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What small liberal arts colleges should go on our list?


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Posted (edited)

My oldest is a junior.  They're interested in earth science and possibly computers, but I'm not sure that a computer science major is likely to pan out.  Honestly, earth science is what they've been the most passionate about.  However, they also really want a small, manageable, liberal arts college.  We want affordable (either base wise or with merit aid), and ideally within 8 hour drive of Roanoke, Virginia.  We'd like them to be a big fish in a small pond.  They struggle with sound sensitivities, but honestly, I think that's going to require a visit to see what we can manage.  LGBT friendly is a must.  Some form of role playing organization/ group and/ or opportunities for non music and theater majors to be involved in a choir and theatrical productions would be a nice bonus.  Oldest hasn't yet taken the SATs (taking in June), but PSAT scores were 95th percentile in verbal and 85th in math.  They did absolutely no preparation, and I think the math can come up pretty easily.  They go to a nontraditional school that doesn't have grades, but their freshman year in public school they had all A's in pre-AP classes.  They're passionate, charismatic, articulate, and can be enthusiastic.  Teachers absolutely adore Lyr.  They participate enthusiastically in class, and they have a fair amount of wide ranging intellectual curiosity.  However, they've had some significant mental health challenges with anxiety and depression and can be easily frustrated.  No autism diagnosis has ever been on the table, but younger sister is autistic, and honestly, I have some suspicions that Lyr may be on the spectrum.  Other than role playing, they pretty much have no real extracurriculars.  They have done some theater, and they do a lot of role playing, but that's mostly pretty informal with family and friends.  They sang in the choir freshman year at public and won an award, but when they had their breakdown and left school, there hasn't been an opportunity to sing in a choir since, between the pandemic and the fact that new school does not have a choir.  

We're driving to Jackson, TN, and back this summer, so I wanted to try and look at some colleges on the way, even if they aren't likely to be a good fit.  I thought we'd do a visit to Virginia Tech and Sewanee on the way there.  Maybe look at Rhodes while we're there, although I think that's going to be way more competitive than they really are.  On the way home, I thought we'd look at Southern Illinois University (close family in Carbondale, and Lyr has been on the campus and liked it), maybe Knox, although I think it's too far away.  Definitely look at Wooster and Earlham on the way home.  Maybe Transylvania?  Not sure how far out of the way it would be, but I think it's likely to be too intense.  We have friends near Kenyon, so we could take an afternoon there, but that would be pretty hard core.

Closer to home, we'll look at Roanoke College, Mary Washington, Christopher Newport, and UVA-Wise, although I think the culture in Wise is unlikely to be friendly to a nonbinary kid.  

Other places I thought we'd look at:  Warren Wilson in NC, Longwood University, Guilford, Elon University, maybe Lynchburg College.  I've wondered about Juaniata College in Pennsylvania?  

The most excited I've ever seen Lyr was when they got mail from Wellsley, and I hate to bust dreams, but I think there's just absolutely no way.  

Schools with earth science majors seem to be pretty few and far between, other than large state universities.  Environmental science seems to be more prevalent, but I'm not sure that's as much what draws them in.  They're interested in cycles:  rock cycles, currents in air, currents in magma, how different parts of the environment work together.  

Am I missing any obvious small, liberal arts colleges that are not super competitive, are affordable or offer significant aid, and have earth science programs and are friendly to nonbinary and trans kids?  I think they could find another subject to major in if the school is the right fit, but I don't want to close off opportunities for interests.  

Edited by Terabith
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Earlham is Quaker, and Friends are typically very accepting. It is a very small school, though, so I'm not sure if you dc would find some of the social things, like role-playing. I'm also not sure of what academic programs they have. If you're coming from the east coast, many of the small Midwest privates may seem like a good value cost-wise, especially when it comes to things like off-campus apartments.  

Here's an 8-school consortium that is doing virtual presentations the next couple weeks: Student Programs – 8 of the Best Colleges

I know at least one of those has Geology (Malcaster?) and another one had some sort general science, which I think is intended to set students up for grad school.

Colleges that Change Lives is another consortium that seems to value some diversity. I'm not sure how that translates to the student bodies: Colleges That Change Lives – Changing Lives. One Student At A Time. (ctcl.org)

Lastly, regardless of what impressions you form from the visits that happen during the summer, make sure dc is on campus at some point when students are there before making any decisions. 

