campus encounters

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Archive for the tag “architecture”

University of Washington (Seattle)

University of Washington (visited 6/22/17)

UW fountain:mountain 2This is a huge school in both population and physical size, “but a fun fact – you’re never more than 2 minutes away from a cup of coffee!” said one of the tour guides. It’s definitely physically impressive/attractive, including a great view of Mt. Rainier! Students will need to be proactive in seeking out their people and join things to find community which could range from an athletic team to research with faculty.

UW students on quadThere’s hardly a shortage of things to do on campus. Obviously this is a DI school; students can attend most sporting events for free – but they do pay for football and basketball. Outdoorsy students will love this school – mountains and ocean are both close with lots of opportunities to get out on the water: UW even has canoes they can use. There are over 800 clubs on campus, including one dedicated to bagels. The campus bowling alleys are free to use on your birthday! Greek life is popular with 18 sororities and 36 fraternities (many of which provide housing).

UW statue and mountain

Statue of Washington overlooking Mt. Rainier

Over 31,000 undergraduates study at UW’s main campus in the University District of Seattle (the 2 satellite campuses in Bothell and Tacoma have about 5,000 on each campus – see separate entries on them). “You can walk to downtown, but it’s not fun,” said one of the students. “It’s all uphill.” Buses run around campus and to downtown; there’s also theStudents have worked in the legislature on budgets, in offices, and more.

UW towerFor the class applying for the fall of 2018, UW will exclusively use the Coalition App. The deadline is 11/15, but students can send test scores until December 31. They do NOT want recommendation letters; domestic students will self-report grade, but international students will need to send a transcript at the time of application. For fall of 2017, they admitted 20,800 of 45,000 applicants. Approximately 45% of domestic and 37% of international applicants were admitted.

Admissions happens in 2 parts:

  • UW quad 2Academic Prep: They want to see a strong level of achievement in college prep courses, test scores, a strong senior year. GPA is looked at in context of the school. They will look at previous matriculations from the high school. Although they rely heavily on academics, that’s not the whole story.
  • Personal Achievements: community service and leadership, significant responsibility, and the “extras” like cultural awareness, unique perspectives or experiences, or overcoming personal adversity can all play a part in the decision.
UW library int

The reading room in the main library

UW runs classes on the Quarter System (as do all Washington state schools now). They have 10 weeks of classes and a week of finals. Research “is truly is boundless … ok, that’s a cheesy way to tie in the motto ‘Be Boundless’” said one of the reps. Students have even gotten grants from NASA to do research. Classes can be huge – our tour guide had 700 in her Intro to Chem class, but she also had 7 in her Freshman Seminar. The 14 libraries on campus cater to different learning styles with some being more quiet or set up to encourage group work.

There are three main pathways into a major:

  • UW 6Pre-major: Most students enter this way. It might be an open major or have pre-reqs that need to be completed before being formally accepted into the major. They’ll meet with an advisor when they arrive on campus
  • Direct to major: they only accept a small percentage under this plan. If students are not accepted directly, they usually come in as a pre-major and can apply at the end of their 2nd “If you’re committed to a certain major and have an assurance from another school, it’s probably a good idea to take it. There’s no guarantee here. We’re space-constrained. Some are more competitive than others, and the competition changes every year based on who is applying.”
  • UW 10Direct to College: Students start in the college as Undeclared and get advising. From there, they place into a program. “It allows for exploration, but there’s no assurance for your first choice within that college.” For example, students interested in engineering will be guaranteed some engineering major, but may have to settle for something other than their first choice. One of the students on the panel talked about this: “I think I would’ve preferred this over Direct to Major because there were things I didn’t even know existed. I would’ve liked to know what was out there.”

Some note-worthy programs include:

They offer 2 different Honors programs: students can apply through their major or to Interdisciplinary Honors.

© 2017

Keene State College

Keene State College (visited 10/20/16)

keene-2Keene surprised me in the best possible way. What I saw during this visit is vastly different from the impression I had based on students who attended 15 or 20 years ago. Keene has transformed, and I’m excited about what they offer students academically and socially. Buildings are modern, and the atmosphere is vibrant with active kids and an array of academic and social options. Their motto, “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve” is lived here.

keene-4The city of Keene has 23,000 people with an additional 4,200 students when school is in session. (As a side note, Jumanji was filmed in town, and a mural of the shoes is still on one of the buildings.) Campus sits on Main Street. “This is a cool area. A lot of stores are locally owned; we have very few chain stores, at least in downtown,” said one of the reps. Students love the accessibility of having several blocks of stores within a 5-10 minute walk. 26 restaurants sit on the main drag including Thai, Japanese, and Mexican. There are also shuttles: “Even Target is technically walkable, but who wants to haul all the stuff back?”


