campus encounters

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Archive for the tag “engineering”

University of Indianapolis

University of Indianapolis (visited 6/12/17)

UInday 10“What happens in the buildings is way more important than the buildings (which are still phenomenal),” said the school’s President. UIndy is a comprehensive liberal arts school with about 4000 undergraduates. “Some kids come in with a laser focus, but many don’t, and we kind of like that! The first year is meant to expose them to the range of options so they can start to articulate passions. We draw an involved faculty who are interested in helping students see the relevance in what they’re studying and to help them articulate what they’re passionate about.”

UIndy 12This fall (2017), they’ll bring in 1,150 freshmen with 52 nations represented (China is the most highly represented with 250 students followed by 175 from the Middle East). Incoming freshmen had an average of a 3.52 GPA. Because UIndy is so focused on engagement, they’ve hired more staff and added more programs. Even with the enrollment growth, the student-faculty ratio dropped from 15:1 to 12:1.

UInday expressions wallThey’re committed to keeping prices down and providing robust financial aid. They feel that this is one way to demonstrate an ethos of “Education for Service,” their motto and something they want the students to learn to apply as well. Even their sports teams have won awards for being first in their conference for community service. The athletics tend to be strong here with 600+ students in 23 DII sports, 15 of which have gone on to post-season play.

UInday ampitheaterStudents are smart and interested in their educations. “We’ve redone the library, It’s is no longer a book depository. It’s an idea factory. There’s a line at the door at 8am and we’re kicking people out at midnight,” said the President. That doesn’t mean that academics are all they do OR that they have a single focus. Students tend to have multiple interests in and out of their majors. Francesca Zappia is one of their recent alums; she was a computer science major who also loved to write. Now she’s a published author with her second novel coming out this spring: John Greene said she’s the next big thing in that genre!

UInday 1

The new Health Pavilion

Health Sciences are strong here. They even have a cadaver lab for undergraduates! The new Health Pavilion is a gorgeous building with intentional architecture to give students a taste of what the professional life will be; it’s also a place for the community to come together. One of the community hospitals has space there providing clinics (PT, OT, and psychological) for students and the surrounding community. More than 96 clinical placements for students are available on site. This is the first school I’ve visited that combines a PT or OT program with Psychology, Anthropology, and Public Health Education & Promotion.

UInday 6They offer an accelerated 3-year BSN: acceptance depends on how they do the first year and then go year-round after that. Nursing itself is not direct-entry; students complete their first year and apply. The minimum GPA is 2.82; the GPA for a fall entry tends to be higher than that. There are 80 spots in the fall semester and 64 for a spring start; “there’s rarely not a spot for students who qualify and want to be in nursing,” said the Dean of Health Sciences. “Some may have to wait until spring to start, however.” If this is the case, they’ll graduate a semester late since there is no way to catch up over the summer with the clinical rotations.

UInday 3They added 6 Engineering programs 2 years ago, and they’re phasing out the 3+2 program because it’s no longer needed. The design aspect, project-based learning, and unique curriculum makes UIndy’s engineering stand out. They complete 10-week intensive courses followed by a 5-week design experience. The university built a new maker-space supporting collaboration in a realistic setting, and they are able to utilize engineering concepts on projects with real clients.

UInday stu cntrThe new living communities has driven engagement and increased retention. There are 7 dorms, 3 of which are predominantly for first-year students. They’re coed by wing with keys only for that wing. Food is “pretty good” according to the students, “especially Wing Fridays.” The tour guide said that he had 2 traditions he would miss after graduation: Homecoming and the Celebration of Flags, an event held at the beginning of every year where students from different countries hang their flags in the student center. He also said that “President Bob” is well liked by the students and holds highly-anticipated and well-attended events at his house every year such as Super Bowl and Election Result parties.

© 2017

Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Commonwealth University (visited 3/13/17)


One of the dorms; much of campus sits on streets like this

Students looking for an urban campus with lots of diversity, school spirit, and big sports will do well here. However, they need to be willing to advocate for themselves.

This is a state school with 24,000 undergrads, 37% of whom are male and 89% coming from in-state. Gen Ed classes run 150-200 students in lecture halls, but the upper level major classes average 27 students. “It’s the students’ job to take advantage of the opportunities.” Classes are varied, as you’d expect from a school this size. A couple favorite classes were Cultural Text and Context about Egypt and Women in Global Politics.

VCU ped walkway

The pedestrian walkway part of central campus

Campus sits in the middle of Richmond with almost no “central campus” in the traditional sense. However, location means there’s plenty to do, and students have opportunities to connect to the community, get internships, and apply what they’ve learned. The James River is minutes away from campus with hiking and other activities. Richmond itself is centrally located, only 1.5 hours to Virginia Beach and a little more than 2 hours to DC.


One of the older buildings on campus

VCU is a relatively new institution, starting in 1968 when 2 colleges merged. The main campus sits on the site of one school; all the medical programs (including graduate schools) are on the other one a couple miles away. The do offer a Guaranteed Admissions Program for some honors students into several of the graduate health programs as long as they meet the minimum requirements. This is not binding so it’s ok if they change their mind. Applications for this have a hard November 15 deadline; students need a 1330 SAT or 29 ACT and a 3.5 unweighted GPA. Beyond that, they should have done something to stand out such as shadowing or volunteering.

