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Berea College

Berea College (visited 9/25/19)

Berea 17“I flourished in ways that high-school me never could imagine. I felt like my voice mattered and that I belonged.” Berea is changing lives.

An admissions rep opened the counselor session by saying, “Let me tell you about the best kept secret in Kentucky. Lots of schools say they’re unique, but we walk the walk.” Berea targets students with the academic ability but not the financial resources for a college education. This is a 4-year liberal arts college with 1600 students, traditionally serving Appalachia (students from the region, stretching from Georgia to NY, represent just under 70% of the student body) but will serve any qualified student, including about 30 international students per year.

Berea garden 2No student pays tuition. “Financial Aid is different than most places. We have certain requirements that need to meet to be eligible for admission,” said a rep. As long as students’ EFCs make them eligible for a Pell Grant, they can be considered for admission. “If they don’t meet this, it’s a simple no and we’ll communicate that to the family.” There are few exceptions, including faculty children or those eligible for tuition exchanges at other institutions. Also, if students are eligible when they enter and later are no longer Pell Eligible, they are still a Berea student. They won’t have to leave, but they will have to pay more towards their education.

Berea fountain

Fountain with he school motto circling it

Berea’s No-Tuition promise is valued at more than $176,000 over 4 years. Students are asked to contribute towards housing and meals costs. On average, this comes out to about $600 per semester based on their EFC. Books and personal expenses can be covered through earnings in the labor (what they call Work-Study). “My family doesn’t have to get another job to support me, and I was given a job on campus, too. If I go to grad school, I won’t be carrying any loans. Berea is giving me opportunities now and after graduation that I wouldn’t have at another institution.” In 2018, 45% graduated with no debt. Loans are usually only taken out when they can’t come up with the EFC. “Those who incur debt have less than $6700.”

Berea 10Students fill sixty percent of campus positions in 120 departments through the labor program, that allows them to earn up to $2000 as freshmen; that rises as they get promoted. “It can teach you about what you do want – but also a lot about what you don’t!” First year students can’t choose their jobs but can submit a resume and preferences which influences where they’re placed. The goal is ultimately to find students work aligned with job aspirations or majors (allowing for a solid resume): accounting majors can work in the business office, for example.

Berea 12The College President uses the idea of bridging students through the college experience. It’s not enough to just get them into college. “There are multiple ways to set them up for success in the first year.”

  • “We don’t take anything for granted. There are lots of first-gen students here, and many don’t have other support. We put initial support in place before they arrive.” This includes:
    • Pre-Arrival Communication: “we lay the map out clearly before they arrive.”
    • Orientation Programs: online, summer connections, and a welcome week.
  • Berea 19They have a Coordinator of First-Year Programming/Family Engagement and a Family Outreach Coordinator.
  • Several teams implement first-year interventions as needed: intervention response team (talking about things that might jeopardize academic status), students of concern team (more behavioral disturbance), and academic progress. They make plans of action to see how can they help the student.
  • Academic Transition: this provides supplemental advising and programming. First year students are placed in classes in the fall, so they provide a program to teach them how to navigate registration in the spring. In the online orientation, they fill out a course-preference module that is unique to them based on their major and interests.

Berea 13There are multiple first-year high-touch, structural, intentional initiatives. Almost 75% of students participate in one of these (up from 18% in 2012). They want students to make meaningful connections. TAs are integrated into the programs. Someone is aware of the students’ presence, making sure they are known and their needs are met.

  • Berea Bridge is a summer program for 60 students on a lottery system (based on interest) to represent the bigger demographic. They enroll in 2 classes, work 6 hours a week in the labor program, participate in activities and team-building, and check in regularly with TAs and other staff. Transportation is paid for. “Some students cry because it’s so hard – but they usually come back and say their first semester is much easier. Retention of those students is over 90% to sophomore year and with higher GPAs.”
  • Berea 3Emerging Scholars Program does a pre-arrival orientation (transportation costs are covered) for 70 students. Students check in regularly with an Academic Coach, enroll in GST 101, complete activities and team-building outings. This targets students from distressed counties or inner cities but can accept anyone who is low-income and first-gen.
  • GST 101 (Strategies for Academic Success) The 200 students who opt to enroll receive hands-on support in navigating Berea, connecting with classmates who share the same transition experience, develop skills and strategies that support student success.
  • Male Retention Initiatives: Because males were persisting through college at lower rates, they created groups for African-Americans, Latinos, and those coming from distressed Appalachian counties. They take courses and seminars to help with transition, talk about identity, cultural understanding, masculinity; complete regular team-building and trips.
  • Summer Success Experience: 18 students who are at risk of being suspended during their first year are granted another opportunity. The program is a 7-week intensive, supportive, and structured program. Students take 2 classes, attend mandatory study Sun-Thurs, have regular check-ins with staff, and do extracurricular and team-building activities.