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We'd need a LOT of financial aid to make the small northeast schools work, and I don't think they're a strong enough candidate to be compelling from the point of view of merit aid there.  

Brevard, Appalachian State, and Chatham all sound like they're definitely worth looking at.  

Financially, I think there's a ton to recommend mid western schools, and I think a lot of them would be great, but I don't really feel comfortable sending this kid more than an 8 hour drive from home, with the possible exception of extremely close family being right there (like in Carbondale).  I think the plains might be a problem for my slightly agoraphobic kid who is used to being surrounded by mountains and who hates the wind with an abiding passion.   I actually had a dream a few years ago about them at Central College in Pella, Iowa, but I just don't think it's a safe option to be that far away.  

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My personal teen didn't like the vibe at Rhodes or Sewanee, and both are quite competitive. I wpild be nervous about sending a non-driving kid who needs prescriptions to Sewanee because it is literally on top of a mountain, and there is NOTHING until you go down the mountain. And then it's a pharmacy/discount store, grocery, pizza hut and McDonalds. I could not get test strips for my glucose meter near Sewanee when we visited, so I would be nervous about getting medications unless they could be managed 100% online. 

 

Hendrix is probably a bit far away for you (it would be within your radius from Jackson, though), but might be worth considering. I don't know about geology there, but they are definitely in a good place for geology field work. 

 

I'd also really look at what a school's scholarships and merit aid are and where your teen is likely to fall. Some schools give more big scholarships, others give aid to almost everyone, but tend to have more a spread the wealth model. 

 

I really think your eldest would probably love Agnes Scott, but you need to expect to pay about half your EFC. Anything beyond that means getting one of the named scholarships which basically require being a reincarnation if the person the scholarship is named for.

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Posted (edited)

Warren Wilson

Millsaps

Hampshire

New College of Florida

Carleton

and oops, it occurs to me that I neglected the Earth Sciences requirement. I think of larger schools when I think of good earth science departments. 🤔 

 

Edited by bibiche
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4 hours ago, Dmmetler said:

My personal teen didn't like the vibe at Rhodes or Sewanee, and both are quite competitive. I wpild be nervous about sending a non-driving kid who needs prescriptions to Sewanee because it is literally on top of a mountain, and there is NOTHING until you go down the mountain. And then it's a pharmacy/discount store, grocery, pizza hut and McDonalds. I could not get test strips for my glucose meter near Sewanee when we visited, so I would be nervous about getting medications unless they could be managed 100% online. 

 

Hendrix is probably a bit far away for you (it would be within your radius from Jackson, though), but might be worth considering. I don't know about geology there, but they are definitely in a good place for geology field work. 

 

I'd also really look at what a school's scholarships and merit aid are and where your teen is likely to fall. Some schools give more big scholarships, others give aid to almost everyone, but tend to have more a spread the wealth model. 

 

I really think your eldest would probably love Agnes Scott, but you need to expect to pay about half your EFC. Anything beyond that means getting one of the named scholarships which basically require being a reincarnation if the person the scholarship is named for.

Yeah, I think Agnes Scott would be perfect, but honestly, I think it's out of reach affordability wise.  I hesitate to even mention it to them, because I don't want Lyr to fall in love with it.  In a different year, we would have already done SATs, but with covid, we put them off till vaccination so don't really have a good sense of where they'll be competition wise.  With going to a high school that doesn't have grades and not yet having test scores, I feel like we're trying to make a college list without really enough information on likely merit aid.  I have to remember we are going to have two in college at the same time.  

Okay, I hadn't had Sewanee on the list before last night when I realized they had a huge geology department, but literally not having anywhere with prescriptions is a MAJOR downside.  I don't think the vibe is right, but we're Episcopalian, so I do know a good number of folks who went there.  

I found out last night that Southern Illinois University has done away with out of state tuition.  That, coupled with a support network in town, a walkable community, and earth sciences program makes it MUCH more appealing.  

Does anyone know anything about Juaniata College in Pennsylvania?  I'd never even heard of them, but the web site looks very appealing.  I love that their music programs are very open to non majors.  