Engineering and the Arts are big here:

  • Engineering has offerings in Biomedical, Chemical and Life Science, Electrical and Computer, and Mechanical and Nuclear.
  • VCU arts 1

    One of the art studios

    The Arts Department includes both visual ad performing arts.

    • Visual arts are very much studio-based. “It allows us to establish ourselves and experiment,” said a junior painting/printmaking major from Kansas. “I wanted to go somewhere where I had the resources of an entire university.” He loves the program and is very happy with his decision to come to VCU, but said the downfall is that they don’t get any help in establishing a design portfolio. “We’re on our own to figure that out.” There also aren’t really any internships easily available or at least advertised. “I looked online; I think this major is the only one with nothing listed for internship opportunities,” he told me.
    • Unusual offerings include Kinetic Imaging and Craft and Material Studies.
VCU plaza

The plaza outside the main dining commons (to the left). The library is the glass building on the right.

Humanities and Sciences, of course, is the biggest school. A few unusual offerings are Military Science and Leadership, Statistical Sciences and Operations Research, Kinesiology, and Forensic Science.

The smallest majors/schools are Social Work (35 freshman) and Life Sciences with 51 freshmen (this includes Bioinformatics, Envi Sci, and Integrative Life Sciences; biology and other sciences are in the Arts and Sciences division).

Students really like the diversity on campus. “Campus shows off the spectrum of people there. I’ve made friends from all over,” said one of the tour guides (we had 3).


An LLC building

There are plenty of living opportunities such as LLCs and Global Living. There is no residency requirement, but 74% of freshmen do live on campus. Food gets good reviews from the students: “There’s so much food! They keep adding new options every year.” The dining hall sometimes runs what they call ‘Upper Cuts’ which serves “really, really great food!” according to one of the tour guides. It requires a second swipe on the meal plan. Restaurant Row, on one of the main streets running through campus, takes Rams Bucks. For students living off campus, it’s easy to find apartments and houses to rent near campus.

VCU dormAdmissions is rolling, and it takes about 4-6 weeks to get a decision after application is complete. They recommend that students include their SSN on the app to facilitate the link to FAFSA. This streamlines, the process, reduces mistakes, and allows them to get the package to students earlier. Students applying by Jan 15 will get an answer by April 1 at the latest. Test scores are optional for students with a 3.3 GPA at the time of application BUT are required for merit scholarships, the Honors College, Engineering majors, and for homeschooled applicants. If you want to get considered for automatic-consideration scholarships – apply by 11/15!!!

VCU stu cntrThe Honors College will look at writing on standardized tests; regular admissions does not. Priority deadline for freshman Honors Program is 2/1. The Guaranteed Admissions program falls under the honors college: if you’re admitted to GA, you’re admitted to HC, but not vice versa! The application for GA is on the Honors College website and is completely separate from the Common App.

© 2017

Washington and Lee


W&L’s iconic building

Washington and Lee (visited 11/3/16)

“At the end of the day, I want the students to say, ‘it changed my life.’ I want it to be transformative. If they can say that, we’ve done our jobs.” The size of the school facilitates a lot of what they do, and “the faculty we bring on understand the pedagogy. Having famous faculty doesn’t help if they don’t want to know the students and work with them.”


Some of W&L’s academic buildings

Washington & Lee is a traditional Liberal Arts and Sciences university, “underscore the AND.” They combine professional programs in the Williams School of Commerce, Politics, and Economics and Journalism (both interdisciplinary programs) with a liberal arts education. “Students don’t apply to the business program as they might in larger schools. I don’t want the Williams School to be a Venn diagram with the Liberal Arts: I want it to be completely immersed. We’ll teach things like Business of Contemporary Arts (co-taught by a Tax Accountant and Art Historian), Land in Lakota Culture, Economics, and History (co-taught by Anthro and Economics professors), or Cybersecurity (co-taught by a PoliSci professor and a lawyer).” Along the same lines, they won’t offer a 3+2 engineering program because they want the students to have the full undergraduate, liberal arts experience. Students in these programs are interested in the liberal arts and complete the foundations/distribution requirements, including the language requirement.

wl-6Students who thrive here are curious, high-horsepower students. They’re near the tops of their graduating classes; they’re keyed into community and engagement. Loners/people who have an affinity to work alone won’t do so well here. Students seek out professors and like to argue/discuss points from class. “Teachers will instigate conversations that are uncomfortable for students. It makes us grow,” said a student on the panel.

wl-treewalkLast year they admitted 1200 of 5100 applicants. Just over half of the class of 465 were admitted through ED (I or II). Crossovers include UVA, William & Mary, Chapel Hill, Georgetown, Dartmouth, and Davidson. The Johnson Scholarship is awarded not just for outstanding academics but to those students who they believe will bring transformative leadership skills to campus. “We want them to be change-makers.” They bring 200 finalists to campus for 3 days and will end up awarding 70 scholarships.


The first floor of the Hillel building with the cafe in the back

“We want to have a broad range of students. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion does a lot of outreach. We’re concerned about affordability and accessibility. We meet 100% of financial need and do not include loans.” Almost every state is represented (there’s no one from ND in this freshman class); VA, TX, NC, GA, MD, FL, and NY have more than 20 students. Almost 10% are first-gen. Although only 17 of last year’s freshmen self-identified as Jewish, they do have a relatively new, large Hillel building; the E-Café inside is Kosher Dairy. They also have Salaam, a Muslim Student Association.

