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Catholic University of America

The Catholic University of America (visited 9/13/16)

cua-5“I assumed it was going to be really, really Catholic here, but after I enrolled I learned that it’s as Catholic as you want it to be. I was committed to another school before I came here, but it’s really friendly. It’s why I came,” said one of the students I spoke with. Religion is there if you want it. Attendance is never required at any of the daily masses, but students do have to take 3-4 theology classes.

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The Basilica

CUA is the only Papal Charter school in the US. The National Basilica borders campus (and although it gets used quite a bit by students and the university, it is not university-owned or on university property). A vast majority (80% or more) of students are Catholic. The student population is 65% white and 55% female. They have a fairly sizable Hispanic population. Other forms of diversity were harder to figure out. I couldn’t get statistics on socio-economic diversity, and when I asked about groups for LGBTQ students, I was told, “there are some unrecognized (unofficial) groups. We’re accepting but we stick close to the message and mission of the church,” the rep told me.

CUA sits in Brookland which is DC’s “Little Rome.” The neighborhood has gone through quite a bit of change in the last several years, with more stores, apartments, etc going up. The Red Line Brookland stop gives students easy access to anything in DC and beyond; they’re only 3 stops to Union Station (Amtrak).

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The student center

Freshmen are all assigned to Learning Communities for their First Year Experience; they take 2 classes each semester as a cohort in order to build camaraderie. Generally they take English and Philosophy (classical) in the first semester, then another philosophy (more contemporary) and theology in the second semester. “The theology class is more like a well-rounded view, teaching what different groups believe. It’s really cool and different from the Catholic school taught us,” said one student who was had gone to Catholic schools her whole life.

Things that surprised the students I spoke to were:

  • Every night, there’s something to do. There are so many events. Trips are offered every Saturday: this weekend we went to Annapolis. There’s ice skating, Nats games, $5 Broadway plays, pumpkin patches, they’ll rent out a movie theater so we saw Mockingjay for $5, Six Flags. Even on weekdays, they’re always catering events, clubs will run things, whatever. You can’t get bored here.
  • Campus is big enough to meet new people but I’ll still always see people I know. People are always talking to each other; it’s impossible to keep to yourself here.

cua-2The classes they’ve liked the best are:

  • Media and Rhetoric: The prof met with me on a Sunday after Odyssey day (admitted student day). Once I was here, he was always checking in on how I was transitioning, etc. It was nice that someone was looking out for me. I’m now minoring in Political Rhetoric: when and how we say things, not just what we say. He’s the connection to my internship doing digital marketing strategizing.
  • Intro to Am. Government: My prof used examples from DC and we’d go to monuments or historical places to connect what we were learning. It helped put all the pieces together.
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Part of the Architecture studios; all students get their own work space

Politics is the largest major with a lot of sub-categories under that (including Political Rhetoric). They also have other amazing, unusual programs including:

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The Law School Lawn

There’s plenty to do on campus, including 21 DIII sports. Football, basketball, women’s lax, and FH pull in the most fans. The Law School Lawn is a popular spot for concerts, other activities, and informal gatherings. There’s a parking lot under the lawn, “another way we go green and make the most of space,” said the tour guide. Juniors and Seniors can bring cars, but it’s almost prohibitively expensive to park. Between that and the metro stop on the edge of campus, there’s not really any reason to have a car. It’s easy to get off campus when they want to branch out: “There are SO many opportunities in DC!” said all the students I spoke to. Students like both the academic and social opportunities ranging from internships to free museums to concerts at Verizon Center (and plenty other places!).

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One of the dorm quads

Freshmen and sophomores must live on campus unless they live at home within 25 miles. After that, they can stay but housing is not guaranteed. In addition to traditional RAs, all dorms have a Resident Minister, a position held by a student to facilitate spiritual and religious activities. One of the students would like the university to spend money on Upperclassman housing/apartments. There are currently 2 suite-style dorms for upperclassmen but there should be more. However, they did just put in a new 504-bed res hall on the north side of campus. There’s also a new student center and new student lounge.

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The Music School

Other expansions on campus include changes in the undergrad divisions. Theology, business, and social work had been departments but are now schools in their own rights. The school also has recently received a $27M donation to name the business school and got a grant from NASA “somewhere north of $15M” to do research.

CUA only takes the Common Application. Big cross-over schools tend to be Loyola, St. Joe’s, American, GW, College Park, Scranton, and UDel, Admissions is Test-optional but they will take them if submitted. They un-weight GPAs to a strict 4.0, and will also rank the class strength at their own high school; that gets factored into admission and scholarships. In addition to normal sorts of academic scholarships, there are special ones for Catholic and Legacy students.

© 2016

Albright College

Albright College (visited 11/19/14)

One of the most distinctive parts of Albright is their “co-major” program. Rather than simply designing their own major, students can link 2 half-majors to create a new one. Each major has a designated “co-major” track with 7 required classes; unlike completing an entire major, there is no flexibility in those classes.

