No Joke: Our campus visit to Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University


I don’t understand why Cleveland is the butt of so many jokes.

In our sports-obsessed culture, perhaps it is the lackluster record of their teams as to why the rest of the nation picks on Cleveland.

Even the Case Western Reserve University admissions representative, a native New Yorker who spotted my husband’s Mets cap, worked in a jab about Cleveland as he touched upon Cleveland’s cultural and sports offerings at our information session.

“Another big plus about attending Case Western – when your hometown team comes to town to play against a Cleveland team, there is a good chance you’ll get to see them win!”

There we were, the five of us, at my daughter’s first campus visit.

Most prospective students came with one parent. My daughter had her whole entourage. For the most part, her little brothers were good sports. Lesson learned: Next campus trip, we just bring the kid closest to college age. 

At the information session, about 20 prospective students awkwardly sat among their parents. Most of the students were from Michigan. All were asked to introduce themselves, what they were interested in studying, where they lived, and one interesting thing that makes them unique.

My daughter, the lone student who declared an interest in studying science AND art, declared that her talent for drawing made her unique.

My freshman son, mistaken for a prospective student, joked that his one interesting quality was that people frequently thought he was older than his actual age.

Jokes aside, Case Western Reserve is a highly competitive university known for its science, engineering, social work, and medical schools. The Huffington Post calls it the “Geek-centric” up and coming school to watch because  it encourages students to be interdisciplinary researchers and creative thinkers and problem solvers.

Before releasing us to our student tour guides, the admissions counselor gave us a thorough presentation on Case Western’s place in college rankings.

  •  In their rankings, U.S. News & World report ranks it No. 37 among 280 national universities.
  • Case Western Reserve University was also ranked No. 27 on U.S. News and World Report’s Best Values charts.
  • Its medical school is ranked 12 in the nation
  • The school encourages interdisciplinary coursework across 200 academic programs
  • There is a 9:1 student/faculty ratio, meaning that students get many opportunities for individual attention from professors.
  • Undergraduate acceptance rates for the 2011- 2012 stand at 51 percent.

You can get all these stats on a website. But what you won’t get unless you visit a campus is the feel of the campus, the buzz of the students as they walk, bike or skateboard by as they switch classes. You won’t get a chance to peek into a class in session.

Case Western Reserve is located in Cleveland’s  University Circle neighborhood, putting it within walking distance to about five museums, parks, art galleries, restaurants, and lots of commercial and retail development that will only add to the university’s offerings in years to come.  During our visit, our family became enchanted with the area’s parks and charming neighborhoods.  We stopped into a small art gallery where the owner, upon learning my daughter was interested in studying art, asked if she might be available for a summer internship.

Wandering around the campus and its surroundings is an important part of the campus visit. Outside of the academic rigors, the student has to ask themselves: can I picture myself living here day after day, for at least four years?

An “online visit” to a campus website is a poor substitute for a walk through the campus, eating a meal at a student union or peeking into a lecture hall when a class is in session.

One can even get a feel, or have what they learned at a campus information session, reaffirmed over a bowl of  linguine.

That evening after the tour,we went out to eat at an unpretentious but very popular Italian restaurant. Seated near us was a large group of students with an older, bearded gentleman at the head of the table, presumably their professor. I hushed my family so I could overhear the conversation at the table. Indeed, the gentleman was their professor, and the group was enjoying a meal before taking in the Cleveland Orchestra, which plays at a hall right on the campus. Student tickets to the Cleveland Orchestra are only $12, and if you are a Case Western student, going to the symphony tops the lists of things to do before graduation.

There was a steady light drizzle as our student tour guide walked us through some academic buildings, dorm quads with washing machines that TEXTED you when your load was done (!!!)  and the student union.

This is pretty typical on a college tour: visitors will first sign in at the admissions office, usually housed in a stately old building with gleaming hardwood floors. An admissions representative will give a talk and present a polished video of current students and alumni before releasing you to a student tour guide, most likely on a work-study program.

For my middle child, a ninth grader, tagging along on a campus tour with big sister hopefully got him thinking of what campus he could see himself on after high school.

I watched them walk ahead with the student tour guide as I hung back with the rest of the parents. I watched my daughter tell my son I wish I had started visiting colleges when I was YOUR age. 

One final word of advice from our tour guide as he made his obligatory plug for us to give him a good score on the feedback card back at admissions: Never overlook the colleges closest to your hometown. Our guide was a native of Cleveland, and he never imagined himself winding up at Case Western Reserve. But he did, and is happy about his decision.

Next up: Our visit to Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. 

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About stacylynngittleman

I have been a public relations professional and reporter -- and always thought I would live in the New York Metro area - before my husband took a job in Rochester, New York. Most in Metro New York can't find Rochester on a map,and neither could I before we moved. I am now a columnist and a freelance writer for Rochester's only daily newspaper, the Democrat & Chronicle. I also am passionate about gardening, fitness and most of all, Jewish education and Israel Advocacy. Here's my perspective on Western New York living - the good, the bad, and the snowy.

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