safety because a) they had an early notification date so she would have something in her hip pocket if she had been rejected ED at Swarthmore and b) they indicated an interest in giving her serious coin. Her overall list was realistic and we did not ever seriously consider that it would come down to Dickenson as her only option.

>> Bowdoin and Hamilton both appeal to me. However, I don't think they would really be safeties- more like good matches.

Bowdoin is a solid match for you and I would be surprised if you didn't get in. Hamilton would be a safety, based on the class rank of a couple of kids in my daughter's class who got in. It's not THAT selective. They aren't going to turn down a top 2% of the class, 1600 SAT kid unless your essay is about your secret life as a serial killer. Bates, in Maine, would also be a safety.

BTW, I wasn't trying to dissuade you from Brown. It's a superb school. It just doesn't fit the rural outdoorsy criteria you set.

By Mini (Mini) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 05:14 pm: Edit

So Bard, Mount Holyoke, and Smith are schools we really researched in depth. I'll do them as I find time. Here's Bard:

Bard is in a beautiful location. It is small, in a fantastically beautiful location, and virtually all upper division courses are just 2-3 students. Students are required to be very conscious of taking charge of their education - not just selecting courses, but writing about and consulting with faculty regarding what they intend from their education. (I think this is a really good thing.) Students tend to be "arty", in a New York sort of way. Very little athletics to speak of (my d. and I used to joke about the sports teams as the "Flying Botsteins). Lots of individual attention in the sciences. Huge studio arts. My friend Joel Kovel teaches in the environmental studies department, giving it a significant "eco-leftwing" tinge -- if you want to do forestry management, this is less likely to be the place (though I know they have it, too.) The music faculty is strong and famous -- Joan Tower, the 2nd most famous woman composer in the United States teaches there, as does the eclectic opera composer Richard Teitelbaum. The Colorado String Quartet is permanently in residence. And there's a lot more! The new Frank Gehry performing arts center is awesome. And the college, traditionally poor, has just doubled its endowment. They have their own foreign study programs in Russia, in South Africa, and in Budapest (I think.) And writers! Bellow, Achebe, Ashberry, and a bunch of others - all teaching undergraduates! Harvard can't match it!

Negatives: location -- while beautiful, it is very, very isolated. 25 minutes to even a small town. Some students like that - I'd go stircrazy. It is very insular. My d. met a graduate student in music composition (her specialty) from Princeton, a Bard grad., at a symposium this summer. He said (this is just one person's opinion) that while Tower and Teitelbaum strongly encouraged musical expression, he really felt lacking in the basics of theory after graduating, and had to play catch-up. The student orchestra is very small (30-35 players), the chorus also small. And Tower travels a lot, and is getting on in years - I don't know if this should be a concern or not. Also, if you are on financial aid and going abroad: Bard will only allow your financial aid to follow you if you go to one of their programs -- which are rather offbeat (no western Europe, etc.) And finally, while the endowment has just doubled, they are clearly playing catch-up in facilities in everything from dorms to library (which is tiny.) Still a fine school.

More later.

By Palomino (Palomino) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 06:06 pm: Edit

Dartmouth and Middlebury seem to fulfill nearly all of your criteria. They both have really nice campuses in rural areas, and have good language programs (especially Midd). Dartmouth has the Ivy prestige.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 07:30 pm: Edit

>> Students tend to be "arty", in a New York sort of way.


That is a wonderful turn of phrase. I know exactly what you mean and it is probably an excellent description of Bard. I would think that the same phrase would be apropros for Vassar as well, although to a lesser degree than Bard.

By Mini (Mini) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 08:31 pm: Edit

So...Mt. Holyoke. First impression, besides its beauty - is diversity! 15% of the student body is from abroad (the highest undergraduate percentage of any high-ranking college or u. in the U.S.) Many from countries in the Middle East, and Africa. And almost a quarter of the student body is on Pell Grants (bottom 35% of the U.S. population financially), third among liberal arts colleges to Occidental and Smith. They have put a lot of energy into racial, economic, and international diversity, and it shows. (Much, much more diverse than Bard.) They give out a lot of needbased aid, and some merit aid as well. They also have a program for older women (smaller than Smith's.)

