Our College Visit to Chapman University

pitzer college, student housingLast week my son G- and I had a quick trip out to the Los Angeles area, just the two of us. He wanted to visit one of the colleges on his short list that had already sent him an acceptance letter: Chapman University. Located in historic old Orange, California, it’s about ten minutes due east from Disneyland but feels a thousand miles away. He’d already seen another of his choices, Pitzer College, but since we had some spare time in our schedule, we started our adventure by heading there. Well, we really started by flying into Hollywood Burbank Airport (aka Bob Hope Airport) (I’m a big Big Hope fan as an old movie buff, of course).

Old school nostalgia in the middle of one of the most bustling cities in the world? Yup. They wheeled out stairs and a ramp and we exited our cramped Southwest flight out of both the front and back doors, right onto the tarmac and a gorgeous, warm day. So fun, haven’t done that for decades of flying through modern, hermetically sealed airports. A jump into our rental vehicle and straight sailing through Pasadena into Claremont and thence onto the Pitzer campus. It was spring break so it was really quiet on campus, but it’s a lovely campus (see pic, above) and part of a consortium of five colleges that also includes Harvey Mudd, Scripps College and Claremont McKenna College. Darn nice. We walked around, talking, and ended up back in the car and thence down to Anaheim, where we were staying for the trip.

Turns out our hotel was across the street from the Honda Center and about 1/4mi from Angels stadium, which was fun. Fortunately, there were no games or events, however, so traffic wasn’t particularly an issue. For dinner we headed over to Downtown Disney (about 3 1/2 mi away) and had a very good meal at Tortilla Jo’s. Expensive, but really quite tasty.

The next morning we drove the few miles to Chapman University and checked in for their Panther for a Day program; admitted students get to sit in on a lecture, hang out with other students, eat a meal in the cafeteria, and generally get a sense of what the school’s like as a student. G- loved it. He really enjoyed himself and the fellow students he met during the program.

walkway, chapman university

I got a separate parents tour that was lead by a chatty gal from Dubai called Kiana. Our tour lasted two hours, rather to my surprise, and we walked all the heck over their beautiful campus. A perfect warm spring day, a campus buzzing with activity, and a convenient location for much of what makes Southern California fun. We also got to peek into a dorm room, they generally have “triples” where you share the room with two other freshman. It was right out of a Target or Bed, Bath and Beyond catalog; really lovely. Not representative, but… very nice.

fountain, chapman university

I headed down to downtown Orange, a ridiculously cute “old California” town with lots of upscale eateries and student-focused businesses. My pizza was quite good. 🙂

When we met up afterwards, G- was really enthused, but he later met up on campus with a few friends who attend the university and they gave him a different perspective, talking about the pervasive Greek system (almost 30% of students are in a Greek house, far more than the national average of 5-6%) and the non-stop partying and party culture in the dorms. To my surprise, students are allowed to have alcohol on campus (if they’re 21), including having bottles in their rooms. What college says yes to that? Then again, they do have a Starbucks on campus…

starbucks on campus, chapman university

In the end, the party culture at Chapman proved not to really be his thing, and G- is now putting a lot more careful consideration into where he’ll head for college. Every school will have some level of partying, alcohol, hook-up culture and the like, but his goal is to try and minimize it, not have that define life as a freshman. To me, his careful thought about that is a plus. As we discussed, picking the right college for yourself is about a lot more than nice professors and a pretty campus.

Still, while we haven’t settled on a specific college yet, it was really fun for me to visit a college and get to see a school very unlike where I attended undergrad. I went to UC San Diego, a huge school with many colleges and thousands of students. Chapman is much smaller and has more of the feel of a liberal arts school. And that was pretty cool.

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