Getting to Visit: Lake Forest College (IL)
Lake Forest College checks a few boxes for many students and parents who want a liberal arts college. It’s a small (1,800 undergrads) school with achievable admissions that’s close to a major city that has actually grown its student body since 2018. Just over 60 percent of the students come from outside Illinois. Sixty percent of those from the US are students of color. One in seven comes from outside the US. Lake Forest was the next stop on my Chicago college tour after visiting Northwestern. I wrote about Lake Forest last year, but it was appropriate to write an update. Lake Forest College is 30 miles by car, one hour by Metra Rail, from Chicago. In addition to being the largest city and economic capital of the Midwest, Chicago is a place where young people will never run out of things to do.
Franklin Gaglione, Associate Director of Admissions for Lake Forest College, reps the school in New Jersey, among other places. We had an interesting conversation last year. I invite you to listen now. I also collected photos on Pinterest.
Lake Forest has a very nice campus, though I felt that some facilities, most specifically the dining hall and student center, could use an interior update.
The school reminded me of Guilford College, which I saw on my North Carolina college tour.
Both schools have campuses and outdoor amenities that make a strong visual impact as soon as you get out of the car. The two schools emphasize affordability, diversity, equity, and inclusion more than most small private liberal arts colleges that I have visited. However, unlike Lake Forest, Guilford is within a much smaller metro area.
Lake Forest also combines features of two other schools that I have previously visited: Drew University and Ursinus College.
Both schools have about the same number of undergrads and have reasonably achievable admissions. A 3.5+ student with rigor in the transcript can gain admission to all three schools, even without test scores, and receive financial aid.
Like Lake Forest, Drew is accessible to the heart of a major city, Manhattan in New York, via commuter rail.
It is also within walking distance to a very nice downtown. But the restaurants are more affordable to parents than college students. However, Drew, like Lake Forest offers an opportunity to use a major city as an extended campus. Both schools also have strong science and pre-health programs. Like Lake Forest, Drew has historically attracted students to a residential campus from in state but wants to draw more from elsewhere. But unlike Lake Forest, Drew has no Greek social life and no football or hockey.
Ursinus College is also close to a major city (Philadelphia) though it takes access to a car to get to the train.
You’re more likely to take a bus from campus. If you like to shop you’re more likely to go to the King of Prussia Mall or Province Town Center. Like Lake Forest, Ursinus also has strong science and pre-health programs as well as an opportunity to live, learn and intern in the big city over the course of a semester. Ursinus has historically attracted students to a residential campus from in state but wants to draw more from elsewhere. Also, like Lake Forest, Ursinus plays football and has a Greek system where neither fraternities nor sororities have their own houses. And, also like Lake Forest, Ursinus has some generous need-based and merit-based scholarships.
What are some things that I like about Lake Forest?
Like: Achievable Admissions
Lake Forest accepted 60 percent of applicants for the Class of 2026. The college accepted 57, 55 and 58 percent for the three previous classes. The average high school GPA for the Class of 2026 was a 3.8. The college places more importance on an interview than it does on standardized test scores, which are considered, if submitted. The middle 50 percent who submitted SAT scores scored between 1160 and 1350. For the ACT the middle 50 percent scored between 26 and 31. However, only 19 percent of applicants submitted SAT scores; only 10 percent submitted ACTs.
The mid-pack student might have looked at the flagship state schools. But these test score ranges are lower than those I found the main campus of the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Indiana University-Bloomington, and the University of Iowa.
Like: Merit Scholarships
The larger merit scholarships can make Lake Forest a less expensive experience than Home State U for the Illinois residents near the top of the freshman class. The top 15 percent of the applicant pool is invited to come to campus to interview for a full-tuition award. Those who like Lake Forest and get the invite should take it. Those who do not receive the full-tuition award will get a $3,000 increase in their merit scholarship.The awards can make Lake Forest less expensive than Neighboring State U for students from the Midwestern Big Ten states unless they are looking at the University of Nebraska. Merit awards are also easy to keep by maintaining a 2.0 GPA and good academic progress.
Like: Pre-Health Options
Lake Forest has several health professions pathways with nearby Rosalind Franklin University as well as joint BA/MSN programs with DePaul and Rush University. This school also has one of the most aggressive pre-health advising programs that I have seen at a liberal arts college, helping students to develop a personalized academic plan.
