Ideas for Colleges to Apply To

Parent Q&A

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  • College Search Advice for Dedicated Writer

    (8 replies)

    Need feedback on Mills, Pitzer and Macalester....all on my daughter's list.  We heard the dorms at Mills were empty as most kids leave to go home. ( not an option for my kid)  other concern is the surrounding area around the campus.  2. Pitzer- what is the social environment really like and has the financial aid office improved? how open to diversity?  3.Macalester....any grads out there? how is it for a quiet quirky CA student who has never roughed a long cold winter?   4. Any names for schools for dedicated creative writer?   From a mom facing her own empty nest

    This won't answer all of your questions but you might take a look at Oberlin and Kenyon, both of whom have strong writing programs. Kenyon, especially, is known for the writing program. Brutal winters for both of them but the kids seem happy at both. Lots of BHS kids at Oberlin and I know of one at Kenyon, though there may well be more. Oberlin reputed high on the quirk factor. 

    We just did the college search with our daughter, who is also interested in pursuing a career in creative writing. Two schools not on your list that I suggest looking at are Oberlin and Kenyon, both of which are eponymously named for their respective Ohio towns. Our daughter chose Oberlin, where she is now a freshman and having a great time. 

    Two others, both in downstate NY, are Bard and Sarah Lawrence. None of us could relate to the social scene at SL, but it has a very strong writing program. Bard was definitely a top contender for her, but in the end Oberlin just felt more like 'home' to her.

    About weather: Personally, I don't think it should be an elimination factor, *especially* for California kids. Everyone should have the experience of real seasons for a few years.

    I'm a mature student at Mills and I can say it seems like a wonderful and supportive environment to have a traditional college experience. It's true that a lot of students live off campus but I get the impression that many start on campus and then move into apartments with their friends their sophomore or Junior year. I've also lived in the area (Laurel District) and quite liked it. If your daughter is coming from an insulated suburb it will definitely feel more urban to her but I feel perfectly safe in the neighborhood (you just use common sense like you would in any urban setting). Most students don't seem to hang out in the local neighborhoods in any event, there are shuttles that goes to Berkeley and Bart regularly so students seem to travel further afield when they are going off campus. The only thing I would say is that it is a quiet campus, more studious than raucous but the traditionally aged students all seem to really love it and make wonderful friends and have great connections with their professors due to the small class size. Plus, the campus is just gorgeous. I went to Vassar for my first BA and the beautiful insulated campus and surrounding urban area is very reminiscent. It wasn't a problem there or at Mills. Good luck to her on her college search!

    Hi there,

    I am a Mac grad living in Berkeley and can answer questions. I'm active in Alumni activities and have insight to the school.  Contact me at sb.carter [at]

    Proud Macalester Alumn. 

    Hi there,

    I attended Macalester and it was a great fit for me. It's a popular school for many Bay Area students, especially those from BHS and some independent schools. I'm was raised in the snowy Midwest so winters were not a concern . But the people I met from all over the world didn't let cold or snow stop them from engaging in all things winter. The campus is compact so going from one building to another won't force you too be out in the cold too long. Dorms are close to dining hall. In fact many people would leave their dorm without jackets to walk the very short distance for meals.  It's a beautiful well maintained campus and just walking to your next class can be a chance to take in the surroundings and fun things students might do like build an igloo or snow "people" holding signs about an upcoming student event. The campus has lots of open space/grass. I had classes so small that when it was warm, we'd have them outdoors. Try that at Cal or a larger urban campus. Academically it is phenomenal. Small classes, brilliant professors, and best of all, attending classes with people from everywhere. )I attended an Ivy League graduate school and was more than prepared after 4 years at Mac. I sometimes pitied many classmates for not having the intimate experience I had (most went to East Coast colleges- large and impersonal).  I've stayed active as an alumnus and  support them by volunteering and financially through contributions.  Have your daughter request an Alumni interview and I think that will help her gauge if it's the place for her. I don't regret ever going and never apologized about my small liberal arts education. 

    Proud Mac alumn and Berkeley resident

    I can't speak to questions #1 - 3, but I can for #4. I am a Berkeley native who went to Goucher College, just outside of Baltimore in Towson, MD. It has a great creative writing program (one of my majors was English with a Concentration in Writing), a gorgeous campus, and a close knit student population. It has enough winter to where you can say you experienced winter, but not so much that you ever get snowed in (although it is Maryland and they're prone to overreaction when it snows). They also have an extremely strong study abroad program; I think at this point studying abroad is required for all students. Goucher isn't terribly well known out here, but it might be worth looking into for your daughter.

    Hi origami - Pitzer is one of the Claremont Colleges. I went to Scripps (decades ago) It's pretty nice socially though like most private colleges, not as diverse as you'd hope. Pitzer is the most socially progressive of all the schools. It is perforce a student body with a lot of rich kids, mostly white. I worked as a waitress in the dorms at Scripps and the kids on scholarship were a pretty great group. There were not and may not now be many black and Hispanic students though as a group the Claremont colleges had a strong program of admissions officers going to high schools in the LA area and finding students of color. They could have given them more emotional/academic support - they may have improved that. Don't know about Pitzer financial aid office. The diversity for me (lol) was learning to get along with rich kids from the east coast.Not sure how good I was at it. good luck.

    Macalester is a sweet little school. My daughter turned down a big scholarship there but has good friend who went there from Berkeley and loved it. Her friend is soccer player. It is cold....really, really cold. good luck. Mills is diverse, has strong LBGQT community. Mills may be academically less rigorous than other two. good luck. 

    I can't say enough good things about Macalester!  It was a great experience for me, and yes, there are many grads here!  Actually one great thing about Mac is that there are grads EVERYWHERE. People who are drawn to Mac tend to be folks who then go out and travel and live and work all over the world. The percentage of students from other countries is exceptionally high for a liberal arts college in the states.  And even within the US there are kids from all over the country.  The campus is beautiful, and you could just stick around there, but you also have the twin cities at your doorstep so if you want to get out and roam and feel anonymous you've got plenty of options for that as well. Yes, the weather could be a challenge if that's not what she's used to - so that will depend in part on her willingness to be up for that being part of the college adventure.  Is it good for quiet and quirky students?  I would say definitely.  There is a high quirky quotient at Mac.  As to quiet, I think she'll easily find her people.  You might look into going to the next Macalester event that I know of, which is Mac in the City - SF on Oct 6 (  It's set up for alums but I would think they would welcome interested prospective students.  Best of luck on the search!

