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Towson University (Take 2)

Towson University (visited 4/16/19) (click HERE to see notes and pictures from my first visit on 9/30/16).

We asked the students to tell us about something that is uniquely Towson:

  • There are so many different places to go like Glen Woods or Freedom Square.
  • “The res halls are great. I hadn’t seen such diverse housing options at other places I toured.” Housing is guaranteed for 4 years in the Honors College, 2 years otherwise.
  • “Our health center is really great.”
  • It’s a great location – there’s downtown Baltimore and “uptown” Towson with shops and restaurants and the cinema.

This is the 2nd largest and fastest growing state school in Maryland. “There’s a huge momentum on campus” with an investment of $1.7B in real estate and a recently built new Science complex. However, they still keep classes at reasonable sizes with 24 students in an average class. There are a couple lecture halls with 125 seats, a couple more with 90. Those are the largest spaces on campus so no class can ever have more than that number of students. Some of their more unusual majors include Earth-Space Science, Metropolitan Studies, Deaf Studies, Dance Performance and Choreography, Bioinformatics, and Gerontology.

Students interested in merit scholarships must apply by 12/1 Early Action for consideration. They do NOT take Common or Coalition Apps. The $45 application fee can be waived in a variety of ways: College Board/SAT, College Bound, Baltimore City/County Top 10%, Alumni Admissions Nomination, Military Service, or Financial Hardship. The Personal Essay is an original TU Prompt: next year, it’ll be “Topic of your Choice” with suggestions. They’ve also changed requirements so interested students can use the same essay as their Honors College App.

The Honors College (open to incoming and enrolled students in any major within the first two years of study) enrolls approximately 700 students with 50 majors represented. Class sizes max out at 20. When interested students apply to Towson, they’ll check “yes” for honors on the application. This will trigger a prompt for the Honors Essay which is then used for both admission to Towson and for the Honors College. Applicants who click “no” will only write the essay for admissions (a different prompt). Decisions for Honors are done AFTER admission to the university; all honors decisions are sent out at once in February. Towson very intentionally builds community within the Honors Program with housing and Co-curricular programs run by students such as First Day Coff-Ay, Generation Jeopardy, First-Year Flapjacks, Smoothie Saturday, and Honors Helping Hands. One of the student panelists was in the honors program and said that she was a little apprehensive going in, but “Classes are seminar style. They’re a collaboration. They aren’t scary and they aren’t like AP classes.”

Towson offers a Freshman Transition Program which is a collaboration between CCBC and TU. This is an invitation-only program to selected freshman applicants. Usually 175-200 are in the program any given year. Students take Community College courses taught by CCBC faculty on TU’s campus in the late afternoon and evening. However, they are treated like full TU students with the exception that they cannot participate in intercollegiate or club sports. A major benefit is that they pay CCBC tuition and fees (cheaper than TU tuition) but TU Room & Board. If they hit certain criteria in the first semester, they can then segue directly into being a fully enrolled TU student in the 2nd semester (about 80-90%). If not, they have another chance in 2nd semester to meet that criteria. Students are assigned to an FTP advisor to help them through the process..

© 2019

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Towson University

TOWSON UNIVERSITY (visited 9/30/16) (Click HERE for updates and more information from my visit on 4/16/19)

towson-bball-field

Baseball Field and campus buildings

As the second largest university in the Maryland system, I expected more of a state-school feel with large somewhat sterile buildings. I should know better. There are definitely parts of campus that fit this description: parking garages, plain (even outdated, not attractive) concrete buildings. The worst of these, an imposing concrete tower, had been a dorm until they closed it with the intent to knock it down, making way for an updated building.

towson-cola

College of Liberal Arts building

That being said, there are gorgeous parts of campus with historic and new buildings. Some of the newest buildings are in West Village, new residential units with Hotel-Style (bathrooms in each room; these rooms cost $600 more per semester), apartments, suites, and more. West Village Commons has a buffet-style dining hall, grab-and-go eateries, meeting rooms, and a group exercise room. There’s also a new union under construction in the middle of campus. In addition to the 2nd of 3 buffet-style dining halls and more meeting space, this will house an American Ninja Warrior Course. The new, LEED-certified Liberal Arts Building might look familiar to House of Cards fans; an episode was filmed inside.

towson-towersI went on tour with several families and 2 tour guides, 1 of whom was training. Because of this, I overheard things that they’re supposed to include on tours: the already-trained tour guide said (either not knowing or not caring that he was saying this within earshot), “I don’t usually bother telling people about that place down there because how many people care? But if you don’t say it on your evaluation, you’ll fail.” He was incredibly hard to get “off script” during the tour; sometimes he would give perfunctory answers and/or say, “We’ll get to that later.” They’re clearly trained to only talk about certain things at certain times. For example, I asked when the last time he heard of anyone using the blue lights. His answer: “We’re 5 years crime free. We’ll talk about security later.” That’s great but didn’t answer the question.

