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Florida Atlantic University

Florida Atlantic University (visited 2/24/18)

FAU mascot

The mascot, a burrowing owl, with the football stadium in the background

This seems like a fairly run-of-the-mill large school with about 21,000 undergraduates on the main campus in Boca Raton. “We aren’t a college town. We’re in Boca which happens to have a major state institution in it,” said the Admissions rep at the info session. They’re only 2 miles from the beach and located almost exactly between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale (each 25-30 minutes). If students are looking for a school with solid (but not at all overwhelming or competitive) academics, warm weather/access to a beach and time to enjoy it, and a bit of a rah-rah atmosphere without the intense tailgating atmosphere of some of the SAC schools, this might be a good choice. Athletics are D1 (students get free admission to home games) with football domineering the scene, particularly after they became the 2017 conference champions. Fun Fact: their stadium is the only one in the country with a view of the ocean.

FAU walkway 2

The Breezeway

In regards to the main campus, one of the tour guides said, “It looks like such a big school, but it’s not! I can get places in 10 minutes” (although a trolley runs around campus if they don’t want to walk). Partly this comes from only 25-30% of students living on campus (about 5000). The rep described FAU as, “A bigger school with a smaller-school feel. We have resources, and we’re growing. Students can be part of that, making traditions, stuff like that.” FAU was founded in 1961 on an old Air Force Base – “in case you’re wondering why the Breezeway is so long and straight, it was built on the old runway,” the tour guide said.

FAU student union

The main entrance to the Student Union

That being said, I don’t get the sense that there is a vibrant campus social life. There is stuff going on (things you’d expect: clubs, speakers, and a movie theater with $2 tickets) but the students indicated that most of the fun is found off campus. No doubt that stems from a majority of students not living on campus, but it could also be a feature of the location with so much off campus to choose from. The beach, obviously, is a big draw. There is free bus that gets students around the area.

FAU runs five other campuses including:

  • SeaTech: FAU was the first to offer Ocean Engineering
  • Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute
  • Honors College: This is its own campus. The rep likened it to a private liberal arts college. “It’s all honors, all the time. Courses are more rigorous across the board.” Students can major in many areas, but not engineering, music, nursing or other “specialty” majors. There is an Honors Program on the main campus for students who do not want that particular environment, or who want to major in an area not offered at the Honors College.
  • Architecture: This is a 5-year program in Fort Lauderdale. Architecture isn’t capped “but is limited access.” I had to prod the rep a bit to get her to explain what that means: “there’s a supplemental application process. You have to have selected architecture on your application. Once admitted to the university, it’ll trigger the next step. Students need to do supplemental work like submitting drawing, etc.” This appears to be more like a portfolio process: if a student is qualified, they’ll be admitted into the program
FAU freshman housing

One of the freshman dorms

Freshmen are required to live on campus unless living with parents within 30 miles. There are 3 freshmen housing options: Parliament is a little newer but a little further away. Suites house 4 students (in 2 double or 4 single rooms) with 2 bathrooms. Glades and Heritage (4-person suites but 2 doubles or 1 double/2 singles) only have 1 bathroom and separate vanity. They’re at 100% capacity for freshmen but they’re adding housing. Off-campus housing is relatively easy to find. “It’s expensive around here, but it’s not more than living on campus.” The students I talked to before the tour said that they wish they had Greek housing.

FAU quadThe tour guides said that campus food is generally good, and there tends to be enough choices so it’s not boring. They love The Burrow which serves food late-night and has trivia nights, karaoke, etc. In the main dining hall, mac-n-cheese tends to draw the crowds.

FAU 3Admissions is rolling (they only accept their own application), but “merit aid is competitive, so it’s better to apply early,” recommended the rep. No essay is required, but students must self-report grades. Students can check their Application Status directly on the application page. The university can admit students for either fall or a summer-start option. Generally, the GPA requirement is higher for the fall (the incoming class averages a 3.8-4.45, summer averages 3.4-3.9). They will weight the GPA on their end, counting major classes and electives. If admitted for fall, students can switch to summer, but cannot switch back (only 1 switch is allowed). If admitted for summer, they can ask to be reevaluated for fall-entry if test scores or grades go up.

FAU 2Decisions take about 4 weeks, give or take. Decisions for Limited Access Programs like nursing or architecture take a little longer. Nursing is capped at 120 students. Art and music applicants need a portfolio or audition for admission into that program, and applicants into engineering require need a 3.0 in their math classes and have completed at least 1 math above Algebra 2.

There are a few academic programs worth noting:

FAU 1Freshmen classes can run 100-200, but the average lecture class size is 39; average labs have 20 and discussion classes are 30. The tour guide’s smallest classes were 10-13 (both English); largest classes were 125-140 (general lab science).