The Science Building courtyard

Students become a real part of the greater community; partly this is intentional on the part of the university. “We share a Main Street address with Keene. We take that seriously.” Students contributed over 119,000 hours of service last year starting with a full day of local service during orientation every year. Students, even those who may not have been service-oriented before arriving, quickly find ways to contribute talents. It becomes part of the culture, and students get excited about what they’re doing.


The archway on Main Street at the entrance to campus

Students get equally involved – if not more so – on campus. The prevailing attitude is, “You’re on the team. You’re here to play the game. Get involved.” One of the favorite traditions is kind of a “bookmark” – during orientation, new students walk through the archway and through a line of clapping faculty; graduates do this in reverse: they walk out through the arches past the clapping faculty.

Living on campus is required for the first two years; 98% of freshmen live on campus (the remainders commute from at home within 30 miles of campus). Overall, 60% live on campus. Off campus housing is easy to find; there are plenty of nearby rentals, and there’s an off-campus housing office. Campus food is “a solid 8;” Wednesday chicken patties are a big hit.

keene-tv-studioThe Integrated Studies Program (ISP) is their core; students take both an integrative quantitative literacy and a thinking & writing course in their freshman year and at least 2 courses in the upper levels (300 or 400 level). Maybe because of this interdisciplinary program, students aren’t pigeonholed at Keene. For example, a film student last year presented research at a biomed conference: “The Prof thought I was good at it,” he told the rep who was surprised to see him there; he encouraged the student to do biomedical research despite not being in that major. Both research and internships are often self-designed projects, and much of this work is showcased at the Student Symposium.

Seniors get surveyed every year, and they consistently give high marks for faculty involvement. Some of the students’ favorite classes include:

  • Genocide class: “the professor has written books and knows so much. It was a good overview.”
  • Inequality of Political Economy. “I don’t math, but I learned ideologies and how they factored into Economy. It didn’t feel like work. Everyone wanted to be there.”
  • Global Engagement: “This was a sociology-based class, and we went to Poland and Romania for 14 days. When else would I be able to travel like that for $750?”
  • “My Spanish Conversation and Composition class. We had to put on a play entirely in Spanish.”

Keene offers several strong and/or unusual majors:

  • keene-holocaust-studiesHolocaust and Genocide Studies:
    • Students asked to add Genocide when it became a major.
    • This is the first major of its kind in the country.
    • Students can study abroad for a semester in Poland (Center for European Studies)
  • Film Studies
    • Students participate in the American College Festival at the Kennedy Center.
    • Faculty from American Studies, languages, and film studies worked with Ken Burns for his most recent document The Sharpe’s War.
  • keene-sustainable-lab

    Sustainability Lab

    Music: this is the only public liberal arts school in the area to be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music.

  • Safety and Occupational Health Applied Sciences:

keene-smoke-labThe students who do best at Keene State are those who took every key subject in high school every year. Admissions likes to see sub-scores from the standardized tests to know strengths and weaknesses and how students might need support. The application is free until 12/1 for Out-of-State students.

keene-5Keene focuses on the first-year student to help the transition. Orientation is a Family program: there’s a mandatory overnight program in June, and a parent/guardian has to attend with the student (they recognize that it’s not necessarily parents who are the contact person for students). They all stay in dorms. During the year, they aren’t looking just to fix students’ problems but to give students resources and learn to self-advocate.

© 2016

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (visited 7/28/15)

RPI Troy

The city of Troy as seem from campus.

The armory

The armory

Located up the hill from downtown Troy, RPI is a beautiful campus with eclectic architecture ranging from a new glass performing arts center to an old armory. The university itself feels very separated from the city even though it’s mere blocks away from downtown. Troy itself doesn’t have a great reputation, but the university itself is in a nice, relatively safe neighborhood.

~RPI fishbowl

The “Fishbowl”

The university has a long-standing reputation for engineering. In fact, it was the first university to offer civil engineering in the English-speaking world. Don’t let this reputation fool you, though. “I was surprised at the students. I thought it would be full of engineering nerds, and it’s not that way at all!” said the tour guide. Unfortunately, that was one of the few times I could get him “off script” so I don’t feel that I have as good a grasp on what life is like on campus – other than students are active and very focused!

~RPI frat house

One of the Frat Houses

RPI has a 92% retention rate so they’re doing something right. Almost 1/3 of students affiliate with a Greek organization; Greek houses are located all over including downtown (although this can be a bit sketchy; Troy as a whole doesn’t have a great reputation – but the campus itself is in a nice, relatively safe neighborhood. Just be forewarned!). The university has one of the few student–run unions left, and they’re controlling an $80m budget. Clubs range from Cheese-lovers and Cheerleading to Quidditch and What is a Club? Club. The largest lecture hall on campus (in addition to holding a couple classes and sometimes exams) is where they show $1.50 movies every weekend.

