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Princeton University

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY (visited 7/29/13)

Princeton 2 Janet Rapelye, the Dean of Admission, described Princeton as “A world-class institution with the heart and soul of a small liberal arts college. You have to be independent in your thinking and in your ability to do work. We need to see indications early that you can – and WANT – to do this! If you don’t want to dive into something and work with faculty, this is not the place for you.” Faculty members teach every class (TAs aren’t put in teaching positions) and classes are kept small. Our tour guide had 1 80-person class, 1 150-person class, and the rest have all had fewer than 30 students. The Freshman Writing Seminar is only required class (there is also a language requirement, but students can test out), and students can sign up for the theme/topic of their choice. Our tour guide’s class was “Main Street USA: What is Real America?”

Princeton 5Campus is beautiful; several movies have been filmed here, including “A Beautiful Mind,” and John Nash is still on campus: “Nash-sightings are big deals!” our tour guide said. The campus is also very walkable. Students tend to walk or use bikes to get to class. There are shuttle buses, but our tour guide said that most of the riders are visitors. Many of the buildings are large stone or brick structures, and many are old but well-kept-up. The Frist Campus Center is a multi-level structure (some of it is underground) with everything from classrooms to eating areas to student organization space. The TV show House used it for the exterior shots of the hospital (but unfortunately, the inside isn’t as pretty as the outside!). The non-denominational Chapel, built in 1925, can fit an entire class of 1300 students so they hold many of the opening and closing ceremonies there. The library has 3 floors above ground and 3 below with a total of 70 miles of stacks. The Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs/Policy building in an impressive structure that looks like it should be in Washington, DC. People play in the fountains in front (and there were a couple kids in it when we went by). There are two big traditions involving the fountain: when seniors finish their thesis, they jump in, and people float rubber duckies. When the football team wins, the marching band jumps in and plays (not so much fun in November!). Another beautiful place on campus is Prospect Garden, located next to what had been the President’s house (one of the wives had started the garden). The paths through the garden form the Princeton Crest.

Princeton 3An interesting fact about one of the dorms is that when it was built, it was the most expensive dorm in the country because it was the first with indoor plumbing. Students are guaranteed housing for all four years. Although they’re only required to live on campus for two years, 98% will stay on campus until they graduate. Students are randomly assigned to one of the 6 residential colleges as freshman; all colleges have several dorms and a dining hall (but they can eat anywhere), and general advising is done in the colleges until students declare a concentration. Students have 4 options for food after Junior year: they can stay in the Residential College, join a co-op, go independent (live in an apartment), or join one of 11 eating clubs (which are basically like frats or sororities built around food).

Princeton 1Reunion is a big tradition. 24,000 people came back last year, and there are concerts and other large events including a parade lead by the class having their 25th reunion. This year, the class holding their 50th reunion held up a sign that said, “We saw 1912 and 2012 march!” Princeton definitely instills a love for the college, and the kids we spoke to had nothing but rave reviews. Our tour guide got into another Ivy League college but choose Princeton because people were actually NICE – she said that when she visited the other campus, people barely spoke to her and didn’t seem to interact with each other to the extent that people at Princeton did. She loves the campus, but loves that there’s stuff to do off campus, too. There’s an on-campus train station allows students to connect around town as well as get into Philadelphia and New York City. Princeton students also go abroad a lot; 50% do a “meaningful study abroad experience” (more than a month), with 25% going to a non-English speaking country.

Princeton 4All AB students (students going for their Bachelor of Arts degree) write a Junior Year paper in their major and a Senior thesis which is bound and put into the library. Our tour guide is doing hers on Farm to School and the “extras in schools like gardens.” Others have written research papers or novels, composed jazz quartets, put together art portfolios, wrote Russian fairy tales (in Russian), and even do interdisciplinary theses. Because they can do this, they do not double major, but can do certificates (minors) in one or more areas and then incorporate much of this information into their thesis if they want to merge interests. They also offer a BSE (engineering) degree; 17% of the students are in this program.

