Advice on which colleges might meet our daughter’s criteria

Hello. I started poking around on this site a few months ago and found it very informative. I was amazed how many people were able to give other posters knowledgeable advice about what many schools, so my daughter has as asked me to post on here what she’s looking for in a school – just in case any of you might be familiar with schools that may fit her bill. We’re obviously doing our own investigation too, but are hoping to tap into this site’s vast experience – and then be able to pass along our experiences once her journey over the next year is complete. So please fire away with any ideas this sparks, and thanks in advance for all your help!

Stats: Our HS Class of 21 DD has a 4.0 GPA, 34 ACT, and NMSQ that should put her as a Semi-finalist here in Iowa. She’s involved with athletics, but likely will not compete in college – and definitely not at a D1 level. Based on her academics, we’ll definitely be considering colleges that give good merit scholarships, because I anticipate financial aid calculators will think we can afford to contribute more than we think we can contribute.

What she says she’s looking for in a college:
A school with lots of things to do, including many activities besides “partying”.
A distinct campus.
Not a largely commuter school, she prefers one where many kids live on (or at least near) campus.
She started her search focusing on small schools with smaller class sizes, but she worries about smaller schools having fewer activities & programs, so a smaller community (like an honors college) within a larger school may be OK too.

The surrounding community:
Close to outdoor activities like hiking (maybe kayaking). But being close to a bigger city with things to do too, would be nice.
Somewhere with decent weather (doesn’t rain all year) would be nice too – she doesn’t really mind winter, though. If not a Christian college, then a college with student church groups in town.
Ideally within a day’s drive (8-9 hours) of eastern Iowa, but not necessarily (so please give your faraway ideas too)

Her academic interests:
She likes chemistry and math, and assumes she’ll like physics when she takes it her senior year.
She’s never taken an engineering class, so she’s not sure if that’s something I like – I’ve told her not to worry about that because I’m not really sure high school intro-to-engineering classes are really indicative of what college engineering majors do or what actual engineers do.
She loves to be outside and would hope for a career that uses chemistry, science, or math to find solutions to environmental problems. She’s interested in sustainability in farming, energy, and buildings.

I realize there probably aren’t too many schools that check all these boxes, but if you happen to be familiar with any that match some of her list, that’s cool. Thanks again, everyone!

Haverford is about a 14 hr drive from eastern Iowa, but it has great math and science departments, lots of student involvement and activities, close to Philly, a club crew team (not kayaking but on the water), small classes, everyone lives in campus (even many of the professors), they have the Haverfarm… yes, it’s small, but the consortium (With Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore/UPenn) makes it feel bigger. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s a great school.

What is your budget range? We found it was very easy to get a number of schools down to the $40-45k/year range. More difficult to get below that.

Does she have a preference in size? Private or public? What kind of campus vibe does she like?
With her stats, should could likely get a full ride from a place like Miami of Ohio.
It’s a great school and sounds like it could be a good fit.

Agree with the budget comment. Run the net price calculators at each school to get an estimated cost.

It sounds likely she will become NMF which can get your D full tuition, and sometimes more, at a number of schools. You will have to stay on top of potential NMF merit changes at each school for 2020/21, it’s a good reason to reach out to the admissions officers (AOs).

These are my suggestions with strength in math, chem, and/or environmental sciences, in range of sizes and drives:

Larger schools:

U Minn TC (NMF merit, not sure how high it goes)
Iowa State (full tuition for in state NMF)
U Iowa
U Florida - Benaquisto Full ride for NMF (tuition, fees, room and board)
U Miami - Benaquisto Full ride for NMF(tuition, fees, room and board)
U Colorado Boulder


Wash U St. Louis
Cornell U
Baylor (full tuition for NMF)


Franklin and Marshall
Colorado College (block plan)

Schools with high merit for NMF (at least as of this year), but you have to see if they have strength in the majors your D wants, as well as the vibe:

UT Dallas
U Alabama
U Arizona
Abilene Christian
Texas A&M

Perhaps BYU. SMU. TCU. Pepperdine in California is worth a look as well.

St. Olaf has a lot of what your daughter is looking for. Maybe not so much for kayaking.

Yes, what you are willing and able to pay will be a big factor on what colleges to consider. I suggest running some NPCs on some sample schools to see what schools like, say, Haverford, which gives no merit money would expect you to pay. If that’s out of range for you, that knocks out a lot of schools. What do HPYSMC expect you to pay?

A good LAC will have great social and academic opportunities. The size is not very limiting that way unless big ticket sports events are something important to your DD. They were for one of my kids and nieces— something I never could understand, but that was the way it was.