towson-4The guide-in-training was more personable, willing to answer questions, and give insight into what it was like to be a student. She walked some of us across campus to where we had parked (the tour ends at the bookstore – go figure! – nowhere near where we parked and started the tour!). During those 10 minutes, I learned more about the student experience than during the entire 2-hour tour. She picked Towson over another Maryland school because of its diversity. “I see a lot more people like me here, and I have friends from all over, of many different races, different religions. It feels more like the real world.” She is thrilled with the academic offerings, the social life, the location, and pretty much everything here. She didn’t have much she’d want to change other than the parking situation. Freshman are no longer allowed to have cars on campus; parking on campus costs “$300-something per semester. It’s a lot.”

towson-stevens-hall

Stevens Hall, the iconic building that shows up on several of the marketing materials for the university.

Admission is selective but not overwhelmingly so: mid-range ACT scores are 21-26 (average of 23), and with the new SAT, they’re expecting at least a 1000 (CR&M). They use their own online application with a personal statement. “We want to know your story: Who are you, and what can you contribute to the Towson community?” said the admissions rep. “Make it as close to 500 words as you can get.” Applicants can expect an answer within 3-6 weeks. They will start releasing decisions in November and keep going until the class is full. However, students who want a guaranteed review for scholarships should apply by December 1.

towson-mascot

Towson’s  mascot

The Honors College application is built into the regular application, needing a 3.6 to be considered. If you indicate that you’re interested, an additional writing prompt pops up. The HC operates like its own college. Students must earn 24 Honors credits, including 9 seminar and 6 thesis credits. Honors students are guaranteed premium housing without the additional cost, $1000-3000 additional scholarship, and priority registration (right after the athletes and students with accommodations).

towson-dorms-2

West Commons dorm buildings

Housing is guaranteed for Freshmen. There are a couple dorms without AC that apparently have the highest retention rate at the university. The tour guide suggested it was because there was a real community feel because “everyone leaves their doors open for the breeze.” Residential freshmen must get a weekly meal plan and “use it or lose it” (it doesn’t roll over). Upperclassmen and commuters can choose a Block Plan with a set number of meals per semester.

towson-psych-bldg

Part of the academic side of campus

Towson requires 14 core classes. No classes are taught by GAs or TAs which is wonderful for a school this size. All freshmen get a FYE advisor (in their major if they’ve declared one, otherwise they’re assigned at random); they get a new permanent advisor as a sophomore. Average classes sizes over around 24-30. The tour guide said that “classes are maxed at 35” but this is clearly not the case. The tour guides said that they’ve had classes of about 100 students (Microbiology and Intro to Psych); their smallest ranged from 7 (a seminar class) and 20 (ASL).

towson-enviro-cntr

Part of the Environmental Center

They have a great, albeit small Environmental Center on campus with 121 indigenous plant species. There’s a pedestrian walkway over part of this as well as outdoor classrooms, picnic tables, benches, etc. Freedom Square, surrounded by academic buildings, is a favorite hangout for many students. There are 2 chalkboards for students to write comments, put up ads for campus events, etc. There are plenty of benches and other places for students to congregate.

There are several “Screened” majors. Students interested in these come in as “pre-____”, take preliminary classes, and apply to the major once they’re here. Some of these include:

towson-cafe-enactus

Cafe Enactus was a “senior thesis” by a business Honors student in the class of 2015.

Other programs of note include:

Students in all programs can study abroad for 2 weeks to 2 years, or they can participate in the US Exchange program to study at another university for a period of time.

© 2016

 

Stevenson University

Stevenson University (visited 12/5/17)

Stevenson mustang

The Stevenson mascot

Stevenson is in the process of rebranding itself, and it seems to be doing an amazing job. The institution began as Villa Julie, a Catholic women’s college, but it’s been independent of the church since the ‘60s, coed since the early ‘70s, and changed its name in 2008 when it gained University status. The growth and ongoing changes are remarkable.

Stevenson shuttles

One of the shuttle buses waiting by some of the residence halls

The university has two campuses situated six miles apart northwest of Baltimore. “They have a totally different feel,” said one student. Another agreed: “There’s more nature there [Stevenson]. This one [Owings Mills] is more hussle-bussle.” Shuttles run every 30 minutes between the two, but all students can have cars, so it’s easy to drive over. The students agreed that parking was not a problem. However, Owings Mills (considered the main campus) is overhauling much of campus, including putting in a quad that will replace a large chunk of their main parking lot. This will go a long way in alleviating the predominant institutional feel when first driving on campus; their plan is to have this completed by the time return back to campus in January 2018.

Stevenson walkway

The new walkway connecting North to the main section of campus

The quad is just one example of the recent, rapid growth of both students and facilities. Buildings are modern and well equipped for what the students need to live and learn. Owings Mills has all the residence halls, the Business school, and more. The college just built a wooden walkway to connect the main part of campus to “North” Campus, officially Owings Mills Extension, where there is a new, massive (22,000 square feet) academic center housing the Design School (including fashion, film, graphic design), sciences and math, Business Communications, Marketing, PR, and more.