“We’re different because we have a sense of who we are,” said W&L’s President. “We produce citizens of honor who are ready to go out and make a difference.” Whatever they’re doing is working: they have a 98% retention rate, and 90% of students graduate in 4-years. He went on to illustrate a couple things that make them stand out:

  • wl-statueHonor System: “It’s a system, not a code saying that we will abide by the standards of the community.” This plays into exam schedules, too. Students can self-schedule their finals within the week, although some professors ask that their exams be done on a specific day. Others will give a take-home final and ask that it be brought back within 24 hours.
  • Speaking tradition: people will greet you when you walk around.
  • Their endowment allows them to provide “robust services” to students: they have an MD running Health Services, a psychiatrist on staff, deans for every class. There’s a lot to be said for community building, support, etc.
  • Freshmen all complete alcohol education and “bystander education.”

Junior Village in the background beyond the stadium

Lexington is very much a college community: VMI is next door with 1700 students, and the law school has another 350. They have a loose connection with VMI in that they will attend speakers and some other events happening at the other campus. All the seniors live off campus which helps mesh town-gown relations. W&L now requires all students to live on campus for 3 years – but only for 3 years! They recently built a “Junior Village” with has a café and dining hall; a pool is being built. Some Greek housing is in town, and there are 6 sorority houses near the football field. Usually sophomores live there. Rush is in the spring.


Sorority Row

“I was surprised how integrated students are,” said our tour guide. “I was a little bit wary at first because of the 17% diversity rate, but it doesn’t matter. I wasn’t sure how the speaking tradition would play out, but people do talk to each other. I was shy. I didn’t know how to do that, but now I see that people go out of their way.”

wl-patioStudents tend to be more conservative but not exclusively, and there are a lot of liberal professors. “But everyone is civil. They talk about the issues, not about the people. Professors expect us to be able to have conversations and back up opinions, and students do.” A lot of people talked about civil discourse and the learning community while we were on campus. “I say community and opportunity a lot,” said one student. “It seems cliché but I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s not just about what we learn but the skills and experiences.”


Originally a stable, the doors are now left open because the story says that Lee’s horse Traveller haunts the building and will shake the doors when they are shut.

The average class size is 15. Only 5% have more than 25 students. “A few classes like organic chem and a popular geology class on climate change get higher.”

“There’s no one way to do a W&L education,” said the president. “We see some strange double majors. They get jobs because they’re unique.” The Core accounts for about 1/3 of a student’s curriculum. “We push against the idea that every class has to count for something. We want them to explore.” There is a Phys Ed requirement: “I can say with absolute certainty that every W&L grad knows how to swim.”

Students have a lot of school spirit. “We may be DIII, but we have football!” They have tailgates and an annual Lee-Jackson lacrosse game which both draw huge crowds. The Thanksgiving Dinner even draws community members.

© 2016

University of New Hampshire

University of New Hampshire (visited 10/17/16)


Students stretch out in the grass in front of the UNH sign and main building


Food trucks get tucked around campus

UNH should be on far more people’s radars. This is just an amazing school. I liked the vibe here; students were friendly, outgoing, outdoorsy (including just wanting to be out and about on campus), and smart. For a state school, it is not an overwhelming size, either physically or in population numbers. It’s beautiful with a mix of historic and new buildings, with facilities that offer a great deal to the students in the academic and social realms.


unh-2There’s something to be said for the liberal arts within a comprehensive research university. Students who are most successful here want to be challenged and stretch themselves in and out of the classroom. Students who like UVM should also seriously consider UNH. It won’t disappoint; they take care of students, and students want to stay. Freshman-to-sophomore retention (86%) and graduation rates (67% in 4 years, 79% 6-year) are above average.


Not an uncommon scene on campus: students were everywhere!

Last year, applications topped 20,000 for the first time with the out-of-state population growing. Part of this is demographic (there are fewer college-aged students in NH); the other part is reputation. In the admission process, they focus mainly on the transcript: have students taken the minimum (at least!) and done well (looking for mostly Bs or better)? The SAT/ACT is not crucial for admission, but comes more into play for merit awards. They only require 1 letter, preferably from the counselor. In terms of admissions, Nursing and OT are the most competitive to get into.



Shuttles get students around campus, but it’s also very walkable

A major distinction for UNH is its location and size. The physical campus size is manageable, but more than that, there are so many options accessible to campus. They’re only 30 minutes from the ocean and beaches, and the mountains and urban areas aren’t much further. Portsmouth, a medium-sized city, is 20 minutes away, and students can use UNH transportation to get there. There’s even an Amtrak stop on campus; students can be in Boston in an hour, or head up the coast into Maine to Portland or Freeport (home of LLBean!).



One of the dorms

Housing is guaranteed for 2 years. Of course there are lots of social options, as at any school of this size (13,000 undergrads at the Durham campus; there are about 1,000 more at the non-residential Manchester campus). Something the students appreciate is that “One thing doesn’t dominate campus: we have Greek life, we have football and hockey, etc – but none of those dominate the others. You don’t have to belong to a certain group or do a certain thing to belong here.” Only 10% of students go Greek. Hockey is one of the most popular sports.



