Getting to Know Ursinus College (PA)–Again
A liberal arts college with 1,500 students and one of America’s Colleges That Change Lives, Ursinus College is located less than an hour’s drive from Philadelphia. This school takes a unique approach to admissions visits: a twilight tour and information session. The campus shows well in daylight, as you will see from photos on my Pinterest page, But I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see how it shows at night.
Ursinus College was founded in 1869, but you might not know that from the mix of buildings on campus.
Schellhase Commons (below) is the newest building on campus. It hosts the admissions office, the bookstore, Cafe 2020 (a Starbucks) and meeting spaces. This was also the starting point for my tour.
Ursinus is not an ultra-selective college.
Eighty percent of all applicants for the Class of 2024 were accepted. It’s wise to apply Early Decision (ED), if you really love this school, or at least apply Early Action (EA) if you like it. Not only was the acceptance rate for EA higher (92%); the college filled over three-quarters of it’s freshmen from students who applied EA or ED. Test optional for over two decades, ACT or SAT scores are only Considered if submitted. For those in the Class of 2024 who submitted scores, the middle 50 percent had SAT scores between 1150 and 1330 or ACT Composite scores between 25 and 30. The average high school GPA was a 3.5. This is about the same profile for students who attend The College of New Jersey close to my home.
This school competes in a tough market to fill a class.
Pennsylvania has more liberal arts colleges than any other state. Ursinus has about 1,000 fewer undergrads than schools such as Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall, Gettysburg and Muhlenberg that are also sports rivals in the Centennial Conference. Like all of these schools, Ursinus College has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the national academic honor society. Approval of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter is a very positive reflection on the rigor of the academics as well as the quality of the students and faculty. Ursinus does quite well with the students it attracts, especially those interested in the sciences.
Yet Ursinus College attracts most of its students from in-state.
As of Fall 2020, Pennsylvanians represented 63 percent of the student body. The others schools previously mentioned attract a similar percentage or more from outside the Keystone State. Ursinus has broadened its outreach through virtual events, attracting new students from California, Florida and Texas. But the second and third largest groups are more likely to come from neighboring states.
Ursinus has some generous scholarships.
Pennsylvania is one of the few states where Ursinus could turn out to be less expensive than Home State U. Direct charges, tuition and fees, room and board, are approximately $71,000, but merit-based scholarships range from $21,000 to $40,000/year. The Gateway Scholarship hits a “sweet spot.” It guarantees $35,000/year to admissible applicants who earn an SAT of 1250+, an ACT of 28+, or who have an unweighted GPA of 3.85 or higher. Approximately 200 incoming freshmen receive this award. There are also specialty scholarships for students who apply Early Action or Early Decision, some requiring a separate application.
However, while Ursinus appears to be quite serious at helping the neediest students, over seventy percent of 2020 graduates had to take out loans.
Nearly a quester of the class had to borrow from outside the Federal Student Loan Program. This presented an average indebtedness of over $40,000 per borrower. If you’re concerned about getting the most for your money, Ursinus College is quite transparent when it comes to publishing outcomes. If you really want to see what happens to graduates in up or down economies, there’s 11 years of data to explore.
All Ursinus freshmen must take a two-semester Common Intellectual Experience (CIE) course.
This course is taught by faculty who might come from any academic department. Limited to 16 students per section, CIE uses classical and modern works from philosophy, literature, science and history as a guide to teach critical listening reading, writing and thinking skills. CIE might be the hardest pair of courses that most Ursinus students take . But it helps each student advance into upper-level academic work better than an introductory expository writing course or a larger set of general education requirements.
You are not likely to have a class with over 30 students at Ursinus, even in the introductory courses that are required for several majors such as Biology, Economics or Psychology. But the CIE course requires attendance at campus programs that are shared among more than one section. Ursinus also has two means of helping freshmen to succeed. One is traditional academic and career advising handled by faculty and career development professionals. The other is a cohort program where groups of eight to ten students who have similar interests meet together. A faculty member moderates the sessions, but the students also help each other.
Ursinus offers more than twice the number of academic programs that would be expected for a school this small.
Some majors that you are less likely to find at other liberal arts colleges include: Applied Economics, Biostatistics, Health and Exercise Physiology, Human Performance Studies, Peace and Justice Studies, Museum Studies and Scientific Computing. The most popular programs are in the Biological Sciences and business subjects. The make spaces, collaborative learning rooms and laboratory facilities in the Innovation and Discovery Center actually support both within the very same building.
Ursinus’ Quest Core requirements and all of the courses are designed around helping students answer these questions:
- What should matter to me?
- How should we live together?
- How can we understand the world?
- What will I do?
Everyone must take a year of college-level foreign language as well as an Independent Learning Experience and complete a senior capstone project.
Ursinus makes it relatively easy for students to use courses to fulfill core requirements as well as complete a second major or minor(s). Seventy-one percent of the students who entered in 2014 finished on time, according to the most recent data available. That’s better than Penn State’s main campus as well as Pitt, not to mention many other private colleges.
Ursinus is a true campus-based community
The college reports that 97 percent of all students live on campus. Housing is guaranteed for four years. First-year students are more likely to live in one of the older traditional-style halls with double rooms, several sharing common bathrooms. Sophomores, juniors and seniors may also opt for suite-style halls, one of 32 Main Street houses or special interest housing. Main Street houses have full kitchens, but other living options require a larger meal plan. Greek life is not overly important at Ursinus. However, just over 40 percent of the students are varsity athletes and many compete in club sports. I did not get the feeling that you needed to be a great athlete to make friends here. But I also felt that it helped to have some interest in sports, at least to watch your friends compete.
Ursinus’ well maintained 170 acre campus can be navigated from end to end within ten minutes.
The mix of buildings on the Ursinus campus could be considered eclectic. The newest buildings, such as the Kaleidoscope Performing Arts Center and the recently opened Innovation and Discovery Center were designed around their intended uses. They look nothing alike, though various “pop art” sculptures and green spaces tie the place together nicely. Sometimes old and new blend together, like the Berman Art Gallery (left below). Other times, the college invested in restorations, as you’ll see with Hoffberger Hall (below right),
The campus is located within a small town, but accessible to bigger places.
Collegeville is home to the Province Town Center, one of the nicest shopping malls I’ve ever seen near a college. Ursinus is also 20 minutes by car from King of Prussia Mall, the second-largest shopping center in America. Neighboring Phoenixville hosts ‘First Friday’ events. The college provides shuttles to all three, as well as New York City and Philadelphia. But it helps to have access to a car. Fortunately, it’s easier to park one at Ursinus than most other small colleges I have visited.
Students may build a resume that combines academics and career development in several ways.
These include Independent Learning Experiences (required for the degree) the U-Imagine Center for Integrative and Entrepreneurial Studies, research opportunities and study-away in Philadelphia and Washington DC among others. These opportunities are as impressive as those at the larger liberal arts colleges that Ursinus students had considered. There is also less competition to get into these programs because there are fewer students. Nearly 7,000 of the more than 13,000 Ursinus alumni registered in LinkedIn.com are based in the Philadelphia metro area. So, connections into the City of Brotherly Love should be fairly easy to make. Although the New York contingent of around 1,400 is of good size for a small school, it really helps to be familiar with Philadelphia before you enroll.
A very good college with achievable admissions and a strong success culture is not always easy to find. Ursinus tries hard to remain that way.
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