Look at the Common data set for colleges that make your list to get an idea of the percentage of kids getting merit money are, and the average size of the merit award. Those schools that only give out awards < $20k with maybe a few big awards, and you price range is well under that become reach schools even if it looks good for acceptance academically.

Your DD has a great academic resume, so acceptance to all but the most selective colleges become matched and slight reaches. But needing substantial merit money places a lot of them into high reach range. She actually is right where my youngest was, stats wise. And things fell into place with the a lot of the less selective schools offering the most money—full rides to two of them, free tuition to a state school, and a local private school, half cost for Tulane, to full pay at Michigan and some selective private schools. Though all of the selected schools did have merit money, he didn’t get much or any at the most selective of them as a rule.

Benacquisto gives a full ride (plus) to Florida public schools, but only the amount it would cost for instate at a public (~$23k) to the two private schools, U Miami and Embry-Riddle) that participate in the program. Those two schools have their own scholarships which will stack, but the Benacquisto is only a ‘full ride’ if you make it so with other scholarships. Still a really good deal.

OP is looking for a larger school or medium sized with a chance to have an honors college - school within a school potential, academically strong school with Christian vibe, merit aid, within a reasonable drive of Iowa and access to outdoor opportunities and pleasant or at least not rainy weather.

How did we get to a Haverford or other east coast LACs from there? Phenomenal schools and lots of pluses. It just doesn’t seem to be on track with the request.

Utah though chilly is very nice weather. Super outdoorsy as well. Texas has pretty nice weather, excellent schools, Christian learning school options and outdoors opportunities.

Pepperdine is a really good school. It’s pretty conservatively Christian and has beautiful weather. Kayaking and surfing galore.

Christian, outdoor activities, science & math, close to a big city. Merit scholarship & financial aid.

Baylor, University of Mississippi Honors College, Univ. of Alabama Honors College, Auburn University Honors, Furman University, TCU, University of Pittsburgh, Rice University, Univ. of Colorado. University of Oklahoma. Univ. of Tulsa.

Tough to meet all preferences. Would be helpful to better understand your daughter’s priorities. (Okay to share if first priority is concern about COA.)

At Utah 4.0/34 would have got a full tuition scholarship this year. It’s a long drive from Iowa but does hit many of the other requirements, particularly the outdoors (yes there’s kayaking either whitewater in the mountains or calm water on the salt lake), the honors college, the weather, being close to a city but with a defined campus, and the availability of environmental studies and engineering majors.

Colorado School of Mines? Wheaton (Chicagoland area)? Creighton U? ST Louis University? Florida State? Missouri S&T? University of Kansas? University of Kentucky?

Christian, not a requirement as long as there are local outlets for the such. But I’ve heard good things about Albion and Calvin in Michigan. Grove City in Western PA gets high scores from folks I know. Decently priced too, last I looked. Grinnell enjoys a great reputation and is in Iowa. Both Iowa State snd U Iowa are good state schools.

I was not suggesting Haverford so much as a good choice for OP’s DD, but as an example of a top priced private school that gives good financial aid (guaranteed to meet it, in fact) but gives zero merit.

I would look at Texas A&M. With NMF, her cost would be below in state. She might like their Bioenviromental Science program. They also have Environmental Engineering. If she is even considering Engineering, she needs to apply as one. Easier to move out than in at any school.

There are some great small colleges in Ohio that you might want to look at. My son is at Denison, which is located in a lovely small town about a half hour outside Columbus. The town has a church on each of the four corners of the main intersection. Denison would, I believe, offer generous merit for a student with stats like your daughter’s. Denison has a beautiful campus, strong academics, a very active athletic community (D3 and club) and a fun, diverse culture. Kenyon, a little further than Denison, is also a great school, although I am not as familiar with its STEM capabilities. People also love the College of Wooster.

I suggested haverford because OP actually said their child was looking for a smaller school- but that a larger school with an honors college would be ok too.

Just for information Kansas State has a new degree in Environmental Engineering that we have been hearing really good things about. With the big Ag school here there are a lot of options for things she is interested in.

The Carl R. Ice College of Engineering offers a Bachelor of Science in environmental engineering beginning in the fall 2020 semester.

Environmental engineering applies engineering and other scientific principles to solve complex environmental challenges, which may include recycling efforts, public health initiatives, water quality management, pollution control and waste management. As environmental challenges continue to develop, environmental engineers will be increasingly called upon to create innovative solutions to sustain our planet.

Off the top of my head, it’s hard to think of many colleges that would not at least meet the second part of this. I don’t think is a very limiting criterion as stated.

My thought had been to open to any ideas and then we can week them out by cost - but I realize that potentially wastes the time of those of you helping us out. So I apologize for not including price goals. I need to get back into our taxes to file them this weekend, so probably a good time to do Net Cost Calculators, etc. and report back. Thanks