Engineering applicants must submit a BSE statement/essay talking about their interest and background and need to submit SAT II scores from a Math and either the chemistry or physics exam. All other applications can submit SAT II scores from any two tests of their choice. Transcripts are one of the most important pieces of the applications: how students performed in high school is the best predictor of how they will perform in college. Essays and letters are important in terms of how they whittle down the list of accepted people; this helps them distinguish one bright student from another. They’re not interested in a separate resume because the activities are already listed on the application. They’re also more interested in quality rather than quantity: “No 17-year-old should have a 4-page resume.” Interviews (done by alums, in person, or through skype or phone) are available but not required or expected, but they can be helpful. It’s mostly informative but partially evaluative. It’s rare to get a red flag, but if there is one, they won’t ignore it, Sometimes the interviewer can provide information about the town or high school that helps them place the student’s application in context.

They offer a Single Choice/Restrictive Early Action option but no Early Decision. They do tend to accept more applicants from the Early Action pool, but much of this pool is self-selecting. They do not offer any merit scholarships; all aid is need-based, and they are need-blind in admissions because they have enough in endowment to do this. They meet need with grants and jobs; there are no loans. They require all students to fill out the Princeton Financial Aid Application which is free. They don’t use the CSS Profile because it costs money, and they don’t use the FAFSA to determine Princeton-based aid (although it’s required for federal programs), so families have until April 15 to submit this. International Students can get financial aid, as well. They do not need the TOEFL if they come from an English speaking school, but they can submit it if they think it will help.

(c) 2013

Eastern Michigan University

Eastern Michigan University (visited 11/20/19)

EMU YouareWelcome

The massive “You Are Welcome Here” sign; there are other versions of this around campus

Few schools have surprised me as much as EMU did. Although this may feel like it gets lost in UMich’s shadow (they’re only about 20 minutes from Ann Arbor), this vibrant, attractive campus offers students a huge array of academic, athletic, and social opportunities at an amazing price point – and it’s been named as “A Best Campus in the Midwest” for 17 years running by Princeton Review. It’s also one of the most diverse campuses I’ve seen: 1/3 of students self-identify as domestic students of color; many students were wearing hijb; students come from all 50 states and 83 countries; 48% are Pell recipients; and 25% are First-Gen students.

EMU CommonI would absolutely recommend this college to students: it’s accessible (physically, financially, and academically); it has a great vibe; and it has all the academic and social options/ opportunities of a larger school without the crazy cut-throat feeling at some places. “I love the eclectic mix of students here. You learn so much because there are a lot of perspectives,” said one of the tour guides.

EMU student Center

The student center and part of the pond.

One of the most impressive about the college is their cost: starting in 2016, they stopped charging additional tuition for out-of-state students; I’ve seen other colleges provide scholarships to qualified students that can bring the cost down to in-state tuition, but not just a flat price at a state school. The total Cost of Attendance is just under $25,000 for students living on campus! That’s almost unheard of. They base tuition on 26 credit hours per year; it could go up a bit for more credits (that is a little unusual; traditional credit load is 30 per year). On top of that, they provide scholarships (students may qualify for more than one but may only receive one) such as:

  • EMU 54Ward Graduation Scholarship: Students with a 3.0 GPA and a 1030 SAT/20 ACT can apply for this; after successfully completing the first 2 years and paying fixed-rate tuition, EMU will pay the tuition for years 3 and 4. Students must live on campus all 4 years to get this scholarship. They must complete 30 credits a year (aka be on track to graduate on time) and keep a 2.0 GPA while at EMU.
  • The Presidential Scholarship is the only competition-based scholarship with applications due by 11/1. Students need a 3.5+GPA and 25+ACT, must write an additional essay, and interview. Usually about 20 students are selected a year for this.
  • Emerald Scholarships are worth up to $8,000 per year depending on grades and scores.

