Is this a realistic list, or a recipe for disaster? (sorry for the long post)

First, thanks to all for such a helpful and lively discussion. So much wisdom here (even when people disagree, it’s always good food for thought). With regard to the role of Jewish life on campus, I think most people will recognize that there are countless different interpretations and understandings of what it means to be a comfortable school for Jewish students. For some, that means a Hillel, or Jewish activities, or a culture of tolerance, or simply a ‘critical mass’ of other Jewish students. All of these perspectives are obviously legitimate. In the case of my son, I’d frankly be shocked if he ever set foot in a Hillel. I doubt he’d ever participate in a Jewish organization. And if you asked him about it, he’d probably say the less of a noticeable religious culture (of any religion) on campus the better. To the extent that his Judaism matters to him, I think it would simply be a matter of not being the only Jewish student in his dorm, or among a small number in his class. Jews (both religious and not) share a common cultural identity, that can make one feel like less of an outsider in a country where Christianity is often the assumed default. In other words, I’m guessing that schools like Grinnell and Macalester would be just as comfortable for him as places like F&M, Clark, Union, & Trinity which may have bigger numbers. In his particular case, it was more of a problem with schools like St. Olaf or LMU, where the schools (though obviously very accepting, inclusive communities) still have obvious and visible connections to their religious roots.

Of course, like everything else, your mileage may vary.


Also, I appreciate the voices and opinions (both conservative and optimistic) about the role of the EC’s and TO in shaping his choices. I should probably say that I agree that the podcast is not to be minimized - I think he can frame it as a very meaningful and self-initiated activity. His music, on the other hand, I think will be tougher to get across. He’s dedicated, knowledgeable, and passionate about it. But he’s not involved in competitions or out-of-school performance groups. His skills are fine, but not enough to wow anyone in an audition or tape. He’s the kid who spends lots of time on his own, noodling around with different instruments, teaching himself interesting tricks, but seldom mastering one narrow area. In other words, I don’t think I’m being excessively modest when I say his EC’s won’t fly off the page - just realistic.

Thanks again for the discussion!

This is my son. He goes to Alabama. Very different school size wise of course. They have 800-1000 Jews. Tried Hillel at our urging. Not for him. But he knows of other Jewish kids or sees a Hillel book cover at a restaurant. It’s the first time he ever felt not the ‘spectacle. So i get what you are saying but the reality is people are religious everywhere, especially in rural environments. For my son it was a no go ti be involved but he finally had a comfort.

He could have felt ok at W&L which most would say is conservative (not 100% sure I’d agree…you will have all political vibe there), but has nature, a beautiful Hillel and restaurant, and nature. Not a lot of Jews but enough with emphasis to not be isolated. Not saying you should look. Just giving an example.

I suggested Dennison the other day. I thought it might fit.

Yes it’s nice to see differing views. Good luck.


Re: Jewish life on campus. We belong to a Secular Jewish community, and that was what my D grew up with (though my parents are Modern Orthodox, and she spent summers there). At college, she connected with the Hillel, and has added on more traditional stuff, though the Rabbi is Reconstructionist, so not that traditional. She does seem more connected with her Jewish identity as well. I think that it has a lot to do with the Rabbi, as well as the community, which is not really the typical Hillel community.

We did not actually expect her to connect with her Jewish identity that way, once she was separated from the community framework in which she grew up, so you never can really know how this will work out.


Many, many similarities with my daughter (although she wants to study art in college - probably to teach, but also wants to continue with music). Two things I’d like to add to the conversation: if he hasn’t, he might check out Ithaca as a safety school. First-rate music department. And if you have any questions about Bard, it is our local college. (My daughter is ushering there for SummerScape. Bard is at the top of the list of colleges where she wouldn’t want to go because who wants to be five minutes away from your parents, but it would definitely be on her list if not for that reason.) I know a lot about the school - and the music department, in particular. Once I’ve made enough posts to now be a newbie, feel free to message me. Good luck!

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Thanks for the suggestion. I’m a huge Ithaca fan. If it were a smidge smaller, it would definitely be on S22’s list. I’m eager to get our first look at Bard next month. Hard to get a sense on paper as to how friendly a campus it is. I know that it’s spread out over quite a bit of land, and somewhat isolated. That could lead to a wonderful sense of community, or just be a bummer. I’m excited to see for myself.

Update. S22 did his first two visits to Oxy and Pitzer. Both were huge hits, so they’re definitely setting the bar for the rest of the bunch. We head to the Pacific Northwest in a week to see Willamette, Lewis & Clark, and Puget Sound. He’s sounded a bit less enthusiastic about this trio recently, so I’ll be curious to see if the visits help bring them back into view, or knock any of them off the list.


