campus encounters

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University of South Carolina

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA (visited 4/4/14)

~USC fountainUSC had one of the best organized visit programs I’ve seen; in a way, it has to be with the numbers of people visiting. They had an individualized welcome packet for each person, info sessions in two areas to make it feel less impersonal, and tour guides with a list of people assigned to their tour, partially based on region so they could talk to a student as close to home as possible. My tour guide, a PoliSci and Journalism double major from Burlington, NC, transferred here after freshman year because she wanted a big town feel and liked the idea of being in a capitol city for the political science opportunities. She feels like she has plenty of opportunities for education and recreation; off campus, she likes to go to 5 Points which is like their version of College Town.

~USC flowers 2~USC bikes 2Almost 2/3 of USC’s 20,000 students are from in-state, but they attract students from all states and more than 100 countries. NC, VA, MD, GA, and NJ are the most highly represented states outside of SC. Campus is breathtaking; the central campus has trees, bushes, and flowers everywhere, and students were out enjoying the quad. Although there are major roads surrounding campus, this is very much a pedestrian campus. All students can have cars, and there are garages available which alleviates parking issues and helps maintain the beauty of campus. Campus is highly walkable, and people walking in groups and socializing, but there is a campus shuttle for those who want it. It’s also very safe; the only time our tour guide had heard of anyone using the blue light was when someone who was allergic was stung by a bee and needed an epi-pen.

~USC hammocksQualified students wanting more of an academic challenge can participate in one of two “challenges”: the Capstone Scholars, a two-year program to which applicants are given automatic consideration. The scholars live together in one of the largest residence halls, located in the Humanities area of campus; it looks a little like a “spaceship” which also has a revolving restaurant on the top floor (the only one in SC). They take special classes and take a trip abroad every May (last year it was to Iceland; this year it’s Greece). It is possible to transfer into the Honors Program afterwards. The other option is the Honors College which has been ranked as #1 in the nation. This is a four-year program and is highly competitive, requiring an additional application consisting of six essays and two letters of recommendation. Classes are much smaller; students get priority registration as well as other benefits.

Museum

Museum

Students wanting an “Early Answer” (their version of Early Action) must submit their application AND have all test scores and transcripts in by October 15. They’ll take the highest composite for ACT and superscore the SAT. To be considered for the Capstone or Honors and for scholarships, applications must be in November 15. Scholarships are given to approximately 1/3 of students and are awarded based on GPA and test scores. Since the applicant pool changes every year, they don’t have specific GPA or score cut-offs. Notifications are sent out after 2/1 when the see the complete application pool. Their application includes an “Optional Personal Statement.” The rep said, “Use it!! Here’s an Insider Tip: Tell your story! Brag on yourself a bit. We’re holistic; we want to admit a well-rounded person.”

~USC quad 4Students tend to continue being well-rounded and involved once they get on campus. Last year, students completed 472,152 service hours and raised $1.3million for charity. 1100 students studied abroad last year in 50 countries. All freshmen must live on campus; housing options include 17 Living-Learning Community as well as more traditional dorms. There are 22 dining options in 13 buildings (and they brought us into one of the traditional dining halls about halfway through campus and let us get drinks). About 20% of the students are involved in one of the 40 fraternities and sororities on campus, and housing is available in the Greek Village. They have 400 organizations and an active performing arts community (their theater was used as a Civil War Morgue; theater students do a haunted tour in there every Halloween). Gamecock Pride is huge. Many people participate in sports, and many more go out to support the athletes at games.

They m~USC observatoryake admissions decisions without taking a declared major into consideration, so no major is capped. Students complete a Common Core in first two years so it’s easy to change major or double major. Of the 95 majors, some of the more unusual or noteworthy include:

  • Arts & Sciences: Criminology, Marine Science, Religious Studies
  • Business. International Business #1 in the country for 16 years straight
  • Mass Communication: Journalism is most comprehensive of its kind, including Print, broadcast, and more
  • Engineering and Computing: undergrads can minor in Aerospace Engineering (and stay for a Masters)
  • Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management. Students complete internships at places like Gucci, the NFL, Marriott, Verizon, and the Olympics.
  • Health Sciences: They offer a 6-year PharmD as well as Nursing which is competitive: students are admitted to lower division of nursing and start clinicals in first two years.

~USC theaterOnly 3% of classes have more than 150 students; 75% have fewer than 40. Our tour guide’s classes have ranged from 19-200. Her favorite class so far has been her Environmental Studies class. She liked the practical nature of the education, such as when they walked around campus at night to study the university’s energy usage and see what might be improved. She also loved her National Parks elective because it was so unusual.

