Help build college list for son who wants small to mid-sized school on West Coast or CO

My S22 wants to attend a small or mid-sized school in CA, OR, WA or CO.

He is an URM (half Black, half Bangladeshi) and part of the LGBT community. He wants to be in or near a city. He would love to attend a racially diverse school but that is not a deal breaker.

He has an 3.8 unweighted GPA. He has a 4.0 unweighted GPA for 11th grade. His school does not offer many APs but he taken AP World and received a 5 and will take AP US history this year. He wants to major in History.

He received a 1300 on SAT and plans to retake but may apply to test optional schools.

His ECs are nothing special – Model UN for for years, part-time job, but no leadership roles.

Thanks to a college savings fund from grandparents we do not need any financial aid and cost is not an option.

He really LOVED Occidental when we visited but not sure his grades and ECs are good enough?

Here are some schools on his list:

Occidental (high reach)
Pitzer (high reach)
Reed (high reach)
LMU (high reach)
Lewis and Clark
University of Denver

Are there other schools we should add? Maybe schools outside of his geographic target area but still fits what he is looking for?

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University of San Francisco - check into the Honors College


I cannot see a student like this fitting in at U Denver, at all. Perhaps not LMU either. Neither should be a high reach. His GPA is good.

Whitman should definitely be on the list. Chapman should be on the list.

I don’t think Oxy is a high reach, and I don’t think Reed is either. More like high matches. Certainly not safeties. Your son should not submit his test score unless required.


I agree that Occidental College should not be viewed as a high reach target school, but it certainly seems like a great fit for your son.

I too was surprised to the the University of Denver on your son’s list. If I may ask, what attracts your son to the University of Denver ?

Since you inquired about schools outside of his target area regarding location:

Vassar College in New York State, although not in a city, may be of interest as well as Skidmore College in New York State. Oberlin College in Ohio.

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Thank you! We will check it out!

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Thanks so much for this feedback! It is good to hear that you don’t think Oxy and Reed are high reaches. I had assumed that because both are smallish schools they would put more emphasis on EC’s and my son doesn’t stand out in that regard.

His counselor also suggested Whitman and Chapman. He was unsure of Whitman’s location in Walla Walla as he wants a more urban setting. We had heard that from some LA friends that Chapman was “conservative” but we will take another look!

To be honest, we just put University of Denver on the list because of the location. My son really likes Colorado – but we don’t know much about the school and haven’t been able to visit. Can you give more insight on why it may not be a good fit? What is the culture like? Is it more pre-professional? My son is intellectually curious and I think would do well in a more liberal arts environment.

Thank you for these suggestions! My son is very interested in Oberlin although it is outside of the target area. I think we will definitely add it to the list!

We live in NYC so my son has expressed a desire to go out of state so he is not considering Vassar or Skidmore or other great schools in NY.

Also, I would appreciate any insights about University of Denver?

Although probably a tiny bit unfair, U of D is most commonly described as a school filled with “rich white kids” who love to ski. It is not a racially diverse school (2% black, for example). Moderate to conservative culture. Dominated by business majors. Great for those who love ice hockey & snow skiing.

Another description of U of D might be as the polar opposite of Occidental College.

FWIW: The University of Denver is similar in several respects to Colorado College, although I would not describe Colorado College as conservative as winter sports loving Colorado College has a lot of rich white liberals.


I can’t categorize schools because there is just too much we don’t know about his classes and rigor. What proportion of his core courses are honors or AP? Will he graduate with 4 years in all 5 core areas (E, SS, Science, FL, Math)? Does his HS use Naviance or Scoir (which would help with categorizing)?

U Denver does tend pre-professional, IMO, but I am not sure that should disqualify the school.

Regarding submitting the SAT score, it will be a school by school decision. Because he is a URM, I would lean toward submitting the score anywhere it is 25%ile or above (not everyone will agree with that though).


I think what he wants to study should be part of the discussion too.