Like: Career Pathways
In addition to health care options, Lake Forest has defined career pathways in:
I personally like the pathways approach because it combines academics with career development in a way that makes a curriculum easier to navigate. A pathway approaches helps students to choose courses not only in a major, but also in other subjects that help you towards further education or a career objective. Students may also take up to three internships for credit. This is especially helpful at a school that offers only 32 majors, some in traditional liberal arts subjects, others in areas such as Data Science, Journalism, Legal Studies, Museum Studies and Music Education. Lake Forest makes it easy for students to double major–a quarter do–or carry a major and two minors.
The pathways also make it easier to guide students to graduation, pairing a career advisor and an academic advisor with every student at the start. Students can also create their own pathway. That greater power puts greater responsibility on the student. The pathways apparently work. Lake Forest graduated 74 percent of the students who entered in 2016, excellent for any school of any size. Freshman retention was most recently 85 percent for the Class of 2025.
Like: Chicago Programs
Lake Forest’s Center for Chicago Programs not only helps students to find a school year academic experience in the Windy City; it also runs a summer program as well as several excursions for the enjoyment of the student body. I have not visited a suburban liberal arts college that does as much to help their students get acquainted with a nearby major city, though some like Denison, Drew and Ursinus have done well at combining these experiences with career development. Evanston, home to Northwestern University, is at the midpoint of the Metra line between Lake Forest and Chicago. So, students can get a college town experience as well as a big city one. Lake Forest is also a member of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest which runs its own Chicago programs for students.
What are some things that you consider?
Lake Forest will reimburse families from out of state up to $500 to come to campus. Those who are interested and like the college’s strengths should make the trip. Below are some things to ask about.
Consider for Yourself: Commuting into Chicago and Evanston
The round trip fare–buy on an app–is ten bucks, not bad compared to NJ TRANSIT fares into New York or SEPTA rides into Philadelphia. But trains leave only on the hour on the weekdays, less frequently on weekends and holidays. The ride is just over an hour, plus a five-to-ten-minute walk to the Lake Forest station, plus the ride to wherever you want to go in Chicago. It is not practical to intern in the city during the school year and commute from campus with a full course load. It would probably be better to take advantage of the Chicago Semester or programs where a bus picks you up from campus, or pool car fare and parking with a group.
Consider for Yourself: The Residence Life Experience
Unless you are a commuter, you are going to live in a residence hall on campus. First-year students live in traditional corridor-style halls, Upper-class students have corridor or suite-style living options, but not apartments. Greek social organizations do not have their own houses. Off-campus apartment options are also quite scarce.
Consider for Yourself: Student Loans
While relatively generous with merit-based aid, Lake Forest also meets over 90 percent of need for an incoming freshman. However, 40 percent of the Class of 2021 had to take out loans to cover educational costs. Their debt averaged over $34,000. The maximum that a student may borrow from the Federal Student Loan program over four years is $27,000.
Consider for Yourself: Importance of Athletics on the Campus Community
Lake Forest competes in 23 sports, more than even Northwestern or the University of Illinois’ main campus at Urbana-Champaign. It’s one of only two Illinois schools that fields varsity hockey teams for men and women, and the only one that has its own rink on campus. In addition, approximately half of the student body participates in club, intramural or varsity sports. If you are totally disinterested in athletics, this might not be your school. The college hosted the Chicago Bears training camp from 1975 to 1983 when Walter Payton was the star, but playoff appearances were rare. The NFL team kept its offices on campus in Halas Hall, named for the founder and late owner, George Halas, until 1997. Lake Forest is D-3 for all sports, excluding handball, which is a very successful D-1 (scholarship) program.
Consider for Yourself: The City of Lake Forest
Lake Forest is an extremely well-to-do community that is on the shores of Lake Michigan. It has a very nice downtown, but the shopping options cater more to residents and parents. If you choose this school your entertainment options might include the beach in warmer weather, on-campus activities, and travels into Chicago, On the upside: Lake Forest is home to a major hospital (Northwestern Lake Forest), a headquarters city to three Fortune 500 companies plus operations of Pfizer and Abbott Labs. You can intern locally–but you need access to a car.
Few schools that emphasize the liberal arts, combine them with career development, and connect you into city life like Lake Forest. Even fewer combine these benefits with achievable admissions, merit awards and bonding through a strong small-college athletic program.
Report Card: Lake Forest College
- Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: A
- Freshman Retention: B+
- Costs: B+
- Curriculum: A
- Community: A
- Comforts: B+
- Connections: A (Chicago area)/C (elsewhere)
Check out my talk, What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
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