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Posted (edited)

You don't say what your budget is, but Juniata and Wilkes in PA should give good merit. Stonehill in MA (may be too far) if Catholic is okay. My D is at Susquehanna; they have a combined Earth & Environmental Science major and also give very good merit.

ETA: Lol, I see you just asked about Juniata. It's got a good reputation. I think it's a CTCL school. We visited but D didn't end up applying because she had a pretty long list already, and the campus is kind of in the middle of nowhere. We've heard a lot of good things though. Here's a link to their forum on College Confidential: https://talk.collegeconfidential.com/c/colleges-and-universities/juniata-college/282

Edited by whitestavern
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3 minutes ago, whitestavern said:

You don't say what your budget is, but Juniata and Wilkes in PA should give good merit. Stonehill in MA (may be too far) if Catholic is okay. My D is at Susquehanna; they have a combined Earth & Environmental Science major and also give very good merit.

Honestly, I have no idea what our budget is, and I feel like it's almost impossible to compare college costs until after applications and financial awards.  

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1 minute ago, Terabith said:

Honestly, I have no idea what our budget is, and I feel like it's almost impossible to compare college costs until after applications and financial awards.  

Have you tried the net price calculators on the college websites? Howard in DC is actually cheaper for us than Georgia Tech or LSU.

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2 minutes ago, Sneezyone said:

Have you tried the net price calculators on the college websites? Howard in DC is actually cheaper for us than Georgia Tech or LSU.

NPCs don’t usually do a good job of showing merit aid-even automatic aid isn’t always included, let alone semi-competitive but fairly automatic aid. 
 

Many LACs are holistic admission and were test optional before COVID. I believe CTCLs have to be holistic. That makes it even harder to estimate aid there. 
 

 

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Posted (edited)
10 minutes ago, Dmmetler said:

NPCs don’t usually do a good job of showing merit aid-even automatic aid isn’t always included, let alone semi-competitive but fairly automatic aid. 
 

Many LACs are holistic admission and were test optional before COVID. I believe CTCLs have to be holistic. That makes it even harder to estimate aid there. 
 

 

It still surprised me to find out what our actual costs were at each institution (we’re not counting on merit aid). The NPCs provided a worst case scenario that was better than we planned. ETA: Layering on merit aid would make them that much more affordable. I don’t want to make a decision based on merit that my student may or may not keep all four years. I want to be able to afford it without that, making any merit aid a bonus.

Edited by Sneezyone
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Posted (edited)

As an autistic kid, I did better as a big fish in a small pond.  (Or should I say a medium fish, surrounded by other medium fish, in a small pond?  I really respond to having equal peers, it’s not about outperforming the smaller fish!) Small ponds tend to have fewer executive functioning demands, its easier to see what everyone else is doing and follow that...  I would perhaps consider honors programs at larger schools.  Best of both worlds?  Affordable diversity still with lots of attention?

Edited by Lawyer&Mom
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Posted (edited)

I don’t really have any recommendations for you, but would like to ask you to keep sharing about your student’s journey. When I read your description of your DC this morning I couldn’t believe the parallels between their experience and that of my niece (right down to the sound sensitivities). They are also a junior, but have missed much of this year in and out of treatment programs (both in and outpatient settings). It sounds like your student is back on track and doing well; unfortunately, we’re all still trying to keep DN alive and moving toward a healthier place. It can be so lonely and isolating. It’s good to know others have navigated these waters and come out okay. 

Edited by fourisenough
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Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. I don’t know if they have an earth science major but they do have agreements with other Atlanta schools to fill in missing classes. It is tiny. My son’s girlfriend was the only physics major on campus and she had a great experience and is in a grad school program at Vanderbilt and she had nice research gigs every summer. So they are big on individual attention.

At least a few years ago they were always on lists for being LGBT friendly. They were very generous with financial aid and scholarships. My Ds applied to Sewanee and some other regional LACs and the financial aid and scholarship package from Oglethorpe was double what it was for the others. They also allowed my ds to stack a large outside scholarship. Overall they were just very supportive of both him and his girlfriend even though they both studied different things and had different needs. 
 

It a tiny school that many people that live in Atlanta haven’t even heard of and it isn’t super competitive but it is a solid school. My ds had friends from there taking upper level classes at Emory and Ga Tech and they were well prepared to to succeed in those classes. 
 

