University of Utah (visited 9/27/18)
Fun fact: This was founded in 1850 (46 years before Utah became a state) as University of the Desert, making it the oldest one west of the Mississippi. Also, it’s on Buzzfeed’s 2017 “Most Beautiful Campus in Every State”list.
The U (how it’s referred to locally) provides a great mix of outdoorsy and urban. “We provide a Big School experience (including sports) in a big city with the added benefit of access to an excellent academic experience,” said a rep. Located in Salt Lake City, there’s a vibrant campus life with easy access to a growing urban center. Students get free public transportation, and there’s a Trax stop on campus. Students take advantage of academic and extracurricular exploration outside the classroom. “Everything you want is here and easily accessible.” The Wasatch mountains provide excellent hiking, biking, and skiing. One student we talked to came here specifically for the skiing.
We talked to several students who all described the campus as friendly; the willingness of several students to talk to us as we wandered through the quads and the farmer’s market definitely proved that they’re happy with the school and are outgoing. “The community is inclusive but it’s not as diverse as I’d like, but not every place can be a melting pot,” said an African-American junior from Long Island who came because of the speed-skating of all things! “Speed Skating is a club sport. They definitely work with us.”
This is a major Tier 1 Research institution offering one of the best arrays of academic colleges I’ve seen, grouping many in interdisciplinary ways:
- College of Architecture and Planning
- Architecture (3.0 GPA requirement; some students may be a direct admit),
- Cultural and Social Transformation with concentrations in Ethnic, Gender, or Disability Studies.
- Fine Arts (BFA): “We’re a great school for the arts. SLC is an artsy, hippy sort of place. We have Ballet West, orchestras, etc. We offer the best non-conservatory ballet experience if students want to pursue something else in addition.” They are currently ranked #2 program after Julliard.
- Strong Visual Design, film, and music because of the connection to downtown.
- Their Interdisciplinary programs are impressive:
- Entertainment Arts and Engineering (basically Video Game Design) ranks #1-3 depending on the year. “It used to be something you got bullied for; now you can get a degree. It’s collaborative and group oriented.” The Founders of PIXAR and Atari graduated from here.
- They offer a robust varsity eSports program with a League of Legends Scholarship.
- Interdisciplinary sciences include Genetic Counseling, Biological Chemistry, Environmental and Sustainability Studies, Molecular Biology, and Neuroscience.
- Mines and Earth Sciences includes Atmospheric Sciences, Geology and Geophysics, Metallurgic Engineering, and Mining Engineering.
- Nursing: Students have to apply separately for the Early Assurance Program; it’s fairly rigorous because of a limited number of spots. Admissions is mostly based off of HS GPA (most admits have at least a 3.7 unweighted). When they apply to the university, students select Pre-nursing.
- Engineering offers some direct entry, but most students come in, complete the pre-reqs, and apply. They offer unlimited spots as long as students meet the minimum GPA.
- The Business college “is really amazing,” said one of the students working a booth at the farmer’s market.
- Honors College: this provides a small Liberal Arts experience (fewer than 3,000 students total) within the university. Students take 2 Honors classes a year and must complete either a junior or senior thesis. They live in Honors housing a little more centrally located. There’s a social justice focus; students look at how to apply their major to the wider community. Students interested in applying must use the Utah-specific app (NOT Common App) by 11/1 and write the additional 500-word essay. The essay is a huge factor. “The number 1 we look for is the desire to be in the program by demonstrated by the essay. Show that they can benefit and want to take advantage of it. GPA and test scores will help, but it’s not only that.”
- “The Health Sciences are amazing here,” said one student. “There’s a hospital right on campus.”
Even with 24,000 undergrads, 65% classes have fewer than 30 students. “It’s nice to be in some of those lecture classes as a freshman so you don’t have to worry about being called on,” said one student working a booth on the quad. They have a 90% retention rate to sophomore year thanks to a few good programs. One is Block U which is an optional Gen Ed completion course. Students take a few courses throughout freshman year to finish requirements within a year. These are taught by specific professors, peer tutors, etc. “It’s good for undecided students, but lots of others do this too,” said a rep. Another is LEAP, their Academic Learning Communties. Students take courses with the same professors and students over the course of the year. This is more flexible than Block U because it’s only 1 course per semester and they can take other pre-reqs concurrently.
Students never have to live on campus, and housing is not guaranteed; they don’t have enough room. Just over half of freshmen (and 10% of all undergrads) live on campus. “We have a reputation of being a commuter school. It’s definitely been worse in the past. There are a lot of students who live right off campus in houses,” said a student. Usually, if students want housing and apply before the March deadline, they get it. Incoming students can apply for housing before they commit to the university; however, they’ll lose the $150 housing deposit if they decide not to attend Utah or not live on campus.
The Lessonde Entrepreneur Institute is a highly sought-after dorm/LLC with 4 themed residential floors (video game, entrepreneurial, etc). “There are large open spaces including lounges and kitchens. Students have to apply and write an essay to show how they’re entrepreneurs to get housing there,” Said the rep. The building has 20,000 sq ft of work space (design computers, metal working, meeting rooms, etc.) to promote creativity and free thinking. Anything created there remains the intellectual work of the students. A number of student inventions and business were created there such as outdoors stuff (portable tent and hammock). The space is open to all students, but the residents have access 24/7. “They’ve snagged Ivy-League students because they have all this attention and resources.”
Cost of attendance is higher than other Utah schools. Freshman should try to get applications in by 12/1 for automatic scholarship consideration. The FAFSA deadline is 2/1 but they encourage families to do it before the end of the calendar year. If students do know what they want to major in, they’re encouraged to look at the departmental websites for scholarships for incoming freshman. The U provides about 120 WUE scholarships, making it one of the most competitive; students cannot get in-state residency with the WUE. “61% of our students graduate without debt. Even those with debt, it’s lower than other PAC-12 peer institutions.”