Once a well-hidden gem tucked away in leafy, suburban Philadelphia, Haverford College is
breaking out of obscurity and into the forefront of the country’s top liberal arts colleges. And
why not? Haverford embodies what most people associate with college: an arboreal campus
dotted with historic stone halls, professors and students chatting away on the steps after class,
people reading or throwing a Frisbee on the main green. But there are many things about
the school that go beyond that, that break the mold and make it a unique place. An Honor Code
brings trust and respect to the campus community both in the classroom and at Saturday night
parties. Only 1,100 students means that even intro courses average fifteen or fewer students,
giving you close contact with a challenging and accomplished faculty. And the school has the
top collegiate varsity cricket team in the nation (also the only one). It’s no wonder Haverford
is no longer a secret.
The college covers 204 acres about ten miles from Center City Philadelphia; however,
you could easily be convinced that you were in the middle of nowhere. Shrouded by a wall of
trees on all sides, the campus consists of rolling fields with buildings concentrated around a
square in the middle. The campus itself is an arboretum. Founded in 1833 by members of the Society of Friends, the college was intended
for Quaker men, but soon thereafter opened its doors to all comers (except women, who were
admitted in 1980). The Quaker tradition is strong but not overbearing in typical Quaker fashion.
Meetings are held weekly for those who choose to attend, and aspects such as consensus
decision-making and the Honor Code are direct results of the Quaker background.
Liberal arts is the important thing to remember when talking about academics.
The institution is truly committed to the idea, meaning that physics majors cannot hole themselves
up in lab for four years, just as philosophy majors will end up stepping into the Marian E.
Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center more than once or twice during their college
career. A few basic requirements, such as a year of foreign language, freshman writing, and a
social justice class, are designed to ensure this, but don’t prove to be restrictive. That’s not to
say students will do well only in Trivial Pursuit; the past few classes have produced
prize-winning physicists and published economists, among others. Be prepared to roll up your
sleeves right away—the work is rigorous to say the least. The thirty-page reading assignment
that you were shocked to get in high school will seem like a night off.
Of course it’s not all work and no play. The school offers a broad range of activities for
such a small college. More than three quarters of the student body plays sports at either the
varsity, club, or intramural level. Students can choose from more than 100 clubs and groups
ranging from theater to the Zymurgy Club (beer-making). There is also the highest per
capita number of a cappella groups in the nation, making for a lot of harmony on campus.
The surrounding towns offer the usual fare of movie theaters, restaurants, book stores,
and twenty-four-hour Wawa convenience stores, which come in very handy when you want a
hoagie at 2:30 A.M. Downtown Philadelphia is a fifteen-minute ride away on the local train;
Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr can be reached through regular van and bus service.
The Honor Code
Underlying life at the school is the Honor Code, one that goes beyond not copying off your
neighbor’s exam book. All incoming students have to sign the Code, pledging to live by the
academic and social responsibilities it assigns to all students and faculty. What this translates
to is take-home tests, and unproctored, self-scheduled final exams that can make the stress-induced
angst of finals week a bit easier to take. The more blurry and controversial side of the
Code is its social expectations. The basic premise is that all students must treat each other
with respect and work out their differences through dialogue. Enforcing such a vague idea can
be difficult. The social Honor Code has been a big topic of discussion the past few years
at Plenary, the town-meeting style biannual gathering. The Code is a work in progress, constantly
being changed and remolded by students who propose amendments and then plead
their case at Plenary. All resolutions are put to a vote, and if passed, become part of the Code.
If what you are looking for is academic excellence combined with a strong sense of community,
then look no further. A strong emphasis on the liberal arts and the trust and respect
implicit in the Honor Code teach students not only how to be a complete intellectual
package, but also how to be humane and thoughtful in their social interactions.
And let’s not forget education—HC offers one of the best around. Top-notch professors
challenge the limits of their students, and classes are intimate academic experiences
only a small college can offer. Students work hard, but in return are given the best available
resources, the opportunity for independent work, and a thorough education. The school will forever
remain committed to the liberal arts, choosing to produce intelligent, capable people
rather than those trained to occupy a niche.
I never really appreciated the effect that Haverford had upon me until I
graduated. Comparing myself now to who I was when I arrived as a freshman is
like looking at two different people. When I was a student, I never took the time to
step back and realize what a fantastic experience I was having; I was more concerned
with my work, my social life, the here-and-now. It wasn’t until I left the
comfort zone of college and joined the “real world” that I began to realize what
Haverford had done for me. Not only was my brain crammed with more information
than I knew what to do with, but I also had picked up a lot of valuable tools.
I could write, express myself, carry on an intelligent conversation, and think critically.