I asked one of the guides about the types of students who might not fit in at FAU: “People who are ignorant and unwilling to go out of their comfort zone won’t do well here. People are accepted here; they’re safe to be who they are. The people who judge or make them feel safe don’t last.”

© 2018

 

UMass Amherst

U Mass Amherst (visited 10/15/12)

UMass Amherst stud unionUMass Amherst 2I’m not sure that I know much more about UMass now than I knew before I went. The people were extremely nice; breakfast was tasty; the morning was well organized. However, I didn’t learn much about the school. Case in point: The tour guide was giving us an introductory spiel as we stood in the Union. As he described the campus, he said that it was like a bulls-eye. The Union was the center (and is one of the most used buildings); buildings that are used a lot but not consistently through the course of the day like dorms or academic buildings were surrounding the union. The outskirts were specialized buildings or programs “like the equestrian program. You don’t really need to see the horses on the way to class.” After an extensive presentation by the admissions staff (including how many millions of dollars are being poured into construction), we hadn’t heard anything about the equestrian program; if the tour guide hadn’t mentioned it in the layout of the campus, we would have left not even knowing it existed!

P1000950

The view from the library

UMass Amherst campus 2There are a few things that people at UMass seem particularly proud of. First, they got full DI status for their football team this year. Because they don’t have a stadium on campus yet, they’re playing at Gillette in Foxboro (where the Patriots play). They’re offering buses for students for the games, and they filled 35 for the opening game. Second, they like to talk about the variety of clubs and activities available on campus, including the Goat-herding club, quidditch team, and a humans vs. zombie club. This must be the “go-to” selling point, because three different people told us about these 3 specific clubs. Finally, their Student Rec Center has just gotten renovated; it’s 3 floors and beautiful. 500,000 people used it last year.

Umass Amherst courtyardUMass Amherst 1This is the largest public university in New England with about 22,000 undergrads. The university prides itself on its diversity in every context: racial, religious, geographic, socio-economic. “Students will find people who are just like them, and people completely different. They’ll find people with similar interests, and students with interests that will leave them shaking their heads.” The admissions team talked comprehensively about the student experience in which the university provides a series of smaller communities within the context of a major, national, research university. They do this through Residence Halls; groups arranged around majors, community service, or other topics of interest; and good advising and orientation programs. New students work with faculty from the department to help select classes, a task which can be daunting, especially for freshmen. They also have a program called First Year Intelligence which introduces new students to campus, help them adjust, and strengthen their chances for collegiate success. This starts with both a summer and a fall Orientation, and then continues through the year. Students can opt to live in a Residential Academic Program (RAP) where they can take classes in the hall, among other things. There are a variety of RAPs: Topic RAP for students with a particular (not necessarily related to major); Foundation RAP (in which they take a class in common with people they live with); Focus Rap (for undeclared majors to help them explore options); Honors RAP; and Majors RAP.

UMass Amherst dorms

Dorms

contrast

The campus has an interesting mixture of old and new buildings.

Not surprisingly, there’s a wide variety of academic choices for students with 90+ majors to choose from. Some of the programs have special admissions procedures or information:

  • Engineering: just under 1700 students are enrolled in this college. They come in as undeclared engineers, and then decide at the end of first year which of the 6 specialties they want to do.
  • Management: all business programs, including sports management, hotel management, resource economics.
  • Natural Sciences: this is largest college in terms of majors, students, and grant funding. Integrated and collaborative 40year science program that immerses students in the hands-on process of engaging some of the most pressing global challenges like biomedicine and renewable energy.
  • Public Health and Health Sciences: Public health, nutrition, etc
  • The Honors College enrolls 600 first year students every year. These students have an average of a 4.2 GPA, and SAT of 1345. In the program, classes capped at 24. The university is building a new Commonwealth Honors College Residential Complex which will add 1,500 beds and 9 new classrooms.
  • Nursing is a popular major, but there’s a limit of 84 students in the 1st year class; students can ONLY be admitted as freshmen. There’s no internal application once they’re on campus or transferring from outside the university.
  • UMass Amherst hotelHospitality Management students get hands-on experience working at the Hotel on campus.
  • Students in the Journalism and communications departments have access to studios and specialized rooms for TV broadcasting and production, editing, etc.

UMass Amherst coffeeAcross the disciplines, the university sponsors $180million in research. One of the geology professors takes 8-10 students every year in February to northern Siberia to drill for ice and rock samples. There’s a waiting list . . . to go to northern Siberia in February. That says a lot. UMass ranks 3rd in the country for internship completion: 57% of students completed some sort of placement.

(c) 2012

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