How to find your people at Northwestern

northwestern blog post

With academics to rival the Ivies and the spirited atmosphere of Big Ten publics, Northwestern combines Division I sports with quality instruction. It’s 231-acre campus, which is set off the town of Evanston, IL and runs a mile along the shore of Lake Michigan, makes for the perfect location for picnicking, fishing, running, or simply daydreaming in between classes.

The sense of community and collaboration at Northwestern belies its highly selective admissions. The students I met at  Northwestern University were sincere about their passions and authentic by nature. If you are passionate about your major, Northwestern may be a good fit for you. 

One of the most interesting traditions at Northwestern is the campus-wide “primal scream” which takes place on the Sunday night before finals. The student body joins in to let out their stress and frustration before buckling down again to continue their studies. Another yearly tradition is the “Wildcat Welcome,” a week-long orientation to acclimate incoming freshman to college life and to build community.

Here are a few quick facts about Northwestern:

Acceptance: 9%

Freshmen retention: 98%

Freshmen from out of state: 70%

Most popular majors: engineering, economics, journalism

4-year Graduation rate: 83%, 6-year: 94% 

Student Community Diversity: 6% Black, 13% Latino, 10% International

Northwestern University



88% of freshmen but only 52% of all undergraduates live in the dorms. There are residence halls available and themed residential colleges. Dorms range from 50 to 600 students. Some residential colleges bring students and faculty together during faculty “firesides” or over meals. Fraternities and sororities have their own houses.


Academics at Northwestern

Prospective students must apply to one of these 6 schools in admissions:

  • Arts and Sciencesnorthwestern campus has a techy and artsy side
  • Communication
  • Education and Social Policy
  • Engineering and Applied Science
  • Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications
  • Music

Each school has flexible requirements that can be taken anytime during the 4 years of undergraduate. The academic programs are so varied and fluid that those “undecided” can still find a home here.

Northwestern takes advantage of its location and global alumni network to support students through co-op and internship opportunities. The Chicago Fields program offers credit for full-time work, with Monday through Thursday spent on the job and Fridays are supplemented with classroom debrief and discussion.

Northwestern University offers unusual flexibility combined with a wide choice of academic concentrations. There are also several certificate programs available, which is 4-6 courses in a specific area, like Financial Economics or Managerial Analytics from Kellogg School of Business, since there’s no undergraduate business program.

The philosophy of the engineering program is that there’s no one solution to problems and students start with real-world projects. All first year engineering students take a course in “Engineering Design Thinking and Communication” which includes a design project with a local organization.



Much of the social life on Northwestern’s campus is centered on the Greek system, with roughly one-third of the students go Greek. For non-Greeks, on-campus entertainment opportunities are still numerous, including theater productions, concerts, and movies. The student government and Activities and Organizations Board sponsor a variety of campus-wide events, such as the very popular 30-hour Dance Marathon and Dillo (Armadillo) Day, an end-of-the-year “festival of music, debauchery, and Greek life,” in the words of a journalism major.

One of the most well-known traditions is when representatives of student organizations slip out in the dead of night to paint their colors and slogans on “the Rock.”

Northwestern has the winningest debate team in the country. In all, there are more than 480 student organizations. My personal favorite is the Happiness Club which spreads love around campus offering hugs, high fives, puppies during finals and hot chocolate in the winter.



Northwestern offers need-based financial aid, with 100% of need fully met. There are no merit-based scholarships. Although the tuition and fees are about $79,000, the average financial aid package is $56,000 and 81% of students receive financial aid.

What do you think about Northwestern? What about this college is a good fit? Please post your comments below.

Bowdoin has neuroscience, friendship and nature all in one small college

neuroscience major

Bowdoin College, nestled in the heart of pine grove and athletic fields in Brunswick, Maine, is a leading liberal arts college that focuses on the teaching and study of the environment across the disciplines. Though primarily a liberal arts college, their academic strengths include the sciences, especially neuroscience and environmental sciences.


A little known fact about Bowdoin is that student research is an important component of faculty tenure. This value leads to an abundance of research opportunities for students across disciplines.