  • College recommendations for cool quirky teen

    (11 replies)

    We are looking for a college where there is an atmosphere of creativity in the air. A place for a young gay teen who has a passion for self-expression can feel safe to be herself. She is dedicated to her creative writing and also has a strong interest in art-making. Graphic design is an area she is exploring this summer but has also expressed an interest in metal work and jewelry design. She is also a budding political activist. For a final project she created a type of documentary about gay issues. This was presented at pretty conservative Silicon Valley high school. Within her introverted heart lies a lot of courage and passion.  As with many, money is an issue. I am an elementary school teacher and a single mom. But I am open to any colleges you may have already looked or any you have heard about.  She says no rural scene for her and so far says she wants to be near a city.  U of O in Eugene, Oregon did not appeal nor did The Evergreen State School in WA. She gets good grades but works for them.  If you don't mind, please leave your email in case I have any questions.  Thanks!!

    Not sure how far you're willing to travel, but I would check out Macalester College in St. Paul, MN.

    If you're looking to have her stay in the bay area you should check out Mills! It's an all women's college and has a very supportive/community feeling. I believe they also let students cross register at California College of the Arts so she could explore metal arts, etc.. Mills has a strong activist community as well and an excellent womens and queer studies department.

    That said, if she is more interested in the arts, California College of the Arts is also a wonderful experience just not as heavy on the academics.

    Both, in my experience, offer pretty good financial aid and scholarship packages. Both are very supportive environments for LGBT kids.

    As a queer woman I really enjoyed my time at both schools!

    Look into Bard College.  My cousin's children went there and they are creative.  They are only one and two years out of college.  One works as a graphic designer and the other, who majored in documentary film making, works at a film museum and teaches disadvantaged youth in film making projects.

    Our son, who is a writer, loved Pitzer College and works in the video game industry and has had a number of great jobs including being the editor in chief of the magazine for video game developers, Game Developers Magazine.  (The print magazine was closed.). He is now on a team that is developing new video games.

    The first school that popped into my head upon reading your description of your daughter is Reed, just outside of Portland OR.  They apparently have fairly good need based aid, if that would be an issue.  Another thought is to post this same question (or research previous replies) in the forums on College Confidential.  I have found that site to be a wealth of good advice about colleges, for the most part, written by people who know what they are talking about and will have many useful suggestions.  Good luck!

    Check out Reed, but (as much I loved going there) I'm not sure I would recommend it for a student who "gets good grades by works for them."  That's not meant as a put-down -- just that Reed is a very intense place and can be difficult even for kids who coasted through high school with excellent grades.  It's also expensive and does not have the endowment (ability to award generous financial aid) of some other schools.  Mills is an excellent recommendation.  I know many California kids (a fair number gay) who have been delighted with Macalester.  Bowdoin would be another place to consider but it may not be metropolitan enough. 

    Sarah Lawrence outside NYC - alternative, very good arts and writing programs. also Bard and Kenyon College have good writing and arts programs, liberal, queer-friendly schools.  

    Your kid sounds so much like my kid.  We have looked at small liberal arts colleges with great arts programs from coast to coast.  Some schools you might want to look at are Sarah Lawrence and Lewis & Clark.  I agree with the comment about Reed being super intense.  Bard would also be a great fit as would Bennington and Whitman if she could stand a rural setting.  I blogged about our many, many college visits searching for the perfect "hippie" college for my daughter at

    I'll second the recommendation for Reed. My son is headed into his final year there and loves it. Creative thinking is encouraged and expected. Lots of different types of kids. It's in Portland, which is a great city for young people. The school is known for looking beyond just gpa and test scores in the admissions process. It is a hard school, work wise, but the kids aren't competitive with each other. They push themselves to do better. My son really grew into himself there  

    Bennington College in Vermont fills the bill in every way, except that it's completely rural.  But maybe encourage her to at least look on the website? I loved my years there -- it might be exactly what she's looking for, other than the (beautiful!!) setting.

    Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, is similar, but less rural -- it's in a small town but part of a consortium of five colleges, so there are tons of students around.  

    Skidmore, in upstate New York, and Sarah Lawrence, just north of New York City, also have the kind of atmosphere you're talking about, and it's easy to get into the city from both of them.

    Also check out University of Redlands in southern California -- my college-aged child's artsy/activist friend is loving it there, and got a good financial aid package.

    New York University has a wide range of both BA and BFA arts programs (fine arts, media, performing arts, film, writing) in two of its schools, Steinhard and Tisch.  They are not known for great financial aid though, alas.

    Emerson College in Boston might be a great fit -- it has tons of specific arts programs, both BA and BFA, very similar mix to NYU (but a much smaller school and smaller city, so less overwhelming).

    In terms of west coast art schools, in addition to CCA and Cal Arts, you might look at the San Francisco Art Institute, and Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. 

    I recommend your daughter investigate a fairly wide range of places -- both BA and BFA programs, at liberal arts colleges, public universities, and art schools -- because each program will have a different emphasis, a different selection of majors, and a different balance of academics and arts, and it's hard to know ahead of time what exactly you're looking for.  And don't rule out expensive private schools -- some of them will offer so much financial aid that they end up costing you less than ostensibly cheaper public universities, and you won't know until you apply.  

    Best of luck!

    Hi I'm a graduate of Pitzer College in Claremont. They have a great media studies program and it's a social justice amosphere. It was a bit of a culture shock for me as i was from SF (when it was more diverse) and had intersecting identities but there were so many great opportunities for self expression at Pitzer. LA was a short drive away from Claremont. Its a small school with opportunities at a large school bc it's part of Claremont Colleges. Last thing is the fee...deffinitely has expansive private school price tag but my mom was single mother/teacher and my cost was much less than if I had went to UC or state school.

    If finances are an issue, you might want to look at some of the more urban CSUs. SF State has an excellent creative writing department and some good art classes. It has dorms.

