Any colleges we're not thinking of?

My son is a junior in high school now, and has completely changed his focus from freshman year (not surprising). He is interested in history, government, politics, public policy- with the intent of going to law school. He wants to intern with a politician while in college, and his career path may include politics.
We live in Maryland and he has good stats so far (4.5 weighted GPA with 5’s on all AP exams so far, taken or will be taking 9-10 AP classes, and 3 duel enrollment classes with our local community college. He has a job as a head lifeguard in summer, lots of volunteer hours, and has taken the SAT’s only once with a 1440. He will take it again this spring).
He wants a medium to large college with lots of school spirit and campus feel. He would like to be within 8-10 hours driving time of Maryland. He hasn’t visited any colleges officially yet, but has grown up visiting Virginia Tech with us.
On his list so far is: American, Georgetown, UMD, William and Mary, Northeastern, University of Delaware, Princeton, Brown, George Washington, and of course VT. He also threw University of Vermont out at me yesterday.
As he starts to really dive into it and look, is there something we’re missing with a good political science department and these other wishes he has? We have 2 older daughters in college at VT and UMD, but we never had to really look- they both knew exactly where they wanted to be from day 1. Thank you so much for any insight you have!

In addition to the school’s poli sci dep’t and size and school spirit, he needs to consider physical proximity to US capitol or state capitols, so that he can work/volunteer in politics and public policy during college. To that end, look at Rutgers in NJ (but half an hour train ride to state capitol), Trinity College in Hartford, CT, SUNY Albany, U of Richmond in Virginia, and more of the Boston schools - Tufts, Harvard, Boston University, Boston College. Even NYC schools, since NYC politics is a big scene, too, with lots of internship opportunities, so perhaps Columbia and Fordham.

His stats look great. Could he volunteer now in a state rep/state senator’s office? A strong letter from a state politician to the effect that this kid is amazing and is going to go far, will really help with his college applications.

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This list may serve as a source for ideas of schools to research further:

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Wake Forest has a strong political science program with good placement in DC internships. Their Wake Washington Center hosts semester long programs where students work Monday-Thursday and take academic classes at night.

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If this is what your son wants— “lots of school spirit and campus feel”— I would take several of those colleges off the list. AU, GWU, and especially Northeastern don’t match that criteria, IMO.

Your son might want to consider some of the LACs, which typically have a classic “campus feel” and a lot of school spirit. Most of them will be excellent for the majors you have mentioned.

Mid sized colleges with good school spirit and campus feel: Tufts, Denison, Lehigh, Bucknell, Ohio State, Syracuse. Many others.

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Consider the College of William & Mary.

The University of Virginia might be another school to investigate.

P.S. Just noticed that the College of William & Mary was already on your son’s list.

Overall, in my opinion, your son has compiled a good list of schools.

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Yes, that was my thought, that many of those colleges don’t have the vibe he is looking for. Being that he’s grown up with VT, I think that has shaped his opinion of what college should look like. We will probably still visit at least one of them, just so he can experience what those schools look like, and you’ve all given us important things to think about, and more colleges to look at. Thanks!!

Colleges with term length programs in D.C. may offer the opportunity for a staff position in a Congressional office.

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Penn is a scholarly community of 10,000 undergraduates and school spirit is one of the reasons my daughter was drawn to the university. There are many campus-wide activities and traditions that students enjoy like Econ Scream, Spring Fling, Hey Day, and others. Basketball games are spirited and raucous, but overall sports attendance is not very high if that matters to your son.

Although Penn is a well-defined campus, it may not have the campus feel your family desires as it is an urban campus and does not have the traditional sweeping open spaces of other colleges.

Service to society is one of Penn’s core values established by its founder, Benjamin Franklin. To that end, Penn has a few strong public policy programs to engage students in the national and global debate:

Penn in Washington is a semester-long program in which students live in DC while taking classes and interning at prestigious DC institutions (e.g. Department of State, White House Council).

The Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement is also in DC. “The Penn Biden Center engages Penn’s students and partners with its faculty and global centers to convene world leaders, develop and advance smart policy, and strengthen the national debate for continued American global leadership in the 21st century.”

The Perry World House is located on Penn’s campus. “Through its rich programming, Perry World House facilitates critical conversations about global policy challenges and fosters interdisciplinary research on these topics.”


