I wouldn't have minded if Bucknell was 10 hours, six hours or one hour away. It was more about the quality of the school than any amount of time it takes to get there.
When Katie Shives '24 was reviewing the 15 schools on her college search list, she spent weeks gathering every piece of information she could.
She read course descriptions, scoured university websites and scrolled social media, looking for both the schools' official accounts and for public posts from currently enrolled students.
But there was one piece of information Katie didn't have: She wasn't able to visit every school on her list.
Katie, who lives four hours from Bucknell in Long Beach Island, N.J., had never visited Lewisburg when Bucknell's Early Decision I deadline arrived on Nov. 15. But she applied anyway, hoping to secure a spot in Bucknell's rapidly rising management program.
"Personally, I didn't need to see it to know how great it was," Katie says. "Something just clicked. Bucknell was the most interactive school I was looking at, especially on Instagram."
Katie paid her enrollment deposit in January. She commemorated the decision in an Instagram post in which she wears a Bucknell pullover and holds orange and blue smoke bombs to share where she'll spend the #nextfour years.
She finally made it to campus for a tour in February. Katie and her parents left on a Friday after school and arrived in Lewisburg in the late evening. Her instincts had been correct.
"As soon as I stepped foot in the downtown, it was eye-opening," she says. "I absolutely fell in love with the town and the campus."
Katie says downtown Lewisburg felt alive with activity and also extremely safe — a vibe she says she didn't always get in other college towns.
"When I was walking around at night, I didn't feel scared," she says. "It just felt like home."
Doing the Deep Dive
Katie first heard about Bucknell from one of her dad's friends, an alum. So she checked out the website and found herself on the page for the Freeman College of Management.
She saw that Bucknell was expanding its management program and moving into an impressive new building, and "that's really what drew me to looking deeper into Bucknell."
On bucknell.edu, she fell down a rabbit hole of sorts as she clicked further and further.
"I read through everything and was like, 'Wow, this is the type of place I really want to go to,'" she says. "It was a different feel."
Eventually, she landed on the Bucknell course catalog. Katie says reading course descriptions is a good way to compare schools. Do the classes seem interesting and hands-on? Will they introduce her to new ideas and build her resume? Is the vibe competitive or collaborative?
"When I read the descriptions of these classes, Bucknell really stuck out to me," she says. "It seems so much more personal. It wasn't competitive — it's just that we all want to grow in one environment."
Looking Past the Filter
Of course, college is about more than the handful of hours a day spent in labs and learning spaces.
So Katie next turned to social media, hoping to add color to the black-and-white course descriptions. What's it like to actually be a student at these schools?
She found students with public profiles and followed student-run Instagram accounts like @iamraybucknell.
"That's what drew me to go deeper and deeper — the different stories behind how people are getting involved," Katie says.
Calling Katie "involved" might be an understatement. She's president of her senior class and the school's Key Club. She played softball. She has clocked more than 400 hours of volunteer time, including with Operation Smile, a nonprofit that helps children born with a cleft lip or cleft palate.
Katie noticed that Bucknell students are extremely active, too. They don't have to choose one activity but can pursue whatever interests them.
"When I saw that people were able to do those kinds of things here, I was like, wow," she says. "I just saw opportunity."
That feeling of warmth and welcome didn't just come from Instagram. It also came from Bucknell's test-optional admissions policy, Katie says.
Katie, who is ranked 13th in her class, says her SAT scores weren't great. So she chose not to include them with her application — refusing to let one mediocre performance derail her college plans.
"That was a big part of my decision," she says. "The fact that Bucknell looks beyond the numbers — it showed that the school cares more about you wanting to succeed in the future than what it says on paper about you."
Finding a Community
Like nearly 1,000 other admitted or enrolled students in the Class of 2024, Katie is active on B2B: Bison to Bison, Bucknell's admitted student network.
The network debuted after Bucknell, like other colleges around the world, was forced to cancel its in-person events for admitted students in spring 2020.
On B2B, Katie has connected with other incoming students, asked questions, and attended Zoom meetings on topics like housing & dining and the Freeman College of Management.
"I think it's a great, great platform," she says. "It's really great for us to ask about what we can expect."
And what does Katie expect when she begins her college career this fall?
"This might sound very basic, but I'm looking forward to meeting new people," she says. "I'm a people person, so I'm very excited to get to know my classmates."