Category Archives: College Visit

Veritas, flannel and the Development of Western Civilization

On a recent road trip to the Northeast, we made a pit stop at my husband’s old stomping grounds, Providence College. Here’s his trip down memory lane…

It’s any Tuesday morning in October in the mid-1990s and flannel is king. Hootie & the Blowfish are sure to outlive The Rolling Stones and define a generation. They can’t miss. Right? These are the things I’m concerned with as I begin the trek from Fennel Hall up toward main campus and ultimately to class. But not just any class; it’s the heart and soul of the academic experience for all students who have called this institution home since 1971. I am talking about what outsiders to Providence College refer to as “The Development of Western Civilization.” What near outsiders call “DWC.” But to us, it will always just be CIV. Ah. CIV.

Any discussion of the quality or uniqueness of a Providence College education, as well as the essence of the Providence experience, must begin with an understanding of CIV. CIV truly is the lifeblood of my alma mater, and remains one of the most unique offerings of any college or university in the country. CIV is a comprehensive study of the development of Western Civilization, meeting five days a week for your first two years at Providence. Each group, or CIV team, is headed by a panel of professors representing the key areas of focus for the program: History, Philosophy, Religion, Art & Literature. Students are required to complete 16 CIV credits in their first four semesters on campus (I won’t even mention that fact that it was 20 credits when I was there and these students don’t know how easy they have it!). It’s fair to say that students at Providence have a love/hate relationship with CIV. It is demanding. It can be all consuming. But there is absolutely no question that it is an amazing program. And while 18-year old me does not want to hear this, it is the source of some of most my cherished college memories. Maybe I needed to get out more, but there was something special about that shared experience. Knowing that all 1077 of my classmates were in this with me, scrambling to find a unique angle on the relevance of Plato’s Cave to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I am certain no other college offers a program so comprehensive and so unifying to its students. To this day when I meet a fellow Providence alum, whether they graduated in 1975 or 2015, our secret handshake is CIV.

While CIV is the school’s centerpiece, it is certainly not all Providence College (affectionately known as “PC”) has to offer its 4,300 undergrads. Not even close. Providence College was the nation’s first college to offer a bachelor’s degree in Public and Community Service Studies. The college was founded by and conducted under the auspices of the Dominican Friars. The Catholic identity is hard to miss. Sunday night mass is standing room only (or at least my roommates told me they were) and service is a big component of the student experience. While at PC, I volunteered with the Chad Brown Boys & Girls Club and the Providence Plan Housing Corporation. I was certainly not alone, as almost everyone I knew was involved with some kind of organization off-campus. Students have the opportunity to serve through a number of curricular and co-curricular programs, including FriarServe which pairs Providence College volunteers with five Providence Catholic Pre-K – 8 schools.

The school is nestled less than 2 miles from downtown Providence, RI, one of the best kept secrets in the northeast. With the city as its backdrop, students enjoy limitless social and cultural activities. And with Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) a mile from the edge of campus, the entire city takes on the feeling of an extended campus.

Of course, no discussion of Providence College would be complete without a discussion of our rich sports history. In 2017, Time Magazine ranked Providence as the 28th best college in America for sports fans. The Friar Faithful ranked higher than some traditional sports powerhouses such as: Florida State, Penn State, Villanova & Michigan State. Providence College fields 19 varsity athletic teams. All are NCAA Division 1, and all compete within the Big East (with the exception of men’s & women’s ice hockey which compete in Hockey East – hockey’s Big East equivalent). Providence has enjoyed immense success in all sports but has recently flourished in men’s basketball (having participated in the NCAA Tournament each of the last 5 years under beloved coach Ed Cooley) with the future looking brighter than ever. Men’s hockey also enjoys both a storied past to match a successful present. The Friars were the founding members of the mighty Hockey East Conference, which was the brainchild of then Providence Head Coach, Lou Lamoriello, for whom the Hockey East Championship Trophy is named. Providence College has maintained the commitment to hockey excellence outlined by Lamoriello. This culminated in 2015 when the Friars won the NCAA Division 1 Hockey National Championship, defeating Boston University 4-3 in the title game.

This summer, I had a chance to revisit. It had been a long time since I’d stepped foot on the campus and while some things have changed (much less flannel and Slavin got a nice facelift, that’s for sure!), the fundamental components that make Providence College unique (its Catholic identity, rich sports history and of course CIV) remain intact. Veritas!

A Visit to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)

Our family trip up north this summer offered up the opportunity to spend an afternoon at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). It was a campus visit unlike any other.

The RISD Admissions office had multiple rooms packed with high school students eager to learn more. Isabelle Sanchez, Class of 2015, led my information session and is clearly passionate about her alma mater. She described RISD as an organically collaborative community where you will be surrounded by fellow students who are as passionate and eager to talk about art as you are.

A few of my key take aways from the visit:

  • First year is about experimental and foundation studies – all students take two liberal arts classes per semester and are encouraged to explore (3D, charcoal drawing, spatial dynamics and more).
  • You can receive your Bachelor of Fine Arts in four years or your Bachelor of Architecture in five.
  • First years get first pick of classes during the five-week winter semester which could take you across the world on a study abroad program (perhaps the European Honors Program or RISD in Seoul) or to Los Angeles for an internship.
  • While RISD offers >300 liberal arts courses, you can cross-register to take courses at Brown beginning your second year.
  • Speaking of Brown, you can apply to get a dual degree (BA/BFA) in five years. Getting in is very competitive as you must be separately admitted to both schools and then selected by a committee. Only 15-20 students are offered the opportunity every year.
  • The Nature Lab (the coolest part of the tour!) offers unmediated access to natural history specimens (puffer fish, human bones, coral and so much more) for inspiration.
  • The RISD Library includes a student-curated section.
  • While on a huge hill (the tour was quite the workout in the heat!), the campus is very walkable and in the heart of downtown Providence. With your RISD ID, you’ll have full bus access to the entire state.
  • The MET dining hall is every vegan’s dream.
  • You will apply via the Common App. In addition, you’ll submit a SlideRoom portfolio of 12-20 images of your work and complete the RISD “Assignment” (choose one of three words – Error, Forge, Verify – and create two visual responses and a written reflection). As for your essay, don’t write about art! The school knows you are interested in art and wants to learn something else about you.

Interested in art and design and wondering what else should be on your college list? Besides RISD, consider the following*:

Art Center College of Design

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

California College of the Arts

California Institute of the Arts

The Cooper Union

Kansas City Art Institute

Maryland Institute, College of Art

Massachusetts College of Art

Moore College of Art and Design

School of the Museum of Fine Arts (MA)

North Carolina School of the Arts

Otis Institute of Art and Design

Parsons School of Design

Pratt Institute

Ringling School of Art and Design

San Francisco Art Institute

Savannah College of Art and Design

School of Visual Arts (NY)

*Source: Fiske Guide to Colleges 2018

A Visit to George Mason University

Nestled in suburban Fairfax, VA, not far from the heart of DC, George Mason has much to offer a variety of students in the crowded Virginia & DC college and university market. The largest public research university in the state of Virginia, students at GMU take full advantage of its location which affords countless educational, professional and social opportunities.

Internships in the nation’s capital are only 20-30 minutes away by metro which means that 85% of students gain crucial experience and begin building their professional networks before they graduate. Given its Tier 1 research institute status, the National Institute for Health is one of the many prestigious employers who recruit heavily on campus.

GMU has a nationally-recognized engineering program, including the only cybersecurity engineering program in the country. The Nguyen Engineering Building leases office space to many large corporations, offering additional internship opportunities right on campus.

Other notable disciplines include a 5th year accelerated accounting program, an accredited forensic science program, a competitive dance major (only 20 students accepted each year) and a nursing program, which will be housed in the brand-new Health and Human Services building.

An Honors College is available to top students allowing them access to Robinson Faculty (distinguished professors in the liberal arts and sciences) and a Living Learning Community. LLCs, as they are known at GMU, are collaborative partnerships between departments, faculty, housing and residence staff. Students participating in an LLC take one or more classes together and live on campus as a group, in a common dorm. In addition, groups of students in LLCs engage with peers, faculty and staff coordinators through numerous extracurricular projects and activities. The University Scholars Award, George Mason’s largest merit scholarship, covers full tuition and is offered to 10 in-state and 10 out-of-state students.

