Oct 15, 2014

Counselors’ choice: The 16 most beautiful liberal arts colleges in America

Swarthmore College

Members of the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) and the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) were asked this week to name the most beautiful college campuses in America.

And who better to ask than a group of professionals dedicated to making “best fit” matches between high school students and colleges?

In fact, independent educational consultants (IEC’s) rack up literally hundreds of thousands of miles each year visiting campuses in every corner of the country on fact-finding missions to gather information and learn what makes individual colleges special or unique.

“In 2013, I visited 53 colleges/universities,” explained Emily Standish, whose consulting business is headquartered in Portland, Oregon.  “To date this year, I have visited 30.” 

Sandy Clingman in Virginia reports that she’s visited over 70 colleges in the past year, and Abby Siegel, who maps her visits on her website, is nearing 300 campus tours in her career as an IEC.

And they come from all over the world.  “I visit at least 15 institutions a year and have been known to visit 35 in one year,” said Laura O’Brien Gatzionis, who annually travels all the way from Athens, Greece, to scope-out colleges for her students.

These trips constitute an important part of the job of an IEC and are a key component of the value-added IEC’s bring to the college advising process.

As a result, it’s fair to say that no other group in the college advising business can boast of having as much “on-site” experience as the corps of IEC’s who can be found sitting in information sessions, following along tour guides, chatting with students, or eating lunch in the dining hall. 

IEC’s take seriously their responsibility as the eyes and ears of college-bound students and their families, budgeting considerable time and money to support regular travel to conferences and tours.  A recent tour of Virginia colleges sponsored by HECA filled within ten minutes of posting—and that’s not unusual.

University of Richmond
IEC’s don’t receive reimbursements for these trips or time-off from their responsibilities. They are year-round travelers anxious to squeeze one more campus into an otherwise full schedule. 

And even vacations aren’t off-limits, as it’s not unusual for IEC’s to take college detours while on family trips.

“I always tell my husband that one day we will rent a silver Windstream mobile home and drive across the country visiting all of the schools I have missed! Not sure that sounds like a great vacation to him but it's like a trip to Disney for me!” said Kristina Dooley, of Estrela Consulting, in Cleveland, Ohio.

But it’s more than just “seeing” a campus that drives IEC’s to make college tours a top priority.  It’s because the only way to experience the culture and “vibe” of a college is to be here.

“To me, all college campuses are beautiful. It's not the location or the architecture, it's the combination of youth and ideas, research and history—combusting into the flame of knowledge!” explains Ann Scheder-Bieschin, of Carina College Admission Counseling, in Cotati, California. “The energy on many campuses is exciting. “

And when asked about her list of beautiful colleges, Jeana Kawamura, an IEC based in Newport Beach, California, adds, “I think that the real beauty of a campus is when they open their doors and embrace a student's search for a positive and appropriate place to learn.”

Dedicated IEC’s have ongoing love affairs with colleges.  When asked to nominate the most beautiful liberal arts colleges in America, they generated a list of over 90 institutions.  Of these, 16 exceptionally attractive schools came out on top (check this column on Friday for America’s Most Beautiful Universities):

1.  Swarthmore College and the University of Richmond
3.  Pomona College
4.  Lewis and Clark College and Middlebury College
6.  Kenyon College, Rhodes College, and Wellesley College
9.  Scripps College
10.  Furman University
11.  Sewanee:  The University of the South
12.  Bucknell University and Colgate University
14.  Colby College, Rollins College, and Vassar College

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