One of the engineering labs

This is a great option for students who want engineering at a medium school. However, their excellent academic choices and resources go far beyond that. Started in 1866 as New Hampshire’s Land Grant institution, UNH has now also earned Sea and Space Grant designations and offers over 100 majors. It’s not surprising that the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture options are strong and varied, including EcoGastronomy, Sustainable agriculture and food systems, and Marine, Estuarine, and Freshwater Biology.


unh-hammockTheir sustainability efforts are amazing: they get almost ¼ of their food from local and/or organic sources, and they’re the first land-grant school to have an organic dairy farm, and they make their own ice cream on campus. They gave us scoops for dessert; not only did they have great flavor options, but it tasted better than most I’ve tried!

Discovery is their Core curriculum, comprised of 11 disciplines they need to take classes in, including a World Cultures class (which can be fulfilled with study abroad – they offer over 600 options) and a Capstone or “Integrative Understanding.” Research is defined broadly here: they call original projects (musical compositions or a business proposal) as “research.”

unh-loungeResources are strong across the board, but Ocean Engineering and Marine Biology have some unique resources at students’ disposal. UNH co-runs the Isle of Shoals Marine Lab with Cornell University. Students spend a great deal of time researching out there, particularly in the summer (they can live on the island!). The Ocean Engineering labs have 2 wave pools; the military even asks to use this for research. Computer Science students have labs to try to break into a variety of systems as part of CyberSecurity training.

© 2016

Villanova University

Villanova University (visited 7/21/16)

Villanova oreo“We tend to attract students who are bright, bright-eyed, and not too cool for the room. They wear their school gear. They’re spiritual.” Clearly Villanova is doing something right: They boast an amazing 96% retention rate (freshman to sophomore years), 88% 4-year and 90% 5-year graduation rate, and a 97% placement rate 6 months after graduation!

Villanova quadVillanova makes 5 promises to its students:

  • Academic Excellence: clearly the university has earned lots of high rankings including Phi Beta Kappa and Center for Excellence for Nursing.
  • Personal Attention: the average class has 22 students with several capped at 15.
  • Strong Community: They’re highly inclusive, a hallmark of the Augustinian tradition. That’s a big deal here.
  • Service to others: Our tour guide was surprised at how service-minded students here are. People flock to service trips, etc.
  • Foundation for Lifelong Success: The 118,000 alums “metaphorically hold the door open for current students.”
Villanova monastary

The monastery

Villanova is named for Thomas of Villanova, the “Father of those who didn’t have.” This is an Augustinian Catholic institution and houses one of the largest Augustinian Monasteries (70 monks live there, 15 of whom are active on campus). St. Augustine became a bishop under one condition: he wanted to continue living and learning in a community of his friends.

Villanova chapel inMasses are held three times each Sunday in the gorgeous on-campus chapel, but masses are not required, and Campus Ministry will take students to other places of worship as asked. Students aren’t even asked to self-report religion until their exit interviews. Students are required to take 2 theology classes, 1 of which is general history.

Villanova stu cntrSports are clearly a huge deal here, especially basketball, but they attract strong athletes across the board. They’ve had a student or alum in every Olympics since 1948. Students get free basketball tickets on a lottery system, and the more games they attend, the higher their lottery number becomes. However, they really are student-athletes, and all teams have at least a 3.0 GPA. Our tour guide is a dancer, and she performs for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Special Olympics held on campus, the largest student-run event of its kind.

Villanova 8In addition to sports (both participating and watching), there are plenty of other things to do. “Cornhole is big here,” said the tour guide. “I’m not sure what that’s about!” A couple favorite traditions include Hoopmania before Basketball games, and on Fridays, people pass out lollipops at the end of classes. 20-30% of student join Greek life with Rush delayed until 2nd semester. All 3 ROTC branches are offered here, but Navy is the biggest. They produce the 2nd highest number of flag officers after the Naval Academy. For students wanting to go off campus, it’s easy to navigate through the city. Two trains run through campus, and students can be in downtown Philly in 20 minutes. They can also get to the airport easily.

Villanova gardensHousing is guaranteed for 3 years, and they triple up a lot of freshmen. They don’t currently guarantee housing for all 4 years. However, this might change with the Lancaster Avenue Project, opening in fall of 2019: The large parking lot across the street from the university is being transformed into a Performing Arts Center (the new President had been the Head of the Theater Department and a new Res Hall with 1200 beds. This will bring the total number of students on campus to 85%. They have a new parking lot already going up to replace the parking spots they’re losing.

Villanova fountainAn admissions rep said, “We want to reward hard work, not just potential.” Test scores aren’t the end-all. “Community is a verb here. We look at what people do in their free time and are productively using their time.” For the first time this year, they’ll be denying people in the Early round. “It’s the moral and ethical thing to do.” About 9% first-gen and 13% Pell-eligible enrolled in last year’s first year class.

Students interested in the Honors Program, Villanova Scholarship, and Health Affiliation need to apply by the Early Action deadline of 11/1. Presidential Scholarship applicants must apply by 12/1.