While it’s only been 40 years since GMU formally separated from the University of Virginia, it is now the second largest residential campus in Virginia. Historically a commuter school (74% live off campus), that status seems to be evolving with options available to those who want the on-campus experience. In addition to Living Learning Communities, GMU offers 350 student clubs, 22 NCAA D1 teams and Greek life, although only a small percentage of men and women go Greek. While campus might not be a hub of activity on the weekends, students are able to take advantage of the benefits of living in the greater DC area.

George Mason should not be overlooked for its growing athletic tradition either. They field more than 20 Division I teams, made up of 458 student athletes. The Patriots made national headlines during the 2005-2006 NCAA tournament when the men’s basketball team shocked the sports world by making it to the Final Four. During their run, George Mason found itself a significant underdog in each game before upsetting Michigan State (who had made the previous year’s Final Four), North Carolina (the defending National Champions) and UConn (the tournament’s #1 seed). The Patriots eventually lost in the National Semi-Final game to the University of Florida, which went on to win the tournament. The season was historic by any measure and is widely considered the best tournament run by a “mid-major” conference team in NCAA history. George Mason, which entered the season predicted to finish 6th in the small Colonial Athletic Association, finished the year as the 8th ranked team in the country.

Melissa Bevacqua, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, described GMU as “authentically diverse”. While 80% of the 36,000 students hail from the state of Virginia, GMU students come from 137 countries and almost all 50 states. The admissions office is focused on growing its international and out-of-state student population. As a result, the school is score optional for out-of-state non-engineering students with a GPA of 3.3 or higher. In addition, the university is proud of its mission of access, reporting that half of the current students started their college career at a two-year institution before transferring and that underrepresented students perform just as well there and after graduation.

All of these characteristics come together to create a unique learning environment and opportunity for the right student. George Mason seems to embrace its underdog status in the crowded landscape of Virginia colleges and universities. And rightly so. Whether you are a student looking to transfer from a two-year institution, or a more traditional applicant who is looking to gain real work experience and benefit from the proximity to DC, George Mason University is a great option. And one that will not be overlooked much longer.

A Visit to Elon University

Despite having approximately 6,000 undergraduates and 700 graduate students, Elon feels like a much smaller liberal arts college. My tour guide, Wil, is currently in his senior year, majoring in finance and accounting. He is a tremendous ambassador for the university and did a great job sharing all that Elon offers. Here’s what I learned…

At the center of Elon’s educational philosophy is the belief that learning happens everywhere. As a result, their signature program, the Elon Experiences, offers a natural extension of the work done in the classroom. Students are required to complete two units of experiential learning which may be done through Study Abroad, Research, Internships, Service and/or Leadership. Based on the numbers, it’s clear that students take advantage of the offerings beyond the basic requirements. Of recent grads, 74% spent at least one term abroad, 92% took part in at least one internship, 24% conducted faculty-mentored undergraduate research outside the classroom, 47% held at least one leadership position and 92% engaged in service. Other highlights of the academic programs:

  • For those interested in pursuing professions in medicine, there are two designated human donor labs for undergrads and a pre-health advising system.
  • Engineering is offered through a 3+2 program which supports students in working toward two degrees: one from Elon and one from an engineering university. The school currently has affiliations with North Carolina State University, Georgia Tech, Pennsylvania State University, Virginia Tech, Columbia University, University of Notre Dame, Washington University in St. Louis, University of South Carolina and North Carolina A&T State University.
  • Through the Mooney School of Education, students spend their first year observing and their last year teaching in a classroom. The school has a dedicated library on the first floor. Outreach to the community can be done through the Village Project which offers the chance to tutor English or Math in the local schools.
  • All students receive an academic advisor on day one of freshman year. A new one is provided once a major is declared.
  • All students are assigned a dedicated librarian. The Belk Library offers space for group work along with writing and tutoring centers.
  • About 20% of students study in the School of Communication and it’s easy to see why. The new building overlooks tiny downtown Elon, NC and includes a state-of-the-art studio donated by Brian Williams of NBC which produces several TV shows staring and produced by Elon students. Strategic Communications is the most popular major on campus.
  • The business school is expanding but classes are relatively small and capped at 33.