~RPI 5A couple of RPI’s bragging points:

  • They have two Supercomputers: Amos and Watson, the supercomputer that beat jeopardy contestants. The only prerequisite to use this computer is to take the Intro to Computer Science class which most people take freshman year.
  • They have a complete virtual lab; students put on a black suit and become part of the game. They also host a gaming conference on campus.
~RPI dorm quad 2

The Dorm Quad

Students must live on campus freshman and sophomore year. The freshman quad has 7 buildings: 6 with doubles, 1 with triples and quads (2 rooms and a bath). Freshmen can’t have cars, but all students have access to the free public transportation, and the school runs shuttles to the Albany airport and the train station.

~RPI dorms 2

Upperclassmen housing

Co-ops are open to all students and are completed over a semester and a summer. During this time, students are not officially enrolled at RPI so they are not taking classes or paying tuition. Co-op students go wherever the company sends them; they’re paid and are sometimes given housing. Only about 30% of students complete this because many don’t’ have time to take a semester off from classes and still graduate on time. Those who do co-ops usually come in with credit or will take some extra classes here and there. Internships mostly are during the summer. Students can get paid OR get credit, but not both. About 70% will complete an internship. About 80% of students who do internships or co-ops end up getting a job with that company.

~RPI engo bldg 1

An Engineering building

Engineering is the largest school at the university with about 50% of each incoming class entering this division. Undecided students can have until the 3rd semester to declare one of the 11 specialties within this department. The school puts a strong emphasis on practicalities with a Professional Development sequence built into the curriculum. For example, some lectures discuss soft skills (presentations, communication, etc.) needed to be successful but are often glossed over in many engineering programs.

~RPI observatory

The Observatory

The Architecture school admits approximately 70-80 students a year. Applicants must submit a creative portfolio of drawing, painting, etc. They don’t want technical or CAD Drawings. Students can choose between the 5-year BArch program or the 4-year Building Science program. BArch students are ready to sit for the certification exam. Students wanting to study off campus can go abroad for a semester in China, India, or Italy, or they go to the CASE program in NYC.

~RPI arts bldg

The new arts building

Business is another small school accepting maybe 50 students per year. The only Bachelor’s degree they offer is in management Tech, but students can minor in subjects at any school as well as complete concentrations within the business school. Students coming out of this program boast an 89% success rate with start-ups.

~RPI playhouse

The RPI Playhouse

The department that most people don’t expect to find at a school like this is Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. They call this the “liberal arts school for the 21st Century.” All students have to take 8 courses (24 credit-hours) in this division. In fact, many students dual major with a major in HASS OR complete a co-terminal degree (BS and MS in 5 years). They’ll Students coming in with AP credits can use some of them towards this requirement. Like in other divisions, they place a strong focus on teamwork and collaboration. For students looking for the co-terminal degrees, RPI extends scholarships and Financial Aid for the 5th year by letting students retain undergrad status.

RPI offers several accelerated programs; students selected to participate in these programs may not double major, and those in the Med program must be US Citizens.

  • The Accelerated-Med program combines 3 years at RPI and 4 years at Albany Medical. Students accepted into this program do not need to take the MCATs. Students must apply as incoming freshmen to this highly competitive program: Only 30-40 students a year are selected from 600 applicants. They do run another program with Mt. Sinai which is less competitive; students can apply once they get to campus.
  • Accelerated Law students have several options: They may major in Business & Management OR in Science, Technology, & Law. Both of these are 3+3 programs starting at RPI and completed at Albany Law, Columbia Law, or Cornell Law (Business only).

© 2015

Cal Poly Pomona

Cal Poly Pomona (visited 1/16/14)

The library and triangular main Admin building

The library and triangular main Admin building

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (or Cal Poly Pomona), one of the 23 CSU campuses, has traditionally been both a regional campus and the “little brother” of the better known Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Because of the nature of the CSUs which serve specific areas in the state, they do tend to draw heavily from the local area. However, this seems to be changing due to increased national awareness of the university’s offerings and more aggressive marketing by the new Director of Enrollment. They’re seeing an increased number of out-of-state students at the transfer level; this is trickling down to the freshman level.