I’m not sure Sewanee would be a great fit. Ds looked hard at them and we live close so we spent time there a few times. It’s kind of got a rich old south feel and very much a party school. 

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21 minutes ago, teachermom2834 said:

Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. I don’t know if they have an earth science major but they do have agreements with other Atlanta schools to fill in missing classes. It is tiny. My son’s girlfriend was the only physics major on campus and she had a great experience and is in a grad school program at Vanderbilt and she had nice research gigs every summer. So they are big on individual attention.

At least a few years ago they were always on lists for being LGBT friendly. They were very generous with financial aid and scholarships. My Ds applied to Sewanee and some other regional LACs and the financial aid and scholarship package from Oglethorpe was double what it was for the others. They also allowed my ds to stack a large outside scholarship. Overall they were just very supportive of both him and his girlfriend even though they both studied different things and had different needs. 
 

It a tiny school that many people that live in Atlanta haven’t even heard of and it isn’t super competitive but it is a solid school. My ds had friends from there taking upper level classes at Emory and Ga Tech and they were well prepared to to succeed in those classes. 
 

I’m not sure Sewanee would be a great fit. Ds looked hard at them and we live close so we spent time there a few times. It’s kind of got a rich old south feel and very much a party school. 

I've heard of Oglethorpe!  That is a good thought.  Thanks!  

Yeah, the more I read about Sewanee, the more I'm not sure it's the right fit, which is unfortunate, because it is a good distance.  

I think my oldest would definitely do best as a big fish in a smaller pond.  

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Oh, if I’d  read more carefully I would have seen that you have Warren Wilson on your list already. I’d never heard of it but a few months ago met the kindest, most interesting recent graduate. They had a great experience there. And farm-to-table food? From their own farm?! I want to go to Warren Wilson! 

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My daughter applied to several of your closer to home schools this year and chose Mary Washington.  It feels very LBGTQ friendly and the merit aid there is listed upfront for specific GPAs/test scores.  Longwood might be a bit more conservative than she is looking for.  Elon is beautiful, but does not offer a large amount of financial aid compared to some privates.  We found Christopher Newport to feel very sterile and you need to be in their honors or PLP program to get any merit aid.

If you look at Lynchburg College, you might want to check Randolph College while you are there since they are very close to each other.  There is also Randolph Macon closer to Richmond and Bridgewater (which offers excellent aid) near Harrisonburg.  Emory and Henry is near Abingdon.  I'm not sure if any of these offer her major interests or would fit her needs.

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3 hours ago, bibiche said:

Oh, if I’d  read more carefully I would have seen that you have Warren Wilson on your list already. I’d never heard of it but a few months ago met the kindest, most interesting recent graduate. They had a great experience there. And farm-to-table food? From their own farm?! I want to go to Warren Wilson! 

My only concern with Warren Wilson is they don't have air conditioning, and my kid is....an air conditioning kid.  

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6 minutes ago, Terabith said:

My only concern with Warren Wilson is they don't have air conditioning, and my kid is....an air conditioning kid.  

Portable air conditioner for the dorm room. So kid can relax in comfort after super cool classes and farm-to-table meals. 👍🏼 
 

And do most schools have air conditioning?!  I had no idea! 

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I know nothing about Juniata, but I was curious enough to go looking, because sometimes rural PA is not exactly LGBTQ-friendly. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Juniata, and the surrounding county, seem to be LGBTQ-friendly. Now, I have nothing to compare that to, but what I read was encouraging, moreso than I'd expect in my own county not too far away. 

 

(It's gorgeous around central PA, btw.  As for AC, I went to college in State College, a little north of Juniata, and we did not have AC in the dorms, nor were we allowed window units unless we had a medical need. It was hot and a little uncomfortable in the dorms for the first couple of weeks of the fall semester and maybe a bit toward the end of spring, but it was manageable with fans.)

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Posted (edited)

Oberlin is a bit more competitive but has a Geology (and a CS major,) and offers both merit and 100% of need.  They have an absolutely amazing level of student support for all kinds of academic/personal/emotional support and are truly supportive of LGBTQIA+ identities.

https://www.oberlin.edu/arts-and-sciences/departments/geology

I like this quote: Regardless of whether we are doing geology in the classroom, in a laboratory, or in the field, our department prides itself on an ethos of friendship, support, and inclusion.