The earlier students apply, the better. They start making rolling decisions in November: about half the acceptances are out the door by Winter Break and almost all by early March. “If you wait until the final deadline, the chances of getting in are diminished significantly because the space just isn’t there.” New students only enter in the fall; there’s no spring transfer entry point. They bring in about 50 true transfer students every year, and they welcome transfer credit (including APs). “We’ll do what we can to make it work.” Students must submit the FAFSA as part of their application by 10/31 (priority) or 3/31 (final). They will always look at personal circumstances and use professional discretion if circumstances have changed.

Berea lab 2

Class going on in one of the labs in the new science building; the open concept allows people to see what’s going on from the atrium

Accepted students show a great deal of academic promise: generally, admitted students have a 3.5+ GPA, ACT/SAT of 23/1150+, and are in the top 20%. Averages for the most recent incoming class was 3.6 GPA and 25 ACT. Applicants should demonstrate that they are persistent and self-motivated, have grit, are service-minded, and fit with the labor program. This year, they secured some funds for some travel reimbursement for students to visit Berea; applicants can also stay on campus if traveling from a distance. One student toured campus with TRIO students. “It’s been an amazing journey to see different beliefs and cultures coming together. I was a bit concerned after working in dining services my first year. Now I work in first-year initiatives office. They were the best support. I thought dropping out was the only option my first year, but they got me through.”

Berea App center

The Appalachian Center

Campus is active; the want students engaged partly because they’re in a small town, but also because engaged students persist at higher rates. However, it’s understood that classes are set up on the schedule first, then labor commitment, then the student fills in the gaps. There is a complex web of support to help students navigate things year to year, but the student has to be showing those non-cognitive skills of commitment, grit, determination, etc to build the bridges. “It’s challenging to balance heavy involvement with anything (sports, student government, etc) and takes time management.”

 

Berea chapel

The Campus Chapel

Academics are impressive. All students get a laptop upon entering; they trade that in for a refurbished one at the end of junior year which is theirs to keep. Nursing is ranked #5 in the nation. Not surprisingly, they have some strength in Agriculture & Natural Resources and Sustainability & Environmental Studies. The wood in their new Science building is all Ash from the Berea Forest, and 10% of food served in the dining hall comes from the farm. Their Appalachian Studies department based out of the Appalachian Center with a library, work spaces, café, and more. They offer a religion major, not surprising given the college history. “It’s not a Christian college, though,” said the tour guide, despite the college motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.” They’re inclusive of all faiths. Chapel services are never required – but students do take an Intro to Christianity as part of the 3rd year core. “They basically teach the fundamentals of historical stuff, less the actual theology,” said one student.

 

Berea patio

One of the patios with the Berea Woods in the background

Last summer, 281 students complete summer internships: 71% with non-profits/community service organizations and 28% within the Appalachian Region. It’s treated like a course where they have to write reflections, journals, etc. Funding is available to cover expenses if position is unpaid. Upon successful completion of the summer internship, students are given $1000 because that’s what they would be expected to earn over the summer. Students can do this twice!

There are several funded international travel experiences over the summer, and as 1 of 40 participating in the Watson Foundation, they can nominate 4 students for a $36000 stipend for a year of international exploration. Usually at least 1 Berea student gets selected each year. They host Think Globally It’s Friday! – a student who has studied abroad or a student from another country will present, and food from that region gets served. Students are supposed to go to 7 convocations each semester; they cover all sorts of topics from racial issues, LGBTQ+ issues, speakers including Holocaust survivors, etc. Politics here “are about 50/50,” said one of the students. “There are civil debates and heated discussions.”

© 2019

University of Bridgeport

University of Bridgeport (visited 10/11/16)

bridgeport-3

A view from one of the tall buildings on campus with classrooms, admissions, and administrative offices. The university is integrated right into Bridgeport.

This is one of the most racially diverse campuses I’ve visited, and I learned from the admissions rep that they’ve been ranked 17th in the country for diversity. Both the admissions rep and the tour guide talked about the racial and geographic diversity represented on campus; 20% of the population is international, as well. The tour guide was proud to be part of such a community, and felt that people really got along; rather than being cliquey, people were open with each other. However, he was less able (or maybe not as comfortable) answering questions about religious and LGBTQ diversity and acceptance on campus. He did tell me that there were some clubs on campus for different groups, and I was glad to see several women wearing hijab.

bridgeport-stu-cntrPeople are really connected and seem to work together. “I don’t know what causes that, other than it’s an open and welcoming community,” said the rep. “It really sets them up to succeed in the workforce when they’ll be working with people from all over.” Part of this may also stem from the fact that campus is integrated into the surrounding community without much of a centralized campus or quad. Bridgeport is a largest city in Connecticut with lots of Fortune 500 companies and other perks of living in a city. (It’s also the 2nd largest Park City … only Paris beats them on this front!)

bridgeport-dorm

The biggest dorm on campus

About 60% of students live in the 4 res halls, many with specialized floors including Freshman Achievement and Community Service. A great, unusual feature is that students get a free Knightflix account with new movies every month. Unless they’re commuting from home (and there is a decent commuter population), students live on campus for the first 3 years. Once they’re 21 or have 90 credits, they can move off. All students can have cars on campus for free. There are also UB shuttles and the public transportation is free with student ID. The MetroNorth train station is 5 minutes away; from there, Grand Central is an hour away.

bridgeport-2This is a career-focused university with lots of internationally focused majors. Many of the faculty have real-world experience. My tour guide’s Intro to Criminal Justice class (also his smallest class with 18 students) was taught by a lawyer; he loved the stories the professor told in class and how relevant the topics were. Classes average 20-25 students; the tour guide’s largest class, Art History, had 80 students. He loved his Abnormal Psych class (and was excited to tell me things he learned) and Criminology.

bridgeport-mural

A mural painted by a Cuban student to depict the history of the city and the university. PT Barnum (once a mayor of the city) is on the right.