Some of the planes built by students

~CPP 5During our visit, we met with Mario Cordova, an Admissions Representative. Applications have risen over the past four years from 20,000 to 32,000. Admitted students have about a 3.5 GPA and an 1100 on the CR and M sections of the SAT or a 26 on the SAT. Acceptance rates now hover around 50%, but Mr. Cordova said that this is a little deceiving since it fluctuates by major. Engineering is the most popular major, but other academic strengths include programs such as hospitality management, vet tech (CPP is 1 of 3 schools in the country where students can take the Vet Tech exam directly after graduating without additional training), architecture, sciences, and even music industry studies! About half of their impacted majors are in the engineering fields; the others are in architecture, some sciences including animal sciences and kinesiology, and a few in the social sciences. The architecture department needs more space; currently, they’re only taking a few students each year in order to provide them with appropriate studio work space.


One of the original buildings dating back to when the property was a horse ranch

Mr. Cordova told us that their goal class is about 3,000. Currently, only 18% of students live on campus, and they’ve added 600 new beds over the last three years. Demand to live on campus isn’t overwhelming since they’re still pulling so many kids from the local area who don’t need to live on campus. First-year dorms are stereotypical dorms. Suites with 4 bedrooms and kitchenettes are newer and tend to house upperclassmen; these are located behind the bookstore. The Village is the off-campus apartment area. The traditional dining halls are in the dorms and utilized mostly by freshmen. There are a lot of fast-food options (sushi, subway, Qdoba, etc) in the Union which was busy as we came through to get lunch at about 12:45, but not overwhelming. We didn’t wait more than 5 minutes for food and we were able to get a table.

This get repainted several times a year by students intrepid enough to climb up the hill

This get repainted several times a year by students intrepid enough to climb up the hill

“You Hour” is held from 12:00 to 1:00 on Tuesdays and Thursday. No classes are held during this hour, and the quad was full of student groups advertising their activities, holding fund-raiser BBQs, and more. One of the BBQs was sponsored by Delta Alpha Beta, a Hispanic/multi-cultural frat. They do a lot of community service, especially with kids. We stopped to talk to the guys to ask them about their experiences. One of them does AF ROTC on the USC campus and enjoys being here but having access to the other campus. The boys told us that Greek Life at CPP was small and had been on the decline, but seems to be picking back up again.

~CPP acad bldg 3Although there seems to be a lot to do on campus, we were told that we hit a “busy time” when a lot of people were out and about, but the crowds we saw only represented a fraction of the students. There are certainly people who don’t feel like there’s enough of a social scene and transfer out. Another reason people give for transferring is that the quarter system is a little too intense for them. Some students aren’t fans of the local area; town is not always safe and there’s not much within walking distance.


The Japanese Garden

As we walked across campus, two students were helpful in helping us find the building we were looking for; they were both freshmen recruited athletes from California (the volleyball player was from Stockton; the baseball player was from Temecula). Both are happy with their choice and felt that they fit here and were getting good educational and athletic experiences. The school is starting to get recognized nationally, partly because they just won a DII basketball title. Later, we had lunch with a brother (senior) and sister (freshman) from the area who answered a lot of our questions. The sister was an architecture major and part of the Honors College and was loving her experiences so far; she felt part of the community already. The brother was a big fan of the Integrated General Education requirements; instead of separate, lecture-based classes, the IGE program brings together social sciences, humanities, writing requirements, and more into the program. He felt that this approach was more interesting and conducive to his learning style. He’s studying Industrial Engineering. A lot of people in that area tend to specialize in supply chain management, and graduations have gone on to work at major companies like UPS, Netflix, and Amazon. He’s a member of Hillel which he said has 20-25 active members, and Shabbat Dinners are a regular things. They’re always looking for regular donors since it costs about $300 per dinner.

© 2014

University of Oregon

UNIVERSITY OF OREGON, Eugene, OR (Visited 7/18/13)



“Big nerds and sports fanatics can both fit in here,” said the admissions counselor, a 2010 alum. The University of Oregon is a flagship Public Research University; taking undergrad research so seriously is no small feat for a school their size. “Intellectually, it’s a game-changer.” Students do research in labs, on study abroad trips, and just about any other possible place (including an on-campus Cultural Museum in which Anthropology and Archaeology students do research). “Research allows students to find that spark, and that’s what we’re most interested in doing here. We want them to create knowledge, not just hear about it from others.”

