Feedback on PNW schools

D21 is accepted at/is considering PNW schools: University of Puget Sound, Western Washington University (has applied to Honors College), Lewis & Clark.

Also accepted at Willamette but no longer considering. Waiting on Whitman. Have received competitive merit aid from UPS/L&C. Also accepted at home state U-MN and U-Maine Orono (astonishingly generous merit package).

D21’s priority is “smaller” school (no larger than 15K) located in smaller metro, solid academics (but not a pressure cooker). Introvert, very outdoorsy/environmentalist, non type A. Not a partier. Intends to major in bio/molecular bio. Career interests: conservation bio or veterinary school.

Stats (urban public school):
3.55 UW GPA / 4.26 Weighted GPA
10 IB courses
EC: honors band, science club officer, NHS, 3-year YMCA leadership program, LINK Crew peer mentorship program, summer 2020 nonprofit internship

We are learning what we can via virtual info. In April, we plan to visit UPS, WWU and L&C, but assume it will be DIY. Since we are not from the region, would appreciate any insights or suggestions prior to our visit!

In all honesty, all of these are excellent schools, and likely all would check off all the boxes. However, I think that Lewis and Clark is the most outdoorsy, and my feeling would be that, if your daughter is interested in conservation biology, but is looking for a degree in biology, Lewis and Clark would be her best choice. However, if she wanted a degree in wildlife conservation, Western Washington university would be her best choice.


If Whitman stays on the list, let me know if you have any questions about the school or area. My kid graduated in 2019 with a degree in BBMB. A friend’s daughter graduated longer ago, and finished her DVM a year or two ago.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on Whitman! My son was just accepted today! It’s my first choice for him although it looks like it is going to be our most expensive option. Like the OP, he has also been accepted at UPS, L&C, Willamette, and WWU. He’s a rock climber and wants to continue his Japanese studies.

Daughter received her acceptance notice today! Financial package is decent, but she is less enthusiastic about Whitman than in the fall. The isolation of Whitman is making it less appealing to her. We plan to come to WA over spring break to visit at least WWU, PSU, and L&C. Decision time nears.

I went to Whitman decades ago; my kids graduated in 2017 and 2019. So my info is now a couple of years out of date, but I try to keep up with the student newspaper, etc.

Whitman invited all students back to campus this spring, and though they’ve had a hiccup or two, it sounds like it is going well. Students have long talked about “the Whitman bubble,” and I think that concept of self-sufficiency on campus is really a benefit right now. It’s a short walk to downtown Walla Walla’s restaurants, shops, and wine-tasting rooms, but there’s always been so much happening on campus, students have never been forced to leave.

My two majored in sciences (chemistry and BBMB); both participated in a sport; one went Greek, one didn’t; one lived on campus 7 of 8 semesters, the other moved off campus for junior and senior years. Both appreciated their time there, and I believe they feel they were academically challenged without being overwhelmed.

Daughter took an intro to rock climbing course, and that included some field trips. She enjoyed it, but was too busy with other things to keep with it.

As a parent, I feel like Whitman played fair: there was no bait and switch with financial aid. Students can graduate in four years unless they are extreme outliers. One of mine had a health scare, and I really appreciated the school’s support: transportation to medical appointments, professors and administrators who demonstrated compassion, etc.

There are some very vocal social justice activists on campus, and there students who keep their heads down to focus on their own things. I think both can find their place and their people.

Walla Walla is a very nice town, and the Whitman campus is beautiful. I miss needing to go there!

Any specific questions?

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I guess since your kids already graduated, how do they feel like Whitman prepared them for real life? As in finding a job after graduation or going to grad school? Did they have close relationships with their professors, did they share lunches and dinners with them? Were they able to participate in research and internships while in school? Did they have on campus jobs? Did they study abroad (my son wants to study abroad in Japan). Are there any negatives (I’ve actually never heard a negative thing said about Whitman!) Is the on campus food as amazing as it looks on their Instagram page (bonappetitwhitman)? How is the weather? We’re from Los Angeles and it seems like Eastern Washington is much drier than Western Washington?

Hi Essnce629, KnearSeattle’s daughter here (Whitman '19).

I feel like Whitman did a good job at preparing us for real life. My friends who wanted to work after Whitman were able to get jobs fairly easily and those who wanted to go on to graduate schooling were well supported by professors on deciding where to go and on applications. I had friends who went straight into master’s programs/medical school, others who entered the work force, and a couple who took time off to travel before deciding their next steps.