Stevenson Business

The Business School

Given the main campus growth, the President thinks that they’ll eventually consolidate: “It’s impractical to run 2 campuses.” The majority of classes are at OM. Although the Schools of humanities/social sciences and education are at the other campus, when people need a class (like psychology for nurses), it’s offered at OM. However, theaters, competition basketball and tennis facilities, and more are on the Stevenson campus. “Specialty equipment is harder to shift.” The master plan includes expanding the Southern part of the OM campus to make it the hub of student life, including athletic fields and more housing.

Stevenson res quad

The residence quad

About 2500 students live on campus, and students raved about the dorms. “There are no communal bathrooms,” one said. Even freshmen (85% of whom live on campus) live in 2-bedroom suites. Later, they can move into larger suites, suites with single bedrooms, or apartments. “About 75% of juniors who want them can get into the apartments,” one student told me. There are 6 on-campus and 16 off-campus dining options.

Stevenson diversityThere is excellent support here, particularly for first year students. Orientation gets rave reviews, and the optional Orientation Adventures (students go to Orioles games, Hershey Park, etc) program has grown rapidly. “They didn’t push it much when I started,” said a senior. “A lot more freshmen do it now.”

Stevenson Stu Cntr ext

Some outdoor seating by the Student Center; in good weather, this place is packed!

Additionally, they’ve changed 1st year advising: “by all measures, this is going extremely well,” said the Dean of Admissions. Students are assigned a Success Coach at orientation, and students must meet with them at least 4 times in the fall and 3 in the spring. “It’s intrusive advising;” each session has a particular purpose instead of a generic “how’s it going?” check-in. Students complete goal-setting activities and look at what they want their college experience to be. After the 1st year, students transfer to a more traditional faculty advisor, but are able to meet with success coaches whenever they want.

“Professors are my favorite thing about this place. They work outside the classroom. They have lives.” The students like that connection to the outside world, information about internships, etc. “One of my favorite classes was an Intro to Theater class. There were no theater majors in there, so the professor completely overhauled the syllabus to make it more relevant to us.”

The academics at Stevenson seem to be deliberately thought out; as they’ve overhauled the university, they’ve also innovated academic offerings to prepare students for graduate school (about 1/3 go on) or jobs. “We offer connection to careers within the liberal arts tradition.”

  • All students must complete a capstone experience. They even offer a Design-firm Capstone: students solve a problem for a community group such as working with a community center to design interactive programs for the kids. There are 40 Service-Learning classes where they work for a local non-profit.
  • Sales Management and Leadership is one of their more unusual majors. They encourage students to pair this with a minor that might correspond with their professional goals such as a minor in Chem for Pharmaceutical Sales.
  • Other unusual majors are: Visual Communication Design, Medical Laboratory Science, Public History, and Fashion Merchandising.
  • Professional Minors will be offered starting in 2018. Students take four interdisciplinary classes to build skills applicable to various job markets: Applied Management, Entrepreneurship/Small Business Development, Human Resources, Real Estate, Software Design and Coding.
  • Students can earn complete a 5-year BS/MS in 9 areas.
  • Sciences are strong: there has been an 87% acceptance rate into health-profession (med, dental, vet) schools over 5 years. Any interested student can apply; they don’t cut kids during pre-advising programs. Qualified students can do a 3+3 Pharmacy with UMD.
  • 100% of the students have been accepted to law schools; their Legal Studies major is ABA accredited. Students can complete a 3+3 with UBalt’s law school.
  • There are many music groups on campus and a music minor.
  • Film and Moving Image majors start to write and direct in their first year.

There are plenty of shops and restaurants are within walking distance, many physically surrounding campus. Given its location on the outskirts of Baltimore, there’s a myriad of other options as well, with Towson and Hunt Valley being popular. “We also go to Towson or Baltimore for parties,” said one student. There’s a metro stop on campus “but it’s mostly underground and we lose reception. I like knowing I can reach someone if there’s a problem so I don’t take it a lot, but it is convenient.” Often students will take the Light Rail from Hunt Valley if they’re heading into downtown Baltimore.

Stevenson stadium

The stadium and the athletic center which sit on the edge of campus.

Athletics are a big deal. Stevenson’s teams have had 30 NCAA championship appearances and 27 conference and national championships. Football, women’s volleyball, men’s basketball, and lacrosse all pull a large fan-base. They’re the first in the nation (and the northernmost?) to have a DIII Beach Volleyball team. All their club sports are professionally coached to give those students a solid athletic experience. A men’s club rugby team is in development, and they even have a Club E-sports (gaming) team!

The top 10% of admitted students are selected for Freshman Honors; there’s no way to apply separately for this program. There’s a new University Honors program in development for fall of 2019. The application for their largest scholarship, the Presidential Fellowship, is due 11/1. Students interested in general merit scholarship (up to $20,000 per year) must apply to Stevenson by 2/1; these are automatic consideration. There are several Specialty Scholarships (Leadership, Service, Art, Founders) scholarships that are stackable with other scholarships; these applications are due by 1/15. The invitation to apply to the Founders will be included with the acceptance letter.