EMU 3For admissions purposes, the lowest GPA they’ll accept is a 2.0 but “we’re on a sliding scale,” said the rep. “If you have a 2.0, you’ll need a higher test score.” However, they’re still a selective school with under a 50% acceptance rate.

Campus is impressive; while there are still a few buildings with utilitarian 1970s architecture, much of it is updated and attractive. Founded in 1849 as a teachers college (the first in Michigan and the first outside of the original 13 colonies), now it offers over 200 majors. 88% of classes have 35 or fewer students. Interesting things about their programs:

  • EMU elem sci class

    Elementary Science Education classroom

    They have an Elementary Science Education classroom! Students get a feel for what it’s like and they teach real lessons in the community. “It gets them all geeked up. It’s the least antiseptic science class you’ll ever see because we have all the kid stuff,” said the professor we spoke to in the classroom. She’s was incredibly engaging! “We teach them a lot of fun stuff about how we eat – chocolate, spice, etc. Even Chili Day to learn how it affects the body.”

  • “The Rocks in the science building get moved around. We don’t know how,” said one of the tour guides. There are astronomy classes and $5 planetarium shows on Tuesday and Thursday. There’s a specialized Science Writing Center.
  • EMU sci rocks

    The Science Department rocks

    Within the School of Engineering &Tech:

    • Visual and Built Environments department which houses Construction Management, Fashion Marketing Innovation, and Simulation/Animation/Gaming majors, among others.
    • Tech & Professional Services houses Hotel Management (the university owns a hotel), Paralegal, Aviation Flight Management and Management Technology.
  • They have some strong interdisciplinary programs including Data Science & AnalyticsChildren’s Lit and Drama/Theater, EnviSci and Society, and Africology and African-American Studies.
  • They have multiple specialized science programs including Fermentation Science (in Chemistry) and Science Literacy (specialized for different science majors).

EMU project centerThey have a Project Center (like a writing center) in library where students can get help for all types of projects including how to put together presentations. Students can get prizes for studying: they check into study centers, writing center, the library, etc. They’ll actually have areas where people will check to see if they’re on social media – “3 strikes and you’re out for the day! You have to give up your study carrel.”

EMU fountain 1About 5,000 students live on campus; about 2/3 of first-years and almost 25% of all undergrads live on campus. There are a lot of off-campus housing options for students who want to move off; the tour guides said that housing was fairly easy to come by. They do encourage people to stay on campus by providing housing stipends for living in the traditional dorms (not the campus apartments).

EMU quad 1Campus life is active. There are movies shown every Friday, they offer great trips like to Zoo Lights, there’s Greek life, and athletics keep athletes and fans busy. They’re NCAA DI except for football which is NAIA.

We got to eat lunch with our tour guides as part of the tour (it was optional – it was placed on purpose at the end if people had to leave, but we stuck around). This was smart on EMU’s part! The food was good, although it was fairly standard dining hall fare. There were enough options to satisfy different dietary styles. This particular dining hall was a bit on the small side for a university this size; it was busy but never packed during our time there (at peak lunch times). There are plenty of other options, as well.

© 2019

Chestnut Hill University

Chestnut Hill University (visited 7/19/16)

Chestnut HIll 2“You might have noticed that this campus is very Harry Potter-esque,” said our tour guide as we started on the tour, and it’s true. There are lots of large, impressive, stone buildings. One of the things the college is proud of is their annual Harry Potter Festival (complete with Quidditch tournaments) to which the community is invited.

Chestnut HIll 1This is a Catholic institution affiliated with the Sisters of Saint Joseph. About 50% of the students self-identify as Catholic; surprisingly, there are also lots of Buddhists on campus. Masses are held Monday to Friday morning and Sunday PM in the small chapel within the main building. Mass is never required, but students do need to take World Religions. This was the tour guide’s biggest class with 28. She also took a class called Spiritual Life Journey which was one of her favorites: rather than talking about a particular religion, it talked about spirituality and each person’s personal path.