The USC campus also houses the National Advocacy Center which trains 15,000 judges, lawyers, and others in the legal profession every year.

© 2014

Clemson University

Clemson University (visited 2/26/20)

Clemson main 4

The iconic building that’s on many of their promotional materials. There’s a bell tower here where students can actually learn to play the bells. “You hear some weird stuff coming out of there!” said one student.

I asked one of the students what I should tell the high schoolers I work with about Clemson: “Clemson is awesome. That’s all.”

While not necessarily an attractive campus, this is a vibrant one! “The typical Clemson student is open and willing to join things. This is an involved campus,” said one of the six students I spoke with at the welcome center while I was waiting for the info session. “If they are willing to try things, they’ll be successful here.” Another student said that she chose Clemson because she wanted a true college town environment. People definitely get that here.

Clemson students

Part of the res life area – student center, dining options, etc

“I thought it was going to be huge and scary,” said another student. “I was intimidated, but didn’t feel that way at all after the first day. I got lost and frustrated my first day, and a senior stopped and asked if I was ok, then walked me to class.” Another student also said that she was excited to see how small it can feel while still being so big. The campus is set up in “rings” with academics at the center, surrounded by residential life (dorms, food, etc), and then sports and other auxiliary program making up the outermost circle. Our tour guide said that most things within the academic ring only take 5-10 minutes to walk to. “I can get across the whole campus in about 15-20 minutes.

Clemson tiger paws

Tiger Paws

Athletics are very much a part of campus life, and a lot of people know Clemson because of their athletics They field 19 NCAA DI teams, offering the sports you’d expect (although they do only have a women’s crew team, not one for men); football and basketball, as you could probably guess, are the most popular. School spirit is high, and Tiger Paws are everywhere painted on sidewalks. Clemson pride can be felt throughout the state “where everyone is either a Tiger or a Gamecock!” someone told me) and among alumni.

Clemson Death Valley

The view of Death Valley, the football stadium, from campus.

Death Valley, their football stadium, is part of campus. This is great, since so many schools have stadiums far enough away to require shuttles. Game tickets are all free, although there’s a lottery for football tickets. “When I was a freshman, I didn’t miss a game,” said one student. They do designate a certain number of tickets for each class so the free tickets aren’t simply snatched up by seniors. If they don’t get free tickets for the student section, they can still buy tickets. They’ve been ranked #2 for their fan base; people pack the stadium. The football players run down The Hill from the field house into the stadium at the beginning of games; they also rub the Rock (which came from the actual Death Valley in CA) for good luck on the way into the Stadium.

Clemson dorms

Some of the dorms

Many events are held in Death Valley, as well, including Greek Rush. “You don’t go building to building like at other places. Having it all in the arena is great because you feel like you’re in it as a group, and there are places to hang out, rest, and talk to people in between meetings.” Almost ¼ of students participate in Greek Life. Most of the students I spoke to are involved and had great experience. Rush happens the week before classes start in the fall, “but you can drop it in the first 2 weeks if you end up not liking it,” said one student. They also don’t have to rush first year. One student chose to rush 2nd year and said he had a great experience. Students can’t move into Greek Housing until Sophomore year, “and it’s optional.” There are no separate houses, but instead, there’s a Greek quad; organizations have a hallway in a house with 2 other sororities or frats. There are currently 12 sororities (and in the process of adding 1 more) and 20 frats; 8 of the Devine 9 are on campus. However, “life here isn’t just about Greek life. Do what you love – it’s inclusive.”

Clemson innovation center

The Innovation Center

Clemson is, of course, known for its engineering programs, but it’s also got amazing agricultural, health sciences, and business programs among others. Students raved about their experiences in and out of the classrooms. They work well with their students to prepare them for life after college and were just ranked #1 for Career Services (2020)

  • Nursing is direct entry. It is possible to apply to get into nursing once here, but “This is one of the most difficult switches – you can, but I would not recommend!” said one of the students. She transferred from engineering when she realized that it wasn’t for her, and she’s graduating a semester late. She thinks the program is a bit harder, but it’s worth it. “If you’re a Clemson grad, you get a GPA boost when you apply to grad school because it’s notorious for being difficult.” They had a 100% NCLEX pass rate last semester on the first try. “You’re required to Kaplan benchmarks every semester. No one in my cohort has failed a benchmark so far.”
  • Clemson engineering row

    “Engineering Row”

    One of the students in the welcome center was a Mechanical Engineering I asked him if he knew he wanted mechanical coming into college. “I knew I wanted engineering but not what kind. I always loved math and physics and I’m good with my hands. The first year here in the department was great because I could figure it out.” All students interested in engineering start in the General Engineering program. They have access to a lot of resources, including a seminar class that he estimates 45-50% of engineering students take. They hear from a variety of faculty in different areas and get to learn about various types of engineering before declaring a track. Some more unusual options include Biosystems, Automotive, and Environmental.