    UC Riverside also has an excellent creative writing department. I don't know about the urban cultural life there, but I know some of the writers and there are quite a few literary events.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Seeking a college with small classes and great academics

Sept 2014

Our son who is a senior isn't sure where he wants to go to school. We are hoping for a school that has great academics, small classes with discussions,and where there is not a real strong drug culture. His test scores and GPA are high, though his extra curricular list is not long. Any ideas? Not sure what to suggest

I don't know where your son should apply, but I do have a suggestion how about he figure that out. For a variety of reasons we hired what we call a college-prep buddy. This is someone who sits down with him for 2 hours/week to help him explore colleges, look up grants, work on his essay, etc. We started this in August.

Our college-prep buddy happens to be someone working on her post-doc but we were originally just looking for a responsible college student. She charges $20/hour. The goal wasn't to hire a professional college coach, but to get someone who would sit with him and help direct his exploration. It's working great. I'll say things like, Hey, I just heard that there's a college night at school, can you look into whether it's worth attending? or Do you need to write an essay for the CSUs or only the UCs? I made a worksheet and my son fills it out for each college he's investigated--the cost, deadlines, etc.

In our case we have a good sense already of the schools to apply to (which are rather limited by budget and his grades). But if I had your question, I would pose it to the two of them and let them do the research. It puts our son more in the driver's seat and makes this more his project than ours, which was a big part of the goal. it's working well for us

There are so many options out there that fit your description. A lot depends on geography and whether your son wants to be in a city or not. Does he want to be relatively close to home, or far away or in between? Does he have particularly interests for study, such as foreign languages or engineering? Different schools have different strengths. There are a lot of wonderful, small liberal arts colleges out there. And even though they have big price tags, a surprising number offer academic merit scholarships or other aid.

Here are some schools that fit your description: the Claremont Colleges (Pomona, CMC, Pitzer), University of Puget Sound, Willamette, Bowdoin, Bates, Colby, Middlebury, Carleton, Swarthmore.

Really, though, you should get a couple of books that have profiles of colleges. Your son should read through them and highlight the ones that look interesting to him. And talk to a college counselor to look at his portfolio to direct him to the schools that seem like the best fit and that he has a shot at getting into.

If you can, visit some schools so that he can get an idea of what he likes and doesn't like in a college. Good luck. Been there

Take a look at Whitman College in Walla Walla Washington. It has excellent academics. It is a Colleges That Change Lives School. It is a small liberal arts college with small classes that are focused on discussion-based learning. The faculty is expected to create real relationships with students. It is a beautiful campus and nurturing environment for students who know that the faculty and administration care about their success. It is far from here, but in the same time zone and there are direct flights between SFO and Pasco, WA. A lot of Bay Area students go there. My student loved it there, got a great education, and when he stumbled, the faculty and staff made it their business to make sure he was supported enough that he graduated feeling like a real success. Happy Whitman parent

The college choice is overwhelming and it is very hard to figure out where to even start looking. We did this with my daughter last year and she ended up applying to 10 schools, all of which she was happy about and would have been comfortable attending. To get to the 10 though we started with criteria that had less to do with the schools but was important to her: geography (hot, cold, small town, city, etc.), distance from home for travel (hours to get to, days, driving, flying, etc.), then school size, school type (core curriculum, open curriculum, declared major on entering or open). Once we had a basic sense of the elements important to her we were able to start narrowing choices for her to look at - we visited some early on, but required that she do the online virtual tours and go to as many college fairs/info nights as possible to get as much of a sense of the school as possible. Hope this helps - good luck! Maggie H

Your description of your son (strong academically, with few extracurriculars) reminds me of my son who is in his third year at Quest University Canada. It's located in a small town outside of Vancouver. Classes are small and discussion based and very rigorous. At Quest you're on a block schedule so you take one class at a time for 3 and a half weeks. Then you have a long weekend before starting the next block. Students work closely with the teachers. Quest is small and all students live on campus but it does not seem to have a big party scene. Lots of students are outdoorsy. It a very accepting and intellectual group of students. Wilma

I'm a college admissions consultant that helps students find colleges that would be a good fit. My thoughts are -- if you are looking for great academics and lots of discussion, your best bets are private liberal arts colleges. There are hundreds of colleges that fit that description, so I'd suggest using a few more criteria to narrow down the choices. What does he want to study? Does he want to stay in California or go to another part of the country? What sort of student culture would he be most comfortable in (liberal/conservative, artsy, activist, preppy, rah-rah, etc)? Is there a certain price range you need to stay within?

You'll also want to consider how selective the college is - what percent of applicants are admitted and what is the average GPA and test score? Admissions have gotten quite competitive, so having a strong GPA and scores doesn't guarantee anything at the more well known colleges, unfortunately. It's important to do your research and make sure he's applying mostly to schools he has a good chance of being admitted to.

A great website for finding colleges is the Big Future website from College Board: Under ''Find Colleges'' click on ''College Search.'' You can filter by many different criteria to get suggested schools.

He should also talk to the guidance counselor at his high school - they should have suggestions for him and will know the right questions to ask. Nicole

If your student goes to Berkeley high he should be meeting with his school college counselor. They are in the career center, and they are great. They know what they are talking about and are respected by college admissions people. Ms. Price and Mr. Barton see students based on which school they are in as as well as last name. Check the website. Has your son thought about a gap year instead? In your same boat

After flailing a bit when our son began the process of applying to colleges, a visit to the College & Career Center at our son's high school proved worthwhile. The advisor was helpful, and the reference library was a fabulous resource. Once our son identified his area of interest and put the name of a major on it, he consulted at least one reference that listed colleges offering that particular major. Criteria such as tuition, campus life, postgrad/job opportunities, distance from home, etc. narrowed the choices. One university stood out, and a couple of visits sealed the deal. Happily, our son was accepted there, and he has thrived. I don't mean to make the process all sound unrealistically easy -- it wasn't. But this strategy was just a part of our approach that seemed to work well. I don't know whether this type of help is available at all high schools, but definitely check it out if it is. The advisor guided our son in his decision-making process, reviewed his essays, and held application workshops for seniors -- all at no charge! Anon

Discussion-based colleges

Jan 2014

Could people tell me what are some colleges that have a fair amount of discussion as part of the curriculum, and what their experience (and their son's or daughter's experience) has been at these schools? Thanks.

