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University of Colorado – Boulder

UC-Boulder (Visited 10/2/12)

CU1I can’t remember being on any other campus and thinking, “This place really smells good!” I had been excited about seeing Boulder because I had heard nothing about good things about the university and about Boulder itself, named the Smartest City in the US by Forbes magazine because so many companies are based here including the universities, Lockheed Martin, Celestial Seasonings, etc. Boulder is a great city by itself, but they’re also only 30 miles from Denver (a city of 2.5 million) for students have access to a major metropolitan area; go 30 miles in the other direction and you hit the Continental Divide (population – 0). You really get the best of both worlds.

CU stadium

CU Ralphie

Ralphie statue

Football is huge here. Students do have to pay for tickets which is a bit unusual, but maybe not so weird at bigger universities. A season pass costs $175 which the students I talked to thought was reasonable. Their mascot is Ralphie the Buffalo – a REAL Buffalo who weighs in a meager 3500 pounds. Ralphie, who is actually a female, runs the field before all home games. She lives somewhere near campus, but her actual location is top secret, known only to her handlers, the “Ralphie Runners” (who, in order to become a handler, must prove that they can run extremely fast because of Ralphie’s speed); apparently students from two rival schools had once kidnapped her and spray-painted her with their schools’ names. Now, to keep her safe (and clean!), they don’t release her location other than to those people who take care of her. A statue of Ralphie is in the plaza outside the stadium; the stipulation of the donation was that she faced east towards Nebraska, the big rival. However, now that they’ve changed divisions and don’t play Nebraska anymore, it doesn’t mean so much (although the tour guide said that now her butt is facing most of their opponents, so maybe that’s ok!).

P1000866Sports in general are popular (both for spectators and to participate in) and strong (with 24 NCAA championships). Boulder has been named the 2nd healthiest city in the US and there’s more protected open space around the city than in other areas. There are 11 ski areas within 3 hours of campus. 70 Olympic Athletes live or train in the area. If you want outdoorsy options, this is the place for you! The campus is bike and pedestrian friendly. All students can have cars, but it’s discouraged because parking is limited. Lots of students have bikes, and buses run frequently. Like other big schools I’ve been to, there are a lot of bikes and bike-racks around – and I even saw 2 “bike-fixing stations” that have all sorts of tools if something goes wrong. The sidewalks are separated into a pedestrian side and a bike side because there’s so much of each type of traffic and they try to minimize back-ups and accidents.

CSU quadEven though they are the University of Colorado, most people call the school CU. When I asked why, the tour guide thought maybe so they weren’t confused with UC Berkeley since both places are UCB. This is the flagship campus of the UC system; the creation of the university was written into the state charter when Colorado became a state in 1876. The campus is one of the most uniform in terms of looks that I’ve ever seen. The buildings are all done in the Tuscan style with stone from Colorado; we were told that it’s actually mandated that all new buildings conform to the new style. When I spoke to a student about CU, she said “it’s so . . . cement!” which surprised me because I thought it was beautiful – but she was commenting on the lack of open green space and quads. However, there are grassy areas to be found; it’s definitely a beautiful place.

On of the quads on campus

On of the quads on campus

CU acad bldgThe kids walking around campus were mostly casually dressed but not in the “crunchy,” outdoorsy style that Boulder seems to have gotten a reputation for; a few were dressed up in dresses and fancy shoes. Very few students were plugged into iPods as they walked around campus which was good to see – they were interacting with each other. There’s a great deal of diversity in the student body. Racially, this was easy to see walking around, but they also have religious, socio-economic, and geographic diversity. Students come from all 50 states. This year, there are 2400 out-of-state freshman compared to the 3100 in-state. Surprisingly, only 4% of the population is international; I expected a bit more. Also surprisingly, the population is 54% male, unlike the trend found at many other universities. OOS tuition is locked in at the first year rate (to attract OOS students). In-state students see tuition increases every year, but it’s still cheaper than OOS tuition. There is a way for OOS students to gain independent status and therefor CO residency for tuition purposes, but the tour guide wasn’t sure how that happened.

CU2CU coffee signAcademics seem to be uniformly strong. Journalism and Mass communication merited specific mentions: students can get involved in advertising, broadcast news, production, and more. The business program (which attracts 12% of the students on campus) is ranked #36 in USNWR. 12% of the student body has declared a business major; they can concentrate in accounting, finance, management and entrepreneurship, marketing, and an open option. The Engineering and Applied Science department ranks is the 19th in the country. The aerospace program is #1 and is partially funded by the government. Two NASA astronauts teach in the department. The biology department has a cadaver lab in which undergraduates can take classes. The music program only has 250 students. Environmental Design allows students to do architecture, design, landscape, and more.