There are a lot of great suggestions in this thread and your son is a strong student—I’m sure he will find a good fit.

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Agree. The Honors College at UGA has a semester program in Washington with exactly that format.

Colleges with defined majors in public policy may be of additional interest:

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This is an important list given the stated goals of OP’s son.

Although not within an 8 hour drive of Maryland, I encourage readers to examine this list of schools .

SESP (School of Education & Social policy) at Northwestern University might be of interest, although not directly on point.

Wesleyan -
A nationally reconized research center:
Home | Wesleyan Media Project

Influential Alumni:
Robert Allbritton - Wikipedia

Two Elected Members of the Senate:
John Hickenlooper Used to Be Michael Bennet’s Boss - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Among The Top Ten Medium-Sized Colleges in NE:
WSJ: Wesleyan Among Top 10 Mid-Sized Colleges in NE - Colleges and Universities / Wesleyan University - College Confidential Forums - Admissions Discussions and Threads

Ohio State “mid sized”, what ?? Great school but cannot be listed with the others … completely different. Maybe I missed something above.

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No you’re right. Wasn’t thinking. Classic campus and school spirit checks boxes though.

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What’s your budget?

Richmond and UVA came to mind first. Maybe NC State. Schools in Boston should be on the list. I would think being near a state capital/large city wouldn’t be a bad option for politics.

That is for sure :+1:

  1. As much as he has time, I’d have him focus as much as possible on improving SAT to increase his chances both for admissions and any possible merit aid he might be eligible to receive. Khan Academy has excellent math resources and lots of instructional things on youtube, reddit, etc.
    Official SAT® Practice | Khan Academy

  2. He’ll want to ask letter of recommendation (LOR) writers before the school year ends so they have a few months to work on it. He can work to prepare his LOR packet for them now and he can ask them/send email requests maybe in late April or early May before things get too busy with finals.

  1. He’ll want to really look at his extracurriculars, if he’s chasing any merit money, to see if there is anything he needs to shore up before applying in a few months. Not a lot of time, but it would be good for him to create his list of activities and see how they align with his passions/interests in college (political science).

  2. It’s never too early to start working on essays and I’d encourage him, as his time allows, to start thinking about these. Lots of sites online that give tips about essays and personal statements including collegeessayguy.com. If he starts to jot down ideas, thoughts, etc. now, he can continue to craft them into essays over the summer. Most colleges (not all) use similar prompts each year and the common app there is a simulate option where you can see last year’s app (don’t fill out anything, but can be used for approximate planning and for copying key prompts). It can save a lot of stress in the fall to work on essays in spring and summer. It can also be a fun time to gather information from close friends and family to help bring him self-awareness about himself and what they value in him and acknowledge in him as a friend/family member.

  3. Because of COVID-19, it’s now possible to do online synchronous information sessions/tours and often asynchronous tours, too at colleges. This wasn’t possible even a couple of years ago (only some colleges offered). This is an amazing opportunity that I suggest high school students (especially freshman, sophomore, and juniors) take advantage of as they explore options. With my nephew we explored well over 70 schools via these online information sessions and that’s excessive for what most people may need, but it was very instructive as you get into a rhythm to be able to compare schools among each other. There are various sites that also have college fairs and panels with current students/alums/admissions staff, like Strivescan.com
    These can be helpful:

  1. It’s helpful and important, when exploring schools, to look at a range of institution types, especially liberal arts colleges (LACs) and public research universities. And then even with public universities there can be R1 Carnegie level institutions and R2 level institutions (List of research universities in the United States - Wikipedia and Carnegie Classifications | Basic Classification). I think trying to do a range of information sessions with schools of various sizes is good due diligence because very few young people have been exposed to a range of different types of university environments.

  2. These info sessions, coupled with additional research (here on collegeconfidential.com of course, but also browse through collegedata.com, prepscholar.com, thoughtco.com, edmit.com, moodys.com, princetonreview.com, usnews.com/best-colleges/, youtube, reddit feeds for each school, student newspapers for each school, etc.). We took an aggregating approach to collect information from many different sources. The other wonderful thing that we really learned to navigate well, was the “common data set” (CDS) at each school. If you search online for the college’s name and then put cds after, it almost always will give you the link. Whenever possible, try to compare the same year among schools. My nephew and I (and his parents) regularly checked among all these sites for information. Together, it can help to paint a picture of each place and help to compare institutions. CC has been especially helpful reading through forums and experiences of parents, students, alums, and AOs.