  • Clemson 10They’re one of only a few schools in the country to offer a Packaging Science
  • They have a Turfgrass major! As the Land Grant institution SC, it’s not surprising that they offer unusual and strong agricultural, environmental, and other similar programs in their College of Ag, Forestry, and Life Sciences.
  • Their Architecture department is part of the Arts& Humanities School, as is Landscape Architecture and City Planning & Real Estate Development. Architect students are actually required to study abroad (and there are programs for all majors, even in engineering).
  • A few other programs of note include Aerospace Studies, Graphic Communications, Construction Science & Management, and Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management.

I asked the students what their coolest class was and what they liked about it:

  • Clemson 1Consumer Behavior: “It’s a whole different way to think about marketing. There’s lots of psych to it. We’re learning about what catches eyes – placement, colors, etc.”
  • Creative Inquiry: “This is a research program for undergrads. It’s not exactly full-on research but more engaging and hands-on in smaller classes. I’m working in a Social Media Center looking at tweets that were banned. My class and the federal government were the only ones who had access to these tweets! I got an internship that used Sales Force because I knew about it. It’s a really cool application and it was great to see the trends and give the info back to the government.” These are team-based investigations lead by faculty, and students can take these classes outside their major; the engineering student did one in business looking at qualitative research.
  • Nursing: “ All my classes involve sim labs which is cool.”
  • Molecular Cell Bio: “I bet you never heard that before! The class was hard but teacher was great. She’s genetically reversing a dino from a chicken!! There are only 3 groups doing this – she’s trying to make it grow a longer ‘velocoraptor tail’.”

Clemson 9Clemson is clearly doing a lot right with a strong 93% retention rate and 83% grad rate. Currently, they accept about 50% of their applicants but are becoming more competitive. Just over half (56%) of accepted students are in the top 10% of their high school class. They ask students to rank their first two choices of major on the application, and they look at this as part of their application. “Don’t put the same thing down twice,” recommends a rep. “If you don’t give us a backup, you’re kind of backing us into a corner if we can’t get you into that major.”

Clemson library

The main library

The rep also recommends that applicants use the “tell us about yourself” section to tell them things that you feel that your transcript or test scores don’t show. Test scores must be sent directly from testing agency (they don’t allow self-reported scores). For Merit Scholarships, all applications must be on file by Dec 1 and completed (aka supporting documentation – transcript, scores, etc) by the end of December. For Restricted (need-based) scholarships, grants, loans, the FAFSA should be filed by January 1.

There are a few alternative paths for acceptance into Clemson that are by invitation only. These are by invitation only; students can’t self-nominate or apply to this. There’s a question on the application if they’re open to starting in the summer, but it’s offered by admissions to those who express interest and are qualified.

  • Bridge Program: students accepted into this live on campus and receive all the perks of being a Clemson student, but their first year classes are taken at Tri-County Community College. They must maintain a 2.5 GPA there and then “transfer” into Clemson in sophomore year.
  • Tigertown Summer Bound: these students come in the summer as a cohort and must successfully complete 2 classes; then they can start full-time in the fall term.

Just over half of the students (55%) are from South Carolina, but since freshman are required to live on campus, people get to know others quickly and it ends up not being a suitcase school. Housing placements are done in order of when students sent in their Clemson application, not on date of acceptance! The tour guide said that she lucked out – she wasn’t planning on applying to Clemson (“much less go here!”) so she applied late, but she was paired with someone who know this was her first choice and applied in September so they got some of the best freshman housing.

Although there’s a lot to do on and directly off campus, this is also a big outdoorsy school. More than 100 miles of Lake Howell border campus; the SC Botanical Garden borders campus; they sit in the Foothills of Blue Ridge Mountains; and campus is halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte on the I-85 corridor if they’re looking for the big city experience.

Some of the favorite traditions include:

  • Clemson Ice Cream! They have a student-run creamery which was started about 100 years ago in what was then the Dairy Science department.
  • The Clemson Ring: They have the 2nd highest percentage of people who have school rings (“The other university just has more people,” said one of the students). “It’s a great source of pride. The ring ceremony is almost as popular as graduation. Families come to see us get our rings.”
  • Wearing Orange on Fridays: “Alumni still do it!”