I had good relationships with my professors and it was not unusual for students to go over to professor’s houses or to local restaurants together. I was pretty quiet in classes and did not go to office hours frequently. Looking back I would have done so to build better relationships with my professors. They were all very approachable, I just found it easier to ask my friends for help when needed. One thing I did appreciate was how understanding and willing to work with you my professors were. I had to go to medical appointments and take some time off during my time at Whitman and my professors were incredibly kind and understanding when I needed to miss class or reschedule an exam last minute. I know that is not something I would have experienced at a larger school. I did have a few meals with professors. My Encounters professor (the old First year mandatory writing intensive class) invited our old class out for drinks before we graduated. I went to a BBQ at President Murray’s house for Fourth of July one summer. I was at my Cross Country coach’s house frequently for meals and team bonding.

I had an internship in a research lab in Boston the summer before my senior year. Most majors require a thesis or senior project of sorts for graduation so almost everyone I knew did research of some type in their field. There are some opportunities on campus and locally, but they were less numerous than I would expect a larger school to have. For me, it was a nice opportunity to live somewhere else for a bit, since I’d never lived outside of the Seattle area or Walla Walla. One pro, for my friends who did research at Whitman was that there are no graduate students, so they got to do a lot of high level research that would probably left to the graduate students at a university. This could be something for your son to consider if he is passionate about research.

My brother and I both had work study positions with technology services. I was also able to spend one summer in Walla Walla through an internship with them. I also worked as a TA and writing fellow in the Biology department my senior year. Some students worked off campus, especially at wineries as upper classmen. I nannied for a family a few blocks off campus and many of my friends worked at wineries.

I did not study abroad because it is more difficult (but not impossible) for BBMB majors due to class schedules. I would have had to take two very difficult classes at the same time, and I loved Whitman and didn’t want to leave and miss out on my last semester with my upperclassmen friends. Anyone who wants to study abroad can, and I heard amazing things about the study abroad programs.

One negative thing would be that Whitman is lacks in diversity. Most students are liberal, affluent, and white. Some more conservative classmates struggled being the minority during discussions in classes or in the dining hall over politics. I think the Republican’s club had less than 10 members my first year. I personally had quite the culture shock when I was a first year due to the amount of wealth most of Whitman’s students come from. It was never a real problem, but it was a very different demographic from what I grew up with. Many POC have had struggles at Whitman with being a minority, but I would assume this is common among POC in predominantly white liberal arts colleges.

I thought that I was going to find Walla Walla isolating, but honestly I was so busy with classes I hardly noticed how small the town is. There are multiple amazing restaurants within walking distance and a Safeway a few blocks from campus. I didn’t have a car with me and I was fine. There are constantly events on campus to go to, so there’s never really a need to get away.

The on campus food is pretty good. Admittedly I have nothing to compare it to except WWU and UW, but I liked the food for the most part and it got even better my senior year when the new dining hall opened. I had a few friends with complex dietary needs and the dining hall did an excellent job at meeting their needs, if that is a concern. One thing that most people don’t understand about Seattle is that it doesn’t rain that much but we have a lot of overcast and drizzly days. The weather in Walla Walla is similar to Seattle but a little drier. We get snow in the winter and it can linger for months, but there isn’t a lot of precipitation. Summers are hot and dry, but tolerable even without AC.

You mentioned that your son is a rock climber, I had friends who were very into rock climbing and I’m sure he could find plenty of similar minded people. There are multiple climbing classes and a climbing team. The climbing gym also employs many students if he wanted to work there. There are climbing trips through the outdoor program that your son could go on if he likes outdoor climbing. He will get a set amount of money that he can spend on outdoor program trips each year. They range from backpacking to sand dune sledding to snowshoeing. I also took a beginning skiing class one semester where they would take us up by bus to the local ski resort on Friday afternoons and we would take lessons through the resort. It was a very cool program if that’s something your son is into or would be interested in trying.

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@Camasite Any thoughts ? Seems to be in your wheelhouse :slight_smile:

Sure. Daughter has been accepted to all of these PNW schools and is only waiting to hear from UW. I suspect UW will be her top choice (and the cheapest option for us by far). But my personal opinion is that Whitman would be the best fit for her.

I went to Reed and UW for grad school and as a teacher and research scientist I’ve been around grads from all the PNW schools for decades. Whitman seems like a really special place. I’ve yet to encounter a single grad who ever had a bad thing to say about it. They tend to be intensely loyal. I suspect the isolated setting adds to the sense of camaraderie and community and that the place would be much less unique if it was in a larger city on the west side of the Cascades where there was much more to do and students tended to scatter every weekend as is more the case at places like Lewis & Clark or Reed which have Portland at their doorstep.