A few programs to mention include:

  • Martial Arts Studies: this is the first major of its kind. Students in this program compete internationally.
  • The School of Design includes Graphic Design (BFA), Fashion Merchandising (AA or BS), Interior Design (BS), and Industrial Design (BS) — and a Fashion Journalism concentration is offered under the Mass Communications major.
  • English Language Institute offers small classes (maximum of 15) to allow students to strengthen their language skills to study at the university level.
  • Mechanical Engineering is new; they’re bringing their first class of freshmen on campus fall of 2016.
  • Nursing: They just absorbed the Bridgeport Hospital School of Nursing, so now in addition to the RN to BSN program, they’ll be accepting 120 freshman for fall of 2017 into the Pre-Nursing They take a prescribed freshman curriculum of pre-requisites then apply to the Nursing program for sophomore year.
  • Students built a mini-sub and turned it into an ocean cleaner. They beat MIT in a competition.
  • Criminal Justice and Human Security offers 3 concentrations: Comparative Justice, Criminology, and Human Security.
  • International Political Economy and Diplomacy
bridgeport-quad-1

One of the green spaces on campus

“This is an events-based campus with at least 3 or 4 a day. They had 692 events last year,” my tour guide told me. They have 13 DII teams; Southern Connecticut State and American International College are big rivals. Students get really involved in things like MUN (which competes nationally and tends to do well), Student Government, and Student Activities Board. Students who hold formal leadership positions (study body president, etc) get a scholarship from a fund set up by alumni.

bridgeport-walkway

A walkway between academic buildings

The university is working hard on improving retention which was at 54% last year. They hired new retention specialist and new provost. Students who aren’t as prepared as they should be can be accepted into a pre-program; the president is committed to working with those students, and they understand that this often causes retention rate to take a hit. Interested students can apply to the Bridge Program that allows students to complete their FYE and Freshman Comp over the summer. This past year, they accepted 50 students and are hoping to grow it to 75. Students pay only $200 which covers everything including tuition and housing.

© 2016

Towson University

TOWSON UNIVERSITY (visited 9/30/16) (Click HERE for updates and more information from my visit on 4/16/19)

towson-bball-field

Baseball Field and campus buildings

As the second largest university in the Maryland system, I expected more of a state-school feel with large somewhat sterile buildings. I should know better. There are definitely parts of campus that fit this description: parking garages, plain (even outdated, not attractive) concrete buildings. The worst of these, an imposing concrete tower, had been a dorm until they closed it with the intent to knock it down, making way for an updated building.

towson-cola

College of Liberal Arts building

That being said, there are gorgeous parts of campus with historic and new buildings. Some of the newest buildings are in West Village, new residential units with Hotel-Style (bathrooms in each room; these rooms cost $600 more per semester), apartments, suites, and more. West Village Commons has a buffet-style dining hall, grab-and-go eateries, meeting rooms, and a group exercise room. There’s also a new union under construction in the middle of campus. In addition to the 2nd of 3 buffet-style dining halls and more meeting space, this will house an American Ninja Warrior Course. The new, LEED-certified Liberal Arts Building might look familiar to House of Cards fans; an episode was filmed inside.

towson-towersI went on tour with several families and 2 tour guides, 1 of whom was training. Because of this, I overheard things that they’re supposed to include on tours: the already-trained tour guide said (either not knowing or not caring that he was saying this within earshot), “I don’t usually bother telling people about that place down there because how many people care? But if you don’t say it on your evaluation, you’ll fail.” He was incredibly hard to get “off script” during the tour; sometimes he would give perfunctory answers and/or say, “We’ll get to that later.” They’re clearly trained to only talk about certain things at certain times. For example, I asked when the last time he heard of anyone using the blue lights. His answer: “We’re 5 years crime free. We’ll talk about security later.” That’s great but didn’t answer the question.

towson-4The guide-in-training was more personable, willing to answer questions, and give insight into what it was like to be a student. She walked some of us across campus to where we had parked (the tour ends at the bookstore – go figure! – nowhere near where we parked and started the tour!). During those 10 minutes, I learned more about the student experience than during the entire 2-hour tour. She picked Towson over another Maryland school because of its diversity. “I see a lot more people like me here, and I have friends from all over, of many different races, different religions. It feels more like the real world.” She is thrilled with the academic offerings, the social life, the location, and pretty much everything here. She didn’t have much she’d want to change other than the parking situation. Freshman are no longer allowed to have cars on campus; parking on campus costs “$300-something per semester. It’s a lot.”

towson-stevens-hall

Stevens Hall, the iconic building that shows up on several of the marketing materials for the university.

Admission is selective but not overwhelmingly so: mid-range ACT scores are 21-26 (average of 23), and with the new SAT, they’re expecting at least a 1000 (CR&M). They use their own online application with a personal statement. “We want to know your story: Who are you, and what can you contribute to the Towson community?” said the admissions rep. “Make it as close to 500 words as you can get.” Applicants can expect an answer within 3-6 weeks. They will start releasing decisions in November and keep going until the class is full. However, students who want a guaranteed review for scholarships should apply by December 1.

towson-mascot

Towson’s  mascot

The Honors College application is built into the regular application, needing a 3.6 to be considered. If you indicate that you’re interested, an additional writing prompt pops up. The HC operates like its own college. Students must earn 24 Honors credits, including 9 seminar and 6 thesis credits. Honors students are guaranteed premium housing without the additional cost, $1000-3000 additional scholarship, and priority registration (right after the athletes and students with accommodations).

towson-dorms-2

West Commons dorm buildings

Housing is guaranteed for Freshmen. There are a couple dorms without AC that apparently have the highest retention rate at the university. The tour guide suggested it was because there was a real community feel because “everyone leaves their doors open for the breeze.” Residential freshmen must get a weekly meal plan and “use it or lose it” (it doesn’t roll over). Upperclassmen and commuters can choose a Block Plan with a set number of meals per semester.

towson-psych-bldg

Part of the academic side of campus

Towson requires 14 core classes. No classes are taught by GAs or TAs which is wonderful for a school this size. All freshmen get a FYE advisor (in their major if they’ve declared one, otherwise they’re assigned at random); they get a new permanent advisor as a sophomore. Average classes sizes over around 24-30. The tour guide said that “classes are maxed at 35” but this is clearly not the case. The tour guides said that they’ve had classes of about 100 students (Microbiology and Intro to Psych); their smallest ranged from 7 (a seminar class) and 20 (ASL).

towson-enviro-cntr

Part of the Environmental Center

They have a great, albeit small Environmental Center on campus with 121 indigenous plant species. There’s a pedestrian walkway over part of this as well as outdoor classrooms, picnic tables, benches, etc. Freedom Square, surrounded by academic buildings, is a favorite hangout for many students. There are 2 chalkboards for students to write comments, put up ads for campus events, etc. There are plenty of benches and other places for students to congregate.

There are several “Screened” majors. Students interested in these come in as “pre-____”, take preliminary classes, and apply to the major once they’re here. Some of these include:

towson-cafe-enactus

Cafe Enactus was a “senior thesis” by a business Honors student in the class of 2015.

Other programs of note include:

Students in all programs can study abroad for 2 weeks to 2 years, or they can participate in the US Exchange program to study at another university for a period of time.

© 2016

 

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.

cua-basilica-2

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).

cua-student-cntr

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.
cua-architecture-int-2

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:

cua-law-school-lawn

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!).

cua-dorm-quad

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.

cua-music

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

Notre Dame University of Maryland

Notre Dame University of Maryland (visited 2/19/15)

Notre Dame swingND is a lovely, small campus in a residential neighborhood of northern Baltimore. It borders Loyola University; the two campuses share a library, and are the first universities in the country to do so. ND’s traditional undergraduate division, the Women’s College, is still single-sex, but the graduate and evening/weekend (“Adult Undergraduate”) programs accept men.

The admissions people are friendly, helpful, and will go WAY out of their way for visitors. I was highly impressed with their dedication and humor. My local rep is a recent alumnae of Notre Dame; she gave me a tour so I got perspectives from both sides of the desk.

Notre Dame main bldg

Main building

Chapel

Chapel

Started in 1895 by the Sisters of Notre Dame, nuns still live on the top floors of the main building. The Chapel, built just a year after the college was started, occupies the 2nd floor of the same building. Almost all the windows are still original; a couple panes have been replaced over the years, but they had the original designs that were copied. The paintings in the chapel were done by students and alumnae. Although it does not fit all 450 undergrads, it is a comfortable size and accommodates all students wishing to attend Mass (offered every day but never required). There are also several small prayer/reflection spaces (including a Muslim prayer space) in the dorms and other locations around campus. Students must take 1 upper-level religion class as part of their distribution requirements but there are a lot of options such as Christian Ethics or Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Admissions Rep giving me the tour had taken this; she went to services at a Mosque and a Temple as part of the class.

Notre Dame movie window 2

Step Up stairs and window

Notre Dame auditoriumSeveral of the buildings (including the main building, an academic building, and the athletic complex) are connected which was especially nice on the very cold day that I visited campus! One of these buildings has the staircase and stained glass window made famous in the movie “Step Up” with Channing Tatum. They also used the auditorium (which got trashed in the movie). This auditorium is used for large group gatherings such as guest lecturers and Honors Convocation. At HC, the freshmen get the cap and gown that they’ll graduate in. “It’s a great bonding experience. We’re all in there pretty tightly and have to help each other get everything on and looking good.” After that, they sign the honors pledge and get more privileges. Before Convocation (held usually about the 2nd week of school), “there are certain things we can’t do like have guests in the dorm. I think it’s supposed to be so we focus on making friends and getting used to life on campus.” After they sign the pledge, they can have guests, have unproctored exams, etc. “That was a new experience for me. Professors would give out the exams and then tell us that they would be in their office if we needed them.” I asked her how seriously people took this. “Really seriously. I’ve never seen or heard of anyone cheating on test. There’s an Honor Council if anyone got reported, but I don’t know of anyone who even went to that.”

Notre Dame dorm

Dorm

The University pulls many students in from the surrounding area. 80% of the students come from Maryland, and only about 45% live on campus. Housing is good, comfortable, and attractive. Freshmen, Sophomores, and Juniors live in single-sex housing. Seniors can choose to live in single-sex housing or move to another dorm that also houses graduate students and is therefore co-ed. They have both a dining hall and Gator Alley, but neither is open late. Students can walk over to Loyola if they want a late-night option, but they will pay separately for that.

Notre Dame bird feeders

Bird feeders on campus

As a member of the Baltimore Consortium, students can register for classes at other institutions in the area including Goucher, Towson, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, MICA, Morgan State, and University of Baltimore. A free Circulator bus runs from Towson and Goucher (located north of Notre Dame) down to Penn Station (near MICA and UBalt). It’s easy to get around to other campuses. From Penn Station, students can also take a Baltimore bus to Inner Harbor and other locations around town, so even though they can have cars on campus, it’s not necessary.

Notre Dame dorm lounge

A dorm lounge

The student body is highly diverse. About half of the student body are women of color. They pull in students from about 15 other states and almost as many countries. They have an International Center which offers an 8-10 week intensive English Institute in the summers to students who need help with English before classes start. 

Nursing is highly regarded, as are the Radiological Sciences and the 4+3 Pharmacy programs. Students interested in Engineering complete a 3-2 program, earning an BA from Notre Dame and a BS from Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland, or Columbia University. Students can complete a 5-year BA/MA in Business/Management and Teaching/Education. Other notable majors include Marketing Communications, Behavioral Neuroscience, Criminology, and Environmental Sustainability.

(c) 2015

Bellarmine University

BELLARMINE UNIVERSITY (visit 9/16/14)

~Bellarmine statue 2Bellarmine (pronounced “Bell-are-min”) is a medium-sized (2,500 undergrads) Catholic university in a residential neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky. Although originally an all-male institution, they merged with the all-female Ursiline College in the 1960s. Today, the student body is almost 2/3 women, due in part to the nursing program.

Both the campus and the students were impressive. The students we spoke to were articulate and weren’t “scripted” – the spoke openly about their experiences, giving personal examples of their life on campus rather than just mindlessly spouting information given to them by the admissions office. One of our tour guides, a psych major, said that one of her favorite classes had been Intro to Acting. “If it hadn’t been for that class, I wouldn’t be here talking to you now.”

~Bellarmine students 2Lauren, one of the Admissions Reps, presented the info session to us (a group of counselors); she prefaced it by saying that she was going to do the presentation as she would have if we were a bunch of prospective students so we would get a sense of what our students would hear. Early in the presentation, she said, “The question you need to be asking yourself is, ‘Can you see yourself succeeding here as a student?’” which is a wonderful way for students to approach the search process.

~Bellarmine ampitheaterThe Catholic heritage is clearly part of the university but isn’t overbearing. Many of the values are woven into aspects of campus like the full day of service that all students do during Orientation. One of our tour guides self-identified as Catholic, the other as a non-denominational Christian. Both enjoy the feeling on campus. The religion is there for those who want it. A small campus chapel holds Catholic masses and other Christian services, none of which are mandatory. Students do have to take 2 theology classes (1 in world religions and 1 elective) during their time here, which they see as very reasonable.

~Bellarmine sci centerStudents also have to take 2 lab science classes; in addition to the bio, chem, and other more traditional classes, they can fulfill this with classes like Human Health and Disease, Astronomy, or Gross Anatomy (Bellarmine is 1 of only 8 undergraduate institutions that offer this class!). As a freshman, my tour guide had to reassemble organs in the Cadaver Lab. Bellarmine has a contract with the local zoo; the university gets the animals when they die in order to provide study opportunities for the students (including once getting a giraffe which a professor was going to use to study decomposition, until they realized that they had placed it too close to the air-vents on the roof!). One of the physics professors works with a super-collider (CERN). Upperclassmen help analyze the data.

Nursing, Clinical Lab Sciences, and Respiratory Care Therapy majors make up almost 1/3 of the student population. Nursing, a direct-entry program (assuming criteria is met), counts for about 20% of students, and students speak very highly of the program.

Not surprisingly, their Theology program is strong, as is Math (including Actuarial Science), Poli Sci, Kinesiology, Digital Arts and Technology (with an emphasis in music, art, and communications), Computer Engineering, foreign languages, and Arts Management.

~Bellarmine library inside

Inside of the Library

One of the biggest draws for students is the interaction they have with professors. The largest classroom on campus has 70 seats; the average class size is 20. “We’re setting them up for success,” said an Admissions rep. Students do get to know professors well. In exit interviews, the vast majority say they would make the same decision to do it all over again; when asked where they would like to see money spent, many of them said they would put money towards increasing salary of professors!

All dorm rooms have AC, carpet, a microwave and fridge, and are cable-ready. About ¾ of freshmen life on campus, including in 1 of 4 learning communities: STEM, Honors, Social Engagement, and Health Sciences (called Galileo). About 50% of the entire undergrad population lives on campus. There are a lot of hills on campus – one of the students said that it’s hard to gain the Freshman 15 because of this. In fact, they also give a “hybrid tour” to prospective students using both walking and trolleys because of the hills! Freshmen can have cars on campus, but there are bike rentals and buses for people who don’t have them, so cars aren’t necessary.

~Bellarmine soccerLouisville one of 20 largest cities in the country. It’s been named as one of the top cities for entrepreneurship, a top food city, and a great 20-something city. There’s lots going on, but students don’t often look to Louisville for entertainment since there’s plenty to do on campus. Sports are mostly DIII except for the lacrosse team (DI). Knights Nation is a group dedicated to celebrating the Knights at different games. One well-loved tradition is wearing Halloween costumes to basketball games. There are 90+ other clubs, as well, including a breakdancing club, a Pokemon League, and a Whovian Society. The Daily Knight newsletter will announce upcoming events.

The application is free and is moving to all-online. Currently there is no Common App option. The Honors program requires a 28+ ACT and 3.4 GPA, but they are moving this year to an application-based process. Most students receive scholarships of some sort. The average merit award is around $21,000; comprehensive packages average around $29,000. They do give 5 full-tuition scholarships each year; to be considered for one of these, applicants must submit an essay by 12/1. Competitive students have a 30+ ACT or 1330 SAT and a 3.4 unweighted GPA. Faculty read and invite students to come compete for the scholarship.

© 2014

University of Vermont

University of Vermont (visited 4/15/14)

~UVM mascotIn case you were wondering, UVM comes from the Latin Universitas Viridis Montis, or University of the Green Mountains.

~UVM 2Located in Burlington, UVM is the state’s flagship, land-grant university. With almost 10,000 undergraduates and 1,800 graduate students (about ¼ of whom are in the medical school), students say that it’s the “perfect size.” Although this is the flagship state university, 65% of students are not from Vermont; “There just aren’t that many students in Vermont,” said the tour guide. There’s a lot of diversity, openness, acceptance, and safe spaces around campus. In fact, it’s the first college in the country to have written into its bylaws that it wasn’t adhering to a particular religious sect – and was also the first school to all women and African Americans full membership status in Phi Beta Kappa.

~UVM sci cntr interior 3

Stairs in the Science Center

“UVM fits any student,” said one of the students we talked to. “It’s inclusive.” In additional to more traditional types of Gen-Ed requirements, the school has a Diversity Requirement. Students must take 1 D1 (Diversity 1) class which covers Race/Racism in the US. They can either then complete one more D1 class or a D2 class which is “Human and Societal Diversity.”

~UVM Sci Cntr interior

Atrium of the Science Center

Some of the more unusual majors are Holocaust Studies, Community Entrepreneurship, Community and International Development, Molecular Genetics, Sustainable Landscape Horticulture, and Neuroscience. Athletic Training, Nursing, and Exercise Science are competitive and some of the most popular majors; nursing is restricted by capacity. They have a 5-year Engineering program with St. Mikes. It’s more difficult to transfer into Engineering or Nursing/health sciences if students don’t declare them coming in, but not impossible. Students completing an Animal Science major have an opportunity to gain early admission to the Tufts University Vet School. People in these departments can still study abroad and minor outside the department which is a bit unusual.

The science center is one of the newest buildings on campus. They made use of local woods for the flooring which changes color to imitate changing landscapes (designed with student input). The building has “awesome lab spaces,” according to our tour guide, including hydraulics, soil, and more. They even have a wind tunnel!

~UVM museum

Museum

Their business program puts a great deal of focus on current themes in the business world such as global issues and entrepreneurship. Our tour guide also raved about the strong theater and music programs. They have three main stage events every year, and students are involved in the technical aspect as well. Their art department is impressive, and the university owns the largest art collection in the state (but is that saying much?).

~UVM statue 3Students can be admitted to the Honors Program as a freshman or apply for sophomore admission with a certain GPA and recs from professors. Students in the program live in the newest housing on campus, and the seminars for the first 4 semesters are held in this building. Our tour guide said that her Pursuit of Knowledge was a nice break from Engineering, and the seminars are interesting. She took Discovering a Sense of Place: Transcendentalism. During Junior year, they take a thesis prep course to get ready for their senior thesis.

~UVM theater

Theater Building

~UVM sculptureStudents must live on campus for the first two years. 70% of juniors and seniors move off, but they don’t have to. The tour guides said that there’s way more to do on campus than there’s time to do it all. They laughed when they told us about “The Bored Calendar” which lists all the activities on and around campus. Students complete quite a bit of community service right in Burlington, a city all the students raved about. “We’re in a city on a lake surrounded by mountains.” Church Street is a pedestrian area, well utilized by students and townies alike. When they get sick of the local area, they can hop on the Megabus which goes to both NY and Boston.

Internships and career development are big. The host several career fairs every year with lots of out-of-state employers coming to each. One of the admissions reps said that “Career success is everyone’s job on campus.” Within 6 months of graduation, 20% of alumni are in grad school and 80% are employed.

© 2014

Rhode Island College

Rhode Island College (visited 3/22/14)

RIC (called “rick”) is the oldest of the three public universities in RI (URI and the Community College of RI are the other two; RIC students can cross-register at either of these). It was founded 150 years ago as a College of Education, and is still known for this, although Communications and psych are also popular.

~RIC 4This suburban campus, located less than 10 minutes from downtown Providence, is surrounded by a residential area on one side and a golf-course on the other. A bakery and some stores are a 5 minute walk away, and buses run every 20 minutes into the city. Providence College is down the street, and many more colleges are located in Providence so there are lots of students; many stores cater to college students.

~RIC quadThe college has an interesting mix of buildings; we parked near the Admissions office, located on the edge of campus. The Saturday info sessions were held in another part of campus, so we had to find our way over there; at first, we weren’t impressed with campus, but as is true with many universities, the edges aren’t the most flattering parts. The main part of campus redeemed it for us, and I think both of us ended up with a much more favorable opinion by the end of the tour.

~RIC acad bldg 2They pull most of their students from RI, but they offer a “Metropolitan Tuition Policy” for people within 50 miles of RI (specified CT and MA communities). Jeff, the Assistant Director of Admissions, said there seems to be a divide in RI: students in the south tend to look at “the University” and the northerners look at RIC. Students from NY, Northern NJ, CT, and MA make up the bulk of out-of-state students (about 20% of the population).

Of the 90 majors and programs, they’re particularly known for:

  • Education (including PhysEd). 100% of those who complete the Education program pass the State Licensure tests. Students apply at the end of the freshman year after completing the pre-reqs with a minimum 3.0 GPA.
  • Nursing. The NCLEX pass is “consistently above state and national averages; 95% ranked in the top 15% of all nursing programs in the US.” Like the Education department, students apply at the end of the freshman year after completing the pre-reqs with a minimum 3.0 GPA.
  • Social Work. They offer both a BSW and MSW (the 8th most selective in the country).
  • School of Management. They offer a cutting-edge facility with a well-established internship program, placing interns in more than 50 local leading companies ranging from Fidelity Investments to the New England Patriots.
  • Fine and performing arts. They built a new $10 milion center, and they offer technical theater, dance performance, and a new combined BFA Studio/Art Education program.

There are no mass lecture courses except for one bio and two psych classes with about 150 students. 99% of the classes are capped at 30 students. They now offer evening classes to make sure students have access to classes they need and want, and to keep class size down.

~RIC dorms

Dorms

Housing is guaranteed for all freshmen and for out-of-state students for all 4 years. Currently, only about 1200 of the 7000 students live on campus, but they’ve doubled the number of students on campus and built a new dorm (336 beds) a few years ago because they had a waiting list. They’re currently doing a feasibility study for a 7th dorm. Many tend to live on campus for a year or two, but campus is so easily commutable that they end up moving off. There is some unofficial off-campus housing, and sometimes people will share houses with Providence College students.

Admission decisions are based primarily on an applicant’s academic record; they look for a 3.0-ish average. They require test scores but say that these numbers are AN indicator – not THE indicator. To be invited to the Honors College, students must be in the top 20% of the class and have a 1200 SAT. This is an automatic consideration based on admissions applications. Honors classes average 12-15 people. The Presidential Scholarship ($2,000-$4,000) is awarded to students ranking in the top 30% of the class and a minimum 1100 SAT or 24 ACT. They also have several talent awards (communications, theater, etc.) which do require a separate application.

The tour guides (we had 4!) were pleased with activities on campus, and mentioned several things like Anchor Madness (class competitions); the Wednesday “Free Hour” (12:30) with events on the quad like paint ball, a rock wall, build-a-bear, block party with a mechanical bull, and exotic animals; trips to places like Nantucket, Boston for a Buck, NYC, and Montreal (students will sleep outside the Union to get tickets for this); and more. We commented on the fact that there was NO ONE around; it was so quiet, we thought they were on spring break. They insisted it was “still early” on Saturday (it was going on noon) and things picked up later. All students can have cars on campus (with no parking fee!), so it’s easy to get off campus. The fan base for the 21 DIII teams is large. Games are held at the Murray Center, located at one end of the main quad. The new Rec Center with general work-out areas is at the other end of the campus.

We got a chance to talk a bit with one of the tour guides who was wonderfully open. He started at RIC, transferred out, and then transferred back because he realized what he had there. “People underestimate working out of class with a professor. I didn’t have that at my other university.” People who throw themselves into the community and manage time well will thrive here. The university is still working on improving retention rate which is currently at 76% (still above the national average); 6-year graduation rate “is about the national average.”