Villanova labThe university offers majors in 4 undergraduate divisions:

  • Nursing: (last year, they got 1,046 applications for 90 spots)
  • Engineering: (last year, they got 2549 applications for 270 spots)
    • They only offer 5 undergraduate majors, but they get more specialized at the graduate level. Qualified students can do a 4+1 bachelor’s/master’s program.
    • They offer a couple interesting minors including entrepreneurship and biomed.
    • The department is ranked nationally in the top 15. Students take 1 semester of multi-disciplinary work, then declare their track during 2nd They do a lot of flipped classes: they’ll watch lectures for homework and then do projects in class.
    • They run engineering-specific trips to places like Madagascar and Cambodia.
  • Villanova 1Business: (last year, they got 4697 applications for 405 spots. “It’s hard to come in through the back door. It’s highly selective,” said the rep)
    • In addition to the fairly typical majors found in most business schools, they offer 3 “co-majors” in Real Estate, International Business, or Business Analytics
  • Liberal Arts and Sciences: (last year, they got 8065 applications for 325 spots in Science and 580 in LA)

Fun fact: The sister of the Liberty Bell is on campus.

© 2016

Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College (visited 11/23/15)

~Swarthmore tower 1This is a physically impressive campus (stone buildings, a tower, an imposing main building on a hill) located less than 20 minutes outside of Philadelphia. I had wanted to visit for a long time since I’d already seen Haverford and Bryn Mawr, the other schools in the Tri-Co (3 College Consortium). Unfortunately, the students don’t seem to be as engaging as they are at many other schools I’ve visited.

~Swarthmore main

The main building on campus

Several students independently mentioned the “Swarthmore Bubble.” There doesn’t seem to be much need or desire to leave campus, and it shows in their attitudes: no one seemed excited to get to know anyone or take advantage of opportunities beyond the campus boarders, even though the town is nice and a SEPTA train stop is literally on campus, making travel about as easy as it gets. “We go into Philly for a specific purpose. It’s not like we say ‘Hey, we’re bored, let’s go to Philly. It’s a supplement not the core of social life.” One student is part of the Tri-Co dance group so she practices on other campuses, and she has gone to hear speakers. None of the students I spoke to took advantage of other campus for class or anything else. Swarthmore is the most distant of the 3 schools – about 25 minutes away – but that’s certainly not prohibitive. I did see a Bryn Mawr van on campus dropping off students.

~Swarthmore walkwaySwatties are very smart and want an academically intense program. Almost 20% of alumni go on to complete PhDs (3rd highest in the country). Our tour guide said, “It’s intense. You have to do the work and understand it or people will know – but there’s no shortage of help around if you want it.” Tutors often have names that play on their discipline: math tutors are Pirates (they work with Pi) and physics tutors are Jedis (they work with the Force).

~Swarthmore stained glassDuring the info session, the rep said: “The question of whether or not you can do this has been answered. You’ve been admitted. Now ask about why you’re doing the work you’re doing.” Our tour guide said that one of the reasons she came here was because academics didn’t just stay in the classroom. People would continue discussions over meals and in the dorms. What they don’t discuss are grades. It’s very much like the other Tri-Co schools in this regard. They also have an honor code “which isn’t spelled out like at other places. We just do it.”

~Swarthmore peace sign 1During the first semester, classes are graded P/F “which allows you to figure out how to do laundry for the first time, make friends, etc. I took an engineering class, Modern Chinese Cinematography, an education class.” Students can and do see what grade they’re earning and don’t just do enough to get by. “They come in with the same curiosity and work ethic. The shadow grades help them understand what the expectations are.”

~Swarthmore 2Even after that semester, students have 4 more classes they can take P/F. The student speaking at the info session said, “It’s nice to know that I can calculate the structural integrity of oak vs. steal, but it didn’t have to affect my GPA.” The tour guide said that they can decide fairly late in the semester if they want the class to be P/F.

~Swarthmore archDistribution requirements are fairly flexible: 3 classes each in Humanities, Social Sciences, and Physical/Natural Sciences, a foreign language, 3 writing intensive classes (taken in any discipline), and 4 credits of PE (completed through classes or outside things like an athletic club such as swing dancing).

This is one of a few Liberal Arts colleges that has its own BSE degree (not a 3+2 program), and students don’t have to declare their major in engineering early. They can come in and test it out. Even within this program, things are somewhat interdisciplinary. For example, there’s a class call Food Engineering that’s cross-registered with biology.

Swarthmore ampitheater 1

The Ampitheater where graduation is held

The Honors Program is more like an external exam program and just a different way to study. It’s something that students decide to do while they’re here rather than a program they apply to get into. The GPA requirements differ by major, and if they do an Honors major, they also have to do an Honors minor. About 1/3 of students will take part in it, and it’s so integrated into the rest of the system that people often have no idea who is doing it unless they happen to mention it. Seminars have about 8-10 students focusing on inquiry and discussion, and they bring in someone else to write the exam as well as conduct the oral exam.

Swarthmore Sci lounge

Science lounge

In addition to the usual internships (and there are stipends available for unpaid internships), students can complete externship where they’re matched with an alum to shadow (and often live with) for a week or so. One student will be externing at the EPA this winter to learn more about policy. The rep said, “This is a great opportunity to confirm what they think about their career goals – or to let them reassess. College is a great place to push the reset button.”