The thing to remember about merit aid is that it has nothing to do with merit. it is simply a pricing mechanism. Schools use it to carefully calibrate how much they need to discount the sticker price in order to attract the students they want. Schools like Reed, Stanford, and Pomona offer no merit aid at all. Over 50% of the students at those schools are on full-pay and the rest get need-based aid of some sort. Schools like Lewis & Clark, University of Puget Sound, and Gonzaga offer much more generous merit aid as they are essentially offering discounts to try and attract the top students. Whitman is sort of in the middle. They offer some merit aid, but it is about half the typical awards at UPS and L&C, suggesting that it is a more attractive place and they don’t need to discount as much. If Whitman were in a more desirable bigger city I expect it would be even more expensive and popular. So the fact that they offer much merit aid at all is due more to the difficult location than the quality of the school. Which seems every bit as good as my alma matter Reed in my book.

Of course I’m not the one attending college and my daughter has her own mind. I think she finds UW and the big city of Seattle more interesting than Whitman and the tiny town of Walla Walla. And she has a lot more peers from her HS bound for UW and other Seattle area schools so there is that pull as well.

The other wild card is how much Covid has affected the financial health of these institutions. I’m sure there is really no way to know for certain as that sort of information is likely to be very tightly held. Whitman and Reed have over double the endowments of the next nearest PNW liberal arts schools so they are most likely in the best financial situation to weather the storm. UPS, L&C and Willamette all look pretty similar on paper in terms of finances. So who knows. It is hard to know if any one of them is overextended and on shaky financial grounds. Endowment isn’t everything. Debt is also important. But even if lightning strikes and a school folds the students can always move on and transfer somewhere else. Life goes on.

The public schools like UW might face cutbacks. But they ultimately have the power of taxation behind them so they aren’t ever going anywhere. Especially not the flagships. It would be politically inconceivable for a state to ever let a flagship like UW or UO to collapse and fold. So they are perhaps more of a sure thing than a financially shaky private school at this point.

I’m not sure if that answered anything. All things considered if it was me going to college in my daughter’s place I’d probably pick Whitman. Right now she is still waiting to hear from UW which is probably her top choice but if she doesn’t get in there I think it will be Whitman. At least that will be my preference. Even though it will likely cost around $10k more than UPS or L&C.

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Referencing back to the original post. I’ve visited all these schools many multiple times over the years. I think UPS and L&C are very similar quality but subtly different. UPS is more of a traditional school with a very traditional quad and ivy-covered buildings in an older historic part of Tacoma. Lots of restaurants and cafes nearby. It feels like an old Northeast liberal arts college. It also has Greek life and some non-liberal arts professional programs like a business school and physical therapy program, which both probably attract a more mainstream type of student, although the student body still tilts quite liberal I think. Within the PNW I think it is most known for its music programs. Other than that, they seem decent in most other areas but don’t really stand out in any particular academic area, at least that I’m aware of.

Lewis and Clark is quite different. It is laid out on a sprawling wooded hillside in a hilly upscale residential part of Portland. I think it was originally some sort of private estate that got converted into a campus because it doesn’t seem to have as coherent or traditional of a layout as UPS. It is more a collection of older and newer buildings nestled in the trees without (to my eye) and obvious center to the campus. Very woodsy and pretty campus, but more suburban feeling. There is absolutely nothing to do within walking distance and it is so hilly that even biking can be challenging for the less than athletic. So the campus runs a private shuttle bus service to downtown Portland. Freshman are not allowed cars on campus so you will learn to use the local public transit or never leave campus. L&C doesn’t have any Greek life, and other than a law school next door, I don’t think it has any undergraduate professional programs. So it is more traditionally liberal arts focused than UPS. The lack of a business school and other professional programs probably means that the traditional arts and sciences programs are slightly stronger at L&C. Or, at least you will have more traditional science and liberal arts majors that at UPS. Since my daughter is interested in Bio I did the math and L&C has a larger bio department despite similar overall enrollment. By comparison, Whitman is a bit smaller but has even larger biology and science departments in terms of student enrollment so that is even more of a focus at Whitman. The reputation at L&C is that about half the campus is athletes who are your typical mainstream upscale white kids. And half the campus is more liberal non-athlete eclectic types (jocks vs hippies). We saw a little of that when we visited but it mostly seemed like an upscale REI/Patagonia fleece sort of place. Sort of a west coast prep school old money vibe. At least that was my daughter’s take. She liked L&C but I think not as much as Whitman which sells itself as more intensely academic.

As for coming from out of state to attend WWU? I would personally be hesitant about that. WWU is in an absolutely gorgeous setting. But as a non-flagship regional public university you are going to get all of the frustrations that come with a large impersonal public university. A non-responsive administration. Difficulty getting the classes you want. Less than posh dorms. Large lecture classes. That is all fine if you are paying in-state tuition. For my daughter the annual tuition would be $6700 so WWU is a great deal if you are in-state and makes the frustrations tolerable. And a pretty good deal if you are from another western state and can take advantage of the WUE program for reciprocal tuition. There are a lot of students from Alaska and Idaho attending WWU on the reduced WUE tuition. But I’m not sure what the value is for someone coming from across the country to pay out-of-state tuition at a middle of the road regional public. I can maybe see the value of paying OOS tuition for a top national flagship like UW or UCLA or Michigan. But not a directional school like WWU. It’s kind of like sending someone across the country to pay out of state tuition at UM-Duluth, or Minnesota State Mankato. It’s not really what those schools are there for.