© 2017

Notre Dame University of Maryland

Notre Dame University of Maryland (visited 2/19/15)

Notre Dame swingND is a lovely, small campus in a residential neighborhood of northern Baltimore. It borders Loyola University; the two campuses share a library, and are the first universities in the country to do so. ND’s traditional undergraduate division, the Women’s College, is still single-sex, but the graduate and evening/weekend (“Adult Undergraduate”) programs accept men.

The admissions people are friendly, helpful, and will go WAY out of their way for visitors. I was highly impressed with their dedication and humor. My local rep is a recent alumnae of Notre Dame; she gave me a tour so I got perspectives from both sides of the desk.

Notre Dame main bldg

Main building

Chapel

Chapel

Started in 1895 by the Sisters of Notre Dame, nuns still live on the top floors of the main building. The Chapel, built just a year after the college was started, occupies the 2nd floor of the same building. Almost all the windows are still original; a couple panes have been replaced over the years, but they had the original designs that were copied. The paintings in the chapel were done by students and alumnae. Although it does not fit all 450 undergrads, it is a comfortable size and accommodates all students wishing to attend Mass (offered every day but never required). There are also several small prayer/reflection spaces (including a Muslim prayer space) in the dorms and other locations around campus. Students must take 1 upper-level religion class as part of their distribution requirements but there are a lot of options such as Christian Ethics or Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Admissions Rep giving me the tour had taken this; she went to services at a Mosque and a Temple as part of the class.

Notre Dame movie window 2

Step Up stairs and window

Notre Dame auditoriumSeveral of the buildings (including the main building, an academic building, and the athletic complex) are connected which was especially nice on the very cold day that I visited campus! One of these buildings has the staircase and stained glass window made famous in the movie “Step Up” with Channing Tatum. They also used the auditorium (which got trashed in the movie). This auditorium is used for large group gatherings such as guest lecturers and Honors Convocation. At HC, the freshmen get the cap and gown that they’ll graduate in. “It’s a great bonding experience. We’re all in there pretty tightly and have to help each other get everything on and looking good.” After that, they sign the honors pledge and get more privileges. Before Convocation (held usually about the 2nd week of school), “there are certain things we can’t do like have guests in the dorm. I think it’s supposed to be so we focus on making friends and getting used to life on campus.” After they sign the pledge, they can have guests, have unproctored exams, etc. “That was a new experience for me. Professors would give out the exams and then tell us that they would be in their office if we needed them.” I asked her how seriously people took this. “Really seriously. I’ve never seen or heard of anyone cheating on test. There’s an Honor Council if anyone got reported, but I don’t know of anyone who even went to that.”

Notre Dame dorm

Dorm

The University pulls many students in from the surrounding area. 80% of the students come from Maryland, and only about 45% live on campus. Housing is good, comfortable, and attractive. Freshmen, Sophomores, and Juniors live in single-sex housing. Seniors can choose to live in single-sex housing or move to another dorm that also houses graduate students and is therefore co-ed. They have both a dining hall and Gator Alley, but neither is open late. Students can walk over to Loyola if they want a late-night option, but they will pay separately for that.

Notre Dame bird feeders

Bird feeders on campus

As a member of the Baltimore Consortium, students can register for classes at other institutions in the area including Goucher, Towson, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, MICA, Morgan State, and University of Baltimore. A free Circulator bus runs from Towson and Goucher (located north of Notre Dame) down to Penn Station (near MICA and UBalt). It’s easy to get around to other campuses. From Penn Station, students can also take a Baltimore bus to Inner Harbor and other locations around town, so even though they can have cars on campus, it’s not necessary.

Notre Dame dorm lounge

A dorm lounge

The student body is highly diverse. About half of the student body are women of color. They pull in students from about 15 other states and almost as many countries. They have an International Center which offers an 8-10 week intensive English Institute in the summers to students who need help with English before classes start. 

Nursing is highly regarded, as are the Radiological Sciences and the 4+3 Pharmacy programs. Students interested in Engineering complete a 3-2 program, earning an BA from Notre Dame and a BS from Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland, or Columbia University. Students can complete a 5-year BA/MA in Business/Management and Teaching/Education. Other notable majors include Marketing Communications, Behavioral Neuroscience, Criminology, and Environmental Sustainability.

(c) 2015

Loyola University Maryland

Loyola University Maryland (visited 2/19/15)

Loyola statue 2This is clearly Jesuit in spirit as well as name: 2 statues stand prominently on the Academic quad; the chapel is central on campus; paintings, murals, and crucifixes are placed throughout buildings. Almost ¾ of the students self-identify as Catholic. Sean Bray, the new Director of Campus Ministry, calls their approach “Jesuit Care-ism,” inviting people to engage in the larger questions such as how they make meaning, how they engage in the community, etc. “Our mission and values stand squarely in faith and diversity.” They hold retreats at the campus-owned property in western Maryland. These give people a chance to get off campus and connect with other students and faculty. Trips have a variety of themes such as a silent retreat or “Navigating the Journey.”