My 20 year old son is attending Quest University, a small liberal arts college in British Columbia. The classes are all discussion based with a maximum of 20 students per class. The semester is divided up into four blocks (each 3.5 weeks long). A student takes one class per block. There's 3 or 4 hours of class time per day and at least that much time is spent on nightly homework. My son is immersing himself into his learning in a deep way. Socially, it's a tight knit community and he is very happy there. Wilma

If I were you, I would post that question on College Confidential. (.com). Most of the forum responses there are very informed, polite and helpful. You will also get a wide range of opinions from all over the country. CC Junkie

I think you'll find that most of the small liberal-arts colleges promote interaction and discussion between the students themselves and between students and faculty. My son based his search on the west coast, really leaning toward the schools in the Pacific Northwest. He was accepted to Reed, Lewis & Clark, Willamette, and Univ of Puget Sound. He liked all of them because of their focus on small classes and interaction/discussion. He chose Reed and is ridiculously happy there. During orientation week, many of the speakers spoke of the student body's passion and love of a good argument. My son says he has some great discussions in class, in the dorm common room, at dinner, in his professors' offices, etc. You get the idea.

If you haven't yet, you might want to check out the Loren Pope books ''Looking Beyond the Ivy League'' and ''Colleges the Change Lives.'' He also has a website:

There are A LOT of really good schools out there. Don't fret too much about rankings and such. Look for the good fit and the place you think your child will find his tribe and be happy.

Film Making Colleges

Nov 2013

I am wondering if anyone knows what are good colleges for film making/film studies? Also, any experience with a kid in school for film making?

Santa Monica College in Santa Monica Ca. is an excellent film-making college kkelly

Wesleyan University in Connectict has a well regarded film department. Others that I am aware of, but have no direct experience with, are UCLA, USC, NYU and Hampshire. I am sure there are many other excellent programs. Parent of a Wesleyan student

For starters, check out The College Board's Book of Majors 2014. I learned about this resource in the College/Career Center of our son's high school. Anon

Fashion design schools

Aug 2013

My daughter is a high school senior interested in studying fashion design in college. She already has done two excellent internships in the field and is sewing some of her own clothes. I am a single mom with a limited budget and she is a mediocre student academically. She has a passion for artistic things but not for sitting at a desk or in a library studying and writing. I'm wondering if anyone has any advice about where we might look for colleges that offer fashion design in a very hands-on sense and practical experiences like internships, but that don't require a 3.0 GPA and lots of money. We're willing to consider community college, but my daughter would like to leave the Bay Area (we know about College of Alameda) and be part of a new environment. We're not familiar with Southern California, but would consider something there if we could get some recommendations. We're aware of FIDM and other highly recommended schools, but they are expensive and don't offer good financial aid. We also would consider something overseas, where tuition appears to be reasonable at fashion schools. But we don't know one school from another there. Any tips, including someone to contact for further advice, would be appreciated. anonymous

I guess these two schools don't really meet your requirements, but I thought I would mention them.

San Francisco City College

UC Davis

Maybe she could go to SF City College and transfer to Davis. Anon

Check out San Mateo's Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. All the best! Barbara

Insights into Willamette vs. Puget Sound?

March 2013

I am hoping some parents of older teens have some experience with Willamette University and University of Puget Sound. And Salem vs. Tacoma, if you have lived in either city.

My son was accepted to both (yay!), but he is paralyzed in making a decision between them. Both are very good, small, liberal-arts schools, not too far from a big city. (Willamette in the capital of OR and an hour from Portland; Tacoma just south of Seattle.) My son wants to study history and possibly participate or minor in theater.

My take is that Willamette has a more robust theater scene, while Puget Sound has a bigger focus on music. It also seems like there are more business and psychology majors at Puget Sound, and more humanities majors at Willamette. Are those correct impressions? I think he'd like Willamette's location, which is walkable to a downtown area, over Puget Sound's more suburban setting.

Anything I'm missing, especially around the types of students on campus and the general campus vibe? Does it rain that much more in Tacoma over Salem?

My son is intellectual, quirky, and funny. He is into Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer and would like to take up LARPing in college, etc. So, the outdoorsy stuff like kayaking and rock climbing isn't necessarily a plus. Thanks for any insights.

Willamette is quite small, as is Salem, even though it's the state capital. UPS seems like more of an up and coming school and it's very close to Seattle, which is a big plus with young people. My daughter took a tour of Willamette and was immediately turned off by the size and energy of Salem. If you haven't visited, you might consider it. My daughter said No Way to Willamette.

Two years ago my son was in the exact same position of choosing between those colleges. The good news is that you can't make a bad choice. They are both excellent schools with dedicated faculty and happy students. My son chose Willamette and has been very happy there. He is a history major and has enjoyed the fact that he has been able to access the state archives for his History of the US West class. He likes the town of Salem, which is right next to campus. Portland is less than an hour away, but he doesn't go up there much because he is busy on campus. There are trains and busses up to the city, and it's easy to get to the airport to fly home.

My son is also kind of quirky, and he has made wonderful friends and feels right at home at Willamette. The Willamette kids are sweet, they don't seem jaded or judgmental. It's a very welcoming place. His relationships with professors are close.

If you are able, I would suggest a trip north for your son to spend the night at each campus. My son did that, and came away feeling strongly that Willamette was the place for him. But again, I think both schools are very strong and he will be happy with whichever one he chooses. Willamette Mom

Advice for student interested in studying music at college

Jan 2012

My son, a junior in high school, is passionate about jazz drumming/percussion and wants to study this in college. Does anyone know of resources-people or advisors or websites etc-that might help him figure out how to go about navigating the college applicationprocess? The high school counselor does not seem all that knowledgeable about this pathway. Thanks. Musician mom

Hi. One of my kids is in a Music Conservatory, and I know several kids, or young adults really, who are in Music school focused on drums. There is a lot of online information about this.

