Getting to Know: 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 (1,600 undergrads) school with achievable admissions that’s close to a major city. Lake Forest College is 30 miles by car, one hour by Metra Rail, from Chicago. I earned my first masters at the University of Illinois, and have visited Chicago many times. 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. I invite you to listen now.
Before speaking with Franklin, I listen to a virtual information session about Lake Forest, took a virtual tour, listened to several YouTubes, and read student reviews. I also collected photos on Pinterest. These gave me a virtual sense about what I liked about the school and areas where prospective students and parents should draw their own conclusions.
Like: Achievable Admissions and Scholarships
Lake Forest accepted 57 percent of applicants for the Class of 2024. The college accepted 55 and 58 percent for the two previous classes. More interesting, the number of students who applied Early Decision went from 18 for the Class of 2022 to 105 for the Class of 2024. The college got only 11 percent (44 students) of the Class of 2024 through Early Decision. But the rising interest in Early Decision–less than half were admitted–is a positive for school’s marketing efforts.
The average high school GPA for the Class of 2024 was a 3.7. 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 1100 and 1280. For the ACT the middle 50 percent scored between 23 and 30.
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. However, 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. They would also make the college less expensive than Neighboring State U unless you are looking at the University of Nebraska.
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 heath care option, 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. 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. Lake Forest graduated 69 percent of the students who entered in 2014, the last year data was available. Seventy-one percent off the class that entered the year before finished on time. Freshman retention was most recently 88 percent for the Class of 2023. Students can also create their own pathway. That greater power puts greater responsibility on the student.
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. This school also has over 5,600 Chicago area alumni registered in LinkedIn.com.
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-10 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: Importance of Athletics on the Campus Community
Lake Forest competes in 25 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.
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.
Lake Forest combines features of two 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.
There are a select few schools like Lake Forest that emphasize the liberal arts, combine them with career development and connect you into city life like Lake Forest. However, it really helps to be familiar with Chicago to fully appreciate what this college has to offer.
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