Son's college list, with a twist

So my son (2019) and I have arrived at a college plan. He is a bit overwhelmed by all the choices, and I am a research nerd, so I am going to provide him with a list of colleges that fit him in some way or another. He will take it from there. I’m feeling some pressure to make this list broad yet specific to his assets/needs. I’m open to input here, I’ve been in awe of the knowledge on this site. First, a bit about the son:

–Very bright child, underachiever style
–Overall GPA 3.5-ish; freshman year rough at 2.9 but continued upward trajectory in most rigorous classes
–First ACT 28, should score higher (prob 30-33) on recent attempt (weird circumstances not worth explaining first time, scored 26 on math which is way low for him, should be more like 32 or above)
–Recruitable athlete in discus, all divisions are interested in him, it seems like a state-level athlete with a 28 ACT is in demand
–State ranked in a weird sport, think x-games type things (a bit specific if I name it)
–Works in a clinic as a medical assistant
–Planning for medical school (is aware of the process, both parents with doctorates; MD/NP, has seen multiple people go through med school/residency)
–Is half under-represented minority
–Has some very compelling, excellent essays and very strong LORs

We are in WI, and the finances for him are a bit unique. Non-custodial parent will pay an uncertain amount (but will definitely pay, just won’t commit to large amounts unless he thinks the school is prestigious or “worth it” somehow); other parent can pay 24,000 out of pocket. I’d say a realistic amount we could pay is 48,000 per year; would greatly prefer less. Unlikely to get any need-based aid.

He is open to a mix of LAC and research universities, and has not yet decided whether small or large is important to him. He’d prefer not totally rural. The entire country/world is fine. He really likes food. He won’t go all-male. He is not a fan of Greek life for himself but doesn’t care whether it is there. He would participate in rah-rah but it’s not an imperative.

He plans to study biology, classics, Middle East Studies/Arabic, or any combination of those. Chemistry also a possibility. I’d like to give him a list of about 30, with a good mix of likelies, matches, and reaches.

List so far, with a brief note on each so you have a bit of insight into the list:

UW-Madison–reach but obv great choice, not the easiest for freshman/sophomore classes (huge, impersonal)
UW-LaCrosse–likely, great track team, truly excellent school, so incredibly cheap, beautiful area
UW-Milwaukee–likely, not his first choice but underrated large research university with everything he needs/wants
U of M–TC–match, he loves this school, they do a bit better with undergrads than UW-Madison
UMD (University of Minnesota, Duluth)–likely, nice school, not so diverse, loves Duluth
University of Utah–match, outdoor benefits, interesting innovations in education, residency possibility
University of Kansas–match, likes the city, fun school, knows quite a few people who rave about having gone there

Eckerd–might be great for him with the strong mentorship, pets allowed

Clark–reach but I love this school, family in Boston, great combo of LAC/research

St. Lawrence–strong alumni network, people we know raving about it, getting lots of love from them (track and field)

Soka–also getting lots of love from them (track and field), would be relatively inexpensive, adding Life Sciences track 2020

New College of Florida–he would thrive in this environment; the unconventional narrative based thing would be great for him, he’s a fairly self-directed learner, more so when he’s participating in the choice of what to learn

Allegheny–the emphasis on multi-faceted students is great, he’s a nerd trapped in a jock body, great science/pre-med

Trinity University–interesting school with lots of undergrad support/opportunity

Knox–it’s not far, seems a bit quirky and interesting

St. Mary’s of Maryland–another public LAC, not sure about this one

William Jewell–tutorials, seems like a bit of a hidden gem, they want him

Rhodes–great pre-med, probably quite a reach but you never know with athletes with high ACT scores, he loved it when we visited

Lewis&Clark–location appeals to him, seems like an all around nice school with strong traditions

Luther–surprisingly strong school, not well known outside Midwest, friendly with strong liberal arts and good advising

UPS–well-rounded, they’re interested, not too sure about this one

Drake–seems a bit pre-professional but in the Midwest people do speak of it highly, major track&field place

College of Charleston–interesting combination of liberal arts in a bigger school, good classics

St. Louis University–all around good school, not sure about religious background but the Jesuits seem welcoming of all

A good start on the list! We know a few of those schools, so can offer some insight and advice.

