College Snapshot: Reed College

Dear Student,

If you consider yourself a “liberal nerd,” Reed College could be a great fit for you. (Students looking to join a fraternity and/or play football should probably look elsewhere.)

If you’ve been eyeing some of the most well-known and prestigious colleges, you might be unimpressed that Reed comes in at #82 on the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings of liberal arts colleges. But if you look at which schools have the highest percentage of graduates who go on to earn a Ph.D., Reed is in the top three nationwide in life sciences, psychology, physical sciences, humanities and social sciences.

By the way, there are lots of reasons why you shouldn’t rely on popular national rankings lists:

  • They don’t provide any information about which school is the best fit for you as an individual.
  • A number of schools cheated (reported false information) to inflate their rank; in other words, some of the data the rankings are based on are not even real.
  • The ratings are somewhat self-perpetuating or circular, because high-ranking schools are likely to continue to get high ratings from other schools (which is one of the ratings criteria) due to their visibility from being highly-ranked in the first place.
  • Colleges literally spend millions of dollars to raise their ranking – which is not the same thing as raising their quality.
  • For these and other reasons, most high school counselors have negative opinions about this rating system and consider it misleading.

But back to Reed. Its former president Colin Diver described how Reed rejected the USNWR system and asked to be removed from the list – but simply got pushed down in the rankings instead. Nevertheless, the number and quality of Reed applicants has increased since then.

Imagine a beautiful campus a stone’s throw from Portland, Oregon with 1,400 students in a 9:1 student-faculty ratio. (It’s a great region if you love the outdoors.) Most incoming students were in the top 10% of their HS class, and their average GPA is 3.9. Thirty-five percent of applicants are accepted, and 88% of freshmen return sophomore year.

Reed might seem custom-made for students like you. Reed bills itself as “unconventional and progressive”; the Fiske Guide describes it as “mixing nonconformist students with a traditional and rigorous curriculum.” All of the courses are taught by professors (not graduate students), and you will complete a research-based thesis. If you choose to pursue both liberal arts and a STEM field, you can get a combined B.A./B.S. (two degrees) in five years by spending three years at Reed and two years at Caltech, Columbia or Rensselaer. Some of the hands-on science opportunities include working on a nuclear reactor and participating in an exchange program with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Tuition is close to $54,000 with the total cost of attendance around $70,000/year, but Reed is committed to meeting 100% of demonstrated need. Most students receive some aid (the average package is over $43,000), and students graduate with an average debt under $20,000. 


College Application Timeline

If you feel stressed and overwhelmed by the college application process, you are not alone. Many students (and parents) feel this way. Fortunately, the secret to getting admitted isn’t simply to do more and more activities; it’s finding one thing you can do really well. Sure, colleges do care about high test scores and top grades in challenging courses. But they also want students who have demonstrated that they can pursue something with dedication and fascination. Therefore, it’s important to leave yourself free time to dabble in a variety of activities until you find one that really grabs your interest.

Freshman year of high school: Plan out four years of solid academic courses that will challenge you. If you struggle with certain subjects or aspects of school (studying, socializing), seek out the help and strategies you’ll need to succeed. (See our article on special accommodations if you think you’ll need them in college.) Start a resume or log of your accomplishments; it will be a helpful reference guide when it comes time to complete your applications.

Sophomore year: Get to know your teachers and keep an eye out for ones who might be a good source of future recommendation letters. Look out for opportunities to be a leader (e.g., in school or outside clubs). Save copies of your best work for future portfolios. Consider taking the PSAT. Make some college visits during spring vacation, if possible. Research career options; this will help you narrow down your choice of schools and majors.

Junior year: Take the PSAT in October (if you haven’t already) – or the SAT or ACT. Find out which tests are required by the schools you’re considering – for example, some colleges want you to take one or more SAT Subject Tests. Sign up well in advance, take practice tests and get test prep help (or learn anxiety management) if you need it. Register for AP tests, if applicable. If you are an athlete, talk to your coach and learn about eligibility from the NCAA. When college reps visit your school, try to attend these meetings. Start developing a list of potential colleges and learning about them (see below). Do more spring-break college tours. (See our article on demonstrated interest.) If you will be creating a portfolio (e.g., art, music, videos), it’s time to start assembling it. Find out how to upload your work via Slideroom or other platforms. In the spring, talk to the teacher(s) you hope will write your letters of recommendation, and confirm they are willing to do so. Over the summer, work on the components of you applications (e.g., via the Common App), especially your essay(s). Brainstorm essay topics, write drafts and get feedback.

