Western Pennsylvania Road Trip: Washington and Jefferson College

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You're about to spend four years of your life on a college campus; you need to make sure it feels right. So hit the road—we did! We took three typical road trips: East Coast, West Coast, and in between. By the way, college visits don't have to mean hours on the interstate. Use our Directory to locate schools near you and walk through the gates. You may find what you're looking for.

The Keystone State is blessed with a huge choice of colleges. The Philadelphia region rivals the Boston area as a home for top-notch schools; dead center, Penn State is the pride of the public higher education system. But western Pennsylvania offers an equally impressive variety of colleges. We visited four: two urban campuses in Pittsburgh and two in more rural settings.

Nestled in the rolling hillsides of western Pennsylvania, downtown Washington is the place that chain stores forgot. Just 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, Main Street is a mix of mom and pop shops and boarded-up windows, lined on the west by railroad tracks. To the east, across what some refer to as "the invisible line," lies Washington and Jefferson, a small, coed, private liberal arts school. The handsome buildings and neatly bricked fraternity houses of campus stand in stark contrast to the faded townscape.

Founded in 1781, the college's roots reach back to frontier days. Admission is competitive at 34 percent of applicants, and incoming students are not only smart but focused: About one third of entering freshmen identify themselves as prelaw or premed, though in the tradition of the liberal arts, W&J offers them wider options, including study abroad. "They come here and they discover poetry, they discover art, they discover China," says President Tori Haring-Smith, "but that's not the profile coming in."

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The student body is 88 percent white and draws strongly from Pennsylvania and Ohio. Over a quarter of students are the first in their family to go to college, and about 90 percent receive assistance; financial aid packages average about $20,000 per year. W&J shares many small-college strengths; it's not uncommon for professors to invite students over for a spaghetti dinner and study session. For Michael Leonard, an assistant professor, office hours are "whenever I'm not teaching a class or in a meeting"—a particularly serious commitment when you teach organic chemistry. Warm fuzzies aside, the personal relationships forged with professors prove valuable when students need letters of recommendation for grad school. Students at W&J enjoy a 90 percent acceptance rate to law- or health-related graduate programs.

In the healthy body, healthy mind tradition, there's a strong emphasis on fitness. The gym at W&J is busy most days, especially late afternoons after classes get out. This treadmill traffic, coupled with high participation in intramural sports, could explain why W&J was recently named the nation's 14th fittest college by Men's Fitness magazine. "It was very fitting," quips junior Ryan Sayers, "because there are always people working out here."

On the weekends, fraternity- or sorority-hosted parties are a popular pick (44 percent of students are involved in Greek life). But other students travel with their sports teams or even take a trip home to visit the 'rents. Some ambitious partygoers head into Pittsburgh for the nightlife; a more popular option is a relaxed night at Monticello's, a student-run cafe that offers nachos, chocolate shakes, and—some nights—karaoke.

More About Washington and Jefferson College

Plus factor: 90% of students live on campus—some of the upperclasswomen in a Victorian mansion.
Undergrad enrollment, fall '07: 1,531
Est. annual cost, '08-'09 (tuition, fees, room and board): $39,984

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