Knox: one of my favorite under-appreciated schools, and he is just fine for admissions and, if the ACT can hit in low 30s, on track for merit too. My son was a recruited athlete there, so we visited several times, and we were both very impressed by the opportunities available for the motivated student, the steady improvement in the physical plant, the strategic direction of the school led by the President (whom I found myself chatting with, unaware, at a school event). My kid is not STEM-y, but the science facilities looked good to us novices. I also know a recent alum who took full advantage of every opportunity at Knox, went to a top law school, and is living the dream.

If the ACT does go up to 32 range, then Rhodes is a match. We too hear great things about Rhodes and pre-med. St Lawrence is another one of my favorite schools, truly heaven-on-earth for the sporty kid, the facilities (and location) are gorgeous. Nice kids, some greek life but not dominant. Tough to travel to, but we know athletic recruits from CA and the midwest who make it work. Luther too is another one we hear about as a good school which really launches kids, helps them build on their strengths and be ready for the next step, a warm, caring community.

KU is also in a great college town, a fun place to go to school, and sciences (especially pharmaceutical chemistry) are top notch.

As you’ve probably realized, sticker price at a lot of midwest schools is lower than the east coast, so schools like Knox and Luther will fit more easily in your budget and I think he’d be competitive for some merit money to help with that. St Lawrence also has a slightly lower sticker than some of its east coast peers and offers merit for students who submit test scores.

I think this is a solid and realistic list. Not to add even more to your list, but have you considered St. Olaf?

Seconding @momofsenior1’s suggestion. Also, welcome from another Wisconsin resident.

The University of Northern Iowa would be a safety, both academically and financially. One of my daughter’s friends attended there as a recruited track and field athlete.

Without knowing about some of the programs he’s interested in, Union (ny) might be worth looking into as as Denison and Gettysburg. All offer merit.All have Greek life as well, though.

If you can get to a mix of schools (nearby) - big, small, urban, rural – some of the critical criteria may emerge. When we did this with DS, a number of things fell into the “definitely don’t want”, ambivalent, and gotta have categories. Made trimming the list pretty easy.

I’m not sure St Lawrence belongs on a list for a kid who doesn’t want rural. Canton is a small town, but the whole area is about as rural as one can get in the northeast. There aren’t a lot of food choices around for a kid who likes food either. Have you visited?

My son went to Eckerd and enjoyed it. Pets are plentiful. He had good relationships (professional relationships) with professors and folks from their Aspec community. They are strong in science. It’s very much an outdoor loving school and it does have a party atmosphere (though my guy wasn’t a partier and didn’t have issues).

St. Lawrence is rah-rah, Greek and rural, known as a party school. Gettysburg the same. SLU gives decent merit though. You might look at URochester, which seems to fit his wish list, if the non custodial parent ends up contributing more $$. We all loved Allegheny, and they were extremely generous with merit aid, but for sure rural.

C of C is out of state for him and no merit aid, I think?

@brickkicker: To be blunt, it appears as though both you & your son have no real sense or understanding of matching school with student. This is largely due to the fact that your son has no reasonable parameters.

I do suspect, however, that once you research Knox & New College, that they will be quickly eliminated from your list. St. Mary’s & SOKA as well.

Because he is undecided about seemingly everything, and an average student, consider Indiana University. Great college town, good school, has something for every taste.

Also, I think that the College of Charleston is well worth a visit & is clearly within you budget whether in state or not.

Although rural & with limited food choices, you son may love St. Lawrence. Very few frats. Did away with them & brought one or two back, maybe three, when they used to have six or seven before they had none. SLU brought back the jock frat first in order to get the current President to take the job.

Consider University of Iowa. Great campus.

I think that you might be surprised by the University of Puget Sound.

Regardless, I’ll wager that he ends up at St. Lawrence University.