UO 2 academic

Main Library

Main Library

I was half expecting UO to feel like other large, sprawling state universities, but it didn’t because of all its outdoor spaces and gardens. The campus is a federal arboretum with an arborist in charge of all the plants. School spirit/pride is high; for example, a lot of the dorm windows had O stickers in them. Athletics, of course, are a huge part of life here. Hayward Field, home of their Track and Field team, is famous because the Olympic trials are held here (which students can and do attend); they showed this off to us before any other facility. (As a side note, Animal House was filmed here). U of O is expanding their rec center, including adding a 16-lane pool, which a scheduled opening in the fall of 2015. Out of their 20,800 undergrads, just under 10,000 a day use their rec center (as compared to Ohio State: 6,000 of their 55,000 students use their rec center). An alum donated money towards the Jacqua Student Athlete Success Building for DI athletes. When we were shown this on the tour, a several eyebrows went up; the general feeling was, “Why are the athletes being treated so much better? What about academic success for non-athletes?” When we expressed this, the answer came in two parts: first, they don’t have control over what the alumni want to donate money for, and second, they do provide a lot of services to everyone; they’re just located in other spots on campus. “We’re well libraried,” said our tour guide (and interesting, the faces on the main library are major thinkers in the Canon).

UO pedestrian areaThe university prides itself on providing relevant and interesting academics within attractive buildings meant to inspire students and showcase the academic work being done in them. Allen Hall, for example, looks like one of the top PR firms in the country. The Willamette Science Center has a huge atrium that has integrated several aspects into the architecture that reflect science: quarks are shown in tiles on the floor, stars are reflected in lights across the ceiling, DNA strands wind around the staircase, the lampposts are designed after botanical structures, and there are cell structures around the walls. An additional science building will open this winter that will take on an interdisciplinary focus because “real world problems don’t get delivered as ‘chemistry’ or ‘biology.’” The physics has an Applied Physics program designed to help grads go directly into a job or move into a grad program.

Oregon is “Big enough to be good, small enough to be great,” says Roger Thompson, VP for Enrollment. It feels smaller than it is because of orientation and how students can interact with resources and faculty. Small classes help them define their interests and paths. “Secretly we believe that most students are undeclared at that age.” It’s ok to be undeclared, tentative, or to change their minds later, and the university offers 269 academic programs split between 7 schools:

Art Museum

Art Museum

  • The Arts and Sciences school has the state’s highest ranked programs in bio, chem, physics, math, poli sci, econ, psych, English, and history. The Center for Nanotechnology, the Oregon Institute for Marine Bio (only one in the pacific NW), and the Pine Ridge Observatory are worth noting. They’ve installed large electron microscopes which are bolted to the floor; companies that want to use them must come to campus; this actually gives undergraduates a chance to work with professionals. They do not have an engineering major; the tour guide said that their sciences tend to be more theoretical, but they do have a 3-2 engineering program with OSU.
  • Students interested in Business come into the pre-business program; to move to a full business major, they need a 3.0 in their classes at Oregon.
    • The school is fully accredited for both accounting and business. Fewer than 5% in the world are dually accredited.
    • They have the first and best sports business program (ranked by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, WSJ)
    • They run a Center for Sustainable Business Practices, Finance and Securities Analysis Center, Entrepreneurship, Sports Marketing Center.
    • Within the Journalism and Communication school, students come in as Pre-journalism majors and complete a Gateway to Media course cluster integrating multimedia storytelling and critical thinking. Once they meet the minimum GPA of 2.9, students are eligible for entry as full journalism majors. Two areas of note within this school are their Media in Ghana program and the Full-service student-run advertising firm
    • The College of Education is ranked in the top three public colleges of education in the US (the Special Education program is ranked 3rd in the nation). This is also the top funded education school for research per faculty member.
    • The Architecture and Allied Arts is 6th among public universities, in the Top 15 undergrad programs overall, and 1st in sustainable design practices and principles. They offer a BArch degree, a 5 year program requiring a portfolio for admission. The portfolio can be anything – ceramics, art, even creative writing. They are looking for higher grades and scores, but also analytical and aesthetic ability. The Art department offers media areas including ceramics, digital arts, jewelry and metalsmithing, and photo.
    • Like Architecture, the Music and Dance program requires additional admissions criteria. Oregon offers one of three comprehensive music programs on the west coast. There are thirty ensembles and over 200 music and dance events every year, and the university hosts the internationally recognized Oregon Bach Festival. They boast a 100% job placement for music education
    • The Honors College enrolls 220 new students every year (out of about 1500-1800 apps). The average GPA of students admitted into the program is 3.85, but there is no required minimum. They look for students with the spark, the initiative, the willingness to ask questions. If the students can prove through writing and teacher recs that they have these qualities, they’ll consider other GPAs. The 4-year curriculum is compatible with every major, and every CHC student researches, writes, and defends an honors thesis. Over 80% of CHC alums attend grad school within 3 years of graduation.

OSU quad 130 years ago, Oregon pioneered the concept of the Freshmen Interest Groups. Although students are not required to sign up for a FIG, they are strongly encouraged to do so; the university has found that those students who participate end up performing much better than those who do not. They put students into small, thematically grouped cohorts of 25. The classes, made up of 25 students grouped according to a common interest, satisfy a gen ed requirement. The classes fill up quickly, and they’re trying to increase opportunities.