Loyola chapel exterior 2One of our tour guides goes to mass regularly “which I didn’t do at home, but the priest here is awesome! I never thought that church could be fun.” Another tour guide agreed: “They relate church services to life. They just had a Super Bowl Mass.” Mass is offered on campus every day. While it’s not required, many people participate either in simply attending mass or in other capacities. 30-40 students sing regularly in the choir and many others work in other capacities in Campus Ministry. Different schools in the consortium hold different types of services at different times. Hopkins has a 10 pm service on Sunday that some students go to.

Loyola chapel interiorDespite the overwhelming sense of Catholicism on campus, there’s a significant population of non-Catholics and even non-Christians. One Muslim student said, “I came here because I knew I wouldn’t have to explain myself. People understand my devotion and prayer even if they don’t understand my specific customs.” There’s a Jewish Student Association that hosts celebrations to anyone on campus. A Rabbi will come on campus to work with students, and the JSA hosts a Holocaust Survivor speaker every year. Loyola will also give students free shuttle rides to any service of their choosing (doesn’t have to be Catholic/Christian) within 20 miles.

Before the tour, I spoke with several students. A sophomore from NJ said, “I’m religious but was not looking for a religious school.” She applied to about 8 schools; only one other had any religious affiliation. A junior from western MD said, “I was mostly looking at Jesuit schools, and this has a good psych program.” A freshman from CT said that “this wasn’t my first choice originally, but loved it once I came. I liked the size and distance from home, and it’s got a great business program.” The freshman from Western NY had wanted to go to Bucknell but didn’t get in. She loves it here, though. “It’s got a good engineering program and I can also be pre-law, too.”

Loyola 1Campus is beautiful and safe; they’re located in a residential area of north Baltimore. The students feel very safe and walk around all the time without being worried. “I called for a ride once when it was really really cold at night and I didn’t want to walk!” They’ve never heard of anyone using the blue lights except “one father who pushed it on a tour. I think he thought it was fake or something. He got fined $250.”

Loyola Student Cntr

Student Center

Dorms are some of the best I’ve seen; it’s easy to see why they’re ranked #2 in the country, “number 1 if you’re a boy since the number 1 school in the country is a women’s college!” (I looked it up online later – it’s Bryn Mawr). They even have some apartments for some freshmen. 95% of students stay on campus all 4 years even though it’s not required. This is not a dry campus, but all students in an apartment, suite, or room must be 21 if they want alcohol in the residence. Dining halls “can get really busy during the rush times. You have to time it right. They run out of seating sometimes – but I heard they were going to build another one in a couple years, but right now, it can be tough.”

The Admissions Office is aiming for a freshman class “a little north or 1100 students.” They offered Early Decision for the first time this year and accepted 102 of the 150 applicants. A significant number of ED applicants were athletes and legacies. Students applying (ED or Regular) can choose the test-optional path but will need an additional recommendation or essay in its place.

Loyola Acad lounge

Interior of an academic building

The Engineering program got good reviews. “They we get an overview the first year: we do 6-7 weeks in each area to get a taste and then declare our specialty in sophomore year.” She also has taken advantage of the Baltimore Consortium (Towson, Goucher, Johns Hopkins, U Balt, MICA) by taking classes at Johns Hopkins. Music and Fine Arts are also big here. “You can learn any instrument except the bagpipes.” Students can major in photography, advertising, digital art, and more.

Freshman can sign up for the Messina Living Learning Program. They take a class each term that is linked thematically, and their cohort meets with a mentor for an hour a week. Students are generally very happy here: almost 90% return for sophomore year. Students who transfer out do so for the usual reasons: they changed their major, wanted a bit more of a party school, etc. One guide knew someone who didn’t make the lacrosse team; another left for health reasons even though she loved Loyola.

Loyola quad 3Most of the students stick close to campus for their social lives. “There’s a ton of school spirit here. Everyone is in Loyola gear.” They were a bit disparaging of their next-door neighbors, the students from Notre Dame. “We share a library. We know they’re around, but I don’t ever see anyone wearing ND stuff. I think it’s too much of a commuter campus.” Some of the big traditions are Loyolapalooza (a huge party with music, games, etc held a couple weeks before finals in the spring) and Lessons and Carols before Christmas. Chord Busters, the a cappella group, also puts on a big concert every year that’s well attended.

Lacrosse is the big sport here, but most teams have a good fan base. One student wishes they had a football team. “I’m a cheerleader, and football was a big thing for me in high school.” Their crew team is “small and injured.” Two of our tour guides (we had 1 “official” guide and 2 in training) were on the crew team.