© 2020

Shaw University

Shaw University (visited 3/14/17)

Shaw bridge

Bridge over a city street connecting the academic and residential sides

This is the first college I’ve heard of that requires a criminal background check of their applicants. “That’s not to say that they will automatically deny. It’s a safety thing for the campus,” said the rep, herself an alum of the college.

This small, liberal arts HBCU with about 1800 students is located right near downtown Raleigh. Despite being in the city, it still manages to have a cohesive campus that’s compact and easily walkable. “Classes as small as 7 here. Professors are going to know who you are or if you’re in class.”

Shaw sign

Mural under the pedestrian bridge

Shaw was the first HBCU to admit women; today they enroll almost 60% females. Almost ¾ come from North Carolina.

I was not impressed with the organization, communication, and willingness to help on campus. No one seemed to really know what was going on. Even something as simple as parking and finding the admissions office was off. I stopped and asked a security guard and got pretty good directions, but the security officer inside the building near where I parked was on her cell, barely acknowledged me, and when she did, didn’t bother moving the phone when I asked if I was ok where I was parked. She waved dismissively and said “You’re fine if you’re down at the bottom” and turned her back. I was concerned that my car was going to get towed. The Admissions/Welcome Center was no better: the woman at the desk said I needed to check in upstairs with Admissions. Once upstairs, the Rep in an office near the stairs kept an earbud in while telling me that I had to go downstairs, check in with the Receptionist (the one who just sent me upstairs) and wait there for the tour. When I went back down, she had no idea what I was talking about or how to help. She called upstairs and got told a different story from what I was told. I almost left …

Shaw chapel

The chapel

Affiliated with the Baptist church, the religion major and Divinity Schools are well known. Chapel is active but not required for undergrads. Some of the health sciences are also strong such as kinesiotherapy and athletic training. Social Work and Education are also noteworthy.

Shaw dorms

The two dorm buildings

Dorms are mostly traditional. Only freshmen have to live on campus, and they and the sophomores have priority for housing. If space remains, upperclassmen can stay on campus; otherwise, they have to move off. There are some triples (not forced) as well as some rooms with double beds available for an extra charge. Food is “ok.” Fried Chicken Wednesday and Fish Fridays (“We are in the south,” said the rep) got special mention. For those interested in Greek Life, all Divine Nine are on campus. They have plots in Greek Park. Students have to meet minimum GPA and credit hour requirements, and so they can’t rush until at least sophomore year.

Shaw mascot 2Athletics are DII, and the student ID gets students into all the games, all of which are held on campus except for football that plays at the Durham County Stadium. Buses are available to get students out there. Women’s basketball is the most competitive team with a National Championship, but “All games are packed out. Even the community comes. The women’s games are full because they’re so good.” The Marching Band has become increasingly good over the past few years.

Shaw quad and cityStudents must have a minimum 2.0 GPA for admissions. Although they don’t require a minimum test score, all students must take a standardized test and submit the scores. These are used for scholarships and placement purposes. “There are lots of scholarships available.”

SShaw bell towerhaw has instituted a First Year Experience that encompasses mentoring, seminars (even covering financial literacy), and a required attendance at monthly Cultural and Spiritual Enrichment Seminars (which upperclassmen are “highly encouraged” to continue attending). Students must attend CASES in order to graduate; they’re held once a month. Students are issued blazers, a tie (men) or scarf (women), and must wear grey or black slacks or skirts and a white button up shirt. I’m not sure The FYE has done much … Only about 45% return for sophomore year and only 25% graduate within 6-years. However, it is an excellent deal at about $25,000 (Tuition, Room & Board, and fees) for the year.

© 2017

 

University of Redlands

UNIVERSITY OF REDLANDS, Redlands, CA (visited 6/23/12)

Redlands main quad

The main quad with the chapel at the end, as seen from the main building

I was hugely impressed with this university, both in terms of the personnel and the physical campus. Knowing that I was going to be in the Southern California area for a limited time over the summer, the admissions rep responsible for North Carolina invited me to visit campus on a Saturday – even though they’re closed on Saturdays over the summer. He came in to meet with me and had two tour guides from the local area come in to give me a tour. Both were going into their sophomore year and were training to be tour guides, but I wouldn’t have known that they hadn’t been doing this for quite some time.