About 35% of the university’s students come from outside of Oregon (and every state is represented); 10% of the students come from 70+ foreign countries. Almost 20% self-identify as students of color. Twelve percent of students join Greek life, so it’s available but not a major social force on campus. Much of the social activities are based out of the Union, a funky, unusual building that looks a bit like a labyrinth. It’s a multi-level building made of wood and concrete with old beams across the ceiling; it smells like old wood in a good way. The building has all the typical things people expect at a union: food, student groups, etc. They have an extensive outdoors club, and anyone can be trained to lead trips for this group. Residential life is comprised mostly of freshman: 90% of first-year students live on campus but that drops to about 7% of sophomores, 5% of juniors, 2% of seniors. There’s a ton of cheap housing in the area; our tour guide hasn’t lived more than 2 blocks away since she moved off campus. The university is trying to increase their numbers of non-freshmen on campus. They offer a variety of housing such as Living-Learning Communities, several of which have classrooms in the dorms. The Global Scholars Residence is an incredible new building that houses about 400 Honors and College Scholars students. The rooms are suites, there’s a beautiful dining facility on the first floor, and there are lots of meeting and lounge spaces in addition to having Faculty in residence.

© 2013

University of Miami

University of Miami (visited 1/25-26/13)

UM flew 40 counselors in from around the country for 2 ½ days on campus. They planned a full schedule, and we walked away with a much better sense of the university and of the surrounding area. UM is located in beautiful suburban Coral Gables with easy access to the major metro area of Miami (including having a MetroRail stop on the edge of campus). Although Miami has 10,000 students, it feels smaller because they have 9 undergraduate colleges such as Architecture, Education, Nursing, and Marine Science (plus 2 grad programs in law and medicine). With 180 areas of study, students have a way to find what they’re interested in, including double majoring or multiple minors – or even just dabbling in other areas. Some of the programs are competitive for admission, but nothing is impacted. They are in the process of changing their undergrad curriculum: Gen Ed requirements are changing to “Cognates” – students can take 2 Cognates of 9 credits each, spread throughout the undergrad curriculum. It allows them to take ownership of what they’re learning since they’re encouraged to be hands-on early in college. This gives them the chance to know if they really want to continue in that major, and it gives them a competitive edge.

On the first night of the Fly-in, the admissions office arranged for us to meet with several students informally at the opening reception. This was a great opportunity for one-on-one discussions. They were all eager to talk and share stories about their experiences. I spoke with several of them about their favorite classes at Miami. One said that the Survey of Marine Mammals “made her college experience.” They got to swim with manatees and dolphins and it got them involved in the community through work with different organizations. After the class, she started the Stranded Marine Mammal Club, working often with pilot whales that had beached themselves. There was one that they were not able to save, and they got to dissect it back on campus. Another student loved her Caribbean Lit class. In addition to the typical reading and analyzing that happens in a lit class, they had to interview people in Miami who were from the nations in the Caribbean that they were reading about. A third student said that his favorite class was the National Student Advertising Competition which he described as an “exhausting, psychotic class” that took about 20-30 hours a week. They created an ad for Nissan that year and placed 4th place nationally; the year before, the class did an ad for JCPenney and placed first.

The most popular class on campus, apparently, is US Health Care Crisis: Politics and Policies taught by the president of the college, Donna Shalala. It consistently fills to capacity of 280 students (the size of the largest auditorium on campus). As a former advisor to President Clinton, she knows the ins and outs of what she’s teaching. People from DC will skype in to talk to the class, and she even brought in Clinton to teach a class once when he was in town. However, kids say that even though she worked for Clinton, she tries to present as balanced a perspective as possible, in class and at the university as a whole. For example, during the election, Obama came to campus three times and Romney came twice.

I asked the students what they’d like prospective students to know about their school; one said, “We’re not the stereotypical Miamian! We’re friendly and down to earth.” Another said that she wanted people to know that it’s a medium university, not large; that it’s private, not public; and that they aren’t actually in downtown Miami but in Coral Gables (so more of a residential area). They said that one of the great things is that the weather allows them to be outside all the time which leads to more interaction among students, and there was definitely a lot going on around campus regardless of the time of day we were there. Even though it’s a medium school, the opportunities, the sports, and the school spirit make it feel larger. One student said that she wanted the “Rah-rah” feel that she didn’t get at Hopkins (the other school she was considering). There’s very little that the students would like to change about the school. One answer that popped up over and over is that they wish that the football stadium wasn’t 40 minutes away. Although the school runs fan buses, they would still like it to be more convenient.

