U Mass Amherst (visited 10/15/12)
I’m not sure that I know much more about UMass now than I knew before I went. The people were extremely nice; breakfast was tasty; the morning was well organized. However, I didn’t learn much about the school. Case in point: The tour guide was giving us an introductory spiel as we stood in the Union. As he described the campus, he said that it was like a bulls-eye. The Union was the center (and is one of the most used buildings); buildings that are used a lot but not consistently through the course of the day like dorms or academic buildings were surrounding the union. The outskirts were specialized buildings or programs “like the equestrian program. You don’t really need to see the horses on the way to class.” After an extensive presentation by the admissions staff (including how many millions of dollars are being poured into construction), we hadn’t heard anything about the equestrian program; if the tour guide hadn’t mentioned it in the layout of the campus, we would have left not even knowing it existed!
There are a few things that people at UMass seem particularly proud of. First, they got full DI status for their football team this year. Because they don’t have a stadium on campus yet, they’re playing at Gillette in Foxboro (where the Patriots play). They’re offering buses for students for the games, and they filled 35 for the opening game. Second, they like to talk about the variety of clubs and activities available on campus, including the Goat-herding club, quidditch team, and a humans vs. zombie club. This must be the “go-to” selling point, because three different people told us about these 3 specific clubs. Finally, their Student Rec Center has just gotten renovated; it’s 3 floors and beautiful. 500,000 people used it last year.
This is the largest public university in New England with about 22,000 undergrads. The university prides itself on its diversity in every context: racial, religious, geographic, socio-economic. “Students will find people who are just like them, and people completely different. They’ll find people with similar interests, and students with interests that will leave them shaking their heads.” The admissions team talked comprehensively about the student experience in which the university provides a series of smaller communities within the context of a major, national, research university. They do this through Residence Halls; groups arranged around majors, community service, or other topics of interest; and good advising and orientation programs. New students work with faculty from the department to help select classes, a task which can be daunting, especially for freshmen. They also have a program called First Year Intelligence which introduces new students to campus, help them adjust, and strengthen their chances for collegiate success. This starts with both a summer and a fall Orientation, and then continues through the year. Students can opt to live in a Residential Academic Program (RAP) where they can take classes in the hall, among other things. There are a variety of RAPs: Topic RAP for students with a particular (not necessarily related to major); Foundation RAP (in which they take a class in common with people they live with); Focus Rap (for undeclared majors to help them explore options); Honors RAP; and Majors RAP.
Not surprisingly, there’s a wide variety of academic choices for students with 90+ majors to choose from. Some of the programs have special admissions procedures or information:
- Engineering: just under 1700 students are enrolled in this college. They come in as undeclared engineers, and then decide at the end of first year which of the 6 specialties they want to do.
- Management: all business programs, including sports management, hotel management, resource economics.
- Natural Sciences: this is largest college in terms of majors, students, and grant funding. Integrated and collaborative 40year science program that immerses students in the hands-on process of engaging some of the most pressing global challenges like biomedicine and renewable energy.
- Public Health and Health Sciences: Public health, nutrition, etc
- The Honors College enrolls 600 first year students every year. These students have an average of a 4.2 GPA, and SAT of 1345. In the program, classes capped at 24. The university is building a new Commonwealth Honors College Residential Complex which will add 1,500 beds and 9 new classrooms.
- Nursing is a popular major, but there’s a limit of 84 students in the 1st year class; students can ONLY be admitted as freshmen. There’s no internal application once they’re on campus or transferring from outside the university.
- Hospitality Management students get hands-on experience working at the Hotel on campus.
- Students in the Journalism and communications departments have access to studios and specialized rooms for TV broadcasting and production, editing, etc.
Across the disciplines, the university sponsors $180million in research. One of the geology professors takes 8-10 students every year in February to northern Siberia to drill for ice and rock samples. There’s a waiting list . . . to go to northern Siberia in February. That says a lot. UMass ranks 3rd in the country for internship completion: 57% of students completed some sort of placement.