Go Loggers! Impressions of UPS from one East Coast Parent

This post is more or less cut and pasted from a longer series of posts in the general college selection forum. In those posts I commented on a range of colleges, not just UPS.

The UPS campus was the most beautiful campus we visited. The grounds are green and lush, with fir, beech and other trees flourishing everywhere. You can see Mt. Ranier on a clear day, but the natural scenery is lovely even on a rainy day. (We stayed for two days and experienced many kinds of weather.) Most buildings were made of red brick and designed in an unusual gothic-Tudor style that I don’t recall seeing anywhere else. UPS’s campus reminded me vaguely of Cornell’s, Swarthmore’s, Haverford’s, Wesleyan’s, and Bowdoin’s campuses, all of which I admittedly saw some time ago—we didn’t visit any of those as part of our recent college search).

The UPS student body seemed diverse. There was no dominant UPS style. We saw clean-cut pre-professional looking students. We saw nerds. We saw artsy students with blue hair. We saw outdoorsy environmentalists. We saw lots of buff athletes wearing “UPS Loggers” clothing. We saw people with Birkenstocks on their feet and lefty political slogans on their t-shirts. There were quite a few “quirky” students. The LGBT population was varied and quite noticeable. Most memorably, we saw a young person, apparently not biologically female, in a very tight mini-skirt and knee socks; I don’t know whether “male” properly would describe this person in this day and age, but [insert appropriate pronoun] had broad shoulders, a Justin Bieber haircut, no makeup and no bust, yet the person seemed perfectly well accepted as [insert same pronoun] strolled around campus engrossed in conversation with more conventional looking students, attended class (which Sasha also attended), etc. We also met a few fraternity brothers and, to my relief, none of them seemed like stereotypical frat boys. If these guys were really misogynistic drunken idiots, they hid it well. They mostly wanted to talk about choral music and their camping trips in nearby national parks. All of the UPS students we met were quite nice, enthusiastic and happy to chat.

UPS seems to attract and accept students with a wide range of academic abilities. The top of the class arrives with extremely strong high school records, but the bottom not so much. UPS students seemed bright and engaged but not particularly competitive. This appeared to be true of science majors, liberal arts majors and performing arts majors. We didn’t meet anyone from the Honors Program, which may attract more intense students.

I predict that getting into UPS will become somewhat more difficult in the coming years as word spreads about the unique liberal arts experience that UPS offers. For many decades, UPS saw itself as a regional university. It wasn’t really competing with liberal arts colleges around the country. But for the last 25 years or so, UPS has seen itself as a national liberal arts college focused on undergraduate education. UPS sold its law school to another university and converted its business school into an undergraduate program emphasizing leadership as well as business. At this point, UPS awards very few graduate degrees and barely qualifies as a true “university.” If you compare UPS’s academic offerings, faculty and culture to those of other institutions, UPS no longer closely resembles Seattle University, Portland University or Gonzaga University, and instead shares many qualities with the likes of Occidental, Macalester, Grinnell, Lawrence, Beloit, Earlham, Wooster, Oberlin, Franklin & Marshall, Skidmore, Bard, Wesleyan, and Bates, as well as Pacific Northwest neighbors like Whitman and Willamette.

UPS recently has experienced a surge in applications, probably because its new marketing materials and YouTube videos are very compelling and because it recently was listed for the first time in a book called “Colleges that Change Lives” (“CTCL”), which many people consult when looking for small liberal arts colleges. (More discussion of CTCL will follow.) You already can see UPS’s ranking in US News and World Report rise as the percentage of applicants who are admitted declines. Normally the USNWR rankings don’t change much from year to year because they become self-fulfilling prophecies, as the rankings are heavily influenced by recent selectivity numbers, which are heavily influenced by slightly older rankings, which were heavily influenced by slightly older selectivity numbers, and so on. UPS jumped 9 spots in the USNWR rankings this past year, tied for 72nd. In USNWR’s opinion, UPS earned the same ranking as Lewis & Clark, Allegheny and Knox, and was a little behind Willamette, Lawrence, Beloit, Wooster, and Earlham. (Incidentally, I’m pretty skeptical of USNWR rankings since they seem to measure selectivity and endowment size as much as anything else, but I have to admit that I’ve looked at them more than once.)

Though the UPS student population seemed very diverse, it definitely skewed toward natives of the West Coast. Sasha regarded that as a positive feature of the college because Sasha has always lived on the East Coast and wants to try someplace different. Most students we met were from Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado and Hawaii (is that West Coast?), but we also met people from the East Coast, Midwest and South (not many from the South).

We saw quite a few people of color, but there were proportionately more Latino and Asian students than African American students, at least as compared with the student populations at the other colleges we visited. A UPS admissions staffer commented to our group of visitors that UPS is trying to do a better job recruiting underrepresented minorities.

Sasha cares a lot about music but is not a conservatory caliber musician. UPS has a music school, which to my untrained ears and eyes seemed indistinguishable from a conservatory. I think the majority of students taking classes at the UPS music school are enrolled in it, but many non-music school students take classes there as well, and quite a few also perform with music school students. We were told that the easy accessibility of the music school sets UPS apart from another similar liberal arts college with a conservatory, where musically talented students who enroll as non-conservatory students may later find that conservatory resources are largely unavailable to them.

As a second-year UPS parent, I’d like to thank you for a clear and cogent description of the campus I’ve come to know and love. Everything you wrote checks out with my experience. UPS wasn’t my first choice for my daughter. I preferred a small liberal arts college for her undergraduate years, and she convinced me this was the right one. On my visits there, I’ve felt a a spirit of positivity and welcome. My kid wot involved in the biggest political action of the year, in the cause of fossil-fuel divestment. Students gave speeches, camped on the quad and dyed the fountain black, like oil. The school promised to change future investment practices, and was proud enough of the campaign to put a double-page spread of the rally, black fountain and all, in their alumni magazine.

About the only disappointment in the college is its reputation, which is small outside of the region. I’ll have more to say about that in the thread above.