Check out the site for Young Adults. There is a big section on applying to music schools. Cayford

My son is a jazz musician, currently studying in the jazz program at the University of Miami. He started his exploration of programs by going to the annual performing arts college fair in SF, which I think you can find info on here:

There was also a workshop at the Jazzschool in Berkeley about college jazz programs - not sure if it will be repeated.

Our son's private music teachers were really helpful as well, particularly around preparing for auditions.

Good luck to you and your son! jazzmom

I can only say what I've seen: Students coming out of the Albany High Jazz Band have gone on to study music seriously and professionally at Oberlin Conservatory (Ohio), Berklee School of Music (Boston), U of Miami, The New School, and elsewhere. There are other music colleges (Westminster College in Princeton NJ or SF Conservatory, although I don't know if they do jazz) and there are colleges with good music programs (UC Santa Cruz has a Jazz program). These (maybe all music depts) require auditions, whether by CD or DVD or in person (sometimes there is a West Coast event for auditions). Some students have written or arranged jazz music, and had it recorded by their high school combo or band, in order to strengthen their resume. Some have taken classes at the Berkeley Jazz School while in high school. Some have played in various local and state honor bands.

Music is a wonderful thing to have in your life, but like most entertainment and arts fields, it's a terribly hard way to make a living. Even the ones who want it most aren't always able to do so. Most music professionals either tour all the time and are never at home, or teach music, or are underemployed. If it were my child, I would want him to be realistic about it as a career, and encourage exploration at college of at least a few other interests. On the other hand, when better than your twenties to travel around a lot? Good luck with this!

We found Wendy Morrison to have a broad knowledge of the programs across the country. She is a private college counselor in Kensisington. Her son was in the BHS jazz program a number of years ago, and she advised my son, who is a senior in the program this year. You can reach her at: wendymorrison [at] Also, Down Beat magazine comes out with a list of top programs each year, I think in the summer, or you can get ahold of last years' edition. Good luck! raissa

I think any good college counselor will be knowledgeable about good classical music schools and programs. I saw your posting and wanted to make one comment. My daughter does classical voice (opera) and one of the schools her college counselor recommended was Vanderbilt. My daughter was not even going to apply until my husband did some reading on the program. The Blair School of Music is fantastic and really gaining in reputation now. And there are only 200 students in the school and there is so much individual attention. (The freshman dorms actually have practice rooms in them with pianos...) My daughter LOVES it. She has also been able to keep up her piano (she gets a private lesson every week). I am a financial aid analyst at Cal, and we were thrilled when my daughter got her offer letter. Vanderbilt is one of about 20 or so colleges that meets full need with scholarship for every undergraduate student. In the long run, Vandy will be less expensive for us than the UCs my daughter got accepted into. SW flies there--15 minutes to the airport--another bonus. Feel free to contact me if your son would like to connect with my daughter. sarah

Small liberal arts college for B+ student?

Sept 2011

Our daughter is a senior in high school and in the thick of applying to college. She has sorted through a number of schools, we have made school visits, and she is whittling down her list. We met some time ago with a very knowledgeable college advisor, who said that our daughter would probably end up at a school we'd never heard of. Here we are, in late September/early October, and it's really time to pull this all together and commit to the list of schools and complete the applications. Here's the issue that I'd like help with: I have this (bad) feeling that my kid's list is incomplete, that the college that would be the best fit is somehow missing from our list, that it may be - in the words of the counselor - a school we've never heard of, and that I don't know how to find it. She's looking for a small liberal arts college, near or in a big city, maybe on the East Coast; she'd like to study literature, classics, take Latin, and she loves musical theater. She doesn't have the grades for a very top-tier school (Brown, Amherst, Williams) but she's a good, solid student with a very solid B+ average and good scores on the SAT (well, at least on the language/essay sections). I'm not sure what to do, to leave her alone and let her apply to her small list (maybe five or six schools); I know she's chatting with her counselor at school, but I feel like it's my job to provide guidance and support here and I'm sort of haunted by the feeling that I'm missing something, but can't put my finger on it. Any ideas or suggestions or great schools to consider would be so appreciated. class of 2012

Check out Fordham University in NYC. My friend's daughter is a senior English literature major and has been involved in theater there, and it is a subway ride from Broadway. Former NYer

Hi, we went through a similar questioning process with our son two years ago. Sounds like he had similar grades and test scores (3.2 GPA, ~2100 SAT), background (Latin)and desires (urban/near-urban, small, liberal arts, literature; but not musical theater). One idea is to simply sit down with the Fiske Guide or something similar, and look for all the schools that meet your criteria. Fiske describes the schools and gives data on the SAT scores of accepted students. Here are some possibilities:
In CA: Occidental (Obama went there, briefly), Scripps MD: Goucher (near Baltimore), NY: Sarah Lawrence (our son is there; half hour by train from Grand Central - he goes to NYC all the time), Fordham (Lincoln Center campus), Eugene Lang (in Manhattan) OR: Lewis and Clark, Reed (both in Portland) PA: Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore (all outside Philadeplphia) 
Been there, done that

Your daughter sounds like a great kid, and she could have many interesting options for college, as long as you do not put all your eggs in the ''top tier'' basket. My daughter a very happy freshman at an excellent school which is ''second tier'' (if tiers are established by US News). She was accepted to a so-called ''first tier'' college but chose the one that was really a better fit, thank goodness.

She was an B+/A- student with strong test scores, and while the college app process was stressful, she was in the happy position of being accepted by 6 of 10 colleges, including 2 of 3 UCs, whereas some of her friends who had A/A+ averages, piles of APs, and great test scores completely struck out with the name brand colleges (but fortunately had some UCs in their back pocket).

Do not let college rankings or social prestige drive your daughter's list. There are some outstanding schools that are less well known. Include 2 or 3 name brands IF and only if they really seem like a good fit in terms of student body, school culture, academic offerings, etc. But also use resources like College Prowler or College Board to explore schools which have musical theatre and Latin, for example, accept 25-60% of applicants, & are a good match in terms of her personality. (We kept our list on College Prowler & found that the assessment of what was a good fit, as well as her admission chances, was pretty accurate.)

By the way, another advantage to the lesser known colleges is that they court you - she was offered airfare and hotel stays for 3 colleges & huge merit scholarships at 2 of them...that was nice!