Chestnut HIll lounge

One of the lounges

There are only about 950 traditional undergrads, 60% of whom live on campus. Housing is guaranteed for full-time students, and the dorms have the most amazing lounges I’ve seen! Apartments are reserved for students with a 3.5 GPA. They have to write an essay as part of the application to live there. Dorms are single-gender by floor except for suites.

Freshmen are required to take an orientation class during their first semester where they meet with a mentor professor and have to participate in a certain number of events such as lectures, attending a club fair, participating in a dorm event, etc. They get their “passports” stamped to show they attended. It’s designed to ensure that they are acculturating to campus and getting involved.

Chestnut HIll 8CHC sits on the city limits (the “Welcome to Philly” sign is right outside campus) and is 20 minutes from downtown. The train station down the street takes students to City Center. The school’s Sugarloaf Campus is a mile from Main campus, and shuttles run every 20 minutes. The old hotel (originally owned by Temple and sold to CH) is now a dorm. The Mansion, now used for events, used to be a Speakeasy.

In addition to offering the standard fare of majors, CHC offers some specialty majors like Social Gerontology, Jazz Studies, Forensic Bio, Forensic Chemistry, and biology with a Sports Med Concentration. Certificate Programs include Intercultural Foundations, International Studies, Montessori Specialization, Religious Studies, and Digital Forensics. CHU also runs Dual Degree programs with 2 local schools, Thomas Jefferson (Radiological Sciences or Bioscience Technologies) and Arcadia University (Physician’s Assistant Program).

Chestnut HIll 6In addition to departmental honors, they run an Interdisciplinary Honors Program which allows students to take a different approach to how they approach their work. Departmental Honors can be obtained by invitation after 2 years (60 credits) with at least a 3.6.

Their athletics are DII, which is amazing for a school this size. Baseball, basketball, softball, and lacrosse draw big fan bases. They just added a Sprint Football Team for men (bowling for women to balance it out – not nearly as exciting! The tour guide said she pushed for field hockey but it didn’t happen). There are only 8 schools (including West Point, Navy, and Penn) in the country with this sport. They played – and WON – against Princeton!

Chestnut HIll statueThis is also one of the only colleges with a direct connection to the UN. The send a group every year to address committees at the UN Headquarters in New York. The two Heads of the UN Club this year are African. They draw a lot of international students, both as degree-seeking undergraduates and exchange students. They have a direct exchange “bed to bed/give one, get one” program. Many of these students come from South America and Europe.

© 2016

Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University (visited 11/7/15 and 5/25/16)

~CMU signCMU has a wonderful reputation for Computer Science and other STEM fields … but did you know that they also are highly ranked for Dance? It’s also 1 of 2 schools in the country to offer a degree in Bagpipe Performance. They take their Scottish heritage very seriously here! The official color is plaid, but “that’s hard to accessorize” so people wear maroon, gray, and white. The official mascot is a tartan, but unofficially, it’s the Scottie dog.

~CMU quad students

Students on the quad

In many ways, this is a nicer campus than the University of Pittsburgh in terms of it being an actual campus (rather than Pitt’s more urban feel). There is lots of activity on the campus between classes, and students tend to be a bit on the quirky side. When walking around on our own, we talked to a few students, two of whom were Computer Science majors, one from Seattle and one from Florida. “It’s the #1 program in the country,” said one when we asked why she chose Carnegie Mellon. Neither had much to say about the university itself which in some ways is telling.

~CMU walkway

The CS buildings with the raised walkway.

Students here are smart and motivated. Many of the kids here sailed through high school. They don’t know what it’s like to spend 4 or 5 hours a night doing work. “I’m stunned by the volume of people using the tutorial services and study sessions. Almost all the freshmen classes have them, and beyond that, any class that historically has been a sticking point will have them.” About 2/3 of classes have fewer than 20 students. The only class not taught by a full professor is English 101; these sections are led by PhD candidates in order to keep them small.