Edited by Harpymom
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Posted (edited)
16 hours ago, Terabith said:

I've heard of Oglethorpe!  That is a good thought.  Thanks!  

Yeah, the more I read about Sewanee, the more I'm not sure it's the right fit, which is unfortunate, because it is a good distance.  

I think my oldest would definitely do best as a big fish in a smaller pond.  

 I can’t imagine Oglethorpe ever being anyone’s dream school but if you are looking for value it has a lot going for it. It is a cool (very small) campus. They have built some new buildings just since ds started there in 2016. It is right next to a large upscale shopping area and a Marta station. The school does well at supporting individual students. It is a very quirky place. My ds was an athlete/fraternity/accounting major so he didn’t really fit the quirky culture yet it was a great experience for him. He really exploited the big fish/small pond dynamic. I don’t generally recommend it because it is such a niche school but it might be a possibility in your case.
 

So, while it might not be the first choice on the list it is worth a look and a free application (it has been free by Nov 1 or something like that in the past). If money were no issue I suspect ds would have gone elsewhere but it ended up being the best thing he could have done. Let me know if you have any questions. 

Edited by teachermom2834
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1 hour ago, teachermom2834 said:

 I can’t imagine Oglethorpe ever being anyone’s dream school but if you are looking for value it has a lot going for it. It is a cool (very small) campus. They have built some new buildings just since ds started there in 2016. It is right next to a large upscale shopping area and a Marta station. The school does well at supporting individual students. It is a very quirky place. My ds was an athlete/fraternity/accounting major so he didn’t really fit the quirky culture yet it was a great experience for him. He really exploited the big fish/small pond dynamic. I don’t generally recommend it because it is such a niche school but it might be a possibility in your case.
 

So, while it might not be the first choice on the list it is worth a look and a free application (it has been free by Nov 1 or something like that in the past). If money were no issue I suspect ds would have gone elsewhere but it ended up being the best thing he could have done. Let me know if you have any questions. 

Since Oglethorpe is in the same coalition as Agnes Scott, it's also likely that Lyr could take a class or two there if they desired. One of the big selling points for Agnes for us was the coalition system that makes a small LAC not just a small LAC, but a safe home base, with lots of other options. 

 

 

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13 hours ago, bibiche said:

Portable air conditioner for the dorm room. So kid can relax in comfort after super cool classes and farm-to-table meals. 👍🏼 
 

And do most schools have air conditioning?!  I had no idea! 

Depends on where you are and how old the dorm is. L has spent a few summer sessions in non A/C dorms at UNR-which actually works better than you might expect as long as you only hang out in your dorm at night, after the temps drop (having said that, the dorm used for those summer programs is the one with the cafeteria that blew up a few years back, so hopefully they took the opportunity to add it as they rebuilt). 

 

Some dorms without A/C also don't have the power structure to support portable A/C units, especially if a lot of students have them. 

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17 hours ago, SweetCicely said:

My daughter applied to several of your closer to home schools this year and chose Mary Washington.  It feels very LBGTQ friendly and the merit aid there is listed upfront for specific GPAs/test scores.  Longwood might be a bit more conservative than she is looking for.  Elon is beautiful, but does not offer a large amount of financial aid compared to some privates.  We found Christopher Newport to feel very sterile and you need to be in their honors or PLP program to get any merit aid.

If you look at Lynchburg College, you might want to check Randolph College while you are there since they are very close to each other.  There is also Randolph Macon closer to Richmond and Bridgewater (which offers excellent aid) near Harrisonburg.  Emory and Henry is near Abingdon.  I'm not sure if any of these offer her major interests or would fit her needs.

I'm not sure how LGBTQ friendly Bridgewater is. It's a pretty conservative area, although Mennonites tend to be more live and let live and we'll pray for you vs active conversion. And Bridgewater is tiny-you really need to be able to go to Harrisonburg to find anything, which might make it hard for someone who doesn't drive. 

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I would suggest Denison U in Ohio.  They have an earth sciences department and a geosciences department and environmental studies AND its own nature preserve.  The school leans preppy but not too... We are in a similar boat, financially, and I know they can be quite generous.  And my rock hound kiddo ADORES going to Ohio because dang everywhere you turn there's a vein of fossils just lying around. 