This is the first time that I saw students with “clickers” – small white plastic rectangles about an inch wide and about four inches long with five buttons labeled A- E. Many professors have students “log in” for attendance purposes in some of the bigger classes. We saw two lecture halls that actually had balconies that looked a bit like box seats at a theater. Professors can also have the students answer questions during lectures in order to check for understanding. It was supposedly developed by one of the physics professors on campus.

CU bikes 2There is more going on extra-curricularly than people know what to do with. Thirteen percent of the population is Greek, and Greek Life provides a lot of social activities on campus for members and non-members alike. The campus has the only ice rink and the only bowling alley in Boulder. There are hundreds of clubs, and if a student wants to start one that isn’t offered already, he or she can do so with $25 and three friends. Volunteering and community service is HUGE here. CU is one of three colleges that won “College with a Conscience” last year because of the number of community service hours completed by the students.

CU 4The dining hall is great. In the dining hall we ate lunch in, there were food stations from 8 different countries as well as a kosher station. One of the admissions people said that “ We’ve moved up from the Freshman 15 to Freshman 35.”

CU has an impressive 89% retention rate from first to second year. They attribute this in part to the 19 Residential Academic Programs and Living-Learning Communities. Many residential halls have classes attached to them. Two classes each semester are taught in these classes in small group settings. Study abroad is also big: 26% students study abroad for a year, a semester, or a 3-week summer program. They have 330 programs in 70 countries.

(c) 2012

University of Denver

UNIVERSITY OF DENVER (visited 10/4/12)

DU~DU 7Before arriving on campus, I had never heard of a Green Ambulance, aka one that is Solar Powered. It was developed at DU (yes, they call themselves DU, not the other way around. We couldn’t find someone to tell us why) and now serves the campus community. People probably don’t think of DU as a college that’s developing new things, but a surprising amount of interesting stuff is being done here. However, after learning about the types of students they are attracting to campus, it wasn’t so surprising after all. DU is committed to drawing students who will actively engage in opportunities and will think outside the box. In the application and in the optional interviews (which can be done with any of a number people – faculty, staff, alumni), they look for evidence that students are motivated to learn, that they’re concerned about honesty and integrity, and are open to difference and new ideas.

The light-rail stop on campus

The light-rail stop on campus

DU debateI visited the University of Denver right after the first Presidential Debate, and there was clearly still a lot of residual energy surrounding that. We took the light-rail from downtown to the stop directly across the street from campus (students get to ride for free with their Student ID). This beautiful campus is located in a residential area of the city called (appropriately) University Place. There are malls nearby, and the first Chipotle ever opened is located only a couple blocks away. Downtown is seven miles away; a major technology corridor is six miles south (also on the light-rail line). Students use both areas for internships. Beyond that, students have access to all that this part of Colorado has to offer, including six ski areas within 90 miles.

~DU 6Denver is a medium sized school with just over 5,000 undergraduates, but they also have a sizable graduate population which includes their law school and PhD students. Less than 40% of the undergrad population is from Colorado; they draw students from every state and 61 countries with almost 10% of the population coming from abroad. The city of Denver is a major draw for people coming from out-of-state. It’s a major metropolitan area (one of the very few in the country that has every major sports team!), an amusement park within the city limits, and more – but also has the additional appeal of being so close to several smaller cities (Boulder, Colorado Springs, etc) as well as the Rockies and other outdoor opportunities.

~DU seatingDenver runs on the quarter system with three 10-week sessions and an optional 4th summer session. Because of this, students have a 6-week winter break from Thanksgiving to beginning of January which students find helpful if they want to get seasonal employment. Students complete a Common Curriculum comprised of a series of writing classes, arts and humanities, and social and natural sciences.

Denver has 13 schools with more than 100 areas of study including interdisciplinary and pre-professional programs. More unusual DU4majors include: Rhetoric and Professional Writing, Animation and Game Development, Real Estate and Construction Management, Astrophysics, and Cognitive Neuroscience. They have a full Music school, and the opera program is reportedly excellent. Students not majoring in music still have access to many classes in that school, but students must audition in order to major in music, and can only apply under the Regular Decision deadline. The Art school requires a portfolio, and Theater students who want scholarships must audition. Students interested in Business don’t apply to Daniels until freshman year for entrance into the school during the fall quarter of sophomore year; they are interviewed and submit a resume as part of the process. Special degree programs include 3+2 and 4+1 in Business, Education, and Social Work (in which students can study something different as undergrad), and in Art History, GIS, international studies, public policy, and engineering (in which students must major in that field as an undergraduate). UPDATE: In 2020, they added several more 4+1 programs that allow students to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree simultaneously including the BA/BS + MA in Economics and Social Policy and the BA/BS + MA in Psychology.