I found myself more aware of the world around me and how I could affect
it. The Honor Code had opened my eyes not only to larger-scale social issues, but
also to my interactions with people on an everyday basis. I would say the best
thing Haverford did for me was to make me a complete person.
Each year the college sends its graduates out into the world, and in the fall, welcomes
another batch of freshmen. While the faces are constantly changing, the college remains the
same, and so do the values and education it imparts to its students. Trust, respect, and excellence
will forever be the cornerstones of the Haverford experience.
The freshman orientation week used to include a session with a long-time chemistry professor
on balancing work. The bow-tied chemist would break down, to the hour, the daily schedule
of the average student in an effort to impress upon the freshmen the amount of planning
they needed to keep up with their studies. Eight hours a day were allotted for sleeping,
three for meals, four for class, and three for any extracurricular activities, which, according to
his calculations, left a reasonable six hours of the day for homework. Needless to say, this left
many already apprehensive freshmen wondering what they had gotten themselves into.
While few if any students follow these recommendations for time budgeting,
they take their studies very seriously. There are no stereotypical students; the captain of the
basketball team might also be a philosophy major who reads Kant when not at practice. The
work load is heavy, and often the faculty members seem to forget that you aren’t taking only
one course each semester. The library is one of the most popular places during the week, which
also makes it one of the most social spots on campus. Students looking for some serious studying
can hole themselves up in one of the numerous carrels that are scattered throughout the
stacks, leaving the main floor for those more interested in being seen.
The cutthroat competition that is rampant in high school does not carry over to
your experiences at this college. With the academic responsibility of the Honor Code as a backdrop, the academic
life at the college is refreshingly noncompetitive; that is, people are only interested in their
own work and don’t snap their neck trying to see how their neighbor did on an exam. HC
supports this by intentionally avoiding a competitive environment; there is no dean’s list or
I remember the summer after my freshman year at Haverford, returning
home after one of the most stressful years of my life. It was the first time that
I had really been home since the school year began, and the first time I had seen
many of my high school classmates since graduation. I was really taken aback
when one person asked me what my GPA was. Maybe I was reacting as any
Haverford student, not used to asking people about their grades, and not being
asked about mine, or maybe I thought it was a judgment of my success in college.
The fact is I had become part of a community in which grades are not the measure
of a person’s worth (nor a point of competition or separation within the student
body), a community that looks at each member as an individual and
values what that individual brings to the community. I am a lot more than the
ten-page paper I stay up all night writing, and I am glad to be at a school where
the community (and not just my close friends) realizes that.
The Value of Liberal Arts
Haverford heavily stresses the value of liberal arts, meaning that there is a set of academic
requirements. Students must take at least three credits (one class equals one
credit) in each of the three major disciplines: the social sciences, humanities, and natural
sciences. A semester of freshman English is required for all first-year students, and two
semesters of a language are necessary to graduate unless a student can test out of the
requirement. There is also an oft-forgotten gym requirement that can haunt seniors who
need gym credits to graduate. Students can choose from thirty-two majors, including those
at Bryn Mawr College.
The bi-college relationship with Bryn Mawr is designed so that the two colleges offer
more together than they could individually. For example, Bryn Mawr offers a major in growth
and structure of cities while Haverford provides astronomy. Some majors, such as comparative
literature, are bi-college, sharing faculty and campuses. Class size is generally small, averaging
fifteen to twenty students. Introductory courses can reach thirty and the occasional survey
course can reach seventy-five students. However, by the time students are seniors, they have most
likely been a part of more than one seminar that numbered from five to ten.
By junior year, many students feel the urge to try something new for awhile and to meet
some new people. Study abroad programs are enormously popular and the junior class is
gutted each semester when students head off for all corners of the globe. The most popular
programs are the European ones, but the school has also established ties with universities in
Nepal, Ghana, Japan, and Chile, among others. Junior year abroad serves two purposes:
students get to see the world, and they also tend to return to campus with a fresher view of
the college after their time away.
Most Popular Fields of Study
Gaining admission is not an easy task, but it’s also not one that should be
discouraging. Fewer than thirty percent of the students who apply are accepted, but being in
the top of your class with great SAT scores doesn’t guarantee you a spot nor does that C+ you
got in tenth grade geometry seal your fate. The Office of Admission uses the numbers as a
benchmark, but is also interested in more than just an applicant’s statistics. It is looking for
students who will not only excel in the classroom, but also contribute to the Haverford community,
either on the athletic field, on stage, at club meetings, or even in a conversation in the
dining center. So keep up the piano lessons, join the French club, and maybe take a weekend
day or two to volunteer.