WOW, KnearSeattle thank your daughter sooo much for responding with such detail!!! Sounds like Whitman is a great place and her answers help a ton. I’ll have my son read her response as well.

Good to hear about the professors being flexible and understanding, especially in regards to medical issues. My son has ulcerative colitis and even though it seems to be under control, he has had flareups in the past that have caused him to have to miss school and attend doctor’s appointments.

Also good to hear that food service does well with special dietary needs. My son in sensitive to gluten, nuts, and soy so it’s always good if the food is labeled with allergens. I know that several schools we’ve visited have had digital boards at all the food stations listing the allergens and that has been the most helpful. He’s not anaphylactic or anything, but just feels better when he avoids these foods.

I’m not surprised about diversity being the biggest issue. It seems to be an issues at most small liberal arts colleges. My kids are actually 1/2 white, 1/4 black, and 1/4 Mexican so diversity is important and I hope Whitman is constantly trying to improve in this area, both in regards to incoming students AND faculty/staff. My son currently attends a private high school so although we live in the super diverse city of Los Angeles, he’s used to attending a school that is not as diverse.

Thank you again for your amazing response. The outdoor program is a great draw for my son and I bet he’d love to have a job in the climbing gym! He’s also very much interested in participating in a first year Scrambles trip (if they’re happening this summer).

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I posted this in the Whitman discussion, but thought it was relevant here. Forbes just came out with it’s College financial health grades for 2021 (College Financial Grades 2021: Will Your Alma Mater Survive Covid?), and I have summarized a few of the Pacific Northwest LACs and Jesuit schools below:

Reed A 4.14
Whitman A 4.04
UPS B+ 3.29
Willamette B- 2.75
Lewis&Clark C+ 2.17

U of Portland B 2.93
Gonzaga C+ 2.37
Seattle U C+ 2.17

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All of these comments and insights are incredibly helpful; appreciate the take on WWU in particular. So difficult to do college search totally online. We will still visit in April some combination of UPS, L&C, Whitman and WWU. Meanwhile, daughter is now seriously investigating home school U of MN which has a separate campus in St. Paul for its non-engineering STEM disciplines. The comparative value of the advanced research and service work opportunities at UMN-St. Paul campus: bee lab, raptor center and veterinary schools, etc. are becoming a stronger consideration for her. So after all of this exploration she may opt to stay closer to home and take advantage of the opportunities here. It’s a journey!

WWU is a masters degree school, not a PhD school, so the amount of research going on there is going to be far less than what you would find at a flagship like UM or UW. Of course there are lots of professors doing their own research, but it is going to be more like a liberal arts college not a research institution full of grad students and research programs. For an undergrad that may not make much of a difference, and might actually be an advantage since you wouldn’t be competing against grad students for research opportunities.

That said, WWU is an historic teachers college that has only relatively recently become a more comprehensive university. So, for example, in the sciences, the great majority of students are actually going to be future secondary education science teachers. The coursework and major pathways is certainly going to be geared in that direction (as well as towards medical careers). So, for example, most of the psych majors are probably gearing towards school psychologist or counselor jobs and not clinical psychologist careers. I’m a science teacher here in WA and I constantly run into other science teachers who were WWU grads. It’s their main pipeline. They now have a lot of new programs like environmental science and such. But I don’t think the amount of hard core science research will hold the candle to research flagships like UW or UM.

I’m not trying to diss WWU. It is a good and well respected school here in the PNW. But don’t confuse it with some sort of mini-UW. It’s not that kind of research university at all. It is mostly geared towards undergrads. And I’m not sure I really see the value for an OOS student from across the country. But it is popular for students from other western states who can use the WUE program to get reduced or near in-state tuition.

We will be coming to the PNW from Los Angeles during DS’s spring break in 2 weeks. 5 of the 6 schools he’s been admitted to are now offering tours (all but WWU). Last week when I checked, almost all the dates were available, but then as of 2 nights ago almost everything was booked! So our itinerary has had to be extended to fit everything in and we ended up needing to email UPS to see if they could somehow squeeze us in. Luckily they got right back to us and had a cancelation. We’ll be seeing Willamette, Pacific U, L&C, UPS, and Whitman. Whitman is doing full on Admitted Student Saturdays which last several hours and includes lunch. That’s our final tour and we hope we are saving the best for last!

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