Home of the Johnston Center

Home of the Johnston Center

Redlands acad bldgOne of the best programs at Redlands is their Johnston Center for Integrative Studies. Along the lines of Antioch, Hampshire, and Evergreen, students get to design their own major through contracts and negotiations with professors and the advisor (although they can have more than one advisor due to the interdisciplinary aspect of the program). A recent graduate majored in “The Art of Happiness” in which he took psychology, philosophy, religion, and other similar classes in pursuit of how and why people are happy. When asked what he was going to do with it, he replied, “I don’t know yet . . . but I know I’ll get the interview!” The 200 students in the program have autonomy over designing their own curriculum, including enrolling in the mainstream classes and negotiating the syllabus with the professors to tweak it to what they need. It’s a direct, visual way of taking down the traditional experience of a college education. The admissions rep said that the prevailing attitude in the program is that “if you’re bored, it’s your own fault!” Students have to be very motivated, curious, and outside-the-box thinkers to succeed in the program. They have their own housing and academic building, but they are not segregated by any sense. In fact, they tend to be some of the most active students on campus.

Redlands stud centrNone of the students on campus are slackers, though. The admissions rep described the typical student as being “an academic with a life” and professional-minded. The most popular majors are business, education, psychology, pre-law, and pre-med. Sciences are so strong that 99% of students looking to go into medicine or post-graduate work in the sciences get into one of their top 2 choices of schools. However, students are gregarious and open-minded, especially in the sense that they will give anything a try. Students cross “boundaries” all the time; they don’t pigeonhole themselves. For example, there are several pre-med majors participating consistently in theater productions.

Redlands musicThe music program is strong, at a conservatory level without the conservatory. The student: faculty ratio is 7:1 in the music department as compared to 11:1 in the rest of the university. The music program is classically based, and students can earn the BM or BA; any student can minor in music, as well. There are scholarships given out for students who participate in ensemble work even if they are not majoring in music. Additionally, they put on two musicals every semester, even though the university has technically done away with their Musical Theater major.

Redlands sci cntr

The entrance to the science center

The tour guides told me that the smallest class she has taken so far was a California History class (9 people); the largest was 28 (an Intro class). One really loved her Freshman Seminar class called “Play it Again” based around reading and seeing plays. The other didn’t like hers: it was an environmental studies class. In addition to two lectures a week, there was a three-hour lab on Thursday afternoons that turned into a lecture as well. She liked the content, but had trouble sitting through so many lectures and wishes there was a more hands-on component. The good news was that it did “double duty” – counting for both the Freshman Seminar and a Science requirement so she felt that it was worthwhile in that way.

Redlands sundial

The “sundial” clock on the side of the science building

Redlands accepted their largest freshman class this year of 800 students, but will probably fall back down to the usual 750 after this year. They have an impressive 91% retention rate with 80% graduating in 4 years. They chalk this up to the intense support networks and highly aware faculty. Advising is strong from day one. In fact, no one can declare a major until they’ve met with an advisor after arriving on campus. They can indicate an interest on their application and can declare as early as their first meeting with the advisor in the fall if they know what they want to do – but they can also change their minds up to the end of sophomore year without losing much, if any, time.

Redlands ampitheaterThe campus is beautiful. It’s organized well with most residences around a quad on one side of campus, and most academics on the other side. They have a Memorial Garden on campus; although I only got to see it from the side, it clearly is a beautiful, well-maintained place. The tour guides spoke highly of the space, saying that students utilize it well when it’s open (the gates are locked up overnight), and students take pride in its appearance, volunteering to help keep it up. Next to the Garden is a large Greek-style amphitheater which holds graduation, speakers/concerts, freshman orientation events (including piling all the new students into the pit area for games which the tour guides told me was quite the bonding experience!), and other large events like that. Another freshman orientation tradition is to send the students up the mountainside beside campus to the large “R” overlooking campus to clean up around it, repaint it, or doing whatever else it needs to make it look good again for the coming year.

Redlands chapelSeveral construction jobs were going on around campus, the most extensive being the dining hall. We tried to peek through the construction fences; the guides were just as curious as I was about what it was going to look like – but they did know that they were putting up many more outdoor seating facilities which they were particularly excited about. They raved about the food; I normally don’t hear students going on to that extent about their dining options.

The courtyard of the science center

The courtyard of the science center

When I asked them what they would change about the school, they had a hard time answering. One of them said, “I’m a really big foodie, so before the dining hall renovations, I might have said that, but they’re fixing it already.” After a bit of thinking, the only thing that the either of the guides wanted to change was the fact that there were not enough power outlets in the library. They love working there because the university has spent a lot of money into renovations and have made it a comfortable, inviting place to work, but once the batteries die on their laptops, they pretty much have to go back to the dorm or another building with an outlet to recharge, unless they’re lucky enough to score one of the rare outlets in the library.

(c) 2012

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