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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)


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 There are definitely parts of campus that fit this description: parking garages, plain (even outdated, not attractive) concrete buildings.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.


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.”


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’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).


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.


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).


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:


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


University of Wisconsin – Madison

University of Wisconsin – Madison (visited 4/15/15)

~UWM food trucks

Food trucks line one of the streets going through campus.

~UMW dormsUW-M is a typical large, sprawling state university that is integrated into the city of Madison. A current student gave great advice for survival on such a big campus: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and advocate for yourself! You can make the campus small but you have to work for it.” Students who do well are willing to stick up for themselves and to think about how to make choices. They have to be able to sort through a lot of options. The university will try to make students aware of opportunities, but the students have to go out and take advantage of them. It seemed that students are taking advantage of things that are there. Students were everywhere (not difficult with an undergraduate population of just over 30,000 students), including hanging out in the union late into Wednesday night, reading, talking, etc.

~UWM 1~UMW balconyMadison has the same college-town vibe as Ann Arbor and some other cities with flagship universities. There’s a lot within walking distance; city streets run through campus. One counselor asked about the school’s party reputation; the tour guide said, “there are students who want to do that. State Street (a 6-block pedestrian area) has a good bar scene and great ethnic restaurants.” There was a definite sense that he was dodging the issue. I asked for the real scoop; he just said, “there’s drinking at any school.” Several of us discussed this later and felt like we were being given the canned, prescribed answer . . . as one counselor said, “Not answering is an answer in itself.” Later in the visit, someone asked another student about the types of discussions people had about a variety of topics, in or out of class. Did it seem like the university, faculty, and/or students want to discuss diversity, typical college topics (like the sexual assaults in the news), etc? Her answer: “It seems that if people want to participate in that discussion, they can, but there’s no real comprehensive discussions about other points of view, wellness, sexual assault, or any of that.”

2 of the dorms buildings

2 of the dorms buildings

Most new students (93%) live in campus housing but are not required to do so; about 75% of all residents are new students. There are 19 residence halls (4 first-year only, 4 upperclass only, the rest mixed years) split into Lakeside (“the peaceful and more traditional side,” said one student) and Southeast Neighborhoods. Ten are Learning Communities, including Women in Science and Engineering, GreenHouse, Open House: Gender Learning, and Career Kickstart. Students in LCs complete a 1-3 credit learning component taught by live-in faculty.

One of the few areas with an expanse of green

One of the few areas with an expanse of green

About 20% of students enroll in a First-Year Interest Group, or “FIG” which includes 3 thematically-arranged classes on one of about 60 tthemes. “I heart FIG,” said one student. “To this day, I have a group of students I keep in contact with. We study together, help each other out, still talk to the professor. He even came to zumba with us.” Clearly the university is doing something right: 95% of freshmen return for sophomore year – although they attract passionate students who are committed to education in the first place.

~UMW sculpturesIn terms of the academics, one student said, “It’s super competitive here. Everyone here was at the top of their class in high school.” Over 4000 courses are offered; 10% have under 10 and another 10% have more than 100. Each college within the university has an Honors program; students admitted to the university will be invited to apply. Like all large universities, there are a ton of options for majors, minors, and certificates across colleges:

  • Agricultural and Life Sciences (notable programs: Ag Business Management, Community and Environmental Sociology, Life Sciences Communication, Landscape Architecture)
  • Business (including Operations and Technology Management, and Real Estate and Urban Land Economics)
  • Education (Notable programs: Rehabilitation Psychology, Athletic Training, and Communication Sciences and Disorders)
  • Engineering (unusual programs: Geological, Naval, Nuclear, and Materials Science)
  • Human Ecology (including Textiles and Fashion Design, Community and Nonprofit Leadership)
  • Letters and Science (unusual programs include Social Work; Cartography and Geographic Information Systems; Medical Microbiology and Immunology; Applied Math, Engineering, and Physics; and History of Science, Medicine, and Technology)
  • Nursing
  • Pharmacy (undergrads can earn a B.S. in Pharmacology-Toxicology)
  • Journalism and Mass Communications
A statue of Lincoln overlooking the original section of the campus. The tradition is to rub his foot for luck and take graduations pictures at the statue.

A statue of Lincoln overlooking the original section of the campus. Students rub his foot for luck and take graduation pictures at the statue.

One of the coolest academic facts is that 87 languages are taught here including several African Languages (Swahili, Zulu, Hausa, Arabic, Yoruba, and more), Ojibwe through the American Indian Studies program, all the Scandinavian languages (including Sami, Icelandic, and Old Norse), and several Slavic languages (Czech, Polish, Russian, and Serbian/Croatian). Students can receive retroactive credit by testing into and taking a higher level class (ie, if they test into 202, they’ll get credit for all 4 classes for taking 202).

There’s a huge sports culture here, as you might guess. The crew team rows right by campus; we saw boats go by from our reception in the union. The students said that the only real traditions they could think of revolve around sports: band performances are huge; they have “5th Quarter” which sounds like an after-game party/event. The only other tradition one student could think of was “Battle for Bascum” which is a giant snowball fight between the Lakeside and Downtown dorms.