80% of students will study abroad in the true sense of the word (a summer, a semester, or year). They do not consider the short-term (1-2 week) study trips to be study abroad like so many other universities do. Athletes and students majoring in Engineering and Elementary Ed generally can’t do a full semester or year so they often go during the summer for 2-3 months. True study abroad programs carry the financial aid with them since students remain registered at the universities. Short term (summer) and the short study-trips cost students out of pocket.

(c) 2015

University of Baltimore

University of Baltimore (visited 12/10/13)

I knew nothing about UB before visiting, including that it’s been ranked as the #5 college city in the country. This is a unique campus that feels very much part of the city but without being overwhelming or without a cohesive campus.

UB 1

The main courtyard of UB

UB started in 1929 as a university serving non-traditional students, mostly in the evenings, and developed into a comprehensive university. Now it’s in the Maryland State University system (it joined in the 80s and is known as “The City Campus” of the state system) and was directed to go back to a professional school. For a while it served only Juniors and Seniors – kind of a “reverse community college.” Six years ago, they reverted back to a full four-year institution and have graduated two complete groups of students who started as freshman (this year will see the third class graduate). They are still moving down the path of attracting freshman, but it’s happening quickly. They matriculated 300 freshmen last year, and expect that to keep growing; they’re particularly interested in growing their out-of-state population which currently stands at about 6%. They offer merit-based scholarships ranging up to $7000 a year. Students can start getting scholarships (about $1000) with a 2.5 GPA and a 900 SAT. They also offer a full in-state tuition scholarship to students transferring in with 60 credits. Their Entrepreneur Fellows program, available to UB students entering Junior year, covers full in-state tuition. These students are also given a Baltimore-area mentor who has successfully started a business; in Senior year, they can compete for seed money to start their own business.

UB 3

The glass building of the law school behind another UB building

UB has the 4th largest law school in the country. Their undergraduate jurisprudence and criminal justice programs are very strong, as are their Business program (with 10 specializations) and Public Policy programs and several other areas people would associate with a long-standing professional institution. Pre-law students have two options if they’re interested in staying at UB for law. One is the Early Admit program. Students with a 3.5 GPA and a 156 on the LSAT can combine their senior year of undergrad with the first year of law school. The second option is the Automatic Admit program, available to students with a 3.35 GPA and a 154 LSAT.

UB 5

Part of their Business building

The university has invested more than $250 million towards additions to buildings and programs. They have some amazing options for majors such as Simulation (four categories including game and educational software), Integrated Arts (they don’t offer too many arts classes or music on campus, but this is a good option for people interesting in teaching), a shared MBA with Towson (students can take classes at either or both campuses to count towards the degree), and an agreement with MICA to take elective credits under UB (state) tuition. Additionally, students interested in ROTC can take advantage of this program on the Johns Hopkins campus.

UB 2

One of the student apartment buildings over the book store on campus

One of the most unique aspects of the university is that there are no dorms and no cafeteria on campus. They had a cafeteria for a while for both MICA and UB students, but UB shut it down since students weren’t using it. There are a few cafes and grab-and-go options on campus as well as lots of food options directly around campus. There are several housing options close by, including one apartment building over the school bookstore and another about a block away. Many of these are furnished and are rented by the bedroom rather than the full apartment, and several of these buildings are rented solely to students in the area. The university maintains close ties with all these apartment buildings and help students find an apartment as well as roommates if appropriate. This is a nice option for students who want to room with friends who are attending MICA, JHU, or other area schools. Financial Aid can also be used to cover housing costs. This comes in the form of a refund check from the school rather than the school paying directly. All the apartments are affordable, especially considering the cost of city living and the room and board expenses incurred at other universities.

UB 4

The stairwell of one of the older buildings

They look for students who want to take advantage of opportunities. Students need to be more independent than a lot of freshmen because of the housing situation. The students are doers, and even though there’s no official residential life, the students are still involved in clubs and activities. The office of Student Engagement is frequently used. Lots of activities give away pizza and t-shirts, a sure-fire way to get kids to show up. There are the typical range of academic, religious, political, and interest clubs (including a knitting club). They also have a Rec/Athletic Center just like other universities; the difference is that this one is located on the third floor of one of the buildings. Even though it was exam week, it was being well utilized. There are no official sports teams, but they do offer club sports which are active.

UB 6

The Edgar Allen Poe statue on campus

The campus is only 1.5 miles to Inner Harbor and located right next to MICA. They are also literally across the street from Penn Station which serves both Amtrak and MARC which now runs trains into DC on the weekends, as well for $7 (student rate). The Charm City Circulator is free; the purple line goes right past campus and goes to Federal Hill. Students are able to take advantage of all sorts of activities within the city, including $5 student-rate tickets to the Orioles (located on the Light Rail line).

(c) 2014

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) (visited on 12/9/13)

UMBC 1 I visited campus on a snowy, overcast day, but that didn’t dampen the activity on campus. Roads and UMBC 2sidewalks were cleared, and people were outside. I was impressed with the sense of camaraderie exhibited by the students. People were talking and laughing, greeting each other as they passed, making plans for activities. Very few students were plugged into music as they walked around.