Not knowing that, I’d add Evergreen in WA.

Thanks! He wants to study History.

you seem pretty fixated on privates but, if you live in one of the western states, WUE is worth a look. It a tuition discount program for many public schools.

Mid size is subjective but, Sonoma, Chico, Southern Or and UNR all offer a solid education and great student experience with under 20k students at a reasonable price.

Much smaller but, my son LOVES Ft Lewis College in Durango CO. Its a public LAC with about 3500 students. It’s paradise for mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Worth a tour. Its not near a major city but their airport has frequent flights to DEN and PHX from which you can get anywhere. US News says its the 9th most diverse LAC in the country.


Thanks so much for these suggestions! We have been focusing on privates just because we are not familiar with smaller public schools – it great to hear about public LACs like the one your son attends!

We live in New York City so we are not eligible for the WUE but it sounds like a great program.

Evergreen is a WA public school. It has a very interesting educational approach. They have fields of study, History being one of them, but curricula aren’t set in stone. Students are given wide latitude to choose their courses. Over 50% of the student body classifies themselves as LGBTQ or questioning.

Living in Oregon, I can also attest to how cool SOU is.

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University of Puget Sound? You already have Lewis and Clark on the list. I think ethnic diversity is the tough one to find for the west coast LACs.


I like Jesuits.

Regis University. College itself may be smaller but may not feel as small due to location. Gets A- in diversity on niche. Jesuits tend to be very welcoming of lgbtq students.

(I’m a non baptized person who works for a Jesuit and have amazing gay, nonbinary, and trans colleagues).

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I do think that’s a somewhat unfair characterization of DU (University of Denver). There is definitely that population, but diversity is improving and Denver is a pretty great city. My D is starting her sophomore year and we’ve been pretty impressed by the school. She got into a number of more selective schools (Tulane, CMC, Oxy, Bryn Mawr, Pitzer, Scripps, etc.), but she received a full ride scholarship that required she attend school in CO and she chose DU. She’s double majoring in Intl Studies and Public Policy with minors in Econ and Leadership. I don’t know as much about the history department, but her coursework has been strong and she’s getting tons of interesting opportunities (she interned for one of our US Senators in DC this summer and was one of only two underclassmen on his intern staff). DU has been very supportive with letters of rec and helping guide her with these programs. Growing up in CO, she never thought she’d attend school in-state and really didn’t consider DU strongly because of it’s proximity to home, but after we did an official tour in the fall of her senior year, we both commented that it would have been much higher on her list if it were located somewhere else. There are definitely plenty of rich white kids who like to ski, but my D has found the culture inclusive and I think it’s worth a look


Thanks so much! It is great to hear that your daughter is having a such a good experience at DU!

Yes! I like the Jesuit focus on social justice and inclusion too. Thanks for suggesting Regis! We also have LMU on on our list but wondering if we should consider Santa Clara as well?

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I don’t think that is a fair description at all. DU has a lot of international students. It does have a pre-professional focus with engineering and business (especially accounting) two of the largest majors, but also has a very fine international studies program (both Madeline Albright and Condi Rice are DU grads), a big study abroad program (program in Scotland), and a fabulous school of music. DU was chosen to host one of the Obama Presidential debates because of the political science and policy departments.

DU is in a very nice part of the city, with easy access to downtown (concerts, theater, sports) and also to the airport.

Students at DU may be more conservative than Colorado College (which is also has a very white student body) but CC is in Colorado Springs, which is waaay more conservative than Denver. In Colorado Springs, a lot of the influences of the town come into play. Newspapers, churches, TV stations are all conservative. Heavy military focus.

I don’t think DU students are in the same bubble as some smaller LAC campuses. DU is part of the city and while the students are of course focused on campus life, they can easily do things in the city, develop interests outside the school, participate in activities off campus if that’s where their interests take them. I did not find that to be the case at schools like Lewis and Clark.


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