~Swarthmore dorm2 2

Some of the dorms

Almost all students (98%) live on campus all 4 years. All years and majors are mixed throughout the dorms. The 2nd and 3rd floors of the main building (also home to administrative offices and admissions) are dorms. A student said, “I lived in this building my first year, and I actually met with Deans in my PJs. It’s pretty informal here.” Food does NOT get good marks from the kids. When we first asked, the tour guide paused, and then said, “Let’s wait until we get outside.” She is not impressed – and I overheard another tour guide telling his group that he wasn’t thrilled with it, either.

~Swarthmore dining hall

A section of the dining hall

In admissions, “we see the well-rounded and the well-lopsided kids.” They do not take the writing section of either exam and do not require SAT 2 but will consider them if submitted. Students thinking about engineering should do the Math 2 exam. They allow for interviews but don’t require them. The “Why Swarthmore” question is really important given their academic rigor and different approach to academics: “We don’t want to hear about our great faculty, our pretty campus, or that we have your major. You should be able to identify things that made it stand out and how you can see yourself there for 4 years.”

© 2015

UC San Diego

UC SAN DIEGO (Visited 7/18/15)

~UCSD 1UCSD is clearly doing something right: they boast a 94% freshman to sophomore retention rate, and the average time to graduation is 4.3 years. Students who are engaged in their own learning and are ok making their own way will do very well here.

UCSD library walk

LIbrary Walk; you can just see the Geisel Library in the background.

Campus is sprawling and not-quite-attractive, located only a couple miles from the beach. Architecture is mixed: old and new, concrete and wood. The Library Walk is the campus’ main artery. “During the school year, this place is packed. Clubs try to sign you up. Students are everywhere.” Geisel Library (on one end of the walk – the Med library is on the other end) is the most impressive structure we saw (I would have gotten a picture except it was pouring!). It was named for Dr. Seuss who lived in La Jolla. His widow donated many of his things to the university. Many trees on campus look like the Lorax.


A residential area

Much of the tour focused on housing. They have a 6-college system based on Oxford, and it’s supposedly the only other university with the same system. At first this seemed wrong but they didn’t explain it well: both the admissions rep at the info session and the tour guide made them sound like residential colleges at many other schools. I walked away without knowing what made them different. I went to their website to figure it out.


Another residential area

These colleges (like residential colleges at other large schools) make this 24,000 undergraduate institution seem smaller. Students rank the colleges in order of interest. “It’s like Harry Potter. You get accepted into Hogwarts and then get split into living areas later.” What makes the colleges different are the themes, philosophy, and general education requirements based on where they live. “You should consider the college’s philosophy and the architecture when deciding where to live.” The tour guide was stuck on the architecture but none of the 3 colleges walked through were all that different. We didn’t go into any rooms – or even any of the buildings – because of the supposed differences.

~UCSD 10

Engineering building

The most significant difference is the general education requirements. This gives students some control over how and what they study.

~UCSD mascot


Housing is guaranteed for 2 years for freshmen and 1 year for transfers. There are singles, doubles, and triples in most colleges. Finding off-campus housing is relatively easy with websites such as a Facebook page to help find potential roommates, apartment-shares, etc. Shuttles to popular off-campus housing areas run about every 15 minutes, and students can use public transportation on the weekends with student ID. The campus loop shuttles run about every 20 minutes.

~UCSD Residential areaAdmissions is competitive; approximately 1/3 of the 78,000+ applicants are admitted. They look at only 10th and 11th grade weighted GPA; if a high school doesn’t weight, UCSD will weight it with a cap of 8 AP or honors classes given the boost. Testing must be completed by December. This was one of the first schools I’ve heard that talked up summer programs while discussing activities. Scholarships are few and far between (only about 200).

~UCSD 6The student body is about 81% in-state. There are no quotas; the rep said that admissions generally reflected the application pool. The UC application – and test scores (“Don’t waste your money by sending them to more than one,” said the rep) – can be viewed by all UC schools to which the student applies, but be aware of any supplements required by some campuses – and yes, the $70 fee must be paid for each application!

Students are admitted to the university, not to a major. Currently, engineering is the only impacted major. Students may get accepted to UCSD but cut from engineering. “If you want engineering, aim for higher than the averages.” Switching majors is easy to do except into engineering: “Don’t make it your first choice plan,” said the rep.

~UCSD grafiti art park

Graffiti Art Park

Introductory classes can have up to 400 students. The tour guide put a positive spin on it: “It gives you something to say later in classes of 5. Otherwise, those small classes would be too intimidating.” Her largest classes did hit the 400 mark with discussion sections of 25 and labs of 40-50. Her smallest class has been 5, “but I’m in a pretty small major.” TAs rarely teach classes except in the summer, but they will have TAs for discussion sections, labs, etc. The tour guide said that the exception of this would be when “they’re the most qualified, like the woman teaching the forensic science class who had worked in the LA coroner’s office.”

There’s a Pass system for registering for classes: students are ranked according to their earned credits. Students can then register for 2 classes per “pass” – everyone can register for 2 before the first group gets their 2nd Pass and can register for 2 more.

