Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Davidson College Report

Davidson College is located about thirty minutes north of Charlotte, NC. The town sits on Lake Norman, and the campus is adjacent to the town center. Davidson is somewhat rural and suburban and is in the middle of a prime summer vacation area. The school has many connections and regular access to Charlotte, but it should be noted that Davidson is secluded and somewhat isolated, something that will appeal to some and be of concern to others.

July Experience

 July Experience is Davidson’s three-week pre-college program for rising juniors and seniors. This year they are carrying about 90 students from throughout the United States and abroad, including ten KIPP students from Texas. I mention this because Davidson’s president seems to be making a concerted effort to recruit students of color and those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. There is an apparent eagerness to work with this population of students, both in the summer programs and regular admissions. This summer’s cohort includes 10 African Americans, 10 Asian and Asian Americans, and 13 Latinos. 2/3 of the students are female. 54% of the summer students are receiving some kind of financial aid.

It is clear that July Experience is a rich academic program well suited for students looking to challenge themselves and are seeking a broad life experience. Course offerings are numerous and wide in range. This summer offered twelve courses, several of them in the sciences, but the list also included music, math, English, and social sciences. Classes are taught by Davidson faculty (not grad students). The ratio of instructor to student is 7:1, while counselor to student is 9:1. The program is well structured with class, study time, extra-curriculars, college workshops, and a number of cultural events. Parents receive a letter from the professor at the end of the program outlining the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and progress. Parents can also request a conference.

Applications go online in November and are due April 1st. Admission decisions are made by April 20th. Applications include a student interest essay, a high school profile, and letters of recommendation from a counselor and administrator. Understanding the workloads of some counselors, they will also accept teacher letters. The program will look at PSAT and/or SAT scores and want GPAs around 3.5.

Evelyn Gerdes, the July Experience director, made it very clear that she would be interested in working with the ILC. She was a bit hesitant about the chaperone piece of the ILC, but I assured her that it was not something that would interfere with the day-to-day activities of her program. I was very impressed with the program (and its goals) and would recommend that the ILC follow up and possibly make Davidson another site for our students.

Davidson College 

I met with Irma Navarro from admissions at Davidson. She should be considered a true ally of the ILC, as she completely understands our mission and student population. She is a graduate of Davidson who worked at Emory admissions before returning to her alma mater. She is originally from inner city Chicago and has gone through the kinds of experiences our students have in the WCCUSD. Her Latina background and enthusiasm about the ILC make her an ideal connection for us, and I would recommend that our students visit this campus (and her!) in the future.

Davidson was the first college in the country to go loan free, meaning that Davidson’s trust will pick up the tuition that remains after the student’s expected contribution has been met. And even in cases that the expectation cannot be met, there is still room to work out an arrangement. They are a need blind institution and offer a number of merit based scholarships at the university and department level. The school has 21 NCAA division one sports, so there are athletic scholarships as well. 43% of students are receiving financial aid.
Davidson is ideal for students interested in the sciences or who wish to travel and study abroad. 80% of students go abroad during their time at Davidson. 91% of graduates go on to advanced degrees. Along with academic rigor, the idea of community is important to Davidson. This is clear in the fact that they have the highest rate (60%) of alumni contributions among their peer schools. The school is very small at 1900 or so students.

Davidson’s student body is 50/50 male and female. They are 20% students of color. Irma was adamant in saying that Davidson is currently at a crucial point in their direction, as they are expanding the ethnic and racial scope of their programs and professors (as demanded by the student body). The school boasts a 90% retention rate for their students of color, a number that is higher than their peer schools and most historically black colleges. The school has programs in place to ensure this kind of success, including one named STRIDE.

Irma also spoke personally about her belief that Davidson is the kind of school where students of color learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. She believes that the Davidson experience is positive for students of color, as it builds resilience and fosters an environment of self-advocacy. This was separate from her admissions pitch, and I am convinced that for many qualified students from our district, Davidson is an excellent option.

Davidson applications are considered holistically. With that said, academic rigor is considered in the highest regard. Davidson wants to see that students have challenged themselves by taking advantage of the higher-level courses in each academic area at their school. Profiles of the high schools need to be clear and strong. She also stressed the importance of the short essay on the common application and pointed to their website as a source of advice on the application essays. She emphasized the importance of students including their own family responsibilities and work schedules under the umbrella of extra curricular activities. Admissions values this time outside of school and will consider it highly. They also ask for two teacher letters, as well as one counselor and one peer.

For one of our motivated and high achieving students in the district – ones that can appreciate the seclusion and tight community of Davidson- this school is ideal. They have the resources, enthusiasm, and support that will make our students successful.

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