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Visiting Bucknell, Dickinson, Franklin and Marshall, Gettysburg, and Ursinus

Uploaded: May 8, 2015
(Written by John Raftrey)
Recently I visited colleges in Central Pennsylvania and Philadelphia with members of the Higher Education Consultants Association, the professional association for independent college counselors.

In today's post we travel to the small liberal arts colleges of central Pennsylvania: Bucknell, Dickinson, Franklin and Marshall, Gettysburg, and Ursinus. As always, I will try to answer the question of why a student from the Bay Area would want to attend one of these schools.

First of all to emphasize the obvious: The East is different. Most private colleges have been here longer than the state college, Penn State (1855). Dickinson and Franklin and Marshall are as old the United States and attending a small liberal arts college is part of the educational fabric. There are 50 selective small and medium schools in Pennsylvania compared with 37 in California which is three times larger. The sense of US history is strong here. The week we were here was the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's funeral train passing through these towns and it was big news.

If you are interested in attending college in Pennsylvania, I strongly recommend visiting the schools to find your fit. They look very similar on paper. I am going to include the size of their endowments, which will give you an idea of how loyal the alumni are and their financially stability. The differences are subtle. I'll do my best to talk about what I saw.

Bucknell University ? (Established 1846) (Endowment $721 million)

Bucknell is a medium sized liberal arts school with an engineering department and Division 1 sports. It is competitive to get into with a 31% acceptance rate. Bucknell is in a small town. I think it has an east coast preppy vibe. For me Bucknell had the feel of smart kids who graduated from their suburban high school. It was hard to get a handle on their engineering school compared to what we are used to in Silicon Valley. The admissions dean told us a many engineering majors work in fields other than in engineering, and their grads who work at Google, work in Pittsburg. Students who are looking for an East Coast, non-Catholic alternative to Santa Clara or Loyola Marymount should take a look at Bucknell, which was founded by Baptists. Today they have no religious affiliation. Apply early though, 40% of their freshmen were admitted during Early Decision.

Dickinson College - (Established 1773) (Endowment $415 million).

Dickinson is the one college that got our attention. Dickinson wants you to remember it is, "Global, Sustainable, and Practical." It has a focus on study abroad, foreign languages, and international relations. School officials say that many colleges have green buildings and a brown curriculum, but that sustainability is built into the Dickinson curriculum. It has a sustainability dorm where students are committed to taking three-minute showers! Dickinson has a 50 acre working farm that supplies vegetables to the school and local community and provides course credit for students. There is a focus on practical application of what they learn in class. Dickinson says it takes the intellectually curious student, with slightly above average grades, and finds their passion with a focus on the real world. At our dinner table we met a senior woman from Tennessee who described herself as an "average" high school student. She had done an internship in East Africa and established a student organization. Her organization helps other student organizations secure funding from the student senate. They worked on their presentations, budgeting, goals, and even get them help from other organizations to shore up their pitch. I told her she sounded like a campus VC or incubator. Sure enough she will soon start an internship with a VC in Nashville. I am always heartened to know that some of the county's dealmakers are being developed someplace other than within five miles of Sand Hill Road. Students looking at Lewis and Clark, might want to take a look at Dickinson.

Franklin and Marshall College - (Established 1781) (Endowment $379 million)

Franklin and Marshall, known locally as F&M, is a college trying way to breaking away from the Pennsylvania pack. It has a brand new nationally known president, Daniel Porterfield, who came from Georgetown where he taught English Literature and was V.P. for Strategic Development. The school is now mirroring the Ivies and only offering need based financial aid. The school is making an effort to reach out to underrepresented minorities and other demographics outside the typical small liberal arts college. F&M is known for resisting grade inflation and has a tough grading scale. Graduate schools know this, so their graduates are not punished for their honestly earned GPA's. They have a high admissions rate for graduates at medical and law schools. If you are interested in F&M, apply early. Half their class was admitted during early decision this year. You might be interested in Franklin and Marshall if you are looking for an east coast alternative to Occidental College or Whitman College

Gettysburg College - (Established 1832) (Endowment $229 million)

Gettysburg is located in the town known for the battle and the address that defined the Civil War. Consequently the school has many options for the history and political science student, including a nationally known Model United Nations team. You can join the equestrian club team! They will give you a horse if you don't bring your own. It also has a foreign language requirement that it holds dear. A note from your doctor or therapist will not get you excused from the language requirement. If you visit Gettysburg be sure and check out its four special programs: 1) The Sunderman Conservatory of music that is integrated into the liberal arts curriculum; 2) The Eisenhower Institute which promotes leadership and public policy and accepts 12 undergraduate Eisenhower Fellows per year. The Institute is named after the 34th U.S. president who was a school trustee and spent his retirement in Gettysburg writing his memoirs. 3) The Civil War Institute. Gettysburg states it is only college offering a Civil War Era minor. 4) Garthwaite Leadership Institute is a new institute on campus and will promote developing leadership across the campus in all disciplines. Gettysburg might be a place to look if the University of Puget Sound, Willamette University or Chapman University are on your list of schools

Ursinus College ? (Established 1869) (Endowment $120 million)

Ursinus College is on the list of hidden gems, known as the Colleges That Change Lives. All students take a freshman class to answer three questions: How should we live our lives? What does it mean to be human? What is the nature of the universe and what is our place in it? Located in Collegeville, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia it is known for its family feel and the type of school where an older sibling will pave the way for a younger brother or sister. Ursinus is proud of its undergraduate research and we just happened to be there when students were showing their senior research projects. I stopped by the room where the science students were explaining their research posters. My rule of thumb on science posters is that if I understand them, then the research isn't that rigorous, if I can't understand them, then they did real research. Ursinus students passed the test as I was able to spot a sophisticated student project on the effects of exercise on pregnant mice. I later confirmed that some of the techniques they used were similar to those used by a Stanford biology grad student I know. Although well respected, Ursinus has a relatively small endowment and is not able to match other small liberal arts schools on financial aid. It does give out merit scholarships and the student looking for an East Coast experience who might be considering University of Redlands, California Lutheran or Linfield College should take a look at Ursinus.