Arts Building

Arts Building

The arts are huge here; the college was named in the top 25 nationally for artistic students. Non-majors still get involved in improv, a cappella, music, and acting. “You have to earn your spot at the table,” said a Theater Professor. “If you’re a freshman and you’re the best choice for the role, you get it over the senior. We have bio majors getting parts over theater majors. There’s no free ride.” One of the theatre majors said she picked Albright because of what she could do. She said this wasn’t a snooty place, unlike other places she toured. “I don’t care who went there; I care what I’m going to get to do. No one is working with that famous pop star so it doesn’t matter.”

~Albright trad campus

The more traditional looking part of the campus

Students come up with project ideas and pitch them to faculty. The common response is, “What are you waiting for? Get to work!” A student on the panel is spearheading an initiative to turn a dorm court into an artistic community. There’s an unused space in the basement that they’re going to use as a theater space, prop storage, etc. They’d also like to create a student gallery. “The first student open mic session is going on this weekend.

~ Albright quadStudents have to attend at least 16 cultural activities to graduate. “They mean it,” said a professor. “We had a student not get his diploma for 6 years because he had only done 13 and dragged his feet doing the last 3.” About 90 options are available each semester ranging from speakers, student theatrical or musical performances, and Broadway shows that the school will take students to for free.

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Science Building

Although there’s a wide range of artistic majors and minors including Arts Administration; Digital Media, Studio Art, and Video Arts; and Fashion (including Costume Design), there are also many liberal arts majors to choose from. Some unusual majors and minors include: Psychobiology (with concentrations in Behavioral or Molecular Psychobio), Optical Physics, Music Business (complete with their own Record Label!), Environmental Chemistry, Holocaust Studies (minor), and Game and Simulation Development.

Favorite classes of the panelists include:

  • ~ Albright chairPost-Modern Theater
  • English Comp: “It wasn’t just grammar. It taught us to use English to our advantage in the professional world and how language is used to sway thinking.”
  • Drama Through the Past: “We broke down into production teams and had to dramatize a passage.”
  • Mean Girls: they looked at Mean Girls in literature to figure out why they act that way
  • Hitchcock
  • A First Year Seminar on Dionysus

The smallest classes run in the single digits: the panelists’ smallest classes were: 6 in a theater class (as a freshman!), 1-on-1 vocal lessons, 7 in Advanced Acting, and 8 in a business class. Largest classes tend to be Gen Ed (28 in English, 30-ish in others. The largest class on campus is Intro to Bio which hovers around 80 with labs at 20).

~Albright main road

One of the buildings along the main road through campus

The school offers an optional 3-week January term; about 2/3 of students take advantage of it. They may attend every year but only get credit for two years. Classes run about 3.5 hours a day and tend to be collaborative or have a travel component. Someone just donated property in Costa Rican to the college; that will be used for some of these classes. Often, student use this time for ACRE (Albright Collaborative Research Experience). 15-20 students each year get a $3600 stipend with occasional more help to travel to conferences.

~Albright busi computer

A computer in the new business center that can retract into the table.

Campus has two distinct parts: we started our tour at the new Business Center with state-of-the-art technology and innovative classroom layouts, including computers that “emerge” from the table-tops. That building (and many others) sits on a main street; we first thought that there was no “traditional campus” section so we were pleasantly surprised with the second section. One of the original buildings in this part of campus is supposedly haunted; they’ve had ghost-hunting tours in there. There’s a very small “pond”; a big tradition is getting “ponded” on your birthday. Someone was thrown in the night before we toured, even though it was hovering around freezing.

~Albright haunted 1

The “Haunted Building”

Students are happy with the dorms. Rooms come with a fridge and microwave, but there are only 6 washers and dryers for a couple hundred kids. “It’s a rule that you don’t mess with someone else’s laundry. If it’s been in the washer for more than 15 minutes, you can move it to a drier, but don’t turn it on. I almost never had to wait for machines, though,” said the tour guide

All students can bring a car; registration costs $15 a year. There are plenty of parking lots, “but a lot of people park on the streets around campus – you should learn to parallel park!” There’s some stuff to do within walking distances (pizza and Chinese food got several mentions) and plenty of shuttles: “There’s Target Tuesday, Walmart Wednesday, Theater Thursday…”. Day trips are common to Philly (1 hour), NYC and Baltimore (2 hours), and DC (3 hours).

~ Albright quad 318% of women and 12% of men affiliate with a Greek organization. Students rush 2nd semester and must have a 2.5 GPA. Hazing is taken seriously. “Last year, there was a suspicion of hazing, and that fraternity was banned from activities for a year,” said the tour guide.

~Albright mascot

Mascot!

There’s lots of school pride. Basketball is a huge deal; Alvernia is their big rival. Football also draws a lot of fans. Intramurals are popular, particularly softball and rugby.

Only 3% of the students are international representing several countries. The school just dedicated an area near their main entrance to fly each country’s flag. During the dedication ceremony, students raised the flags as their anthems played. International students need to submit TOEFL scores; they’re looking for a 68+ and offer ESOL summer classes if students need to improve.

Applicants can submit a graded paper (teacher comments are important!) in lieu of the essay but can’t use the Common App if they choose to do this. If they use the Common App, they can submit the graded paper as an additional essay through the “other” upload. Albright is test optional, but students must interview if they take this option (skype is fine). They’re considered for the same merit scholarships. The Admissions Rep recommends that if students they fall at or above the mid 50%, submit the scores.

© 2014

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