And I know Wooster supports its nonbinary students. 

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7 hours ago, Dmmetler said:

I'm not sure how LGBTQ friendly Bridgewater is. It's a pretty conservative area, although Mennonites tend to be more live and let live and we'll pray for you vs active conversion. And Bridgewater is tiny-you really need to be able to go to Harrisonburg to find anything, which might make it hard for someone who doesn't drive. 

You are probably right.  My DD marked it off her list pretty quickly, but they did offer excellent aid!

The others I listed might be too small and/or rural as well. 

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Posted (edited)
On 5/6/2021 at 5:53 AM, Terabith said:

We'd need a LOT of financial aid to make the small northeast schools work, and I don't think they're a strong enough candidate to be compelling from the point of view of merit aid there.  

Brevard, Appalachian State, and Chatham all sound like they're definitely worth looking at.  

Financially, I think there's a ton to recommend mid western schools, and I think a lot of them would be great, but I don't really feel comfortable sending this kid more than an 8 hour drive from home, with the possible exception of extremely close family being right there (like in Carbondale).  I think the plains might be a problem for my slightly agoraphobic kid who is used to being surrounded by mountains and who hates the wind with an abiding passion.   I actually had a dream a few years ago about them at Central College in Pella, Iowa, but I just don't think it's a safe option to be that far away.  

Central College is pretty conservative as far as Midwestern colleges go, as is the area around Pella, so I’m not sure how LGBT friendly it would be. Also, the geography of the Midwest varies considerably from the flat plains to beautiful rolling hills in the various river valleys. Having grown up there, I don’t recall wind being an issue like it was when we lived in CO.

 A place like Cornell College would be much more liberal and LGBT supportive and they have environmental science and geology, but no earth science. One of our friends did geology there and went on for a PhD and now works as a volcanologist for the USGS. But I understand wanting them closer so potentially ruling out the Midwest.

Edited by Frances
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10 minutes ago, Frances said:

Central College is pretty conservative as far as Midwestern colleges go, as is the area around Pella, so I’m not sure how LGBT friendly it would be. Also, the geography of the Midwest varies considerably from the flat plains to beautiful rolling hills in the various river valleys. Having grown up there, I don’t recall wind being an issue like it was when we lived in CO.

 A place like Cornell College would be much more liberal and LGBT supportive and they have environmental science and geology, but no earth science. One of our friends did geology there and went on for a PhD and now works as a volcanologist for the USGS. But I understand wanting them closer so potentially ruling out the Midwest.

Yeah, Central is beautiful, but no, it would absolutely not be a good fit for this kid.  The Dutch letters though...yum!

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If you look at Kenyon, definitely look at Oberlin, too. They have good merit, but, of course, they're also just really expensive to start with. But excellent need based aid, in our experience, if that might come into play for you. Selective, but not at the same level as the very top LACs. And you're not likely to find anywhere more LGBT friendly.

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Another vote for Mary Washington. The culture would be very supportive, and Fredericksburg doesn't feel wide-open in any sense. Lots of big, mature trees might help with a sense of enclosure. The community is walkable, the historic downtown is appealing and within reach of campus. As a state school, it's relatively affordable. I have no idea about earth science there, though.

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  • 2 weeks later...

So far, I think the schools we are going to visit are:  

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (state school but a campus they're comfortable on and have a geology program and very LGBT friendly)

Earlham

College of Wooster

Allegheny College

Juniata 

Warren Wilson

Roanoke College

Mary Washington

Longwood

Christopher Newport

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3 hours ago, Terabith said:

So far, I think the schools we are going to visit are:  

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (state school but a campus they're comfortable on and have a geology program and very LGBT friendly)

Earlham

College of Wooster

Allegheny College

Juniata 

Warren Wilson

Roanoke College

Mary Washington

Longwood

Christopher Newport

Can't believe I didn't mention Allegheny. Excellent for ES. We visited three times, and it was a strong contender down to the end for DD. I'm still a little sad she didn't choose it. We found the people there (administration, faculty, students) truly extraordinary. I hope your child finds some good fits. Enjoy the visits - that one on one time traveling the roads with my DC are full of memories I'll always hold dear. Good times. 

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