This past summer, I visited Muhlenberg, Lafayette, Vassar, Bard, and Skidmore colleges in Pennsylvania and New York. During these visits, I met officials, toured campuses, and spoke with students. I want to share with you what I learned and include a short video about each college for you to learn more.
Why visits to these colleges? Families are often attracted to colleges that appear regularly on national media in sporting events. These events often highlight wildly cheering crowds and the college’s most attractive features. However, many of the colleges that serve students best do not get that kind of media coverage, yet they deserve our attention and respect. I try to discover for myself and my families those colleges where becoming better at thinking, being, doing, and problem-solving is not an accidental occurrence.
I was excited to visit Bard College. I had read and heard that it is a place for thinkers, artists, and doers who want to learn and grow. My tour guide talked about what it takes to graduate from Bard more than about how to gain admission, which I found refreshing. Bard’s woody campus is 100 miles north of NYC, along the Hudson River. The intensity of interaction between students and faculty is impressive. “Moderation”, their process for students being accepted into a major, involves a review of one’s academic work in the chosen discipline and a discussion with professors about one’s goals. This may account for the well-spoken, creative, and worldly students there. When I left Bard’s campus, I was not disappointed. Bard Video: youtube.com/watch?v=bT3RtghMyLk
At Vassar College, I was not fully prepared for the beautiful buildings that could inspire one to learn. The “open curriculum” means that students have almost no required courses. Vassar’s proximity to New York City (80 miles) and train station nearby, allow students access to cultural and professional resources there, but it is far enough away that students’ social lives are focused on the campus community. Vassar provides strong programs that began when it was built for bright women, yet through five decades of coeducation, the College’s impressive curriculum, students, faculty, and facilities have grown tremendously. Vassar Video: youtube.com/watch?v=FRTXIyW1Ygg
Skidmore College is located in Saratoga Springs, a hub for education, horse racing, arts, and spas featuring the area’s mineral springs. Founded in 1903, the college was rebuilt 60 years later, on a 1000-acre campus, one mile north of downtown. The modern buildings have advances sometimes missing in older, historic ones. At Skidmore, students can pursue demanding studies yet maintain their wellbeing by engaging the region’s activities and natural beauty. Skidmore tends to attract students who fully engage the outdoors and pursue the strong academic programs offered there. Skidmore Video: youtube.com/watch?v=PFOBZBiof8U&t=5s
Lafayette College combines liberal arts and sciences with a robust engineering program and Division I athletics on a campus with about 2,700 students. Its location in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley is within 1.5 hours of New York and Philadelphia, which provides students with access to vast resources and opportunities. Yet, the spaces on Lafayette’s campus seem well-designed for reading, writing, and problem-solving. This summer, the campus was a flurry of construction projects, signaling the end of a successful capital campaign intended to expand its facilities, student body, and faculty. Lafayette Video: youtube.com/watch?v=HdQTvAkb8sw&list=PLrvAg2NIL5eP3_5x83fPHgzdIBHwU38WK&index=2&t=0s
Muhlenberg College encourages interdisciplinary study and students there typically pursue multiple majors or minors. The students I met spoke about their schedules in which they balanced engaging many interests and talents. The Allentown, PA campus has an urban and suburban vibe given its location in the state’s fastest growing city in the Lehigh Valley with nearly 1 million people. The red doors on campus buildings created a welcoming feel. Enthusiastic faculty and area residents help sell out Muhlenberg’s outstanding performing arts events. Muhlenberg Video: youtube.com/watch?v=kVJPnR3R8ao
As your family plans campus visits, take the time to explore each college carefully. Ask good questions plus take pictures and notes to help you distinguish each college later. If possible, have a meal on campus, this may allow you to talk with students, faculty, and staff. Do not just accept market-tested messages from the admissions (sales) office! Instead, behave like journalists–collecting information and documenting experiences so that you can make good decisions for your future.