From America’s Best Kept College Secrets by Peter Arango
Muhlenberg is one of the highly regarded colleges that offer admission to roughly fifty percent of applicants – slightly more in some years and slightly fewer in others. That level of selectivity puts Muhlenberg near the highly selective colleges that are not profiled in this book. I include Muhlenberg because it remains a distinctly superior college choice and is still somewhat more regional than other colleges of its quality.
Muhlenberg is nestled in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, a quickly growing region that includes other notable institutions, such as Lehigh University and Lafayette University. Muhlenberg is a about fifty miles from Philadelphia and about ninety miles from New York City. The city of Allentown is the fastest growing community in the state and is actually considered part of the New York Metropolitan Area. The Liberty Bell was hidden in Allentown during the Revolutionary War; a museum recognizes that distinction. In addition, a long legacy of brewing beer (from Schaeffer, Pabst, Guinness, and Sam Adams) also offers the visitor opportunity for diversion during a visit to Allentown.
It isn’t easy to capture the sense of a college in a short description, but my observation is that Muhlenberg’s students are ambitious, bright, active, and happy, and perhaps a bit more aware of and appreciative of what they see as a first-rate education than others at similar institutions. Unlike other colleges experiencing roughly the same degree of selectivity, Muhlenberg does not feel like anyone’s second-choice; its students are confident and proud of their collegiate experience. In fact, there is an engaging assurance about Muhlenberg’s students that signifies a rare confidence in the quality of the education and support given them in their time at the college.
Muhlenberg is located on an eighty-acre campus in a residential area east of Allentown’s center. Established in 1848, the college reflects the variety of institutional architecture over more than a century-and-a-half of expansion. Muhlenberg is a liberal arts college of about twenty-two hundred students all of whom are undergraduates. Although Muhlenberg is still affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, its faculty and student body is made up of people of every faith and belief, and its mission is clearly inclusive, encouraging diversity. In fact, Muhlenberg enrolls a high percentage of Jewish students and is known for the quality of kosher meals served daily in the dining halls; the college actively seeks diversity. In my opinion, Muhlenberg is been a bit more dedicated to pre-professional education than some liberal arts colleges; the college does present well-organized mentoring of those seeking admission to medical school, law school, and other professions, and it has a very strong program in accounting, a major not offered by many liberal arts colleges of this size.
A quick look at Muhlenberg’s mission and curriculum reveals the strength of program available in this happy college. In addition to a rich variety of courses within the traditional arts and sciences, the college presents three major pre-professional tracks and nine other coordinated tracks. Students are prepared for graduate programs in Medicine, Law, and Theology with the help of academic advisors experienced in those professional areas. Muhlenberg also works with other institutions and agencies to prepare students for careers in engineering, dentistry, occupational therapy, optometry, physical therapy, and music certification. A student seeking commission as an officer in one of the military services can join others in the Lehigh valley in a cooperative ROTC program.
In addition to the standard liberal arts courses in science, math, language, literature, the social sciences, fine arts, and economics, Muhlenberg offers majors in some unusual areas – for example:
Business Administration, Finance, Accounting, Economics
Dance, Film Studies, Media and Communication, Music, and Theater (VERY strong program in theater, among the most highly regarded)
French, German, German Studies, Jewish Studies, Russian Studies, Spanish, with Minor programs in Africana Studies, Asian Traditions, International Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Biochemistry, Computer Science, Environmental Studies, Neuroscience, Public Health, and Sustainability Studies
The college is committed to Global Education and more than half of Muhlenberg’s students will participate in one of the college’s programs outside the United States. Of particular interest are opportunities at The London Theater Program at Goldsmith’s College of London University, Accounting, Business, and Economics at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, Media and Communication and Film at the University of Dublin, and Dance in Arezzo, Italy. Tuition costs and financial aid remain the same as those offered on-campus students; there is no extra tuition cost or loss of aid in traveling to an international campus.
It is worth noting that student opinion is enthusiastic in recognizing the incredible generosity of spirit and professional competence of their professors. Over and over again, Muhlenberg’s kids express their gratitude for the interest that their teachers take in them and in their work. Advisors and mentors abound, but the real advantage in choosing a solid academic program such as this is in finding actively responsive professors in every course.
Carrying the enthusiastic good news into life outside of the college, many students begin their appreciative comments with a rousing shout-out to the food service for providing food of unusual quality and variety. I’ve already mentioned the kosher menu as remarkable for a college of this size, and, in an era in which the “food court” has replaced the dining hall, the cheerful ambience of Muhlenberg’s dining hall and a variety of uniformly well-prepared meals do stand out. I can guarantee that most colleges do not earn the kind of enthusiastic approval that Muhlenberg has. There are other on-campus sources of snacks and specialized food, such as the popular “knoshery”, but one of the most appreciated aspect about the dining hall is that it remains open throughout the day for drop-in snacking.
