Michigan State University (visited 1/30/15)
Although there’s a lot of traffic around this 2-mile x 2-mile campus, the middle of MSU is lovely and feels cohesive. They boast about their 10,000 feet of sidewalk (portions of which are heated). “Walking from place to place is a good call-home time!” said one guide, but if they don’t feel like walking, there are plenty of buses circulating around campus and through town. A bus pass costs $50 a semester or 80c a ride. Freshmen cannot have cars “which is just as well – parking is located a 15-minute walk away. You aren’t using cars for quick trips anywhere.” Both guides agreed that cars just weren’t necessary. Even getting to the Detroit airport is easy: the university runs shuttles there at breaks.
The tour guides (a junior from Denver and a freshman from Philly) were some of the best I’ve had. They both came from small high schools and were looking for the larger, Big-10, rah-rah sort of school. They clearly loved MSU and used personal anecdotes to illustrate what life was like for them rather than spouting statistics or generalities. I walked away with a good sense of who would thrive here: smart, independent students who are willing to ask questions (not just in class) and get involved in something; it seems like students here have found a really good balance between the academic and the extra-curricular.
Although campus can seem overwhelming, the guides said that participating in Orientation was key in figuring out how to get around but it’s also on them to make the effort; someone suggested to them that they “walk their schedule” before classes to really learn where they were going. One guide didn’t do that and panicked the first morning – but was able to pick up a map and get directions from the service desk in the res hall. All freshmen are required to live on campus; the dorms are attractive and comfortable. The only complaint is that many rooms don’t have wifi yet (but all common areas have it). They are working on this. Currently, students can request which “Neighborhood” or dorm they want; next year, they’ll be able to pick their exact room.
Each neighborhood has at least one dining hall for a total of 10 around campus. They’re open at different hours (some opens at 7am, some are open until midnight, etc). Students get unlimited swipes so they can grab a coffee or snack between classes. There are also grab-and-go places, coffee shops, etc on campus; many fast-food places directly off campus; and a food truck comes on campus (which only serves food sourced from within 2 miles of campus!). There’s also a bakery in town that provides baked goods to the dining halls.
Even students living off campus often buy a partial meal plan for the convenience and because the food is good. One guide lives in an apartment about a 15-minute walk from campus. “It’s so easy to find a place! There are housing fairs, advertising, stuff like that.” She’s on her own lease even though she shares the apartment with others. “It’s a nice piece of security because I don’t have to count on anyone else if they leave or whatever before the year is up.”
It’s hard to get bored on campus with 650 clubs available (which includes Greek life and a Squirrel Watching club). Sports are popular, of course. Students do have to pay for tickets to men’s hockey, basketball, and football games, but all other sports are free. The Red Cedar River, which cuts the campus in half, also provides recreation: students play hockey on it in the winter and can raft down it in the summer. They have an excellent museum designed by a world-class architect. They movie Batman vs. Robin was filmed here; the students are really excited about seeing the final product after seeing the filming!
Students can take traditional, online, and “hybrid” classes (usually 1 class a week in a lecture hall and the discussions and homework online). One of the guides took a 600-person hybrid business class; her microeconomics class was also huge. However, they also had classes of 17 (writing) and 8 (hospitality/cooking class). Their “Engagement Centers” (there are several around campus) provide tutoring, writing centers, and more for students needing extra help with academics.
MSU began as Michigan’s land-grant institution; not surprisingly, the agricultural programs got mentioned several times, and the Agricultural College is popular and strong. Notable majors include: Fisheries and Wildlife; Construction Management; Landscape Architecture; Sustainable Parks, Recreation, and Tourism; and Entomology. The James Madison College offers 4 interesting majors including Comparative Cultures and Politics, Social Relations and Policy, and Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy.