campus encounters

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University of Puget Sound

University of Puget Sound (visited 6/20/17)

UPS quad 2Puget Sound offers students a juxtaposition of the natural beauty within the city of Tacoma. It’s idyllic but still accessible. Students choose Puget Sound because there are a lot of resources that impact their educational journeys and prepare them for jobs. They have flexibility to be career-focused without giving up chances to explore and be creative. This school provides an immediacy and practicality to their education. Students are heavily involved in experiential learning: restoring habitats in the backyard, traveling abroad, interning at Boeing or Amazon. However, those don’t mean much if there’s no reflection involved: “this is what I did and learned; here’s how it’s important to me, my career, and my work.” Puget Sound both provides this opportunity AND expects students to do this. This goes a long way in helping the school stay on the Colleges that Change Lives list (although it’s far from the only reason).

UPS 8I usually ask students at CTCL schools how the school actually changed their lives. Here’s what Puget Sound students said:

  • It’s a different environment from my high school which was very driven, very Ivy-focused. When I first got here, I was less comfortable with myself. Now I don’t feel like I have to worry about what I’m doing or wearing. I’m used to a cutthroat environment but no one asks your GPA here. They’re personally motivated. They care about their school. They came here because it’s the most comfortable, not because they’re trying to impress anyone. I’m excited to be back in this environment after Study Abroad.
  • UPS 11The amount of support I’ve received from professors, my job in catering, my coach is just amazing. I can call on any of them. My best friends are here. I can ask for a pushback of a due date, and they will allow it because they want my best work. I’m ready to go back into the real world and have something here to fall back on.
  • I was much less independent. One of the best things is that I feel cared about by students, faculty, staff. We promote a culture of caring. It’s not about holding your hand. It’s still challenging intellectually and emotionally, but it puts me in a mindset so I know what I can expect from others. I can have educated discourse while maintaining empathy and a positive outlook on life.

UPS gardenStudents are curious, engaged, reflective, and committed. Academics are practical and rigorous without being cutthroat, and the school is large enough (2600 undergrads) for choices without being overwhelming. “You’ll see students spending hours in the library, but also they’re involved in so much! It’s very typical to see people over-involved, including professors,” said one of the reps. A student said, “Professors are a little quirky here; that made me even more happy.” Some examples include:

  • UPS observatory

    The bell tower built up around the observatory

    One of the Chem professors. In the mornings, he’s always a little disheveled, always entertaining, and uses examples that just make you say, “What??” … but you kind of get it, even though you don’t feel like you should! You’ll see him wearing a helmet and riding his scooter around campus.

  • A Musicologist has been teaching here since the ‘70s. He has every presentation memorized and his mind moves a mile a minute. It’s hard to follow him because his mouth doesn’t keep up with his head. He’s so excited, he’ll start dancing around the room. He’s downloaded his presentations to cassette tapes just to make sure it works since he seems to destroy AV equipment.
  • A Sculpture professor. This is a tough guy you don’t think you want to mess with. He has 9 fingers so you take his safety lectures seriously! But he’s the sweetest guy ever. I’ve cried in his office when I got really stressed but he’ll talk me through it. I know he’ll be a life-long friend.
UPS science quad, gazebo

The Science Complex courtyard. The glass “gazebo” is in the shape of a salt crystal and holds one of the campus coffee shops.

Academic offerings are varied, including lots of interdisciplinary programs. The tour guide’s largest class, History 101, had 27 students in it (the smallest had 3). Programs worth mentioning are:

  • The Music School attracts a lot of people, even though it’s a smaller program. About 1/3 of the total student population is involved in music is some way because it’s open to everyone. They offer Music Education with a 1-year Masters. It’s one of the most credit-intensive programs. “I don’t have much room for electives,” said one student
  • UPS theater

    The theater building

    Bioethics which you rarely see at liberal arts schools!

  • Gender and Queer Studies
  • International Political Economy
  • Global Development Studies
  • An 84% acceptance rate into med school (the Biochem & Molecular Bio major is particularly strong).
  • The natural history museum has a whale skeleton that the students helped clean and put together.
UPS hanging art

Glass artwork hanging prominently in windows

Passages is a special Orientation program where students go to the mountains for 3 days (orientation itself lasts over a week). It becomes part of the culture to experience nature. Freshmen continue building community through their 2 First-Year Seminars. They also get to experience Tacoma and learn what’s available.

UPS dormsCampus keeps people busy, and students like sticking around. “Students will get what they’re looking for, but this isn’t a party school.” Many campus programs have generous budgets are student-run to provide jobs (44% of students on campus work). Students took the initiative to found club sports. Scuba and kayaking classes/clubs use the pool. Varsity sports are DIII, and PLU is their big rival. They’re the Loggers which came about early in the school’s founding when the football team was hired by a logging company to replace workers gone to war. Football, basketball (men’s and women’s), and women’s volleyball bring in the crowds.

UPS greek housingAbout 35% of students go Greek with spring recruitment; they have a 2.6 GPA requirement, although most are higher. Sophomores are usually the ones to move into Greek Housing (the beautiful houses have about 30-40 beds each). Students not affiliated or who don’t want to live in Greek Housing can choose themed houses (like the “OutHouse” for outdoor-themed activities). They have a gender-neutral house and floors.



Some of the students we talked to wish there were more international students and more study abroad options. Another said that she wished more students would take advantage of the UPS Pacific Rim program. This runs every 3 years; students spend 9 months in Asia studying in at least 8 countries.

Admissions is test-optional but there are 2 100-word essays to replace test scores.

© 2017

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