Bowdoin is the alma mater of famous authors such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, so nature, art, and friendship are integral parts of the student experience. To emphasize this, before classes begin, the entire entering class takes pre-orientation hiking, canoeing, kayaking, or community service trips that teach them about the people and the landscape of Maine.

bowdoin liberal arts college

As part of the curriculum at Bowdoin, freshmen choose from a variety of seminars that stress reading and writing skills. Over the undergraduate years, students must complete 32 courses, including one each in natural sciences and math, social and behavioral sciences, and fine arts and humanities, in addition to a required course in the visual and performing arts. On their website, Bowdoin discusses its “Offer of the College” which is worth referencing here because it speaks volumes about the mission and quality of the educational experience for students:



– Adapted from the original “Offer of the College” by William DeWitt Hyde – President of Bowdoin College 1885 – 1917

To be at home in all lands and all ages;

To count Nature a familiar acquaintance,
And Art an intimate friend;

To gain a standard for the appreciation of others’ work
And the criticism of your own;

To carry the keys of the world’s library in your pocket.
And feel its resources behind you in whatever task
you undertake;

To make hosts of friends …
Who are to be leaders in all walks of life;

To lose yourself in generous enthusiasms
And cooperate with others for common ends –

This is the offer of the college for the
best four years of your life.


Wow . . . doesn’t that say so much about the community life at Bowdoin? I love that “Offer”!


Additional quick facts about Bowdoin:

Acceptance: 10%

Freshman retention: 98%

Freshmen from out of state: 89%

4-year Graduation rate: 88%

Most popular majors: government, economics, biology



Social: Bowdoin’s social life is centered around their social houses, which have replaced Greek life organizations on campus. The houses host all the events – academic, cultural, as well as parties – and are open to all students at the college. In the winter time, students take advantage of the nearby ski resorts, hiking, kayaking, and canoeing trips to enjoy Maine’s wintry landscape. Another big part of student life focuses on sports, especially Bowdoin’s ice hockey team, the Polar Bears. A strong 70% of the students participate in club sports, intramurals, and recreational activities.


Similar colleges to consider: Amherst, Williams, Wesleyan


Housing: 91% of students live either in Bowdoin’s renovated, historic halls or in the social houses on campus. Because Bowdoin prioritizes maintaining their inclusive and dynamic community, all freshman and sophomores are required to live on campus, with juniors and seniors rarely given the privilege to live off campus.


Financial aid: Bowdoin offers only need-based scholarships, with 100% of need met. Although the tuition and fees are $68,000, the average financial aid package is $44,000, with about 80% of students receiving scholarships. There is also an additional $1,000 to $2,000 that can be received from Bowdoin’s National Merit Scholarship, with $2,000 being given to those eligible and $1,000 as a recognition reward to those who are not eligible.


What do you think about Bowdoin? What about this college is a good fit? Please post your comments below.

Why the College of William & Mary is known as a “Public Ivy”

college of william and mary public ivy

William & Mary is the second oldest college in the country with a long history of liberal arts education and a growing research and science program. Undergrads at William & Mary have numerous research opportunities. A student majoring in government described William & Mary with these three words,  “Tradition. Community. Unique.” For those prospective students seeking this type of college environment, William & Mary has a lot to offer. Although the academic climate is rigorous, students say that cooperation among peers is the norm.

Here are a few quick facts about College of William and Mary:william and mary has active social life

Acceptance: 36%

Freshmen from out of state: 31% (keep in mind . . . it’s a public college, not private)

Most popular majors: biology, government, economics

Housing: Guaranteed housing through junior year

4-year Graduation rate: 84%

Academics: The College of William & Mary is dedicated to a philosophy of personalized education as shown through small class size and extensive student-faculty collaboration. “Classes are difficult and the workload is heavy, but lectures are small and generally engaging,” says one junior. Their joint degree program allows students to spend two years in Williamsburg and two in St Andrews in Scotland and end up with degrees from both institutions.  In addition, 70% of students participate in faculty-mentored research and William & Mary boasts some of the highest numbers for alums with PhDs in STEM.

william and mary for premedSocial:  There’s always something to do on campus, but the town itself can be somewhat “hit or miss”. Popular campus events include Homecoming Weekend, with its tailgate and concert. In their senior year, students can apply to live in a downtown dorm where they put on academic programming for the town. With over 400 clubs and organizations, a student would be hard-pressed not to find something to join!

Financial: College of William and Mary offers university grants and need-based financial aid, with 78% of need is fully met.

What do you think about this college? What else would you like to learn about it? Please post your comments below.


Furman offers internships and research in all-residential community

Furman is a small, liberal arts college located in Greenville, SC that takes advantage of its size and location. The 2,700 undergraduates have access to faculty-mentored research projects and all faculty serve as advisors. The largest class at Furman has only 32 students. Over two-thirds of Furman students participate in internships, often with the 200+ companies in the local area. As a 100% residential campus, students can build long-lasting friendships throughout their undergraduate years.

Two Furman programs worth noting are the 5-year program in Education and another in Chemistry.