The students I spoke to said that their classes ranged from 7, 8, 10 (Spanish), and 19 (math) to the largest of 100ish (bio), 120, 250 (science), and 280 (President Shalala’s class). Larger classes tend to have discussion/breakdown sessions with leaders who are undergrads who had previously taken the class and got at least a B+. They also have to interview for the job, which includes solving problems and explaining who they got there, as if they were teaching other students. They can get credit for doing this as well as getting good experiences.

In terms of admissions, they are becoming more selective all the time. They accepted 150 out of 650 who applied under their ED this year. They had an additional 12,200 apply EA and 15,600 apply RD for a total freshman class of about 2,500 students. They are a Common App Exclusive school, and they will superscore both the SAT and the ACT, but they do not use the writing portion of either. Music and Theater applicants must audition; they prefer this to be on campus, but will do regional auditions (theater students can do Unified auditions), recognizing that not everyone can get to campus. Architecture students need to submit a portfolio; they’re looking for creativity, not just drawing ability.

There are lots of international students on campus with 52 countries represented in the freshman class. The top countries represented on campus are China, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, India, and Columbia. International applicants have the same requirements as domestic students. There’s a LITTLE flexibility with test scores but not much. They do not need TOEFL if their critical reading score is above 500 on the SAT.

They only require the FAFSA for financial aid; the CSS profile isn’t required. Priority deadline for filing the FAFSA is 2/1. There is no separate application for most of their merit aid awards. Some of the scholarships worth mentioning are:

  • Stamps Foundations Scholarship (5 awarded last year) which covers the full cost of attendance plus stipend and is awarded only to ED and EA applicants.
  • Issac Bashevis Singer Scholarship which pays full tuition. Just under 70 last year were awarded last year. Those who qualify will be invited to campus to interview with a faculty member and current student in that area. They must participate to receive the scholarship
  • Ronald Hammond Scholarship: this is full-tuition scholarship for under-represented students is awarded for academic criteria AND character. A rec should come from a “mentor” who can speak to character. They award 50 every year.
  • Students from FL, GA, SC, NC, and AL (and soon TN once Publix stores expand into there) are eligible for the Jenkins Scholarship which is a full ride award. Miami awards three of these, and the students MUST be nominated by counselor with a deadline of 12/1 (although this should be checked in case it changes year-to-year). Selection is based on achievement, test scores, and essay.

(c) 2013

Florida International University

Florida International University (visited 1/24/13)

As luck would have it, I sat next to a recent FIU graduate on the plane to Miami. She did her master’s work there, and while her experience was clearly different from undergrads, she shared insight and knowledge about FIU. She raved about her experiences, the campus, and the school. She was also a Miami native and knew a lot about FIU and the University of Miami and talked a bit about real and perceived differences.

The FIU admissions counselor literally went out of her way to help me. I had emailed her in advance asking if I could join the afternoon tour and info session; I told her I had planned on hopping on a bus to get to campus and asked for directions from the bus stop to the admissions office. She told me not to worry about the bus; she would pick me up on her way back to campus after a high school visit. She also took me back at the end of the day. I found that this friendliness was not uncommon; people seemed more than willing to help others. I walked away with a real sense of community – something I don’t often get when visiting such large schools.

FIU is a large public university. It opened in 1972 and has grown to 34,000 undergrads, but it feels smaller because of the high commuter population. Approximately 6,000 students live on campus, giving this the feel of a medium-sized university but with the myriad of opportunities of any other large state school I’ve seen. True to its name, there’s an extensive international population; Trinidad, the Bahamas, and China are the most-represented countries, and India is quickly catching up. Additionally, the cultural diversity of Miami is also well represented on campus. (As a side note, the TOEFL exam is not required for students who graduate from a US high school and who have been here for at least 2 years).

All dorms are apartment or suite style – none have communal bathrooms (another surprise at such a large school, but indicative of the lower residential rate). Suites have 3 or 4 single bedrooms with some sort of common space and a bathroom, often with at least 1 sink outside the bathroom. The upperclassmen suites tend to have a kitchen in the common area; freshmen dorms usually don’t. Each dorm has a mail room, a staffed front desk, and laundry facilities. New dorms are being built for upperclassmen which will increase the number of students living on campus. About 15% of the students are involved in Greek Life. Freshmen can rush; sororities rush in fall and frats rush every semester. There are only two frat houses on campus; they’re large, beautiful buildings near the entrance to campus that house 30-40 students each.