Students who are struggling can buy lecture notes for about $30 a semester. The notes are taken by student who has already earned a B+ or better in class, and are then looked over by the professor. The guide also really pushed office hours. Professors are only required to have 1 hour a week of office hours; having attended a college where professors had 4 or 5 hours a week, this seemed light.

Some of their more unique majors include: Urban Studies and Planning, Nanotechnology and NanoEngineering, Math – Scientific Computation, Bioinformatics, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, and Literatures of the World.

I didn’t get a good sense of social life on campus other than getting the normal run-down of clubs and that each college holds social events. Greek life apparently isn’t huge, but the tour guide wasn’t able to answer questions other than to say that the Social Greeks are not as big as the Academic Greeks.

(c) 2015

Marquette University

MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY (visited 4/14/15)

~Marquette quad 1This is the only school I’ve visited that let us into their Cadaver Lab which was much bigger than I imagined; I thought it would look more like an autopsy room with maybe 2 or 3 bodies – instead, there were probably 25 or 30 stations, most with groups of 4-6 students surrounding it working diligently.

~Marquette sim lab

One of the Nursing sim labs

Not surprisingly, Health Sciences are strong here. Students admitted into these programs average a 28.6 ACT and have a strong science background. Calculus isn’t necessarily required since programs tend more towards the statistical side.

~Marquette engo 6

An Engineering lab

When applying to Marquette, students indicate their 1st and 2nd choice COLLEGE. Students are admitted to the college, not a particular major with the exception of Nursing and Athletic Training. Generally, indicating 2 colleges allows Admissions to consider applicants for 2 places. However, since students cannot transfer into Nursing as sophomores, they’ll only be considered for that even if they list a 2nd choice college.

Colleges and special majors include:

  • Arts and Sciences
    • Unusual majors: Computational Mathematics, Social Welfare and Justice, and Physiological Sciences
    • Students an do an art minor with Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design!
  • ~Marquette edu cntr

    The Education Center


    • Elementary Ed students major in a subject area AND education. They have a full teaching area that looks like an elementary school with rugs, books, etc. Upper level students run reading labs and have clients all semester.
  • Communications
  • Health Sciences
    • Doctor of Physical Therapy: Students can do a 6-year combined degree by majoring in anything but Education or Engineering and then jumping into the graduate degree. They receive about 1400 applications for an enrollment of 62.
    • Physician Assistant: they get about 900 apps and accept 14. Students apply after their first year; if admitted, they can finish in 5 years instead of 7. Exercise Physiology or Athletic Training majors work well with the PT program but students can major in almost anything.
  • Business
    • This is the first university to offer Business Ethics
    • Applied Investment Management Program. Students invest real money and must present the outcomes to the Board of Trustees at the end of the year.
    • 75% pass the exam the first time (national average is 40%). Students must intern during the summer between Jr and Sr years.
  • ~Marquette engo 5

    One of the Material testing labs in the Engineering Building.

    Engineering: This program is 4 years old; facilities are top-notch! We talked to students who were building easily foldable/portable children’s walkers for use on playgrounds and will easily go over wood chips and grass. There was a local need for this, so students were designing, building, and donating several of these.

  • Nursing: Nursing is highly selective: 100/1800 applicants are admitted.
    • Students go on mandatory spirituality retreats, “but not JESUIT retreats!” said the Dean. They want students to grapple with larger issues starting with “Who are you?” to issues of life, death, and dying – from whatever religion (or no religion) a student is coming from.
    • Marquette statueUnlike many nursing programs, study can study abroad on a few programs include maternal health in Peru, partnership with SLU.
    • The Simulation lab like a professional area. Everyone in there is in uniform and treats it like a job.
~Marquette sculpture

One of the sculptures on campus

Milwaukee is a great college city with the country’s 6th largest student population per capita. Marquette is integrated into downtown. Students have a wealth of cultural and job opportunities at their fingertips. The Courthouse and an Art Museum are each a block away, both of which provide internships – as do places like National Mutual and other businesses. There are several theaters, and free concerts happen regularly in Cathedral Square. Milwaukee hosts a 10-day Summer Fest, the largest music festival in the country. The stadium is a few blocks away, as is River Walk, a walking/jogging path. The Old Warehouse District has been revitalized with pubs, stores, and restaurants. Students can ride city public transit for free while school is in session. When (if!) students get bored in Milwaukee, the Amtrak station is 7 blocks from campus, making it easy to get into Chicago (1.5 hours away).

~Marquette union extMarquette is one of 18 Jesuit universities in the US. Jesuit schools share a educational philosophy of using knowledge and service to make the world better. Rooted in the Liberal Arts, they stress critical thinking and teach their students HOW to think, not WHAT to think. Approximately 60% of Marquette students self-identify as Roman Catholic; others represent a range of religious diversity.

~Marquette chapel 2

Chapel of St. Joan of Arc

The Chapel of St. Joan of Arc is on campus. Built in the 1500s, it was dismantled and brought to Long Island from France in the 1920s. In the early 1960s, it was given to Marquette. Masses are still held here. Although we didn’t get to go inside to check this out for ourselves, the tour guide told us that there’s one spot near the altar that’s always a couple degrees colder than the rest of the building. Science students have done experiments to try to figure out why.