~DU gardenDenver prides itself on active, not passive, learning with average class sizes of 21. Our tour guide’s smallest and biggest classes have DU2been 17 and 120. Ninety-five percent of classes have fewer than 50 students; 82%% have fewer than 30. Every first-year student works with a faculty mentor. The five-year average retention rate is 88% (freshman to sophomore year). Professors teach 99.8% of the classes and are known for cutting edge contribution to research. Ninety percent of the full-time faculty hold the highest degree in their field and/or are active in their field such as the music professor playing in the symphony or the business professor who owns her own business. Sixty-five to seventy percent of students complete at least one internship before graduation. Over 200 students participate in research with faculty each year, and the school helps to pair up students with professors; students regularly publish and present their findings. About 1,250 students participate in 80 service-courses each year. DU is on the US President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll because of the amount of service they provide in the wider Denver area. They also want students to study abroad and have started the Cherrington Global Scholars program: If students have a 3.0 GPA, they can study abroad and not pay any more than they’d pay at DU. About 70% of students participate before graduation.

DU requires that students live on campus for the first two years; 95% of first-year students live on campus (the rest living with family inDU3 town). Dorms are comfortable and modern with cable, a micro-fridge, wireless, and other amenities coming standard. As is becoming more popular on campuses across the country, they have several Living Learning Communities available to First Year students who can choose from themes such as Creativity and Entrepreneurship, Environmental Sustainability, International, Social Justice, and Wellness. DU also provides Integrated Learning Programs which span all 4 years, the Honors Program, and the Pioneer Leadership Program. Students can minor in Leadership Studies which is becoming increasingly more popular.

~DU 11The Early Action and the Regular Decisions rounds are equally competitive. Applicants can use either the Common App or the Pioneer App (specific to DU). They take either the SAT or the ACT w/o writing, and they will SuperScore both tests. They require a counselor recommendation; additional letters are optional. AP scores, if available, can help the students (but to get credit, the student must have earned a 4 or 5 on the exam). Qualifications for scholarships and for the Honors program are evaluated during application process. Those being offered a spot in the Honors program usually have just under a 4.0 GPA and about a 32 ACT or the SAT equivalent. University scholarships can carry over to the 5th year.

~DU chapelCampus has lots of activities to participate in or to watch. DU has 17 DI athletic teams; the college has earned 28 team and 109 individual champions, 308 All-Americans, and 57 Olympians. Non-athletes actively support the teams; hockey is the most attended event. The Alpine Club is particularly popular. Its goal is to get people outdoors, so they have equipment for student use, offer rides, and get discounts at local places. Homecoming, Winter Carnival, and May Days are particularly popular traditions which draw large crowds.

(c) 2012

University of Wyoming

University of Wyoming (

Ok, I’m cheating here. I didn’t get to “UDub” (as the locals call it) while I was at the NACAC conference in Denver. I wanted to; I really did – if for no other reason than to say that I’d seen the University of Wyoming and get a pennant for my wall. I almost went, but that meant giving up visiting two colleges that my students were more likely to apply to, so I reluctantly decided to forego the 5 hour round-trip bus ride to Laramie. As luck would have it, two counselors on the Counselor bus-trip to Boulder were from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I picked their brains about the school and it turns out that they had a lot to say. Here’s what I learned.

UW has an absolutely beautiful campus; the university has poured a great deal of money into building new facilities and renovating old ones. There is a ton to do on campus and students have more activities to choose from than they know what to do with. The town, on the other hand . . . not so great. Although there is some stuff to do, there’s not a lot and it definitely doesn’t have a “college town feel.” In fact, one of the counselors described it as having a lot of “cowboy redneck culture.” The other counselor said that Laramie itself is “flat, and the wind blows all the time.” They were both quick to say that students didn’t seem to care much about the town; if they stayed on campus, they were very happy because of the activities offered and the diversity. The university has been recently doing a lot of recruiting abroad, and since Laramie has a huge Latino population, that’s also represented in the student body. There’s a “funny mix of kids – outdoorsy, Midwestern cowboy, Latino, whatever.” However, they mentioned that cliques formed in a more obvious way than some other places they had seen.

In terms of academics, sciences, including health programs, are particularly fabulous. The theater program is growing. “They seem to be tackling one department at a time.” Because this is the only university in Wyoming, the academic range in terms of ability is huge. As a public university, they work to make higher education accessible to Wyoming residents, and as such, there are quite a few students who aren’t quite ready for post-secondary academics (particularly because “there seems to be a strong anti-Community College feeling in the area”). However, there’s also the other end of the spectrum, and the university pulls in a lot of smart, driven students. The honors program is a big draw which offers special housing and classes.

I met up with some other counselors later who went on the counselor tour, and I asked them what they thought. Immediately, one said, “You should have gone! It’s a gorgeous campus and the people were great . . . but wow, was it windy!” I hope to get there someday to see it for myself; if I do, I’ll update this post!

(c) 2012

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