If your daughter would put aside the desire to be in a big city and/or East Coast she could some really great options - Oberlin, Whitman, Bowdoin, Carleton, Davidson, Grinnell, Kenyon, Skidmore, Bard, Beloit, Earlham, Muhlenberg, Colorado College, Emerson - several of which have strong theatre and classics depts. But if the city life is really important to her, maybe consider NYU, Boston College, Boston University, Reed, Lewis & Clark, Macalester, Connecticut College. And don't forget UCSC has a really good theatre arts program!

There is nothing worse than getting a pile of rejection letters just because the choices were guided by prestige rather than a good fit. You're right to wonder about her list...and the counselor is right that she's likely to end up at a college that you might not have heard of, but where she will be very happy, get a great education, make friends for life, and wonder why she ever considered going anywhere else. = Survived the College Apps! =

I know exactly what the counselor meant by ''ending up at a college you never heard of'' because that's what happened to our thriving college sophmore. The school was one that her high school counselor recommended to her. Although she applied to the more well known schools on the east coast as well, and got into a few good ones, it was the private, small liberal arts school in the midwest that we'd never heard of that shined the brightest for her. She hadn't visited the school before she was accepted but after they accepted her she did visit and knew almost instantly that it was the one she wanted to attend. A huge bonus for all of us was that they gave her an excellent scholarship package. Not knowing in advance where your child is going to ''end up'' is what makes this such a highly anxious time for everyone but I'll give you the same advice her counselors gave us, which wasn't easy but I followed it, try to just be there for her when she needs your help and let her figure out the rest. She will grow from the experience of owning this process. I know it's hard but I would highly recommend trusting your daughter's ability to navigate this one on her own as much as possible. She and her counselor will figure out a good fit. Best of Luck

Two thoughts: 1. There is no one college that is right for your daughter. There are probably 50-100 schools that would be wonderful places for her. Each would be a different experience, but all would be great. So relax. 2. I am not a college counselor, but I am from the East Coast, went to a East Coast liberal arts school (Wesleyan) and recently did a college tour with my son. He ended up at Brandeis, but we looked at several other schools that might be a great fit for your daughter: Clark University (MA-an hour from Boston), Trinity College (Hartford), Lafayette College (PA-1-1/2 hours from Philadelphia), Connecticut College (a ways from anywhere, but great school). Others that might be great, though not near or in a city: Bard College (upstate NY), Kenyon College (OH). Good luck. Mom of Teenagers

I am an Amherst alum and graduated with a degree in Classics. Have you also thought about F, (my sister went there), Haverford, Middlebury, Vassar. And if she will consider a women's college (which sometimes are easier for admission, but every bit as strong) Smith, Wellsley, Bryn Mawr? Feel free to get in touch, and good luck!

Is Bard on your list? Other options might be Sarah Lawrence or Hampshire. Jodi

You can drive yourself (and your daughter) crazy looking at too many schools. She is likely the type of student who can find that great education at a range of schools. Her counselor is probably helping her find the schools that will allow her to find the community she needs. So stop beating yourself up looking for Prince Charming - I mean the perfect college. College will be what she makes of it no matter where she goes. It is not the college that makes it perfect, it is her approach to her own education. Perhaps you will provide her with the best of parental support if you help her, the rest of this year, to get ready to be an independent scholar and young adult, living away from you, next year. Taking this first step of focusing in on colleges and working primarily with the school counselor may be how she is beginning that transformation. Let her lead, and be her support. Be glad she is not one of those kids who wants to apply to 20 colleges all over the country and wants to visit each one! Yikes! Now if I can take my own advice ...

Relax. While she may end up at a college you've never heard of, that doesn't mean that unknown college is the only good place for your daughter. There are more good schools than one realizes when first entering the process. The high school counselor, if good, should be able to identify schools that are appropriate for your daughter to apply to, and should know the chances of a student at your daughter's HS with your daughter's grades getting into XYZ college -- just make sure the counselor knows your family is open to looking at schools you haven't heard of.

And if you really want some extra help, most independent college counselors are willing to work with a student just to develop a college list. It costs money, but less than full service from a college counselor. And if your family goes this route and it turns out to be positive for all involved, you may decide to continue working with the counselor after the list is complete. Another 2012 mom

I'd apply to more than 1/2 dozen. Based on going to Barnard and growing up in New England:
Colby, Bowdoin Bennington Middlebury Bryn Mawr Wellesley Swarthmore Bard SUNY Purchase and Barnard Columbia. 
My knowledge of SAT scores etc. is 30 years old but I do know that this list meets the criteria you mentioned. Best of luck. Barnard '83.

It's really common to feel this way; there are so many colleges out there. But I would first encourage you to relax. There are many schools that will be a great fit for your daughter. She only has to find one of them.

I've sent two kids to college now. The first did end up at a small school we had never heard of, which we literally found out about by happenstance. Once she visited, she really felt it was right and was very firm in her decision. And she is having a good experience, but now that she is a junior and knows more about hers and other schools, she realizes that she could also have fit in and had a good experience at a number of other schools.

The second just started school at a college we had heard of, though I'm not sure how we had, since it's in a part of the country we had no connection with probably through sports. It's not small, but he equally felt it was just right for him. On a more practical note, have you read the books Schools that Change Lives or America's Best Colleges for B Students? Both might be helpful. Five or six is a small number to apply to these days. There are so many unknowable variables that play into why a student is accepted or not, it can happen that kids are not accepted into schools where they seem to easily meet all the criteria, and who knows why. Why not encourage her to add 3 or 4 to her list that just strike her fancy based on internet research?

Here are a couple of schools that we looked at during out two college searches that might have what she wants, though not all are necessarily close to a city.
Beliot College Franklin and Marshall Seattle U. U of Puget Sound Ursinus Eckerd 
Good luck to you! Anne

How about Wesleyan? How about the ACM colleges like Oberlin, Macalester, Grinnell, Carleton, Beloit, etc. (If the midwest counts as east coast). I know lots of people that went to ACM colleges and received an excellent education. Dan

Check out the book Colleges That Change Lives. Lots of small lesser known schools listed there. --Mom of senior

She sounds like a good fit for St. John's College in New Jersey/New Mexico, ''Classics R Us.'' Don't overlook the WUI program by which Western colleges give each other's residents significant breaks on out-of-state tuition for unusual majors that are distributed among participating colleges so they don't all have to offer them, e.g. the Latin/classics major at U Oregon (which is a BIG school, but in a lovely city). We're on the same road.