  3. Explore if he’ll be a serious candidate or not for any possible merit money. We actually started our exploration list here with list of merit schools because he was a good candidate for merit aid and so he combed through these lists and went to information sessions on schools that he was interested in learning more about:

  1. Money. Make sure to fill out the net price calculator (NPC) at as many schools as you’re willing to get an idea of approximate costs for school. This can be a great way to differentiate among schools and to find gems that you might have missed. thecollegesolution.com has a great blog and many helpful articles at understanding how to navigate financial aid. Also, make sure you as parents plan to fill out FAFSA (and CSS, if needed) as close to the beginning of October as possible. It’s also important to look at how solid schools are financially so whenever possible, checking Moody’s is helpful. This document is big, but can be helpful to browse through for more information about financial health of institutions: US Higher Education: Value vs. Vulnerability - Google Sheets
    This is another site to try to assess financial well-being of an institution: studentaid.gov/data-center/school/composite-scores

  2. For Political Science, it can be helpful to browse through these:

  1. He can also explore what types of internships are available at local, state, and federal level for government institutions and explore if a college has any special programs or centers that focus on government.

  2. As the list gets narrowed down, make sure to explore the career service opportunities of a given school. It’s really amazing how some schools now offer lifetime access to career services and others it is only while in school. That can be a really nice additional perk. If you can find out, it’s helpful to know how many students in a given department/major had jobs after graduation and any granular level detail about that (such as employers) if possible, but may be hard to find depending upon what a school releases. But usually can ask about this to the department or admissions.

  3. If he hasn’t already, I’d suggest creating a google spreadsheet that you can use together as a family to make notes (esp. after info sessions when fresh) and input information you find from online research. Like everything with this process, make sure he “owns” this document and be responsible for tending it, but you can add feedback/comments to it, especially during the exploration process for schools. The spreadsheet my nephew used had several tabs and one tab was just deadlines. There are so many tasks and deadlines to manage so it’s helpful keeping track of it all in one place. Another tab had a list of schools he wanted to explore via information sessions and various websites.

  4. All of this can overload an email inbox so it can be helpful to use a dedicated college application email for all these sites, info sessions, college mailing lists, common app application, etc. Just make sure to use the same email throughout the process so that things like demonstrated interest can be correlated with your son correctly.

  5. Finally, as he gets to narrow down possible schools into his list (make sure to have enough safety, targets, and reach schools), then he can really dive in and see if there are opportunities for open houses with department faculty/students, alums, etc.

  6. As time allows between now and when he begins college, it can be very helpful if he schedules 15-30 minute information interviews with people in careers he’s considering (in this case, law). Encourage him to do as many as possible. He can send a professional and succinct email to attorneys (or other professions he’s curious about) asking if he can set up time to talk to them briefly to find out about their career. During these calls, the goal is for him to be curious and inquire about what the day-to-day/week-to-week actual life of someone in that profession is. This is to help give more real world anecdotes and information from people actually doing the job he’s thinking about so that he isn’t basing it on misperceptions from TV/movies/Internet/books. I think young people could save a lot of hassle if they did more informational interviews.

  7. You already have children in school so you likely already know all of this above. Sorry to write so much, but all this is fresh on my mind. I really loved the exploration process over the past couple of years with my nephew. It can be stressful for the students with the various tasks/deadlines, but it’s also exciting and fun to think about all the possibilities. It’s a wonderful time to imagine and think through future opportunities. The process itself was enjoyable, no matter the outcomes. And especially the past year with the pandemic, I didn’t get to see my nephew in-person as I usually was able, so this was a great way to regularly connect while he went through his college exploration/application process.

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Regarding size constraints, note that the OP currently “wants a medium to large college,” a preference that may extend to include OSU.

S18 applied to a bunch of those colleges (he applied for PoliSci, he’s now doing public affairs). Of the east coast options like GWU, American and W&M, he actually preferred UVA, which definitely had more school spirit too. Though in the end he stayed in CA and got a summer internship in DC instead (unfortunately virtual due to COVID).

I agree with the concept of looking in state capitals where you can be close to the action, and you might look further afield for that too, for example state flagships in TX or UT.