April 16, 2009


From Gettysburg, Elsa and I drove up Route 34, an empty two lane, windy country road towards Carlisle, PA. Elsa complained that she never gets to practice driving, so I pulled over, and she drove for about 5 miles, her first time on an open road. She did very well, but wasn't ready to deal with windshield wipers and turn signals, so I helped her out a bit. When we arrived in Carlisle, we found our motel and settled in. Elsa rejected the "family dining" options suggested by the woman at the front desk and instead went on line and found us a Thai noodle shop in town. Delicious!

At Dickinson, we scheduled a 9 am tour and a 10:15 information session as our plan was to drive to Oberlin afterwards and see that school on Thursday. We sort of ran out of steam and decided to come on home, that we had seen enough schools, didn't need another "reach" school that is far away and in a cold climate. I lost the motel money on that decision because I had booked the Cleveland motel through Priceline. Lesson learned: don't use Priceline unless you're sure you will not cancel!

It was still raining on Wednesday morning, but still Dickinson looked beautiful to me. It is full of limestone buildings, wrought iron fencing and attractive signs all through the campus. There are lawns and lots of space, but everything is still accessible. Elsa was put off by the road that dissects the campus which has plenty of noisy truck traffic. That is a con, I guess, but the benefits outweighed it, to me.

Our tour began at the admissions office, which is attractive and has a fireplace, but no fire on this day. We met a nice dad/daughter duo from LA and chatted with them while we waited for the tour to begin. Our guide was a fresh-faced Ariel, from Alaska! She was lovely and very enthusiastic about her school. During the tour, she told us that she knew she wanted to come to college in the East and applied to some of the big names, Amherst, Williams, etc. and although she had multiple acceptances, she chose Dickinson. Ariel showed us the main parts of campus and even a dorm in the lower quad, which has modern housing (less appealing to Elsa and me.) This school, like Haverford, Gettysburg and Franklin and Marshall, (I think) has one central dining room where everyone eats, and several smaller quick stops and cafes sprinkled about. I think I like that.

Dickinson Science Center

After our tour, we went to an info session led by Eric, the most eloquent and thorough admissions officer I have heard yet. He conducted the session like a class, began with introductions, and really made an effort to involve the students in the discussion. He tossed out survey questions and stopped to answer questions frequently. The best was a story he told us about how Dickinson revamped its approach to teaching physics, which was not a popular class on campus. They tested students one year after they completed the course and found that the students' retention of the material was an average of only 25%. The professors then decided to try a more hands on, discussion based, workshop model for teaching the class, complete with mini-lesson, activities and discussion amongst the students. One year afterwards, students who had experienced the new approach were given the same test, and the result was an average retention of 96% of the material covered. Then the school decided to implement the workshop model whenever and wherever possible. Good story. The teacher/student ratio of all of these schools is low. At Dickinson, it may be 11-1. Each guide proudly shows us the "biggest" lecture hall which may hold 50 students and is rarely filled to capacity in any course. These are important things to consider.

After the info session, Elsa and I drove to the athletic center to meet the women's coach, Kelly Tyrell. The athletic center is one of the nicest of all, after Wesleyan. The coach wasn't expecting us (an email may not have been actually sent,) but left her class to have a quick chat. She is fun, energetic and enthusiastic about her team. She had been to MAPS, but didn't see Elsa there (too bad) and is not going to Columbia. She does the PDA instead, which I think she said is in CT. She also does not have a camp, but may visit the Amherst camp, which I will look into. Her team is competitive in their conference, and like the Swarthmore coach, she says the toughest competition is Johns Hopkins. She says her team beat Swarthmore. It's only her second year, but she is spunky and confident.

Elsa was concerned about the lack of diversity at Dickinson, so when I went to get a tee shirt, I stopped and chatted with some African American students who were having lunch in the student union. They laughed when I approached them, because they guessed what I would say beforehand. They agree with Elsa and admit that there has been a lack of diversity, but they feel that the school is addressing it and trying to increase the numbers of minority students on campus. All three like the school and were telling me what other schools they had considered and why they chose Dickinson. They were sweet.

Overall, of the three PA target schools, Dickinson is my choice. Elsa prefers Franklin and Marshall. To me, that visit wasn't complete because we didn't meet the coach and therefore do not have a complete sense of the school. I guess we'll be heading back to Pennsylvania at some point!

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