That’s great. Visiting schools he decides he doesn’t like is also great. There’s no other way to know.

I would second Sarah Lawrence- small, liberal, serious music programs.


It’s been a while, so I thought I’d update the saga, in case anyone is following - there seem to be a few others out there looking at similar schools.

I’m eager to hear how everyone else’s summer visits and impressions are going as well.

We did a swing through the Pacific NW several weeks ago. Puget Sound (which had been much higher on the list in earlier phases) is now out. I thought the school was terrific, but S22 said that it seemed a bit too athletic, too greek, and too business oriented for his taste. It didn’t help that Tacoma wasn’t really his kind of city. I could see where he was coming from, though he might have been extrapolating a bit too much from a few tiny details during our visit.

Willamette was beautiful and the people couldn’t have been nicer. Seemed like the sense of community, progressive attitudes on campus, and attention to students were all pleasant surprises. S22 said it didn’t have the “magic” though, (whatever that means), and is considering taking it off the list. The 17 year-old capriciousness is always delightful :slightly_smiling_face: I convinced him to put it in the “maybe” column until he finishes the rest of his visits. Would highly recommend the school for anyone looking for a gem in that neck of the woods.

The best news from the trip was at Lewis & Clark, which was a home run for S22. We had a gloomy day, which was good because I wanted him to get a sense of PAC NW weather, but the campus really clicked for him. It had a woodsy, homey, peaceful feeling, and the student tour guide really touched the right bases for him. Info session didn’t add much, but he was still vey smitten by the end of the day. So while I would have preferred he liked all three (since they are three of his more likely admits), I was glad to see that there was at least one enthusiastic yes from the group.

In other news, Conn. College seems to have fallen by the wayside in his search. He wasn’t feeling like the student body was as progressive/crunchy as he’s looking for, which I can’t really speak to, so it’s off the list for now.

Also, we weren’t able to make it out to Whitman during the swing up to Washington - really wish we were able to make that happen, but it is not an easy place to get to. I’m sure that keeps a number of students from discovering Whitman. Hopefully down the road, we’re able to make it. Meanwhile, it’s still in the mix.

We head east to visit Bard, Skidmore, and Dickinson next week, so I’ll be glad to share updates when I have them. Plan is to tackle Oberlin, Lake Forest, and Lawrence in October before ED has to be sorted out.

For now, the updated list is looking like this:

Most Enthusiastic: Occidental, Pitzer, Lake Forest, Lawrence
Very Enthusiastic: Lewis & Clark, Skidmore, Dickinson, Oberlin
Somewhat Enthusiastic: Bard, Whitman, Willamette (sort of)

So that brings him down to 11 (with Willamette hanging on by a thread). I’m sure that the next two trips will shuffle the deck considerably, but I’m hoping that he doesn’t drop too many more - or we may need to revisit his safety situation once more. Buckling up for the ride.

Wishing all others well in their travels!


Congrats - if you like 11, that’s a great #. I can’t read the entire chain again to see if these were discussed, but seems like Allegheny and Wooster might fit too - if you’re looking for more - both a liberal vibe…Wooster an hour from Oberlin.

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Don’t let him count Whitman out until he has been on campus! Truly wonderful school!


How was your visit to Skimore? My son has a very similar list as your son including Willamatte as a sort of! We took off Pitzer when they went test blind because my son’s test scores are better than his grades. Is your son planning to ED anywhere? Our kids sound similar with very similar college lists so I’d love to hear your latest thoughts.


Ok, haven’t updated in a while, so I’ll use this post as an excuse to jump back in and say hello to anyone else that’s interested.

Visit to Skidmore was a huge hit. S22 loved the campus (and so did I) Saratoga Springs is a fantastic college town, the admission people were all good, and the tour really sold the school well. Can’t say enough wonderful things about the place. Skidmore shot up very high on the list.

The other two east coast schools we visited were also well received. Dickinson was lovely and friendly as expected. Carlisle was charming, and we got the impression that local businesses and students really appreciated each other.

Bard was a beautiful campus and seemed to really understand the kinds of kids that would be drawn to a woodsy, remote, eccentric school. At one point the tour guide said something like “Over there is all the athletic stuff, anyone here interested in sports?” NO ONE raised a hand. The guide said “Yeah, I didn’t think so” and quickly moved on. S22 whispered to me “I totally love these people.” Now, I’m sure that this would not be a plus for some prospective athletes, but for him it was the magic word (similar to the way Skidmore impressed him when they bragged about not having a Greek system). I guess the theme here is we appreciated the schools that embrace who they are, and don’t try to be all things to all people.