Acceptance: 65%

Freshmen from out of state: 72%

Most popular majors: Political science, Health Sciences, Business Administration

Housing: Furman is 100% residential, which means that all students live on campus all 4 years. They fondly describe their housing system as “7 years of friendships”!! Varied housing options on campus include apartments and eco-housing for sustainable living.

4-year Graduation rate: 79%

Academics:  Furman’s Health Sciences major is particularly strong for its pre-med students. Furman’s program helps pre-med students with getting all of their non-academic requirements for a competitive medical school applications – research, internships and community service. Pre-med majors also get assistance with MCAT and medical school applications.

Furman offers a May immersion experience with 2-credit courses. Undergraduate research opportunities start in the summer after freshman year with a faculty mentor.

Many Furman students graduate with a minor. The most popular minor is Poverty Studies. The fastest growing major is currently Sustainability Science.

Social: Participation in campus life is encouraged through 4 required “cultural life” points per semester. There are 200+ cultural life activities a year, so it’s rather easy for students to get credit for taking advantage of all the fun and interesting events.

Financial: Furman offers merit aid and need-based financial aid, with 80% of need met, towards the cost of attendance, which is around $64,000. Furman’s merit scholarships do not require test scores to qualify.

What do you think of Furman? What do you think of test-optional scholarships? Please post your comments below.

Vassar has an independent, interdisciplinary and creative spirit

Vassar is a highly selective, small, coeducational liberal arts college, located just 70 miles north of New York City and known for its liberal traditions. Vassar prides itself on curricular flexibility, tolerance, and diversity.vassar liberal arts college

Multidisciplinary studies have been a distinctive feature of academic life at Vassar for several decades, fostering an intellectual environment that thrives on crossing disciplinary boundaries. A great example of this academic freedom and mindset is the Interdisciplinary Robotics Research Laboratory, created by five professors in biology, psychology and computer science where students can investigate with physical robots as well as computer simulations of virtual robots.

The college’s 1,000-acre campus, just outside Poughkeepsie, New York, is decorated with architecture which is predominantly neo-Gothic and yes, the library does look like a scene out of Harry Potter.

Acceptance: 26%

Freshmen from out of state: 71%

Most popular majors: economics, English, psychology

Housing: Guaranteed housing all four years

4-year Graduation rate: 88%

Vassar College

Academics: Vassar began as a women’s college in 1861 and went coed in 1968. There is no core curriculum and no general education or distribution requirements. Academic flexibility is paramount. That said, all students must take a Freshman Course, a small seminar emphasizing oral and written expression, as well as one course that requires significant quantitative analysis (similar to Hamilton College, also in New York).

More than half the students at Vassar double-major, with the most popular majors being English, political science, psychology, economics, and biological sciences. 70% of Vassar students go to graduate school, with medical school being the largest percent. Absolutely love that all freshmen have their own librarian.

Social: Vassar doesn’t have a Greek system, so social life revolves around films, lectures, parties, concerts, and the like. With its strong theatrical department, Vassar has 50+ theatre productions per year. A senior remarked that, “There are more than 1,000 events registered on the campus every year, which is nearly 40 events a week.”  Student Association, WVKR radio station, Vassar Greens, and ultimate Frisbee are influential in student social life. Popular events include Spring Concert, Founder’s Day, and All Campus Halloween Party.

Financial: Vassar offers merit scholarships and need-based financial aid, with 100% of need fully met.  The average financial aid package is $45,000 and 60% of students receive awards. Interestingly, the family income of students who received financial aid ranged from $0 to $270,000.

What do you think of Vassar? What about this college is a good fit? Please post your comments below.

Oberlin: Funky intellectual community with lots of music, art and co-ops

Oberlin has a distinct history of challenging intellectual and social conventions. It was the first to adopt a policy to admit students of color and the first to educate women in an undergraduate program. This history shapes the diverse student experience today. Individuality is valued at Oberlin, which fosters strong bonds among an eclectic community of bright and talented students from around the world. Interestingly enough, much of the domestic student body hails from New York and California.oberlin music

Oberlin is an intellectual community where students explore ideas because they are inspired to learn, not for the sake of grades. Since 1920, more Oberlin graduates have earned Ph.D.s than have graduates of any other predominately undergraduate institution. Wow!

Acceptance: 33%

Freshmen from out of state: 95%

Most popular majors: politics, biology, music

Housing: All freshmen live on campus. Only seniors can live off-campus. The varied housing options include co-ops, several of which focused on foreign languages. For $5, students can rent up to two original works of art to decorate their room (what a deal!). Every dorm has a piano.

