University of Iowa (visited 12/5/19)
“If you’re interested in health sciences or STEM, this place is a gold mine,” said one student – but Iowa is well-known for many other things, including their Honors and Writing programs. Named in the Top 5% of public universities, Iowa is one of the smallest Big 10 schools. Campus is highly walkable and split by the Iowa River. West Campus has mostly the medical complex, athletics, graduate programs, and a few underclassmen res halls. East campus has most of the undergraduate programs and res halls. Iowa City is an amazing college town with a lot going on (and Cedar Rapids, the 2nd largest city in Iowa, is 25 minutes up the road). You just can’t go wrong here!
Iowa City has been ranked the #1 College Town; 70 restaurants, cafes, bookstores, etc are alumni owned! It speaks volumes for the town (people want to stay) and town-gown relations. The town and university grew up together in the mid 1800s. “When you’re thinking about a university, you should be thinking about the town as well,” said the tour guide, and there are lots of places to go directly off campus, and 3 bus systems (campus, city, and county) run along or through campus. There are enough students (24,00 undergrads/31,656 total) to almost make campus a city unto itself. The 4,800 first-year students participate in On Iowa!, the extensive orientation program which includes Target and Froyo runs, Kickoff at Kinnick stadium (with fireworks!), food crawls (sample foods around the city for free!), and more.
Cars are welcome, but not for getting around campus. “This is a very walk-able campus and city.” During the Honors College Presentation, the Director asked one of the students, “When do you have to leave for your 9:30 class?” She quickly said, “9:23” – and she wasn’t kidding! The middle of campus is the Pentacrest: “We’re cooler because we added the 5th side,” said a tour guide. The old Capital building (which had been the capital before it moved to Des Moines and is now a functioning museum) sit in the middle of the Pentacrest. It’s a defining building and a good landmark. The East Side res halls are about a 3-minute walk to the middle of campus where most of the academic buildings are located. It takes 6-10 minutes from the West Side halls. Most people do walk; the Campus Bus (with 18 routes) gets used more in the winter.
“As a college town, this is a more liberal community, but go 20 minutes south, and it’s super conservative,” said one of the reps. “Adult-wise, we’re more liberal. Students seem to have a better balance politically.” This is also one of the most racially diverse cities in the state. “When I was a student here, there weren’t a ton of other people with my skin color, but I’ve always felt safe and comfortable here. Even my father said he was ok leaving me here for 4 years. I’m raising biracial children here and it’s fine.” There’s a huge LGBTQ community which gets plenty of support: in fact, Iowa was the first campus to have an organization. “It can be a transition from a cultural standpoint if students are coming from a heavily Hispanic or black high school, but it’s ok. There are communities,” said another rep. There are cultural houses (there’s lots of food there), events open to all, and groups which tend to be some of the most popular on campus. The university is even adding some transportation options to get them home on weekends and breaks.
They have an impressive Honors Program with lots of facilities ranging from a separate dorm to a building with lounges, libraries, and more. The only thing students need to do is apply to Iowa. After being admitted, students are eligible to apply to Honors via the application on the Honors or Admissions website. There’s no GPA or score threshold; “We don’t have a checklist we’re ticking off.” Just over 90% of those who completed the application last year were admitted. The students who take the time to do this are striking students. “If you look like qualified Honors students, we’re going to admit you.” The total number ranges from 10-15% of a class. “Right now, it’s hovering around 12%.” There are essays involved. “Have fun with the prompt!” said the program director. “We want a peek into who you are based on the essay – and yes, it’s different from the other essay on your application. Think about how you want to introduce yourself to us. Be selfish. Be yourself. If you’re funny, be funny. If you aren’t, don’t force it! If you like research, show that off. If you don’t … maybe you don’t want to go to college.”
They have both honors within majors AND an Honors Program – students can do either or both. To graduate with University Honors, they need 12+ Honors credits and 12+ experiential learning credits. “Experiential learning is a trendy phrase, but it’s vague.” There’s no limit to the number of classes, and students can also turn anything into an Honors class with a contract with the professor. Joining Honors right out of high school isn’t your last chance – if you regret not joining, you can apply once here. However, there are 3 opportunities that are only available in the 1st semester: “there’s no getting these back if you join later.”