S22’s list is down to 10 schools (sorry Willamette), and I suspect that is where it will remain:

Lake Forest
Lewis & Clark

Visiting Oberlin, Lake Forest, and Lawrence in a few weeks to see if that shakes things up at all.

Also doing a second visit to Occidental (including interview) around that time as well (the Whitman campus will have to remain a mystery for the time being as it is the only one we won’t be able to see until April).

If the Occidental 2nd visit goes as well as the first, then there’s a pretty good chance of him pulling the trigger on ED. If it doesn’t close the deal, then I suspect he’ll just roll the dice with RD.

If anyone else is thinking about any/all of these schools, I’d love to hear impressions or thoughts (especially about Oxy). Happy hunting to everyone!


Given your description of your son, I think this is quite a good list, with some safeties, lots of schools to which he is likely to be admitted, perhaps a couple of stretches. I don’t see anything crazy on that list. Your son sounds like an interesting young man who will likely find a good fit at one of these schools. For what it is worth, my son is a junior at Dickinson and is very happy. He played in the orchestra, has a radio show, other activities that he loves. A genuinely nice place with a beautiful campus in a cute small town. Through the searches of my two kids, I can say good things about Skidmore and Oberlin. We found Conn Coll to be a bit disappointing.

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No, you are right. Wesleyan would be a bigger reach than Conn Coll.

Your son’s stats sound like a good fit for Dickinson. And keep in mind that small liberal arts schools need men, as many of them skew 60/40 female, so male applicants get a bit of a boost in some intangible ways.

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I just want to say how refreshing this thread is – I love your focus on finding the truly right fit for your son. Reading these CC threads has made me so anxious as a parent, but you’ve reminded me that it’s okay (better than okay) that my daughter has followed her passions rather than what might look good for a selective college. I need to read more threads like these to keep me from going into crazy tiger parent mode “encouraging” her to fit herself into a school that isn’t really right for her.

Your categories of “Enthusiasm” level instead of “Reach” “Target” “Safety” is especially brilliant. While admissions chances are still factored into the list, your groupings really change the mindset into a healthy focus on fit for the student.

My D22 only has one school on her list the same as your son (Oxy), but I’m loving reading his journey and excited to see where he goes – thanks for sharing! :slight_smile:


That’s so nice of you to say, and very reassuring as we all head into the application season. I agree that it’s very tempting to get caught up in the frenzy of what everyone else is doing, and I fall into this trap as much as anyone.

I try my best to remember that everyone here is working with a slightly different definition of success, which leads to us sometimes talking past each other a bit.

Some of us are measuring success by the prestige of the name on the bumper sticker. Others see the placement in medical school as the finish line. Some people are primarily concerned with the lifetime earning potential, the ROI, the doors opened up to potential employers, or the access to a vast alumni network.

And while none of these seem like very important measures to me, I have to remember that they are all perfectly valid perspectives for someone else to have.

In my case, I’m approaching this not through the lens of outcomes or finances, but as an experience. What will he learn? How will it shape him? Will he feel comfortable enough to seize opportunities, and grow as a person? Will he look back on the time he spent in college and say “that changed me for the better” “I’m really glad I spent four years there”

So I definitely won’t know if this process has been successful in April when the letters come in. On the other hand, I won’t have to wait until twenty years down the road, to see if the financial “investment” has paid proper dividends. For me, I’ll probably know if this process has been successful sometime around halfway through his first year of college.

Once the homesickness, and growing pains, and the bombing of the first paper, and awkwardness of the weird roommate has past, there will (hopefully) be a phone call.

“I’m having a really good time, I’m learning a lot, and I feel like I’m really finding my people here.”

If I’m lucky enough to be on the receiving end of such a call :pray: then I’ll feel like the process was an amazing success, and the “investment” will have been more than worth it.

If not, then it won’t be the end of the world, and he’ll have to go about learning that things don’t always work out as planned.

But that phone call is what I’m shooting for, and I do my best to remember that when getting caught up in rankings, applications, essays, recommendations, portfolios, testing, etc.

I can’t promise to be this sanguine in all of the twists and turns that lie ahead, but that’s what I’m holding on to.

Cheers to all.


My mother set the bar much lower! She wanted all of us (6) to graduate from high school and learn to swim. It was a good level for her, because we all reached it. Three of the six also have college degrees.

My goal for my kids was for them to graduate from college, and I really wanted them to graduate from the college they started in. They’d had to attend 3 different high schools, and I just wanted them to have one place to call home for a few years.

Mission accomplished.


But can they swim?