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College Visit: Lehigh and Lafayette

Uploaded: May 17, 2015
The following blog was written by my friend and colleague Christine Lee who is an independent college counselor in Kenwood, CA.- JR

My recent tours of Lehigh Univ and Lafayette College are solid reminders of the strong sense of history that dwells in their fabric. The Lafayette school paper is "the oldest college newspaper in Pennsylvania" and these 2 rivals boast the most played rivalry in the history of college football. The size of their endowments adds to their heft and legitimacy. The strength of their academics and success of their Division 1 teams make these two Lehigh Valley institutions a powerful force and certainly worth the attention of top California students whose west coast options for this caliber of school are limited.

Lehigh University
If colleges had personalities, then Lehigh would have lots of confidence, living high on that hill over the quaint, historical city of Bethlehem (pop. 75,000). No wonder one of the alums invented the escalator; the campus is built on a hillside with lots of stairs.

Students there seem positioned to have every advantage as they begin their next steps after college. Our senior tour guide is going to start her career in New York City in July, hardly missing a beat. This is a real job too-- location scouting for a big retailer. You don't even have to leave campus for an interview; the recruiters come to you. This is one main reason to come to Lehigh, other than the excellent academics and active student life of sports and traditions. (A third of the men and women belong to a fraternity or sorority.) They enjoy a big rivalry with nearby, smaller Lafayette College. And they will point out that they beat Duke in March madness.

The Lehigh Valley is about halfway between Philly and NYC, (2 hours), and many students seem to feel very comfortable tackling these big metropolises since these are familiar haunts for them. (68% of students are from the mid-Atlantic, 7% int'l) With 5,000 undergrads & 1,200 grad students, Lehigh is well known for its interdisciplinary dual degrees in Engineering and Arts & Sciences, Business & Engineering, and Computer Science & Business. One student chose to major in Mechanical Engineering while imagineering with Disney.
Check out the blogs in the engineering departments.

Lehigh draws the students who want to major in business or engineering, but it also draws the students who seem to have a good idea of what they want to do with their lives. The colleges are Arts & Sciences, Business & Economics, Engineering & Applied Science, and Education.

I am suggesting to my clients that if you are a competitive, high-achieving student who has the determination and talent to make it in the bigger world, Lehigh will not disappoint. I wouldn't describe students as laid back, but as leaning forward. 66% of them will have gainful employment 6 months after graduation; 29% will head to grad school; 2% Armed Forces; and an astonishingly low 3% of students are listed as "uncertain". These kids in their twenties seem to know what they want and how to get it. And Lehigh makes that happen for them.

If you are a California kid with no roots on the east coast, don't be shy about Lehigh. I'm told the students there are well-traveled with enough sophistication and manners to welcome anyone, plus being from California provides a certain cachet. You might slip easily into the fray of that faster pace life style, but if not, you will find many others who share your perspectives.

If you are interested in USC or Claremont McKenna, then you should add Lehigh to your list.

Lafayette College
As Lehigh has long stairways that efficiently get you from one building to your next destination on the hillside, Lafayette has wide pathways and quads that comfortably connect the campus community. The city of Easton with 30,000 is quite close and sits at the confluence of the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers.

If Lafayette had a personality type, it is tempting for me to say that it has a congenial nature mixed in with its serious focus on academics and intellectualism. It appreciates its traditions and is proud of its sports teams.

It offers impressive statistics of 60-65% of students getting full time jobs after graduation and 20-25% off to grad school. It seems to carry all of this off with a slightly understated modus operandi. Perhaps there is a more casual feel because of the level and open geographic lay-out of the 110 acres for only 2,500 undergrads. (Total 340 acres including athletics) There is also the ethos of the institution, named after the Marquis de Lafayette who was a hero in his time, based on "the values that Lafayette lived by, which are those that guide the College today-liberty, integrity, tolerance, and equality." It was interesting to me that the student newspaper ran an article about the slow demise of fraternities with only 3 remaining today (and 6 sororities). Quoting an alumnus, that in order for the Greek organizations to stay, "They can't be seen as just a social organization. They must contribute something positive back to the college campus."

From my experience talking to the senior tour guide, I got the feeling that the students here are very dedicated and hard-working, enjoy a sense of pride in their institution and recognize their responsibilities to the broader community. For my academically strong California students (8-10% of Lafayette students are from CA) who are a bit more reticent and unable to commit to any one discipline just yet, I will suggest they visit Lafayette. You don't need to declare Engineering as your major when you apply. The college's distribution requirements will give them sufficient exposure to many areas of studies in all 4 divisions- Natural Sciences, Engineering, Social Sciences, Humanities. The institution appears to place value on the well-rounded individual who also needs to engage and prepare for the bigger world. It has the reputation of offering a superior liberal arts education for the 21st century student.

Lafayette has a scholars program of hand-picked students who live together in the McKelvy House, an historic house.

If you're considering Occidental, Scripps, or even Pomona, then you should add Lafayette to your list.

What is it worth to you?


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on May 17, 2015 at 11:31 pm

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