- Students can participate in the 1-credit, 4-day Prime Time program in August before classes start. They get 1 credit. “Parents love it because we avoided all the traffic.” They select top 3 areas of interest and can do some research. Varsity athletes and members of marching band will have conflicts with this.
- Honors-only First-Year Seminar, often led by professors rather than TAs. “In Honors Classes, you learn more and have fun. It doesn’t feel like more work. It’s not accelerated. College is already hard!” Once student chose Volcanoes because it was totally different from her majors.
- Living in the Honors Res Hall (there’s space for 350 students). “You can only live there right out of high school. Plenty of people DON’T live there and are perfectly happy; it’s just one option.”
Over 95% of first-year students live on campus, but it is not required. There are no designated first-year housing. Students must apply to housing with a $75 non-refundable (but also non-committal) fee; it just secures your spot in line. There are LLC options and huge Greek Houses, some of which are located up to a mile off campus; I passed several driving into campus. There were multiple houses overlooking the Iowa River, not a bad place to spend a few years!
Campus food is some of the absolute best I’ve ever had in a dining hall; the rep said that faculty and staff often eat there because it’s so good! The counselors ate with 3 reps, and we were there at a busy lunch time, but we had a very short wait for food. The stations are well set-up and staffed, and there are plenty of tables for students. They had a spectacular noodle bar with choices of ramen, rice, and udon noodles with multiple vegetables, meats, and sauces to choose from. The coconut red curry sauce was spectacular! Students said that the River Room at the hotel is the best place to use their meal plan. “They alternate between pasta and stir-fry bars.”
Admission decisions are based on the Regent Admission Index (RAI) Scale: (3xACT composite) + (30xCumulative GPA) + (5 x number of years of HS courses completed in the core subject areas). Different colleges have different requirements. “Always know which one you are applying to!” A&S is the easiest. Students must apply before 3/1 for scholarship consideration; “this is a hard deadline.” The priority deadline for need-based aid is 12/1.
There’s no shortage of academic offerings. Students say that they’re challenged (a popular tradition is to rub the “Brain Rock” sculpture for good luck before exams), and they can work in any interest they have. Business and education are competitive; Pharmacy and nursing are most competitive.
In Business, “if they meet the 2.7 GPA in the pre-reqs, they’re in. There’s no cap on seats,” said the rep. They offer fairly standard majors with the addition of Business Analytics. There are also multiple dual degrees, including one with Engineering (this typically takes 5 years) and a 3+3 BBA/JD.
- Nursing has 2 cohorts:
- Direct Entry nursing has 80 spots; students have to apply ED for this program, requiring 2 separate essays. “It’s the only ED program we offer.” Applicants need 28 ACT and 3.8 GPA plus physics and 2 years of a language.
- Non-direct entry Nursing adds 1 semester. “Sometimes this is good because it takes the pressure off. They might have room to study abroad or do other things.”
- They have multiple certificate programs in unusual areas such as Disability Studies, Resilience and Trauma-Informed Perspectives, Native American and Indigenous Studies, Event Management, Political Risk Analysis, Critical Cultural Competence, and Media Entrepreneurialism.
There’s plenty to do on campus. They field 24 Varsity (Big 10) teams which bring out a lot of fans. Most games are free, but basketball is $70 and football costs about $150 for season tickets. “Volleyball gives the best t-shirts,” said a tour guide. There’s a movie theater on campus, and the ‘Leisure Pool’ (“we’re not allowed to call it a lazy river,” said one of the tour guides) has a rock-climbing wall on the side, a gigantic screen for movies/tv shows, and a hot tub (students will laminate their notes and bring them as they watch ‘The Bachelor/ Bachelorette.”) Students will play Canoe Battleship in the main pool: “picture 3 students in a canoe armed with buckets, all trying to sink the other people first.”