About 40% of students have a minor and 10% double major. The School of Humanities and Social Sciences is the most diverse and most flexible with 60 options for majors. Students can wait until the end of sophomore year to declare their major. Science and Engineering students don’t declare until end of the first year.

CMU dramaGenerally, double majoring in any BFA (drama, music, art) area will be difficult because of the number of credits in the arts required for the degree. The drama department actively discourages double majoring because they really want the students to focus on their major. Music, however, seems to be more accommodating. However, the BXA Intercollege Degree Program does allow students to combine a BFA and others. Students sacrifice a bit of depth in the original field, and participating in this program requires students to make connections and intersections between the 2 chosen fields. This program really is for those who want to investigate how the 2 inform each other. For example, students have combined Psych and Music or Chem and Ceramics. The students must be admitted to both the academic and the fine arts departments.

~CMU outdoor classroom

CMU’s outdoor classroom

Another notable interdisciplinary program is IDeAte (Integrative Design, Arts & Technology Network). The coursework students complete is equivalent to a minor in areas like Educational Technology, Game Design, Intelligent Environments, and Sound Media Design. They put together an interdisciplinary team and then apply creativity and teamwork to technology.

Many of CMU’s programs tend towards the interdisciplinary, even if they aren’t specifically stated as such. For example, their Business programs are more quantitative than most. “Quantitative analysis is our wheel house. What does the data tell us to do?” Students earn a Bachelor of Science so “it’s hard core.” Because of this focus, “I took math classes alongside engineers,” said one of the students. They’re learning from each other rather than students in different majors being separated out.

~CMU quad 1However, when students apply, they get accepted by a college, not just to the university. Students can transfer between schools as long as there is space and they qualify, but it’s more difficult into the more competitive schools. Econ, CS, and Engineering tend to over-enroll. For example, they got 7000 apps for 350 spots in CS.

The BArch program also requires that students demonstrate that they really want to be there. The application ask a lot of questions to get at whether students have a realistic view of what the profession is really like. “Architects look like science students – lots of math and science, but with an artistic portfolio.” The program is 5 years (required for the credential) with an additional 2-year apprenticeship before taking the exam. CMU highly recommends completing a pre-college architecture program.

~CMU acad bldg 4If CMU can’t admit a student to their first choice major, what’s listed as the second choice can determine admission. “There are some combos we know are historically going to mean that students will be unhappy. We look for genuine interest in the 2nd choice and evidence that they really will be happy in that major,” said the Dean of Admission.

According to the Dean, Cornell is their big competitor (“They do what we do but on a grander scale”), but they also compete with MIT for straight STEM programs, followed by Princeton, RPI, and Penn. Surprisingly, the top feeder state is CA (with 2 times as many Californians as any other state), followed by NY, PA, and NJ.

~CMU athleticsEarly Decision accounts for 20-25% of incoming classes. Demonstrated interest can factor into regular decisions, but it plays much more of a roll in the waitlist process. They only pulled 12 kids off waitlist this year, but they do all financial aid packages in March so even waitlisted students know what they’re going to get. This is the first year they’ve met full financial need. “We like to make a solid commitment, but right now it has to be year-to-year. It’s been challenging.” There is no financial assistance for international students, but there may soon be merit awards for them.

~CMU food truckThere’s a wide variety of housing options included themed living, single-gender (both male and female), and gender-inclusive housing. There is no centralized dining hall. Instead, venders come in. “It keeps people from going to the same place over and over and getting bored.”

© 2016

Rochester Institute of Technology

Rochester Institute of Technology (10/19/15)

~RIT quad 2

~RIT fountains~RIT acad bldg 4I came away from my RIT visit well-informed and so impressed that I was already texting pictures of relevant departments to faculty at school and emailing students telling them to check things out. The campus is more attractive than expected (one of several nice surprises!); while a few buildings have a tech-school feel, most of campus has new buildings, trees, and green spaces. Quarter-Mile is the main thoroughfare, but it’s actually one-third mile long; its name came from a Greek fundraiser where people put quarters end-to-end to raise money. A large portion of campus is undeveloped giving Environmental Studies and other students an opportunity to complete surveys and other work on campus.