Scholarships range from 50% tuition to full rides (including R&B and fees) for National Merit Finalists. The percentage of tuition applies to either in- or out-of-state tuition, whichever the student would be paying. Scholarships are awarded at the time of acceptance with few exceptions. They super-score both the SAT and the ACT. If grades go up during senior year and the most recent GPA would help move them up for a higher award, they can submit updated grades for reconsideration. There is also an Honors program that students are invited to when they apply; students admitted to this program usually have a 4.0 GPA and 2000 SAT (or equivalent ACT).

The Biscayne Bay campus houses the Marine Science, Journalism, and Hospitality majors. Although these majors don’t seem to go together, they’re placed there because of availability of resources: the marine science obviously has the bay; the journalism is placed there because it’s closer to many of the major networks and newspapers, so students have easy access to internships and hands-on experiences. There’s also a separate Engineering campus. Shuttles run back and forth all day to all campuses until 11pm.

The main campus is beautiful, well-laid out, and easy to get around; the tour guide lived on campus her first year and said that it took “7 minutes at a normal pace” to get from her dorm to her furthest class. There is far more grass than I expected of such a large university; sculptures are everywhere. Visual and performing arts are active, and one part of campus has an “Avenue of the Arts” with the Fine Arts building on one side and the Music School at the end. The tour guide said that that the arts programs could use more money, despite all the theater productions and the multiple Art Expos each year showcasing student’s work. A farmer’s market is held on campus every Wednesday, and group yoga and tai-chi classes are often held around the fountain. The Architecture, Business, and Law schools are all centrally located among the other buildings. The law school has two working courtrooms which are used for actual trials as well as for teaching. The largest auditorium on campus holds 280 students. The tour guide’s smallest class had 18 students; the largest was 280. When students register for classes, they can actually see how big the enrollment is in that class. The entire campus is wi-fi accessible, and printing (5 cents per page) is available in all the buildings and can be accessed by swiping ID cards.

The library tower is the tallest building on campus and serves as a good reference point for finding your way around. The first two floors are “loud floors” with study rooms, group spaces, and lots of centralized seating. The rest of the floors are quiet. Under the library is a breeze-way with a mini-mart on one side – this is very popular for students wanting a study break. Clubs and organizations often set up tables for information or fund-raisers. One club was having a bake sale when we went by.

There are no obvious blue security lights around campus; the tour guide said these were mostly around the outskirts of campus and in buildings. There are two police stations on campus and 36 officers stationed solely on campus. Even though this is a city campus, she said that she has always felt safe on campus. Parking isn’t really an issue. People can get parking spots – but there is a “parking convenience problem.”

The tour guide is a big fan of the food, especially being able to get breakfast all day at the dining halls. She still buys into a partial meal plan even though she lives off campus. Students living on-campus must have a meal plan; those living off-campus can choose. The VIP5 allows students to get meals Monday – Friday, and includes $300 in Panther Bucks for use at satellite food outlets. The VIP7 meal plan is all week and includes $100 in Panther Bucks. On-campus locations that take Panther Bucks include Chili’s, a sushi place, Dunkin Donuts, Einstein Bros, Subway, Burger King, a Middle Eastern restaurant, Starbucks, mini-marts, and more. Many of these are located in the University Center food-court; it feels like a mall food court with lots of seating and even a fishtank. We walked through in mid-afternoon and it was being well-utilized. Clearly it’s a comfortable, central hang-out.

(c) 2013

Philadelphia University

Philadelphia University (visited 1/27/12)

To be honest, I had no idea what to expect from this college. I knew nothing about it other than it existed. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Other than a bit of difficulty finding a parking spot (there is limited parking at the admissions building, and after a couple of false starts and driving around the block on 1-way streets, I found the over-flow parking across the street), the visit was great! The admissions people were friendly and accommodating, and they had arranged for a tour guide (who was knowledgeable and easy to talk to) to give me a personal tour.

The university has about 2,500 students and is located in a residential part of Northwest Philadelphia. It feels very suburban, but there are 2 SEPTA train stops within a 10-minute walk as well as lots of city buses that go by campus. The college has a traditional campus with a couple main quad-type areas. There was a lot of green space, and the mostly-brick buildings, although a bit older, were well maintained, neat, and clean. The campus is very walkable with students able to get from one side to the other in about 10 minutes. The dorms range from traditional hall-style dorms to townhouses for upperclassmen. There is some new building going on, and clearly the school is concerned with providing the facilities needed for the students to do well.

I was most impressed with some of the more unusual majors such as architecture, textile design, and fashion design. Kinesthetic and visual learners would thrive in these programs. The facilities for these majors were extensive and well stocked. The textiles department had everything from old traditional looms (which all students in the major are required to learn to use) to modern machinery. The architecture building has beautiful open spaces with natural lighting and student projects displayed everywhere. This is one of the few 4-year accredited programs in the area, and students definitely get a lot of hands-on experience.

(c) 2012

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