~UMBC bldgs 3The campus is well planned out (not surprising considering that it’s about 50 years old). I expected a more traditional campus with large green spaces; it is located in the suburbs, after all. Coming in from the parking lot, the campus struck me as a bit sterile, but this impression changed quickly. There is a pond and fountain and some areas of open space. It is a lovely campus which is clearly well-thought out in terms of how it was developed.

UMBC 3

Info Tech and Engineering building

Biological Sciences building

Biological Sciences building

UMBC’s stellar reputation in STEM fields unfairly overshadows their other opportunities; they offer 44 majors, 41 minors, and 20 certificate programs. The university is ranked with Yale, Notre Dame, and Berkeley for teaching quality, and it’s been listed as a best value in education (it’s public). Experiential Learning (including funding undergrad research through publication and presentation) is part of their mission, and the Shriver Center helps students set up internships, co-ops, and service learning. President Hrabowski sits on President Obama’s council for education, has done TED Talks, and was listed on Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2012. He’ll eat with students in the dining hall or talk as they pass by on campus. Our tour guide said when he sees people with books, he’ll ask what they’re reading, and he remembers things like when they’re taking tests; weeks later might ask how the exam went.

~UMBC trips poster

Poster advertising trips offered to students.

Students can get into downtown Baltimore in 15 minutes and into DC in about 45 minutes. The College Park Metro Stop is about 30 minutes away (as is the flagship campus of the UMD system), or students can take the MARC train into DC (which recently started running from Baltimore to DC on the weekends, as well). BWI (airport) is about 10 minutes away and Penn Station (Amtrak) is about 20 minutes away.

The University System of Maryland Inter-Institutional Registration Program allows students to cross-register at institutions such as University of Maryland College Park (30 minutes away), University of Baltimore (20 minutes), Bowie State (30 minutes), Towson State (30 minutes), and University of Maryland at Baltimore (15 minutes). Enrolled, degree-seeking students with sophomore and higher standing can take classes at other UM schools and receive credit at their home institution. No spots get reserved for students from other schools, so it’s first-come, first-served. Students must meet whatever prerequisites are in place and pay any additional class-specific fees.

One of the dining commons

One of the dining commons

~UMBC mascot

Mascot

Students get highly involved in campus. Sports and school-spirit seem to be big here; many students were wearing athletic and Retriever gear (the mascot is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever; students rub the nose of the Retriever statue in front of the Athletic Center for luck). The school takes the success of their athletes seriously and has an Academic Center for Student Athletes in the athletic center; the center is open to all students and there’s plenty of space for all sorts of fitness activities (including both an indoor and an outdoor pool). There are lots of other ways to get involved beyond sports. During Welcome Week, organizations set up tables in the quad so that students know what’s going on and get join groups. The university purposefully sets up “Free Hour” during which no classes are scheduled, giving everyone, including commuter students, the chance to be part of clubs and other activities on campus. There is no Greek Housing but Greek Life is active; students can rush after getting a semester of credit. One of the students’ favorite events is Quad Mania, a sort of Spring-fling event.

UMC 5About 4000 of the 9,500 full-time undergraduates live on campus. All dorms are suites, and facilities are new (a benefit of a newer university). Freshman suites are set up with two bedrooms sharing a bath; upperclassman suites usually also have a common area with a small kitchenette area. There are multiple options, including Living Learning Communities within the Res halls and several apartments on campus. All students living on campus must have a meal plan, but with multiple dining options, they can buy what suits their needs and their living arrangements. Students in the apartments will often buy the 5-meals-a-week plan (the least); freshmen almost always buy the 18-a-week (the most). There are many off-campus housing options, and the Off-Campus Student Services Department in the Commons keeps a listing of apartments as well as helping with roommate matching. The busses serving the university stop at five or six different apartment complexes nearby so transportation is easy. The Res Hall even smelled good.

Admissions is selective with successful applications having mostly As and Bs, but they will look at the trend through high school. Both the ACT and SAT are superscored. They have several Scholars Programs for qualified students: Center for Women in Tech (CWIT), Humanities, Linehan Artist (must audition), Meyerhoff Scholars, Sherman Teacher Education, Sondheim Public Affairs. Additionally, approximately 125 students a year are accepted into the Honors College which gives students the added benefits of Applied Learning Experiences, an Honors Community, and honors-specific classes. Successful applicants tend to have at least a 3.5 and a 2100 SAT or 31 ACT. Our tour guide was in the Honors Program; one of her favorite classes, The Anthropology of Food, was part of this program (and was her smallest class with 17 students; her largest was an Intro to Chem class with about 200).