Colleges with Restorative Justice programs

August 2011

My 17-y-o son, who will be entering his senior year of high school, is interested in studying restorative justice in college. He found out about a program at University of Montana - Western that looks very good to him. We have not been able to go out there, and are wondering if any other schools offer this type of program. Recommendations of other colleges with criminal justice programs (not necessarily restorative justice) are appreciated also. mom of idealist

To find California colleges that offer a criminal justice major, on the website, click on Explore Colleges and then use the Undergraduate Matching Assistant. Type in Criminal Justice as the major you want to search for and your search will give you a long list of colleges that have that major. Anonymous

A Great choice: congrats to him! Fresno Center for Restorative Peacemaking is one of the best:

Eastern Mennnonite is one of the first:

A few more to check out: and micky

College for Sound Recording/Audio Engineering?

Dec 2010

My teen is looking for sound engineering/audio engineering-type programs at California community colleges. Unfortunately we're having a hard time finding which campuses have them and which ones are good. Partly, they're buried within music departments and partly there doesn't seem to be a good search tool across campuses for relatively obscure programs like this. Anyone know of a good resource or have personal information? Also interested in similar info on any Cal State/CSU campuses. Thanks! Music Dad

Hi -My son is applying to colleges with sound recording/audio engineering programs and he and I have spent some time researching them. For the community colleges, Foothill seems to be the best. It has a certificate program in Pro-Tools. We didn't find many others that looked good to him. Cabrillo College also has a decent-looking program. For the CSUs, check out SF State (where my son knows someone in the program); CSU Monterey Bay; & CSU Dominguez Hills (through the Digital Media Arts Program). If your son would consider going out of state, check out SUNY Purchase, CUNY, Northeastern, and Berklee College of Music, among other places. We went to visit SUNY Purchase and LOVED it; it's also sort of affordable even out of state. If you want more info or to know about our research process, feel free to email. I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out our kids know each other. w.

The first three local schools that come to mind are DVC (Diablo Valley College, a community college) in Pleasant Hill, San Francisco State, and Expressions College for Digital Arts in Emeryville. I can't speak to the quality of one school over another, but I do know a few colleagues who have taught at all of these schools and know they are very knowledgeable in the sound recording field.

You don't mention whether your child is male or female, but The Women's Audio Mission in San Francisco is a fantastic resource for women who want to learn more about or advance within the areas of audio engineering and production.

Over time I've heard from parents of music-minded kids that there are excellent sound recording programs at USC (hard to get into unless you're an A student), NY State U at Syracuse, and Cal State U Northridge. There are also technical schools. I once heard that Albany HS has a sound recording studio but I don't know if there's a teacher or class for that. Good luck!

I asked my nephew about this as he is working in this field right out of college. He attended Cuesta Community College in San Luis Obispo and says that they have great sound design classes. Good luck! Aunt to a budding sports recording producer

This is a great site for finding classes in the California Community Colleges-Courseopedia Mary

Suggestions for small liberal arts colleges

April 2010

What are some strong (academically) liberal arts colleges that are not too isolated geographically (near an interesting town) and not in a very cold climate. Our daughter would like to go to such a school and she is a good student but wants a smaller school. anon

My daughter was also looking for a small, liberal arts school near an urban area and these were some that interested her:

  • Los Angeles: Occidental, Claremont Colleges, Chapman University, Loyola Marymount.
  • Portland: Lewis and Clark, Reed.
  • Seattle Area: University of Puget Sound.

She chose Occidental and loves it. Good luck. Freshman mother

Check into Soka University of America. It is near Laguna Beach in So. Cal and I found it to be an oasis of beauty and student centered teaching. Classes are small and mostly seminar type. It is very diverse and multicultural - students from over 15 countries attend. They have wonderful facilities and a library that is gorgeous. It seems well rounded and the food in the cafeteria is excellent - even many organics! I was very impressed. Sindy

Non-traditional college for independent-minded son

March 2010

Hi all, I'm looking for advice or recommendations on non-traditional colleges. My son is an independent-minded individual, very intelligent but has not really thrived in traditional academic settings with an emphasis on performing primarily to achieve a grade. A small environment, with a course of study that's more integrated and project based might, I think, work for him. He's definitely not interested in a school in Southern California or in a large urban area. I've been looking at Evergreen State College in Washington and would love some feedback. Or, if you have other suggestions that would be great. Thanks! Searching for the right fit

Our daughter has ADHD and is emotionally about 3 years behind where she should be for her age. She graduated from high school last June.

We did the typical college search tour, but it was pretty clear that none of the larger colleges would be right for her. We were lucky to stumble on Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. So far it's been perfect! It's relatively small (e.g. ~6000 students) and in a very nice town. It's a teaching college, not a research college, so the faculty are very in-tune with what the students need to learn.

This is not to say she hasn't had challenges. She has, but they have been the normal kinds of problems that most kids face when they're away at college for the first time. She's still very positive about SOU, and so are we. Satisfied So Far

Check out St. John's College in Santa Fe, NM. Very unique and strong great books program, small, special, gorgeous place to live or visit. They have a sister campus in Annapolis.

oh, forgot to mention, no grades at St. John's. But not project-based either... everyone is on the same curriculum, reading all the great books, and graduates with a philosophy major & math minor, with deep science, music, Greek and French languages, very integrated.

Another small college to check out is Colorado College in Colorado Springs. They are project-based, on the block program (1 class at a time, in depth.) Kristen

We visited Evergreen with our son. Although ultimately, it was not the school for him, I think it is worth visiting. The campus is beautiful, and the curriculum very non-traditional. A lot of their graduates successfully go on to pursue graduate degrees. Your child, I think, needs to be very self-motivating and independent to go there. wmdj

I would first suggest you and he get the book and go to the website called COLLEGES THAT CHANGE LIVES:

That book is a great start (Evergreen is one of the schools in the book. I have been a proponent of alternative education since I was in high school many, many years ago. I went to Antioch College (Yellow Springs, OH), but can't recommend that school at the moment - maybe in a few years.