I had the opportunity to meet Kate Upton, Assistant Professor of Finance, when we were touring the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business. When I asked her what she liked most about her Elon experience, she said it’s the value that the school places on mentorship. Mentoring students isn’t just encouraged; it’s something on which professors are evaluated.

The student body is 42% Greek but it’s predominately made up of sororities. Wil is not in a fraternity and said that not joining may have impacted the development of his social life initially but he does not feel that not participating in the Greek system has held him back. He did say that not going Greek might be more of an issue for females than males.

College Coffee is a cherished tradition on campus. Every Tuesday morning, the community comes together for conversation over coffee and pastries. Another Elon tradition is the lighting of the luminaries during exam time in the lead up to the holidays. Elon was named after the Hebrew word for oak and two traditions have developed in celebration of these roots. New Student Convocation for first year and transfer students is held “Under the Oaks” behind West Dormitory. Each new student receives their own acorn at the close of the ceremony to symbolize their beginning at Elon. At graduation, each student receives an oak sapling which symbolizes their growth at the university.

Students are required to live on campus and participate in the meal plan for two years. Wil is so fond of both that he is participating all four years. Food must be good! In addition, to offering seven residential neighborhoods, Elon also offers 26 living learning communities to enable groups of people with shared interests and goals to live together. Examples include Gender & Sexuality, Leaders in a Global World, Interfaith House, Creative Arts and World Languages.

Elon offers several need and merit based scholarships. In addition, the university offers six Fellows Programs which include additional scholarship opportunities. To be considered, students must submit an additional Fellows application which will be reviewed by faculty committees. If selected, you will be invited to attend Fellows Weekend during which students participate in a seminar and write a response to the topic discussed, interview with faculty and attend information sessions about the program. From this weekend-long process, Fellows are selected.

According to Wil, diversity is an initiative of major importance to university president, Leo Lambert. The school is proud to have achieved 20% racial and ethnic diversity in the Class of 2020. In the summer 2017 edition of The Magazine of Elon, Lambert says that the school is “now in the early stages of meeting the next great long-term challenge for Elon: building our endowment for the primary purpose of increasing student financial aid”. Earlier this year, Lambert announced that he was stepping down after 18 years. Wil described Lambert as personable, said that he’s done a good job of representing the student body and has helped the school to gain name recognition.  During Lambert’s presidency, applications for undergraduate admission have doubled, enrollment has grown from 4,000 to more than 6,700, and full-time faculty numbers have increased from under 200 to 425. During this period of growth, student academic credentials increased, average class sizes dropped and the student-faculty ratio decreased from 16-to-1 to 12-to-1. In the days following my visit to campus, Elon announced Dr. Connie Ledoux Book as the university’s ninth president.  Dr. Book comes to Elon from The Citadel where she served as Dean & Provost, the first female to hold either title in The Citadel’s 175-year history.

Rankings are an important component of the university’s branding and marketing efforts. Elon has successfully transformed itself from a regional, religious college to a selective, nationally recognized university. It will be interesting to see how the university evolves under the leadership of Dr. Book in the years to come.

A Visit to Wake Forest University

It was a beautiful fall day in NC when I visited the Wake Forest campus. The trees had not yet turned dozens of shades of oranges and reds but the air had shed the weight of summer’s humidity. I stopped by Byrum Welcome Center to listen to the morning’s Information Session, hosted by Thomas Ray, Wake’s Coordinator of Diversity Admissions. Thomas is an alum and he maintains the passion of an undergrad for his alma mater. The takeaways from my visit are simple: Wake Forest could truly be a fit for a variety of different students. It is small enough to be manageable but large enough to provide a diversity of coursework and extracurricular activities.

Walking the campus, you can’t help but notice the gorgeous Georgian-style buildings. With 350 acres, it’s big but manageable on foot. While the university does have several graduate programs, the focus here is clearly on the undergraduate experience and the building are arranged to that end.

While the campus is beautiful, it’s the students who make this campus come to life. Although not mentioned during our info session, Greek life is a big part of the social scene at Wake Forest. 35% of men and 57% of women go Greek. The Student Involvement Fair is a great way to understand everything else that Wake offers from bass fishing and a cappella to Christian drama and sustainability.