~UMW crew teamDespite the number of applicants, admissions is holistic. Because of the competitive, selective nature of the school, “we do have to make split some hairs sometimes when making admissions decisions,” said one admissions rep. Numbers alone do not determine admissibility but do guide the process.

~UMW pedestrian mallThe admissions office believes that the more students do in high school and their communities, the more they’ll contribute to campus. They’re looking for people who have dug deep and found roots – in other words, quality of involvement over quantity. They look at essays to see if students write concisely at a college level. Recommendations are not required, but the most serious students send them (please don’t send more than two!).

They won’t recalculate GPA but don’t hold unweighted GPAs against applicants. They no longer require the writing section of the ACT (and won’t for the new SAT, either).

Scholarship applications are separate and can be found at This must be completed every year that a student wants merit-based aid. Wisconsin and Minnesota grants reciprocity for in-state tuition. However, they have a total allowable non-resident enrollment rate of 27.5%.

UW-M works on Notification Periods, NOT early action! Apply by 11/2, hear by end of January; apply by 2/1, hear by end of March. They may “postpone” (aka defer) during the first round; they will rarely waitlist a student who has already been deferred, but it can happen.

(c) 2015

CSU – Northridge

CSU – Northridge (visited 1/17/14)

CSUN 6CSUN (pronounced as “see-sun”) is the largest in the Cal State system. The university is in a suburban area, located equidistant (25 minutes) to the beach and to downtown. Students can walk to the mall; there are definitely things to do off campus. Students are described as friendly and helpful, doing things like stopping to ask people if they need help. The university has a 75% retention rate, so students are generally happy with their experiences.


Students outside the library

The Citrus Grove

The Citrus Grove

They get 30,000 apps a year from which they’ll admit 17,000 students for a yield of about 4,000 freshmen. Most of the students are in-state, but they do draw some out-of-state students, as well as about 15% from abroad. Because of CSU policy, CSUN admits students from the local area if they’ve met the minimum criteria. They use a formula of (GPA x 800) + SAT (CR+M). If a student takes the ACT, the formula is (GPA x 200) + (10 x ACT). They do not care which of the tests are submitted.The index is higher for out-of-state students with a required 3200-3400 (this has been moving up over time). Film production majors have to submit a portfolio and have an interview. Music applicants have to audition (those applying for Vocal Music have to have prepare a piece in a foreign language).


Apartments across from the main campus

On-campus housing is limited with only 3000 bed spaces available, but off-campus housing is easy to find and many students commute from home. They currently have two buildings for first-time freshman. One of the things they’re working on is building more housing; the new dorms will have a fire pit, lounges, and Living Learning Community areas. Greek life is active; the groups that have houses are located right across the street. Students rush right away in the fall semester.


A sculpture commemorating the earthquake

Of the 65 majors, only 3 are impacted (Accounting, Finance, and Business). Film and music are both strong, and Athletic Training is popular. Students have wonderful access to faculty, and facilities are state of the art. There are five science buildings and space for most majors. “The earthquake was the worst thing to happen to campus and the best thing to happen to campus.” Things were rebuilt after the earthquake which allowed the university to reassess what they wanted and how they wanted things laid out.


An academic building

The largest classes rarely have more than 100 students; in fact, there are only about five auditoriums which each seat about 120 people, so they physically can’t hold large classes. Hands-on opportunities abound. Students will complete some sort of major community service project or internship before graduation. Film students will create and submit films; 1 went to the Cannes Film Festival (and won!). Engineering students do things like create an unmanned vehicle and compete in competitions with it (also coming in first!). Students have showcased at TechFest; it’s a great time to see robots and other things like that around.

© 2014

McDaniel College

McDaniel College, Westminster, MD (visited 1/25/12)

Listed in Loren Pope’s Colleges that Change Lives, this beautiful campus is about an hour north of DC. Until about 10 years ago, this was Western Maryland College, a bit confusing since it’s not in the western part of the state: it was originally named after the railroad that went through town. McDaniel is the name of a former college president who was well loved and had given a great deal of time to the students. The campus, where most of the 1,600 undergrads live, has a traditional college campus feel: lots of older (but well maintained) brick buildings, slightly rolling hills, etc. The campus is compact; walking from one end to the other takes about 10 minutes.

I really liked some of their unusual majors such as American Sign Language/ Deaf Studies, Graphic Design, or Athletic Training/ Exercise Science and Physiology. Students can also self-design majors such as Sports Journalism. The college offers 5-Year BA/MS programs in Counselor Education, Gerontology, Human Services Management, and 3 areas of education. The January Term is great; I wish I had been able to take some of the classes they offer, particularly some of the study-abroad options: art/photography classes in a variety of places, marine biology in the Bahamas, investigating the Dracula legends in Romania, working with deaf children in the Dominican Republic.

My tour guide was an upperclassman from Baltimore who originally had wanted a bigger, more urban school, but visited and fell in love with the campus. She doesn’t regret coming at all, but when I asked what she would change if she could, the only thing she would change is the location. She loves the people, the campus, and the education, but doesn’t like that so much around campus closes down at 10; one restaurant stays open until 2, but it’s a 15 minute walk away – doable, but not something they do every day.

(c) 2012

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