The Office of Admission requires the standard materials from applicants: SAT (or ACT)
and SAT Subject Tests, high school transcripts, recommendations, and a personal writing sample.
The school uses the Common Application exclusively along with a one-page supplement.
Interviews are required for students living within 150 miles of campus, and are strongly
encouraged for those outside of the radius. Any additional material sent with an application is
welcomed, but make sure it is relevant to your admissions information. You might want to hold
onto the tape of you scoring the winning goal in last week’s soccer game. If you’re seriously
considering HC, an overnight visit is also a good way to get a good feel for the place.
Admissions has a cadre of nonthreatening hosts ready to show any prospective students
around for a night.
There have been concerted efforts to increase the diversity of the college.
Close to thirty percent of the students are students of color, and the colleg offers need-based
scholarships such as the José Padín Fund for students from Puerto Rico and the Ira
DeA. Reid Fund for minority students. The college has also been addressing other areas of
diversity, including class differences while many students come from upper
middle-class backgrounds, the Office of Admission is trying to affect change by seeking out
talented students from lower income families. This is a difficult task because it means
putting a heavy burden on the already limited amount of financial aid the college can provide,
but one that it has committed to.
Haverford is not cheap. With a price tag that is over $40,000 a year, many students
need help to cover their expenses. The Financial Aid Office is as generous as it can be, providing
aid of some form for just over a third of the student body. Admission is need-blind, and financial aid is addressed only after a student
has been accepted.
Financial aid decisions are made solely according to a need-based allocation formula
developed by the college. In other words, the school does not offer any financial aid on the
basis of academic, musical, athletic, or any other merits.
Financial aid comes primarily in the form of grants and scholarships. The
college has around 120 scholarship funds that students are awarded as part of their aid packages,
and can be general or directed at students with particular interests. Campus jobs are
plentiful, and range from monitoring the field house during evenings to writing press releases
for the Public Relations Office. Students often use work-study as résumé-builders for summer
internships or even jobs after graduation. Students receiving financial aid are given preference
in hiring for campus jobs.
Student Financial Aid Details
The Haverford experience begins with Customs Week, basically five days of intensified
summer camp. Freshmen are divided into groups of ten to fifteen according to their dorm and
hall, which becomes their Customs group. Upperclass students, usually sophomores, guide
first-year students through a gauntlet of games, get-to-know-you activities, and general orientation
to the college. The week includes a dorm Olympics, where each of the three freshman
dorms compete against each other in games ranging from the human knot to egg tossing.
Customs groups tend to be tight-knit during the first semester, usually traveling en masse to
and from the dining center. This mentality can slow down the process of meeting new people,
but it also is easier to make some close friends within the group.
For those who enjoy their personal space, housing is ideal. Many of the
dorms have single rooms, usually grouped together in suites with a common room.
Except for freshman year, there is a good chance that a student can go through most of college
without having to share a room. If you are looking for a college roommate with whom
you can share stories at your twenty-fifth reunion, the several houses on campus and the
Haverford College Apartments (HCA) are the way to go. HCA is a complex located on the
edge of campus. It houses a third of the freshmen and a large part of the sophomore class.
Apartments are shared by three or four students, each with two bedrooms, a bathroom, and
a kitchen. The only drawback is that you have to clean the bathroom yourself. HCA develops
its own social scene throughout the year, since the third of the student body that lives
there creates its own special camaraderie.
Parties and Bars
HC has no Greek system, but party-goers still tend to gravitate toward the several
houses on campus for their Friday and Saturday night activities or to Lloyd dorm for
traditional Thursday night parties. The same scene can get old midway through the first
semester, so the more adventurous and legal fun-seekers head out to some of the area bars.
Actually, most don’t make it any further than the five-minute walk to Roache and O’Brien,
more affectionately known as Roaches. About the size of your average walk-in closet,
Roaches is a bizarre mixture of seedy locals and college students, complete with a lifesize
poster of Willie Nelson, a jukebox that hasn’t changed a record in twenty years, and a
bartender who dishes out insults along with drinks. It’s no wonder why it is such a popular
hangout. Bryn Mawr is also five minutes away by Blue Bus, the shuttle that runs between
the two campuses.
Going Off Campus
Finding places to go off campus is not too hard. Vans run between Haverford and
Swarthmore every day, and UPenn is a twenty-minute car ride away. Right across
the street is a commuter train stop that goes directly into Center City
Philadelphia, opening up a whole world of restaurants, theaters, clubs, sports, stores, parks,
and, of course, historical Philadelphia. New York is also a one-hour ride away and
Washington, D.C. can be reached in two hours. Or, if you’re interested in risking your
student job earnings, Atlantic City is only an hour away.