Wesleyan University, while not in the book is a wonderful school that attracts more ''alternative'' students. It's in Middletown, CT.

We know a couple of kids who attend Clark in Massachusetts (it's in the book, above). They wanted the type of school you are looking for and have been quite happy.

Finally, some of the colleges that were originated by the Quakers are all pretty open-minded. Haverford and Swarthmore (both in the same consortium) are two I can definitely recommend. See:

While some of these schools are more difficult to get into, they also don't place 100% emphasis on grades and SATs. The interviews and essays can really help, especially at a school that he would most likely be interested in.

My daughter goes to Bryn Mawr (still all-women) and it is part of the Haverford/Swarthmore consortium. Those students are quite well-rounded and interested in helping the world - not just ''book-learning''.

If finances are an issue, I think that Evergreen is one of the few state schools that is ''alternative''. However, most of the more ''open-minded'' schools seem to be need-blind, too, as they want to have a diverse student body.

Here is one of a few online lists of schools that don't require SATs but not all of those schools are alternative.

This should get you started. Good luck. I have 20 year old twins and their senior year was quite a year - both exciting and stressful. Elizabeth

Depending on your son's grades and interests, you might want to look at Hampshire College ( It is in Massachusetts, but offers a fairly different approach to learning at the college level. Good luck! Feel free to contact me if we can be of any further assistance with your son's college search. Betsy

Culinary Education plus bachelor's degree

Feb 2010

My daughter is interested in going to a culinary school but would also like to attend a good college and get a Bachelor's Degree. If you know of a school with a good reputation in both, or another way to combine the two, please let us know. It seems that a choice has to be made between one or the other. Mother of a baker

My sister went to Cornell and I was impressed by the Hotel School there. Here's what the website says now:

Cornell Hotel School, The Culinary Institute of America Create Collaborative Degree Program January 10, 2006

Ithaca, N.Y., January 9, 2006 - The Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) have created a collaborative degree program for students seeking a preeminent education in hospitality management and the culinary arts. Students who complete this intensive program will earn a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in Hotel Administration and an Associate in Occupational Studies (A.O.S.) degree in Culinary Arts.

Might be a possibility for your daughter. Mary in Oakland

you might want to check out Univ of Massachusetts. A friend's dad headed up the culinary program there for many years, and of course it has regular academics, too. heidi

My niece on the East Coast sounds like your daughter. She went to a summer program at Johnson & Wales that solidified her decision to pursue a career in cooking but to combine it with a bachelor's degree. Johnson & Wales has 4 campuses (same training program at all 4) - Providence, RI (original& main campus), North Miami (where my niece was), Charlotte NC and Denver. The summer program she attended was for High School Jr's & Sr's - there may be others too for younger students. J& W offers both associates and bachelors degrees. She highly recommends it, says she learned a lot and it was an intense week.

Here are some other things she has investigated (none in the West though, maybe too far for your daughter). You might also want to contact Karen Rogers who started the Sprouts Cooking Club here in Berkeley. The program is for younger kids, but she is probably a good resource for advice

CIA (Culinary Institute of America) - very prestigious for training chefs - in Poughkiepsie NY. CIA now offers a bachelors degree program. I think people need some work experience prior to enrolling at CIA. There is also a CIA type school in Michigan - not sure where.

Also Drexel U in Phillie offers culinary studies and Drexel is known for its co-op/intern programs.

One other summer program that includes cooking is through a program run by Julian Krinsky. They use space at one of the Phillie colleges - Bryn Mawr I believe

Good Luck- Sarah

College for non-academic daughter who loves music

Jan 2010

My daughter is single-mindedly focused on music, playing electric guitar and becoming a famous rock musician. She skates by in high school. We're strongly encouraging her to apply to college/community college as a ''back up plan'' but she is unsure. She does not read music, so music as an academic plan/major seems unrealistic. We've been looking into programs in audio recording and sound engineering as a way to help her to see opportunities in continuing her education.

Do you have advice on (a) where to look for programs like this at public universities and/or community colleges (i.e. don't suggest hard-to-get-in schools where she wouldn't get in or Ex'pressions College in Emeryville which lists tuition of $80k per year), (b) suggestions for learning more about this as a career path -- e.g. current volunteer or internship opportunities, classes a high school kid could take now, mentors? Thanks! Anon

''She does not read music, so music as an academic plan/major seems unrealistic.''

It's true that most college/university music departments will turn up their noses at an applicant who doesn't read music. But there are two responses to that, both true: Not all successful musicians learn their trades at universities; and no musician should refuse to learn to read and write music.

I was thinking between cues as I sang in a chorus on the stage of the Paramount Theatre this evening: when young people say they're contemplating a career in music, they're told it's a hard way to make a living. What they're not told is, that's true of every line of work, from professor to plumber. Every violinist, every trumpeter, every cellist, every flutist, every percussionist in the orchestra accompanying us was probably a couple of gigs, a couple of students, or a day job away from poverty; but so am I, and so are many people I know.

So while I can't recommend a school for your daughter, I would strongly encourage her to learn to read and write music, and to ask her fellow musicians about possible mentors. If she doesn't have fellow musicians to ask, that's another big problem and she'd better start fixing it right now.

Learning to read and write will demonstrate that she's serious about her craft and will vastly expand her opportunities and the number of possible mentors. And it's not that hard. She could learn it in six weeks. It's mostly a matter of practice. John

A previous reply to this question said ''they're told [a career in music is] a hard way to make a living. What they're not told is, that's true of every line of work, from professor to plumber.''

I don't agree. There are some professions, such as plumber, where anybody with skill can make a living. This might also be true for some computer-related professions. Musicians, on the other hand, can be recognized virtuosi and still not be able to make a living from music. (I grew up in the part of Los Angeles where all the hot studio musicians lived. There were more virtuosi per square mile than anywhere else in the world. Yet, only a disappointing few were actually able to make a living as a musician.) Jon