Wake Forest’s motto, Pro Humanitate (For Humanity), is a calling for students to use their knowledge, talents and compassion to better the lives of others. That calling seems to permeate every aspect of the campus and the experience at Wake Forest. One in four undergrads participates in Wake N’ Shake, a 12-hour dance marathon that benefits cancer research ($336,000 was raised in March 2017). While wandering the campus, I stopped by a table where a student was encouraging people to sign up for Project Pumpkin, which provides a safe trick-or-treating option for area youth. This year’s theme is Heroes vs. Villains. Another popular option among students is a service mission program called Wake Alternative Break. During the week, students will focus on a social justice issue, engage in readings, reflections, and blogging and participate in direct service. Since 2003, students have “Hit the Bricks” around Hearn Plaza to raise money for the Brian Piccolo (Wake Forest ’65 and the subject of the multiple Emmy winning “Brian’s Song”) Cancer Research Fund which benefits the local Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Comprehensive Cancer Center.

We can’t talk about Wake without talking about sports. Wake is part of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and is one of the smallest school in the division. The school has 48 ACC Championships in 11 sports. Enthusiasm for Wake sports can be measured in toilet paper. Students, alumni and other fans take to “rolling the quad” to celebrate athletic victories. While Wake Forest is known nationally for their basketball success, the Demon Deacons have made waves in football as well; in 2007, they exceeded all expectations and earned a bid to the prestigious FedEx Orange Bowl. The men’s soccer team has appeared in the NCAA Tournament every year from 2011 to 2016.

During my conversations with students, several commented on how supportive and approachable the professors are. 99% of courses have < 25 students in the class. As a result, students form strong relationships with their professors. Those relationships are important to ensure a student’s success at the school that’s been dubbed “Work Forest”. The path will be challenging but students are supported from day one with multiple academic and peer advisors.

The liberal arts education offers courses across the humanities, literature, fine arts, social sciences and math and natural sciences. Students are required to take classes across all divisions as well as satisfy a cultural diversity requirement. There are 35 majors to choose from: accountancy, biology, art history, music in liberal arts and women’s, gender & sexuality studies to name a few.

In January 2017, Wake Forest debuted Wake Downtown, a 151,000-square-foot center (former R.J. Reynolds space) in downtown Winston-Salem, a 13-minute shuttle ride from Reynolda Campus. The space is dedicated to newly approved courses of study in engineering, biochemistry and molecular biology, and medicinal chemistry and drug discovery.

Going global is an integral to the Wake experience as well. 70% of the student body studies abroad at least once during their time at Wake. In addition to Wake Houses in London, Vienna and Venice, the school offers 400 programs in 200 cities. That global spirit can be felt on campus as well, with a 10% international student body and organizations like the African and Caribbean Students Association, which hosts an annual event full of cultural food, fashion and entertainment and Friendships Beyond Borders, which provides a community for international students by pairing them with upperclassmen in mentor relationships.

According to the campus student newspaper, Old Gold & Black, here’s what’s happening on campus:

  • “Rethinking Community” initiative: a series of conferences, dialogues, speakers, performances and events exploring the “polarized, diverse, virtual, and global” nature of life in the second decade of the 21st century
  • A new virtual reality class at Wake Downtown (
  • Teach-ins facilitated campus discussions on Charlottesville
  • Orientation for first-year students, including the Convocation and Pros vs. Joes, which clearly succeeded in bonding the new students

Having worked with many Career Services offices in my time as a recruiter, without a doubt, The Office of Career and Professional Development at Wake Forest is among the best. The staff works hard to develop strong relationships with employers. In fact, there was a career fair going on in Benson Hall the day that I was there; there were approximately 80 companies in attendance. Career Treks offer students valuable opportunities to learn about companies, industries and careers in a personal setting. Students travel to Atlanta, DC, New York and San Francisco to engage with industry professionals, expand their networks, and increase their awareness of career possibilities. The office engages early with contact starting day one of freshman year. The results are clear: students understand how to engage with employers, how to write a strong resume and how to utilize their network; 98.5% of Wake Forest graduates are employed within six months of graduation.

Wake Forest University could be a good match if you are seeking a smaller school (but not too small), with strong academics, a support network from peers, professors and staff, and a deep commitment to enriching the lives of others.