~Marquette streetStudents are serious about their education but are also active outside the classroom. People need to want to be involved. Greek life is there, but not huge (about 15% of students affiliate). There’s some Greek housing but it’s small. The theater department puts on 5 big shows a year. “Late Night Marquette” got mentioned a couple times by students where they’ll have a chocolate theme, a casino night, and other things like that.

~Marquette jarsSome University-wide special programs include:

  • ROTC: Marquette is the host institution for all 3 branches for students in Milwaukee.
  • Honors: They’re looking to grow this. They currently get about 400 apps for 100 spots; the application is due by 2/1 and requires several essays. Honors students take small core classes with other Honors students, meant to bring together as a group. After that, they can contract with professors to make any class as an Honors class.
  • Study Abroad: If Marquette doesn’t have a program a student wants, they have the option of going through Loyola in Chicago.
~Marquette dorms

Some of the dorms

Almost all freshmen and about half of all students live on campus; a new residence hall is opening in the fall. There’s a variety of housing types ranging from singles to quads; many triples and quads have their own bathrooms. Students can live in suite styles as a freshmen. One student said that dorms are “good, not great” and large. Honors Housing is in a “Tower” with lake views – some of the best housing around. “Food is good. There are options in different dining halls like Italian, 50s diner, traditional buffet.” Students can eat in any of the dozen or so spots on campus with their meal cards.

© 2015

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

Texas Christian University

Texas Christian University (visited 3/3/15)

~TCU main sign~TCU flowersOne of the big question a lot of us on the Counselor tour had was, how Christian is TCU? The general consensus was: as much as you want it to be. The school is insistent that students figure it out for themselves and be respectful of others. “We have really interesting conversations about God,” said one of the tour guides. Students are required to complete 1 theology class as part of their distribution requirements, but the choices range from Religion in the Arts to The Afterlife in Roman/Greek Traditions (taught by a German professor). One student on the panel wishes that the university were more Christian. “It’s in the name; no one is hiding that it’s part of who we are, but there’s 1 cross on campus. I’ve actively looked.”

~TCU main quad~TCU fountainThe campus is attractive with nice architecture and wonderful landscaping; daffodils were already popping up in early March, despite the chilly weather and dreary skies. Many of the buildings are made of yellow brick, and they’re making an effort to keep consistent to the general feeling as new construction goes up. The campus is located in Fort Worth, a city described by a student as a “booming suburbia.” It has a definite residential, family feel; students and younger professionals tend to like living here. “Dallas feels more business-like than here,” said one professors. Students can take easy advantage of the city with free bus rides with their TCU ID; they also have access to bike shares. However, there’s lots to do directly off campus, as well. Students get discounts at many places in town including free lunches at some places on Fridays. 35 places off-campus will take Flex Bucks.

~TCU dorm hallway

A dorm hallway

TCU has a two-year residency requirement but currently can’t meet demand for juniors and seniors. However, they’re committed to rectifying that and are building a new res hall per year for a decade; 4 new ones are up already. Students are happy that they’re working on the residential issues.

~TCU plaza 2Greek life is a huge part of campus life with almost half of students affiliating (it’s a higher percentage of women than men affiliating – about 55% and 40% respectively – which almost matches up with the general gender mix on campus). One student wishes that she knew how much Greek life was part of campus before she came here. She said that sometimes it feels like much more than half of the students belong to one of the Greek organizations. There is a bit of Greek housing, but many end up living together in regular dorms.

~TCU studentsStudents love the academics here, but “you need to want to learn. They can facilitate the learning, but can’t do it for you.” Favorite classes include:

  • Literature and Civilization: they spoke with a woman from Rwanda
  • Speech Pathology (she’s had her own clients for 2 years now).

~TCU main bldgAs with any university, there are a number of colleges to choose from including:

  • Business
  • Liberal Arts (notable programs: Geography, Criminal Justice, and Hispanic Studies). Students wanting to take classes in Aerospace Studies or Military Science can do so through the Air Force or Army ROTC (respectively).
  • Communications including Communication Studies, Film-TV-Digital Media, and Journalism.
  • Fine Arts: Art, Dance, Music, Theater, Interior Design and Merchandising, and Arts Administration
  • Education
  • Science and Engineering including Physics and Astronomy, Engineering, Computer Science, and the School of Geology, Energy, and the Environment.
  • TCU Honors volleyball

    Sand Volleyball Court

    The Honors College provides small classes and specialized housing (complete with a sand volleyball court!). Honors students have the opportunity to attend a special orientation and have access to Honors Study Abroad trips.~TCU mascot

~TCU mascot statue

Football stadium

Football stadium

Sports are a big deal here. Super Frog the Horned Frog is the beloved mascot (and listed in the top-10 weirdest mascots!); students rub the nose of the Horned Frog statue for luck before exams, and the university even owns a real horned frog. It’s housed at the FW Zoo because it’s an endangered species. TCU’s teams are DI; in addition to the common teams, there are women’s Equestrian and Rifle teams, and men’s DIA football. TCU ranks #1 in the country for attendance at women’s soccer and men’s baseball games. Their big rival is Baylor. Intramurals and club sports are a big part of life on campus, as well. They offer bowling, ice hockey, gymnastics, rugby, and water polo in addition to many other sports. There’s even an outdoor pool with kayaks and canoes available for students.

© 2015

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