Programs match diversity. They are basically the lead college of the 5-College Consortium in Arabic language studies, they have the nation's first (I think) combined Kosher-Hallal kitchen. The dean of religious life (a personal friend of mine for 25 years) has put in long years working on interracial and interreligious dialogue issues.

Mt. Holyoke has some extremely strong academic departments. Traditionally, they are very strong in the sciences, especially chemistry (funny - at Smith it's biology). Strong foreign languages. Writing programs with some famous writers and poets. As I remember, the nation's first environmental studies department (don't know how strong it is.) Strong in international relations and history. In other words, top notch academically. There are distributional requirements (not a bad thing in my book, but you should note them), a language requirement (I think), and a phys. ed. requirement.

National equestrian team champions many times. Beautiful campus with waterfalls. Weird Victorian gothic architecture. Don't know much about their outdoors club.

The music department is pretty good. The voice prof - whom we know -- has trained several topflight professional singers. The department head is very genial. And Mt. Holyoke houses the 5-College Professor for Early Music (with whom my d. is to be doing research.) Orchestra is only 3 years old, I think. Library is very nice. And of course, everything is expanded by the availability of 5-College offerings, though it should be noted that they are the furthest college out from the center (Northampton).

My d. got the sense of very serious academic work going on. At the same time, I think she thought (in contrast to several other places) it was a little, how shall I put it, sleepier. One gets the sense of it being quiet - though neither she nor I was there long enough to really know.

By Mini (Mini) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 09:03 pm: Edit

On to Smith -- obviously biased here - that's where my d. is going. We'll see if I maintain this bias a year from now.

It is also a little unfair. Smith was the only place (outside of Williams, where my d. knew the music dept. chair and I'm an alum) that actively recruited her with more than offers of money (which was extremely generaous in both merit aid and needbased assistance). Apparently, there are 7 or 8 candidates they isolate each year, and go after them hard, and my d. won the lotto. I later found out from an adcom that they thought they were competing with Harvard (not knowing that my d. didn't even apply.) She got a call at home from the college pres., and they rolled out the red carpet, down to designing a research assistantship to meet her needs. Would you be one of those? I wouldn't know....

In contrast to Mt. Holyoke, the big impression I got was one of it being "happening!". Everything was just "alive". I've written about academic characteristics elsewhere, so I won't repeat. But I would note that, with your scores, you are likely to be a STRIDE scholar. Each year, they take their top 45 or so candidates and offer them paid research assistantships for the first two years. Originally, these were just in the sciences, to give women a leg up later in grad. school admissions, but have now extended to the humanities and social sciences as well. They give you a choice of who you will work with or on what, and as noted , in my d.'s case, they actually created something. The STRIDES get together periodically to discuss and present their research, and for networking for internships, etc.

Smith has a very active outing club, with lots of "stuff" - and my d. is currently on an Appalachian trail backpacking trip with them as her orientation activity. It is the center of the 5-college consortium for most musical activity (in fact, this past term, a well-known Amherst prof. taught his course on the Smith campus, probably to increase enrollment.) Same is true for dance. There is a well-known government department, and a "Semester in Washington" program.

One of Smith's jewels is its western European language departments, especially French and Italian (it actually has a graduate program in the latter.) They have the oldest and best established JYA programs in western Europe (Paris, Geneva, Florence, and Hamburg) and, unlike many at other schools, they require a full two years of college language study before joining them, and instruction is in the language of the country, with students "pledging' to use only that language.

Smith also has the most economically diverse student body of any first tier private college or university in U.S. other than Occidental, and spends an enormous amount on needbased aid as as a result. Finally, the library is HUGE (1.5 million volumes, not counting what can be had through the 5-colleges - I think this is the largest of any liberal arts college, and more than double that at Williams, if that matters to you.)

Hope that helps.

By Robyrm (Robyrm) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 09:07 pm: Edit

How about Colorado College...if you are willing to look in the West it might suit as a "safety"..can't beat the location, but you might not care for the block system.

By Mattmom (Mattmom) on Sunday, August 29, 2004 - 10:51 am: Edit

Bates is also well worth considering; if you are visiting Bowdoin and Colby you should certainly see Bates, too. It has a very pleasant atmosphere, meets most of your criteria, and should be a reasonable match for you, on same level more or less as Colby.

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