My daughter is winding down her search and finishing up her applications after an exhaustive search limited to this region and CA. I thought I would share our experiences and conclusions for those thinking about Pacific Northwest schools and who are less familiar with this area. She is a 3.96 unweighted student with 1400 SATs from a year ago and a respectable activities resume, not off the charts, just respectable. So a competitive student for all but the most selective schools on the west coast. She is a lefty LGBT type kid so looking for a liberal and inclusive sort of place.
She isn’t completely sure what kind of college experience she really wants so we looked at three groups of schools (big public flagships, small liberal arts colleges, and medium size Catholic universities.
PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES: We visited UW, WSU, WWU, and UO. Her far and away top choice of the publics is UW in Seattle. Lots of friends from her HS go there, especially from her marching band which is something she wants to continue in college. She is also interested in molecular biology and genetics (not as pre-med but as a science career) and UW is world class in those areas. We have visited UW many times over the years pre-pandemic and she is comfortable with it and likes the Huskies. If she gets in it will be her first choice of the public schools. Her second choice is WWU in Bellingham which is a gorgeous campus and town. We visited in the summer of 2019 so didn’t see many students. But she felt comfortable there. She didn’t like Pullman and WSU but is keeping it in her back pocket. She was lukewarm about UO, mainly I think because the frat boy tour guide focused on student amenities and sports and not so much on academics and the other kids in the tour were way too southern Californian preppy “pretty people” for her taste. We did not visit OSU or any of the other directional schools in WA (Central and Eastern WA). We also did not visit any out of state public universities in the WUE program that give tuition discounts to WA residents like Montana, Montana State, Boise State, Utah, etc. If she doesn’t get into UW then WWU and WSU are the safeties. We also did not bother looking at any UC campuses in CA because what is the point. UW would be $40,000/year cheaper.
LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGES: There are 5 non-religious nationally known liberal arts colleges in the Pacific Northwest: Reed, Whitman, Lewis & Clark, University of Puget Sound, and Willamette. We visited all of them but Willamette which is reported to have the weakest biology programs of the five and more known for social sciences and politics/policy than natural science. We did not bother with any of the religious-based liberal arts colleges here as she doesn’t want that and they are all weaker than the above 5 (Linfield, Whitworth, Seattle Pacific, George Fox, Pacific University, Pacific Lutheran, etc). Reed was her top choice to start but it has slid for two reasons. First, no merit aid so we would be 100% full pay. And she isn’t sure she wants quite the intense academic environment. I’m a Reed grad and it can be a pressure cooker. She wants to do a year abroad, for example, which is difficult at Reed because their distributional requirements are so intense and study abroad requires departmental approval. Lewis & Clark and University of Puget Sound are very equivalent in size and selectivity. L&C is more of a woodsy suburban estate while UPS is much more of a traditional urban quad type setting. She likes the UPS campus a bit more I think because it is more “Hogwarts” and more the archetypical college campus. But the are very close and if she gets into both then whichever offers the better merit aid package will likely be the deciding factor. We visited L&C in Dec 2019 with students on campus and have only been able to do self guided walking tours of UPS so she doesn’t have a sense of any differences in student body if there are any. We drove out to Whitman last Sunday for an on-campus tour. They are doing guided tours with your personal tour guide even though the campus has gone mostly virtual. Whitman went WAY WAY up on her list after the in-person visit. Walla Walla isn’t an exciting town and eastern WA is pretty bleak but the campus is gorgeous and the people are just so friendly and loyal to Whitman. Academically it is a step up over L&C and UPS so choosing between those three with roughly equivalent packages I’d probably push her to look hardest at Whitman. We shall see. If the cost of one of these LACs can be bent down somewhere within eyesight of full pay at UW then we would give it a really hard look. But it would be tough to pick any of these over UW if we are talking full pay which would be $50,000/year more for a kid who is likely bound for grad school anyway. I think she would be better served by a good LAC but not $50,000/yr better served.
CATHOLIC UNIVERSITIES: There are three main ones here in the Northwest: University of Portland, Seattle University, and Gonzaga. We have driven through the UP campus a few times as it is 20 minutes from our home here in the Vancouver WA area. Seems like a nice place in a quiet suburban corner of North Portland. but D21 isn’t interested in applying. L&C just seems much more like her kind of place if she is going to stay here in the Portland metro area. We didn’t look at Seattle University which is in downtown Seattle (or right next to it). She applied to Gonzaga because she has friends there but we haven’t visited. If they come through with a competitive merit aid package we might drive out and look at it. They are doing on-campus school this fall and tours so we can drive out any time. It’s about 5.5 hours for us so doable in one long day there and back.
CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS: We did a covid road trip through CA this August in the middle of the forest fires. Visited USF, Santa Clara, Occidental, USC, and Pomona and the Claremont Colleges. She thought USF was too cold and urban. Liked Santa Clara. Loved Occidental. And thought Pomona was too southern plantation/country club for her taste. She also liked USC that that is a definite reach school and I don’t know if she is even going to bother to apply. Probably the only CA school she will apply to is Occidental which I put sort of in the same category as Whitman. We visited a closed campus so didn’t meet any staff or students. If she gets in and gets a good merit award offer we’d probably fly down and visit again next spring (if they have students back on campus) before making a decision. But frankly I think she is more likely to pick one of the LACs here in the Pacific Northwest if she decides against UW.
If I had to guess at this point I’d say UW is # 1 if she gets in, especially if she gets into the Honors College. If not then UPS, Lewis & Clark or Whitman if one offers a good merit aid package. If not then WWU or WSU as the safeties. Occidental is kind of the wild card that might insert itself into the LAC conversation with a good merit aid package. As a non-religious lefty LGBT kid I don’t think she will end up at a Catholic school. We mostly visited them for due diligence. I think she is also burned out with essays and not inclined to finish the USC application which has a lot of unique to USC essay prompts.
Feel free to ask me anything about any Pacific Northwest college or University. I’m a HS teacher and 5th generation Oregonian so I know more about the schools here than I touched on. I’ve seen most of them multiple times over the years and have sent other HS students to most of them.