~RIT scupture 3~RIT art bldgWith 15,500 undergraduates, this is one of the largest private universities and one of the largest producers of STEAM (add Arts to STEM) graduates from private institutions. Students come from all 50 states (48% from NY); the 2,500 international students hail from 100 countries; there are 1,200 deaf and HH students on campus through NTID; and almost 2,900 underrepresented minority students. “RIT is diverse with people coming from all over. They’re friendly, welcoming, and don’t judge,” said one student panelist.

A student advertising the weekly activity schedule on the Student Center window

A student advertising the weekly activity schedule on the Student Center window

~RIT bleachers fountain

A fountain in the Student Center which had been the gym. These bleachers had been built into the foundation and weren’t able to be moved so they made a fountain.

This is a spirited community. Students were everywhere and engaging with people around them: walking in groups, studying or socializing in every building we went into, etc. These are not “stick-your-nose-into-a book tech nerds,” said one student. There’s a ton to do on- and off-campus including 1,300 annual on-campus events including free movies on Thursdays, Brick City Weekend, FreezeFest, SpringFest, Imagine RIT, Orange and Brown Fridays, student concerts/theater productions, sports, and performers (Macklemore, Michael J. Fox, Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Al Pacino, Maroon 5, and MythBusters, to name a few). Greek life hosts lots of events. Hockey (they have a new arena) is big with lots of traditions. Students look forward to the annual Haunted Trail (they turn the fields and woods into a giant haunted house and invite the public) and the Humans vs. Zombies game (campus-wide nerf-gun tag).

~RIT hallway

Students gathering in an academic building between classes

“We’re not looking for students who are interacting only with the machine. We’re looking for students who will interact with other students. Don’t bother listing something you did for an hour. Put substantial things on your application that you did regularly and are meaningful.”

RIT practices differential Admissions: students must declare a major and list first, second, and third choices on their application; on average, 57% of applicants are accepted, but this varies by program. For example, it’s far more difficult to get into Mechanical than Industrial Engineering. (Biomedical, Computer Science, Game Design, and PA programs round out the 5 most difficult majors to get into). The Deans give numbers to the admissions staff based on space. However, students aren’t stuck in that major: it’s easy to switch majors “95% of the time,” said an admissions rep. Much of it depends if there are spots available in the new major.

Undecided students have 2 options:

  • Students interested in areas that cross 2 or more colleges should apply for University Studies. They accept about 100 students a year into this program. Students may not graduate on time (but could) depending on how soon they decide.
  • Do an Undeclared/Exploration major in any of the schools. There’s no problem graduating on time because they’re taking the first-year classes right away.
~RIT science bldg

Students studying in the science lobby. Check out the floor and walls!

The high school record (GPA, rank, rigor, pre-reqs, grades in content courses) makes up about 60% of the admissions decision. Portfolios (if required) are sent to that school’s faculty and get ranked 1-6. If the portfolio doesn’t make the cut, Admissions will work with the applicant to suggest a similar area without a portfolio requirement.

~RIT atriumRIT offers more than 90 majors, 90 minors, and 40 accelerated dual-degree programs. Technology is woven into every major, but the Liberal Arts are also important: There are about 1000 students in the College of Liberal Arts, and all students must do a LA “immersion” – 3 classes in one subject. Some of their new, well-known, or unusual programs include:

~RIT labs

One of the many labs

Experiential Learning is crucial; many students graduate with a portfolio equivalent to Master’s level work. Their Co-op Program is the country’s 4th oldest and among the largest in the world:

  • Students complete 6,100 co-op education assignments each year with 2,100 employers in 50 states and 40 countries.
  • Students generally complete 4 placements over 2 semesters and 2 summers. They can’t go back to the same company unless it’s in a different division doing completely different work.
  • Students collectively earn $26 million annually.
  • Princeton Review has consistently ranked them in the Top 10 for career services.
    • 60% get employed by one of their co-op placement companies.
    • Graduates report a 95% placement rate: 85% in FT jobs, 10% in grad programs.
  • Some programs such as Mechanical Engineering take 5 years to complete but students only pay for 4. “I have 60 weeks of work experience: I worked for a company here for 48 weeks and was a supply-chain engineer and a mechanical engineer. I worked in Sweden working for Volvo. One of the big things I like is that it shows us what we’ll be doing when we graduate. The first week was pretty nerve-wracking. I felt confident going in, but getting there and seeing all the complicated stuff … we encourage people to ask questions. I’ve gotten more confident every time I’ve done another co-op.”
~RIT engo bldg

Student built projects in an engineering building

Other on-campus or nearby facilities help students develop sought-after job skills:

  • The Center for Media Arts, Games, Interaction, and Creativity studio helps students launch their own companies with high-tech facilities needed to commercialize computer gaming, film and animation, graphic design, and imaging science projects.
  • Their science labs – including clean-suit labs – are top-of-the-line and made us feel like we were walking through the halls of some high-tech company
  • Rochester has lots of cottage industries, fiber-optics, high-tech companies, medical technology, pharmaceutical firms, etc. There’s no shortage of internship opportunities.
  • Students get creative when internships are difficult to find. A Photo student on the panel said that “It’s hard to get internships in photography; they aren’t looking for interns.” She was paired up with a 3rd year student; they did all the photography for a department on campus.
~RIT infinity sculpture 2

Plaza and the Infinity Sculpture (even the art is scientific!)

Despite the size, most classes are not in lecture halls: 88% of classes have fewer than 40 students so classes tend to be discussion-based. GAs and TAs help in labs but never teach classes.

Global Village

Global Village

They’ve recently opened more student housing including the RIT Inn (an old Marriott) and the newly built Global Village housing 400 sophomores in suites. “They had been getting lost in the shuffle: we have traditional dorms for freshmen and apartments for upperclassmen.” School-owned apartments are ½ a mile down the road with shuttles running to campus. One complex only houses RIT students; the other gives first crack to students, then opens it to others. Greek housing, Special Interest Houses, and Academic and Lifestyle Floors are also available. Tunnels connect most of the on-campus dorms.

~RIT art bldgStudents had few complaints except that parking is difficult. Preferred/reserved parking costs $225 a year (General parking is $50). It’s not unusual to drive around for 10 minutes looking for a spot and then walking a ways to get where they’re going. Cars aren’t necessary except for some internships. Buses running through town are free to students on weekdays and $1 on weekends.

(c) 2015

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

~WPI bridgeWorcester Polytechnic Institute (visited 3/22/14) (Click HERE for pictures and notes from my visit on 7/28/19)

Like other Polytechnics, WPI offers strong STEM programs, but is hardly limited to these. Why come here rather than a different polytechnic or a larger university? The students enthusiastically said, “Interaction between disciplines!” The flexible curriculum means that it’s not uncommon for cross-disciplinary majors and minors. Sarah, a senior who spoke at the info session, is a robotics major and history minor. She came here because of the flexibility and for the humanities and arts component. One of our tour guides was a Biochem major and Spanish minor. The other tour guide was a Civil Engineer doing his BS/MS in Fire Protection.

~WPI projectsWPI prides itself on its curriculum that combines theory and practice, traditional classroom education with laboratory and hands-on experiences. Benefits include understanding global issues, developing teamwork skills, and communicating with others. Flexibility also comes into play in the distribution requirements. It’s recommended that students complete certain things, but how they get there is up to them. Students decide which classes to take and when (under the guidance of faculty advisors). Classes have “Recommended Backgrounds” but if they come in with that knowledge already (perhaps with AP or IB credit), they can skip the prereq.