Clubs or Groups
If you’re looking for a club or group to join, there is a smorgasbord to choose from.
Interested in boats? Sign up for the sailing club. Want to learn how to make films? Try
the Bi-College Filmmaking Club. If you have an interest that you want to pursue or organize,
the college will help you get it started.
Haverford shares a weekly newspaper with Bryn Mawr, and the entirely student-run
Bi-College News is a favorite Saturday morning brunch reading material. Lighted Fools is a
popular student theater group that produces several comedy skits each semester, and Horizons
Unlimited Musical Theater puts on two musicals each year. Four campus a cappella groups
regularly square off against each other in joint concerts as does the Bi-College Chorale.
In accordance with its Quaker roots, students are encouraged to take part in
service activities. The 8th Dimension Office is a resource for students looking to do some
volunteer work, and the office has a goal of getting every student to take part in at least one
activity before graduation. That goal has never been realized, but a good number of students do take time out to volunteer. This can simply be spending one Saturday afternoon
helping to fix up an abandoned row house in Philadelphia, or a Big Brother/Sister pairing that
lasts for all four years of college. The Quaker student group on campus also runs several
service events and each spring break small groups of students are sent throughout the
country to help build or repair housing for low-income families.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
Athletics are a big draw ranging from the varsity athlete to the intramural
badminton player. Forty percent of the students play intercollegiate sports and another
fifteen percent play on club teams. There are over twenty varsity teams that compete in the
NCAA Division III and in the Centennial Conference, which includes schools such as
Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and Johns Hopkins. While some teams are up and down each year,
both the men’s and women’s track teams are perennial powerhouses, advancing to the
national championships virtually every year. The college does not have a football team, so the school has a unique Homecoming with soccer as the centerpiece of the weekend’s
events. One requirement to play or watch sports at HC is a passionate hatred for
Swarthmore. The academic camaraderie is left at the door whenever there is a game
against Swarthmore, and the schools compete for the Hood Trophy, given annually to the
winner of the most games.
The college also has some long-standing traditions, the most notable being Class Night,
a variety show in which classes compete with each other to put on the most ridiculous
and often offensive skit. Alums will get teary-eyed remembering their Class Night shenanigans,
but in the past few years, participation has flagged, and some classes don’t get organized
enough to put in an entry.
The real test of the value of a Haverford education and experience comes after students
walk across the stage to receive their diplomas. For some it is directly on to graduate or
professional school, while others want to take some time to breathe before continuing their
education. Roughly fifteen percent of all graduating seniors head straight for school right after
college, with four percent attending law school and five percent going on to medical school.
Another thirty-five percent spend some time in the work world before going back to school
within five years of graduation. Those who do start the nine-to-five life do so in a wide variety
of fields. Recent graduates tend to find jobs in business, education, scientific research,
and journalism—basically most types of employment. Some students receive fellowships for
overseas programs. Haverford is a perennial recipient of at least one Watson Fellowship, which
provides money for a student to pursue a self-designed research project overseas. Recent grads
on Watson Fellowships have played baseball in Russia and traveled throughout Scotland taking
The bi-college career development office has a
wealth of information on jobs, careers, and internships
for those who need help with the apprehension of finding a job. Recruiters from many major
companies and firms come on campus each year in
search of future employees. Job-seeking students are also able to interview off-campus through
programs established by career development. Those who try the word-of-mouth approach of networking can draw upon an alumni body of roughly
12,000, a small but tight-knit and very accomplished group eager to help out a fellow
Haverfordian. Younger alumni tend to congregate in the major cities of the East Coast, a large
contingent move a whopping ten miles away to Philadelphia and many succumb to the lure of New
York. Washington, D.C. is often referred to as Haverford’s southern campus because of the
large number of alumni living there.
- John Whitehead, ’43, Former Deputy Secretary of State
- Gerald M. Levin, ’60, Former Chairman and CEO, Time Warner
- Joseph Taylor, ’63, Nobel Laureate in Physics
- Norman Pearlstine, ’64, Former Editor-in-Chief, Time Inc.
- Dave Barry, ’69, Humorist
Small classes mean that students come into close contact with professors, and HC
has some of the best around. Not only are many at the top of their fields, but they are
also interested in teaching as well as research. The biology faculty welcomes juniors into
their labs over the summer to assist them in their research, and many biology majors use
that experience as part of their thesis or to get published. Most professors
encourage classroom discussion, which both enlivens courses and means that if you haven’t
done the reading for the day, there’s nowhere to hide. Professors are very accessible, with
ample amounts of office time, and they are willing to stay after class to talk. Many live on
campus. Faculty members will invite students over to their homes for dinner, and some hold
class in their living rooms.