The next blog will take a look at Philadelphia schools: Drexel, Haverford, Penn, Swarthmore, and Villanova.
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Posted by itsapity, a resident of another community,
on May 11, 2015 at 6:13 am

As someone who lives right in the heart of the schools you visited -I have to say that you did a fine job explaining the differences between these schools. It's a pity (in my opinion) that you missed some others in the area that are quite terrific -- like Susquehanna, Muhlenberg, Lehigh & Lafayette. For families making the trip to this part of the country, those are a couple fabulous schools that you wouldn't want to miss.

Posted by WP, a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights,
on May 12, 2015 at 12:33 pm

They sounds like fine little schools but does the cost/benefit ratio doesn't really make sense, especially coming from California? Instead of spending over $200K on a private school with low brand awareness, better off staying closing to home and going to a UC or Cal State School at a fraction of the cost. If people want private there are the Claremont schools, Chapman, Santa Clara, LMU, etc. that will at least have some kind of regional alumni network to tap into.

If a kid is a high achiever and can get into Penn or Georgetown or something similar, that changes that calculation. Call me provincial but at this level of selectivity better to save money, stay closer to home, and graduate with way less debt.

Posted by Barron Park dad, a resident of Barron Park,
on May 12, 2015 at 1:13 pm

The informal agreement among state schools to accept each others kids (while limiting their own in-state kids), so they get to charge them out of state fees is a big problem.

Each state college system doesn't care about educating their own residents. Just maximize their revenues.

Posted by sea reddy, a resident of College Terrace,
on May 13, 2015 at 4:42 am

Good write up.

Many good schools and a lot of options.

Posted by John Raftrey and Lori McCormick, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 13, 2015 at 5:13 pm

John Raftrey and Lori McCormick is a registered user.

For It's A Pity: A counselor friend recently visited Lehigh and Lafayette. I asked her for her thoughts and she has agreed to write a post for this blog. It will be posted soon! Thanks for the suggestion and the positive comments about the other schoools-John

Posted by Tough love, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on May 13, 2015 at 10:07 pm

Baron Park Dad is right on. The chances of getting into one of the top 3 UCs as a CA resident are about 16%. If you look at the next 3 only about 30-40% are admitted. You have a better chance at an out-of-state university.

Or if you go the CC route and try to transfer, you'll find admission rates for transfer students have declined almost in half as well. In 2007 about 70% of transfer applicants were admitted to their UC of choice, now that has dropped to around 45% for mid-tier UCs.

Shouldn't more spots be reserved for CA students?

Web Link

Posted by pogo, a resident of Woodside: other,
on May 14, 2015 at 8:41 am

pogo is a registered user.

Nice review, John and Lori. I forwarded this article my nephew who attended Dickinson and he could not have agreed more. He also thanked you for the very fine and accurate review of his alma mater.

He received a terrific education at Dickinson!

Posted by Michelle de Blank, a resident of Crescent Park,
on May 15, 2015 at 10:35 am

Thank you for this. I think practical knowledge about more good and special schools besides Stanford and Harvard is a great step in the "stress" conversation! The more choice the better! As to the first poster, despite the cost some kids (and their parents) prefer smaller schools.

Posted by Anne, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton,
on May 15, 2015 at 3:54 pm

College Health Care centers are having trouble seeing all of the students suffering from depression. There are a myriad of reasons young people develop mental health issues: which can result in binge drinking, extreme dieting, and feelings of isolation being away from "helicopter" parents who have helped their students cope in high school. The young students may have trouble accepting a poor grade, making friends, scheduling good eating habits, getting enough sleep, peer pressure, dorm life, etc. Last year there were several suicides at Tulane, William and Mary and MIT.

I recommend these young 18 and 19 year old students attend community colleges and transfer in their third year of college. This is also a major financial savings to families.

Posted by Bertis Downs, a resident of another community,
on Dec 10, 2015 at 12:11 am

As a father of a Dickinson first year daughter, I think your reviews of these schools were accurate and well done. Our child loves Dickinson and finds it welcoming and inclusive, is suitably challenged by the coursework, loves the campus life, has already made great friends and feels a part of the community there. We could nit be more grateful-- that's our story so far. She has found her place-- all we could ask.

Posted by Michael, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 11, 2016 at 8:12 pm

I just returned from a college trip with my kids that included tours of Gettysburg and Ursinus and quick "drive around" F and M. I came away very impressed by both Gettyburg and Ursinus and think California kids should investigate these schools more as the UC and State schools become less affordable, less accessible,and less efficient. When one takes into account the merit scholarships that can be included at these less impacted schools and the fact that a student can get out in 4 years these private schools in Pennsylvania look better and better.

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