4-year Graduation rate: 73%

Academics: Oberlin has been a leader among liberal arts colleges that promote their science offerings, with biology and chemistry being two of their strongest departments. Undergraduates can also major in interdisciplinary programs like neuroscience and biopsychology.

There is no core curriculum but students must take classes humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Oberlin offers a winter term, which allows independent study in January. Undergrads must complete 3 winter terms to graduate.  75% study abroad and 65% engage in research with faculty mentors.

A nice perk to having a conservatory on campus is that private lessons are free when you take a music class for credit.

Social: Music is big on Oberlin’s campus. My tour guide boasted that there are 2-3 music events held on campus every day. Some of the most popular events feature music performances, such as orchestra concerts, jazz ensemble concerts, opera and theater productions, Friday Night Organ Pump concerts, and Hip Hop Conference. Student radio is the second largest organization. Students actively participate in 200 student groups and 70% engage in service projects.

Oberlin College & Conservatory

Financial: Oberlin offers merit aid and need-based financial aid, with 100% of need fully met.  Although the tuition and fees are $67,000, the average financial aid package is $37K. 83% of students receive scholarships. Oberlin offers both need-based and merit aid. Oberlin meets 100% of need.

What do you think about Oberlin? What about this college is a good fit for you? Please post your comments below.

Why Johns Hopkins isn’t just for pre-meds, anymore

Motto: “The truth shall set you free” (Veritas vos liberabit)

The first research university in America, Johns Hopkins prides itself on motivation, collaboration, and a restless intellectual vitality. The main campus is nicely situated in a Baltimore neighborhood but balances the city-feel with numerous quads and classic-style buildings. and clear parameters. During my recent visit, I was impressed with the way the university had transformed its campus into more communal spaces where students could work collaboratively. What a way to build a strong community!

Here are a few quick facts about Johns Hopkins every applicant must know:

Acceptance: 11.5% (close to 50/50 ratio men to women)

Freshmen from out of state: 88%

Most popular majors: public health studies, international studies, biomedical engineering

Housing: Freshmen and sophomores are required to live on campus

4-year Graduation rate: 82%

Johns Hopkins Homewood campus is in Baltimore with easy access to all the city has to offer.

Academics: Although its had a strong pre-med reputation for years, Johns Hopkins is actually more diverse than you may realize.  A diverse curriculum through nine divisions, curious students, and passionate teachers create Johns Hopkins’ unique educational experience. And a 2-week intersession during January keeps the learning fun and unique!

Social: Students are provided with a whole host of social outlets on and off campus. Over 350 clubs and organizations keep students active throughout the year, but the annual Spring Fair gets the school ecstatic and draws the local community in as well. With being in Baltimore there are also many ways that students can get involved in community service. . . .free public transportation helps too!

Financial: Johns Hopkins offers need-based financial aid and grants. 100% of need is fully met. Although the tuition and fees are $66,197, the average financial aid package is $37,931. 69% of students receive scholarships.
What do you think about this college? What else would you like to learn about it? Please post your comments below.



Summer programs for Pre-med high school students

High school students interested in pre-medicine have a variety of options to explore the healthcare field during the summer. What I generally recommend is that students consider a broader exploratory interest after 9th grade, then apply to those programs in specific healthcare fields after 10th and 11th grades. One of the reasons that I suggest doing it this way is because I want students to realize early on that they do not have to major in a science in order to attend medical school. Yes, you should be comfortable with the sciences, but your major can be as far-ranging as philosophy or music, as long as you meet the course requirements to apply to medical school.

stethoscopeStudents must know that these pre-medical summer programs tend to be very selective, with rigorous application processes. The applications are typically due during the winter and often include submitting transcript, test scores, essays, and teacher recommendations. The application process itself is worth the effort, whether or not you’re admitted. It’s good experience.

Here are several programs that high school students with pre-medical interests may want to explore:

Boston University Research Internship in Science and Engineering – students participating in this program get a rare opportunity to conduct research with university professors. Perhaps there is even an opportunity to publish as well.

Drexel Mini-Med Summer Camp – This summer opportunity allows students to observe surgical procedures, shadow physicians during clinical office hours, and participate in medical simulations.

University of Florida Student Science Training Program – The emphasis of this program is on research with a faculty team for students not only interested in healthcare, but also math, computer science, or engineering. This could be a good opportunity to learn about other fields that may inform trends in healthcare.

These are examples which I hope will encourage you to research other programs or, better yet, create a similar program in your own community that would be a good match for next summer! Please let us know what you discover in the comments below.