Dormitories are comfortable, and in a rare impulse of humanity, most are air-conditioned or about to be air-conditioned, an initiative most other colleges should imitate. I won’t go full-rant at this point, but most colleges spend a lot of money on “splash”, striking and elaborate facilities, but old dorms are hellacious in September, October, and May as heat rises to rooms on the third of fourth floor. There are lots of options with regard to configuration of rooms and suites and well-maintained living spaces. At this time, only one of the fraternities operates its own residence, so almost all students live in dormitories or college housing attached to the campus. Greek life is moderately impactful during the rush weeks, but generally muted throughout the rest of the year. About twenty percent of students join one of three fraternities or one of five sororities, and those organizations do organize social events enjoyed by the college as a whole. The Greek system is not the stereotypical “frat boy” agent of excess. Muhenberg’s kids work hard and are ambitious; this is NOT a party school.
It is an active school, however, with more than a hundred clubs and organizations at full membership. I would say that Muhlenberg has a slightly greater emphasis upon service than some colleges; I’m impressed with the number of students involved with Muhlenberg College Emergency Medical Services (MCEMS) which provides first responder service at no cost and confidentially. Members are certified EMTs or in the process of earning certification. There are a number of other service organizations, including the Peer Health Advocates, the Sexual Assault Support Services, and the Cardinal Key Society, extending welcome to visitors and promoting school spirit. Two of my favorite organizations are Best Buddies, the nationally affiliated organization linking students with people in the community with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and Dress Upon a Star empowering disadvantaged young women in the Allentown area by making sure that they are given lovely clothes for a magical prom experience.
As mentioned earlier, the theater program is excellent, and the performing arts have a prominent place at Muhlenberg. The Theater Association is very large and supports both man stage productions and the more than twenty student productions that take place each year. A cappella music is so popular that the college has founded an A Cappella Council to coordinate the activities of the six a cappella groups on campus. There are co-ed groups, male groups, female groups, and one group called the Chaimonics that performs in Hebrew at the Hillel center. Fusion is, quite appropriately, the group that combines vocal music and dance, particularly hip-hop. There are a number of other groups, including the Soul Sound Steppers, performing African dance.
The publications at Muhlenberg include an excellent yearbook, the Muhlenberg Weekly is the college’s newspaper, and MBC, the Muhlenberg Broadcasting Community brings student work on campus television station, MCTV. Special interest clubs are many, from the Russian Club to the John Marshall Pre-Law Society. Active involvement in activities indicates a student population that is both ambitious and committed; seriously, Muhlenberg is an uncommonly active place!
And then, there is the exciting and distinctive athletic tradition that is also part of Muhlenberg’s obvious sense of pride and spirit. Students are involved in tons of intramural and recreational sports. To begin with, the college’s Life Sport Center includes a tournament sized basketball court, a field house, a six-lane swimming pool, and courts for racquetball and squash. The new addition to the center (fabulous!) includes training facilities, cardio-fitness facilities, and a weight room, The college offers a full menu of intramural sports in every season and facilitates three club sports that operate at close to varsity status – men’s ice hockey, women’s rugby, and co-ed fencing.
The Muhlenberg Mules have a distinguished athletic legacy. Football was the first varsity sport, organized at the start of the Twentieth Century and made prominent with the arrival of a coach who would later go on to lead Syracuse University to national championships, but in his time at Muhlenberg take the Mules to its own championship, winning the Tobacco Bowl in the late 1940’s. Today, Muhlenberg competes at the NCAA Division III level, as a member of the Centennial Conference (Johns Hopkins, Dickinson, Franklin and Marshall, Gettysburg, Haverford, Swarthmore, etc.) and the Eastern College Athletic Conference. Varsity teams for men include football, soccer, cross-country, golf, lacrosse, wrestling, track and field. Women’s sports include volleyball, soccer, cross-country, field hockey, golf, lacrosse, softball, track and field. Many teams have won regional championships and both the men’s and women’s soccer teams are highly regarded.
Muhlenberg’s facilities are first-rate, its academic reputation excellent, and its students proud and happy. The closet comparison I can think of outside the confines of this book is Bates College in Maine, similarly grounded and ambitious. Lots of smart kids, many of whom look fairy preppy, most of whom are from Pennsylvania or New Jersey, thirty percent of whom are Jewish, one hundred percent of whom are grateful to Muhlenberg.
In recent years, Muhlenberg has received approximately 4700 applications from which it has accepted approximately 2500 in order to enroll a class of almost 600 first year students. The percentage of applicants accepted has ranged from 48% to 53%. Scores reported for the middle 50% of enrolled students have ranged from 579 to 670 on the Critical Reading subtest of the SAT and from 570 to 670 on the Math subtest. ACT Composite scores for the same group have ranged from 25 to 31. More than 20% of students enroll from Pennsylvania; approximately 26% are from New York and New Jersey. Interestingly, about 12% are from California. The enrolled population is approximately 65% white non-Hispanic; 64% are female and 46% are male.