(c) 2014

Goucher College

GOUCHER COLLEGE (visited 12/10/13)

A student building a snowman on the quad

A student building a snowman on the quad

~Goucher art

Student artwork on a window ledge

“There’s an interesting mix of students here. Put ten of them next to each other and they won’t look or  sound alike,” the Director of Admissions Corky Surbeck told me. This rang true as I walked through  campus; people all had their distinct styles. Despite this diversity, there’s a real sense of community and pride in the school. Although there is no residential requirement, 85% of students choose live on  campus. The big question they’re looking to answer when admitting students is, “Are you willing to step  up?” The individuals look out for the whole, and the unit looks out for the individual. The school is built  on inclusion and cooperation; students integrate from Day 1 (and they’re doing something right; last  year, they had an 87.3% retention rate between freshmen and sophomore years). First semester, students take two required classes: a writing class and Frontiers (basically a FYE class). It’s capped at 15 students and the professor is the initial advisor. Topics are meant to be interests of exploration and interest and can range from Freedom of Speech to Biodiversity.

The observatory.

The observatory.

I asked Mr. Surbeck what distinguished Goucher from other CTCL schools. He listed two things:

  • Study abroad is required, and “127% of students study abroad.” About 15% go for a full year, and maybe 40% for a semester. Many do at least one 3-week intensive trip; many others will do more than one or the 3-week intensives plus a semester abroad. This year, they’re bringing back an International Business class in Cuba. One of their more popular classes is The Art and Science of Glass co-taught by a science professor and an art historian; they go to Romania for three weeks, but also do two weekends in Corning, NY before and after the trip.
  • Location: very few other CTCL schools are in such proximity to a major city (Lewis & Clark and Rhodes are the others that comes to mind). They are 2 blocks from I-695 (Baltimore Beltway) but you’d never know it. The highway gives easy access to several areas, and students can be in downtown Baltimore in very little time. However, shopping, dining, movies, or work all located within a couple blocks of campus. Towson University, a large state school, is only 1.5 miles away.

Goucher 5Goucher students can cross-register at classes at eight affiliated schools in the Baltimore area – Notre Dame, Loyola, JHU, Towson, MICA, UMBC, and Morgan State. Freshman cannot take academic classes  on other campuses, but can take advantage of any extra-curricular offering; after that, they can register for two classes in each of the following years. Technically, 15% of space is set aside for cross-registration but that rarely becomes an issue. Mr. Surbeck estimates that 15-20% of students will cross-register and wishes that more students would take advantage of that. Most are happy with the offerings on campus or are taking advantage of study-abroad options so they don’t go to other campuses.

I got to talk to several students before going on tour:

  •  A junior philosophy and sociology major from NJ. He is studying abroad in Prague soon. He said he found Goucher “serendipitously” when he got a postcard in the mail.
  • Hillel room

    Hillel room

    Yashe, a Junior from just outside of Pittsburgh, who is majoring in Psychology and Russian. He’s hoping to spend a semester in Russia next term and is waiting for his final visas and other paperwork to come through. He was looking for a small school with a Hillel.

  •  Liz, a sophomore from Virginia, who wanted a school with a good dance program. She came up to audition and then again for admitted student day. She loved the people here and made his final decision after meeting everyone.
  • Blake from NH was looking for a Dance program. He’s hoping to do the Dance Intensive program in Taiwan. He loved the location and the opportunities.
  •  An international business and Spanish student from Atlanta. She originally did NOT like the school and wasn’t going to come here, but her mother made her come back for admitted student day; she loved the interactions with students she had when she visited and that changed her mind.
Lounge with a whiteboard running the length of the room

Lounge with a whiteboard running the length of the room

The students’ favorite classes have been: Distress and Disorder (psych); 3 Frontiers classes (Surveillance in Cinema, one on Shakespeare in which it was related to today, other movies, etc., Apocalypse (looking at fears); Existentialism and Theater; Social Deviance; Art and Activism (the Beat poets, Woody Guthrie, etc).

Things they would like to change would be to get AC in freshman dorms, adding Greek life, scholarships, providing scholarships for study abroad programs, and perhaps making the student body a little bigger. “There isn’t a lot of personal time here; it’s good in some ways, but because there are always people around, there’s not much privacy.”

The forum in the Anthaceum (the Library)

The forum in the Anthaceum (the Library)

~Goucher treeThey have a “small but fabulous theater major and minor.” They put on 3-5 shows each semester.  Playworks, which is put on every fall, is completely student run. The black box theater is a great space  with chairs and platforms that can be moved around to create any configuration they want. It’s clearly  easy for students to get involved in any activity without majoring in a particular field: the Head Tech  guy is an English major and the Head of Student Government (and he gets paid for his work in the  theater!). Sports are DIII except the Equestrian program which is DI. Students can bring their own  horse or use one of the college’s horses. Students who want to learn to ride can take horseback riding as  one of their PE requirements. There are two a capella groups (one coed and one all women), and musicians take advantage of the non-denominational chapel which has great acoustics and a full organ. Performers also can showcase talent at the student-run Gopher Hole Café (open 9pm-2am) where thy have music and open mic like a club space. The library (Anthaceum) is a Gold LEED certified building with a Forum which seats 800 plus additional standing room.

(c) 2014

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