~WPI engo lab

One of the many labs

The university’s non-punitive grading policy means that students earn grades of A, B, C, or No Record. Students retake classes to get rid of NRs so they actually learn the material. Additionally, there are no + or – in the grading system. A 92 and a 98 are both As. Students worry less about GPA, are more likely to work collaboratively, and are encouraged to take risks and challenge themselves. They help each other to learn as much as possible in labs, projects, or whatever they’re working on. Grades are heavily based on projects and presentations. Students can request a GPA when they graduate, but it’s not normally given out.

The school year is divided into four 7-week terms with an optional summer term; students take 3 classes per term. Forty-five classes are needed to graduate, but most students take 48. With that buffer, students take classes for fun or redo a class. One of the tour guides said that it did take some time to adjust to the quarter system but now she loves it.

~WPI campus centerThe educational program has several components:

  • Great Problems Seminar, a first-year project addressing real-world problems: How do you break down issues into solvable pieces? This is optional, but most students complete it.
  • Humanities and Arts is required, but has flexibility: students select courses in an area of interest culminating in a seminar or practicum.
  • The Interactive Project: students study the impact of science and technology on society, looking at the larger picture. Students work interdisciplinarily with people outside the major.
  • Major project.
  • Team projects, often sponsored by companies, non-profits, or government agencies such as Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, London’s Museum of Science, Puerto Rico Tourism, UNESCO, US Patent and Trademark Office, Coast Guard, Gillette, Fidelity Investments, EPA, eBay, Deutsche Bank, Namibia’s Desert Research Foundation, Thailand’s Bureau of the Royal Household, or Children’s Hospital Costa Rica. This is the equivalent of 3 courses completed full-time in one term or part time over 3 terms. 60% of students complete this off campus; 50% go overseas. Study-Abroad locations are vetted for safety, housing, and academic standards.~WPI bridge and bldg
    • One project involved accompanying faculty to start a new site.
    • One on-campus project was building a fountain. It sits flush with the ground; a sensor on a nearby roof reads wind speeds, and the height of the water adjusts based on the readings. Students like these sorts of projects and will do them for fun. The rep said, “You can build your own computer for all we care. That happens a lot . . . .”

~WPI quad 3Co-op programs are available but are underutilized compared to other universities. They usually last for 6-8 months, running through the summer and 1-2 terms. Students completing these usually come in with AP or IB credits. Even those students who don’t complete co-ops feel like they have solid resumes. They’re used to working in groups, in a tight time frame, and out of their comfort zone so employers like hiring them. Hundreds of career and grad-school recruiters come to campus every year. 90% of graduates are working in their chosen profession or in full-time Grad Programs (the rep said that “the career services person is stingy with that number”). Princeton Review ranks WPI’s career services 17th, and Payscale.com ranks WPI 15th for Return on Investment and 5th highest starting salaries among national universities.

~WPI quad 2Applicants must complete Pre-Calc in high school since WPI doesn’t offer that class. Admissions requires a math or science teacher rec in addition to the counselor letter. They are test-optional; students not wishing to submit scores submit something that shows organizational skills and commitment such as having completed extensive research, etc. Valedictorians, salutatorians, National Merit, National Achievement, and National Hispanic Recognition Finalists are guaranteed at least $20,000. They are need-blind for domestic applicants but need-aware for international students. 20% of the students come in as undecided (less than other schools).

First year housing is guaranteed. 97% of first-year students and 62% of total students live on campus (including on-campus apartments and suites). They had a wait-list of 24 students this year; they all got rooms. Many off-campus students live within 2-3 blocks (close enough for the school wireless). There are over 180 clubs including music and theater, community service, Greek life, art and lit, professional and honor societies, and ROTC (Army and Air Force at WPI, Navy at Holy Cross through the consortium). The T stop is a mile away; students can be in Boston in an hour.

WPI has developed the Insight Program as part of the First Year Experience. Every student gets assigned to a team during freshman orientation. The team gets a faculty advisor, resident advisors, and a peer advisor to help them be successful transitioning to college. 97% of freshmen return for sophomore year.

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