Senior year: Request letters of recommendation in the fall, giving teachers/counselors plenty of lead time and background information about you to make their job easier. Revise essays. Schedule interviews; they are often optional (but advisable), and the deadline for scheduling them may be a month or more before the application deadline. Complete and submit applications. Consider early action/early decision options: if you know where you want to go for sure, getting your application in early can make all the difference. Collect financial information to apply for financial aid; you will need this for the FAFSA and/or CSS. Collect financial records. Know the deadlines – for example, sometimes merit aid deadlines precede regular application deadlines. Use the Net Price Calculators on college websites to estimate what your family may be expected to pay.

Summer after senior year: Prepare for the transition. Continue working on life skills (financial, practical and emotional). Obtain and sign documents to allow parents to communicate with the school and healthcare providers, if needed.

Take a break to feel good about a job well done!

How do you come up with a list of colleges?

Do a self-inventory. How far from home do you want to live? What type of learning environment works best for you? What are your interests and personality traits? What would be the ideal peer group for you in college? Assess whether you’re ready to live away from home. If not, consider taking a gap year, attending a community college or taking steps to develop the independent living skills you’ll need.

Learn about colleges. Go on campus tours, talk to enrolled college students and alumni and find resources to help you. The goal is to find not the best colleges, but the colleges that are best for you.

Based on a balance of the factors important to you, identify 8-10 schools, including some you’re very likely to be admitted to.



College Snapshot: Brown University

Brown University

The seventh-oldest college in the U.S., Brown is a coed Ivy League school in Providence, RI
with 6,200 undergrads, 2,000 graduate students and nearly 500 med school students. Among
the Ivies, Brown is generally considered the most liberal and free-spirited, with an open
curriculum, joint program with Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and “shopping weeks”
where students try out classes at the beginning of the term. Freshmen live with a roommate in
“units” of 50-60 first-year students. After the first year, a housing lottery allows students to gain
access to various housing options including Greek houses and program houses (e.g.,
Technology House, International House, Latinx House, Environmental House, French House);
off-campus housing is available as well.

Two major dining halls anchor the eating scene, supplemented by on-campus snack carts and
eateries, plus numerous off-campus restaurants a short walk away.

Brown competes at the Division I level with 37 varsity teams, and there are 17 club sports for
those seeking a less demanding level of competition. The aquatics and fitness center covers 7.5
acres and contains a larger-than-Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Students can select from a bewildering array of over 500 campus organizations. Here’s a small
sample from the BearSync site: Brown Storytellers, The Tango Club, Out of Hand Juggling Club,
Hindu Students Association, Disney A Cappella and Brown Anime Society. The online events
calendar lists on-campus meetings, talks and performances, while plays and concerts in
Providence are nearby, and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum of Art is free to
Brown students.

Students describe Brown to the Princeton Review as academically rigorous but “exciting” and “a
very happy place.” They enjoy on-campus parties as well as activities in Providence, Boston
and New York. reports Brown student survey ratings as follows:
Dorms B
Food B+
Student Life A+
Party Scene A gives Brown’s social life an A- and the extracurricular activities an A,
based on 218 reviews.

Plan Early for College

College is the springboard to a career and adult life, and it can take up four (or more) years of a young person’s life. It’s an incredibly important decision. Many students start their college search and application process in earnest during the summer following their junior year, or the fall of their senior year. But there are several reasons to start earlier – much earlier.

  1. The selection of high school courses is a huge factor in college admissions. Students need to plan all four years of high school with care. How many foreign language, math and science courses will they take? What difficulty level (college prep, honors, AP) will they select? These decisions can have a major impact on which colleges will be interested in them.
  2. Likewise, making good grades a priority throughout high school will pay off later. Starting in ninth grade, this means balancing schoolwork with social life, family responsibilities and (of course) screen time.
  3. Which standardized tests will your child take? ACT? SAT? Did you know that your child can win scholarship money for a high PSAT score? Or that some colleges suggest taking two, and sometimes three, SAT subject tests? In any case, it’s wise to leave plenty of time to prepare for the tests and to retake them if needed.
  4. extracurricular activities can really pay off. While not as important as courses, grades and test scores, colleges look for a pattern of activities suggesting dedication and growth. Trying a variety of camps, clubs, hobbies and jobs is not nearly as impressive as a steady job with increasing responsibility or another consistent pursuit. 
  5. If your child hopes to win an athletic scholarship, it’s essential to actively promote him or her to college coaches early in high school. Other families are doing the same, and much of the scholarship money will already be spoken for by senior year.
  6. Financial aid applications may ask questions about family finances going back to January of the student’s sophomore year in high school. Decisions about how to allocate and spend money at that time can affect the child’s chances of receiving financial assistance two years later when applications are due.

These are only some of the reasons to plan far ahead. Thoughtful decisions may reap great benefits for your child – and your checkbook.