I like your list. I’m sure some will not work out in terms of fit, but some will, and you can adjust if necessary (i.e. if really liking urban schools then you can focus more on those). First group of publics seems very good to me–affordable schools, safety schools, really good ones for his interests. I think of Kansas as a great sleeper among stage flagships–lots of opportunities for a pre-med, great college town, nice place to live.

Among the others, love Rhodes, Clark seems like a great fit and Mass med school is in Worcester, so maybe some opportunities there. If Drake and SLU and are good fits, maybe Creighton? University of Nebraska Med Center is also in Omaha.

Trinity University in San Antonio? Or Trinity College in Hartford?

St. Mary’s is an excellent school and extremely beautiful, right on the water. A great choice for some students. It is very far down in southern MD, and I’m guessing it would involve a lot of travel for his sports. That said, I don’t know anything about athletics at the school.

Good luck and have fun with it!

He can get decent biology and pre-med anywhere. He can’t get good Classics Arabic, and Middle Eastern Studies everywhere. So go back through your list and fine-tooth-comb it for that. Keep the definitely affordable in-state safety options even if the Classics/Arabic/MES programs are weak, but ditch anything else that isn’t good for those fields of study. For example, UNI and U of IA have both been mentioned in posts above, but while U of IA offers Classics, Arabic, and MES, UNI offers none of those three.

Bluntness always appreciated; however, much research has been done. Each of these schools has a particular feel, strength, or nuance that resonates with my son or with his (limited) expressed wishes. The point of the list is some degree of variety, so he can narrow it from there as he discovers his parameters. It’s not his application list, which I would expect to be much more cohesive and well-reasoned.

New College is up high on the list, and Knox is about middle-ish pending visit. Soka is giving him lots of interest with track, and we’ve looked into it with hesitation for its very small size and focus on the Pacific Rim (not the area of the world that he is planning to focus on). Life science track coming soon is what has kept it on the list (and their persistence).

University of Iowa is a possibility, though not high on his list of state universities. It is a great campus. Grandfather went there. Great science, strong pre-med, but will be quite a bit more than either U of M or UW (haven’t spoken to coach yet, not sure about track). We’ll re-visit it, thanks for the reminder.

Surprised in what way by UPS?

C of C keeps coming up as a contender, will keep it on the list.

Thanks for the feedback, great information.

Great point, thank you. I think regardless of whether he’d like to major in it, Arabic language study is something he’d like to do.

We thought about Creighton, but he’s not sold on Nebraska. Which is just because he’s not been there–Omaha is a great city.

Trinity San Antonio–there’s something about that school that just fits him, and I need to be able to articulate that better.

Good to hear about St. Mary’s; it’s been a tentative one for me.

Allegheny is definitely rural, but I just can’t throw it out. Honestly if there were a top 5 that I think are great for him that is one of them.

U Rochester seems great from my perspective, but I don’t know if it will end up affordable depending on parent. I’ll look into it. I don’t think he’ll be any great candidate for merit there.


Denison has been on the fringes a bit, I need to look there again. Union just looked very…expensive. But great! But expensive.

I like St. Mary’s College of Maryland, but it is very rural – sort of like summer camp rural, but a long ways from a city. Knox felt awfully small-town when we visited, too. Union does have a pretty heavy party scene. And I think SOKA probably won’t stand up under more research.

Lawrence might be affordable with merit aid.

Again good list. I know more about Trinity College and less about Trinity University, though I loved San Antonio and I know I’ve seen several people here on CC who’ve been very impressed with TU on their visits.

A neighborhood “kid” recently graduated from CoC. They had a great experience, and the location is primo. Weather is darn good too. I don’t know about pre-med specifically.

I recently visited Omaha and Creighton for the first time. I was impressed. Nice campus, right adjacent to downtown, which has very vibrant downtown restaurant/bar area (The Old Market). It is very much an urban school, which seems to be a theme on his list. Academics are good. Sports are big, but don’t know about track and field.

If you do visits, you’ll see some great cities, with great restaurants.

Have you been to SOKA? It doesn’t look like a college campus. It looks like an office park in a very suburban place. It’s a beautiful place to work, but not a college campus with fun things to do or places to walk to.