(c) 2013

Quinnipiac University

Quinnipiac University (visited 3/20/14)

Walkway into the Quad

Walkway into the Quad

Quinnipiac’s Mount Carmel campus, the main campus, is well-manicured and attractive. The buildings are mostly low-level (2 or 3 story) brick, and the curving walkway from the parking lot led us past some dorms and into a large, open quad. Hills surround campus, creating a bit of an idyllic, slightly remote feeling; in fact, the campus is right next to Sleeping Giant park, a popular place for students to hike.

Dorms

Dorms

The university is made up of three campuses; Mount Carmel is the main campus where most of the academics and athletics are located and where Freshmen and Sophomores live. Freshmen dorms are fairly typical units; sophomores live in suites, often with balconies. Juniors and seniors live about 10 minutes away on the York Hill campus, a new campus overlooking the Mount Carmel campus (and you can see the parking structure from main points on the Mount Carmel campus); this campus also houses the hockey rink and basketball court. Shuttles go back and forth regularly. The buildings at York Hill have been built in the last few years, and the university has also invested in the infrastructure at Mount Carmel, resulting in state-of-the art Business and Communication buildings (two of the newest buildings, housing two of the most popular majors).

Student Center

Student Center

The third campus is located in New Haven and houses the Nursing and other Health Sciences departments as well as Education (and eventually the Law school). Some notable programs here are their 5.5 year Occupational Therapy program (BS/MOT), 6 year Physician Assistant program (BA/MHS), and direct-entry Physical Therapy Doctorate (6 or 7 years leading to a BS/DPT). There are no residence halls on this campus, so most students utilizing this campus will commute from one of the other two (usually York Hill since most students taking classes in New Haven are upperclassmen), or will live off campus. Off campus housing is easy to find; in addition to campus-owned apartments, they provide listings for privately run housing units, and many places are found by word of mouth. Almost 25% of the students will live in non-university housing (off campus, not in a university owned apartment).

One of the food trucks

One of the food trucks

Freshmen are not allowed to have cars on campus, but the students we talked to did not feel that they were necessary. Shuttles run into New Haven and Hamden (the closest town) until 3am. The town is small, but there’s plenty to do. Louie’s Lunch and Frank Peppy’s Pizza come highly recommended. Apparently the clam pizza is a specialty. Food on campus is reportedly “pretty good,” but it is campus food. There are some food trucks that come to campus that are highly popular, and students are willing to wait in line for a change of pace. Because town is small, most of the social life is found on campus. 25% of students get involved in Greek life; students can rush in the fall. New York City is only about an hour and a half away, so it’s an easy day trip; students can grab a commuter rail train from New Haven.

Students are generally happy here; they have about an 88% retention rate from freshman to sophomore years, and close to 80% graduate in 6 years.

© 2014

Southern Oregon University

SOUTHERN OREGON UNIVERSITY (visited 7/16-17/13)

~SOU facts

Facts about SOU

Southern Oregon is a cute, medium sized school located within miles of the California border. There’s a lot of great things to be said about this interesting school. Unfortunately, the first impression our group got was from the worst dorms on campus (which were old and rundown) where we were staying for the night. Later, we were told that these dorms were being torn down to make room for new ones (so I’m not sure why we there, but it was what it was). Not a fabulous first impression but easily overcome by the other things about the school.

SOU starbucks

The Starbucks on the edge of campus with a mountain view!

~SOU Ashland facts

Facts about Ashland

Ashland, located halfway between San Francisco and Portland, hosts the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Although fairly small, this is a touristy town with lots of things to do (including a lake that’s ten minutes away). Downtown is about a mile away from campus. There are several restaurants right off campus (Mexican, Chinese, Subway, etc) on the way towards downtown, which has several blocks of restaurants, cafes, stores, and other things to do. Downtown was hopping, even on a Tuesday night. Ashland is accessible via the Bedford airport (15-minutes away), and a ski resort is 15 miles (about 30 minutes) away. Ashland’s climate is good: there’s lots of sun, and snow usually melts off the same day, but there’s a 5000 foot climb in elevation starting almost immediately off campus. Outdoorsy kids would love it here. The campus Outdoors Program is active and popular. Surfing, kayaking, white-water rafting, hiking, skiing, and other trips are offered all the time. EPIC (Event Planning Involvement Committee) gets students involved on campus; in addition to the usual advertising outlets you see on any campus, they publicize events by printing a calendars on bookmarks for students to take with them. On the weekends, students take advantage of the off-campus trips, play in pickup games, go to the parks, or take advantage of downtown. Several students bring cars to campus which makes it easy to do things around the area; parking costs $180 a year.

SOU Library

SOU Library

~SOU library 2Students who want strong hands-on learning experiences would find SOU to be a good fit; theoretical, self-teachers should go to a school like OSU or Texas A&M. As you can imagine because of the Shakespeare Festival, the Theater program is particularly strong, as are the other arts programs. They put on at least six plays a year, mostly casting theater students because this acts as their senior thesis. Others can do tech/behind the scenes stuff or will take on smaller roles. This is just one illustration of what sets SOU apart from some other universities: there is plenty of access to hands-on opportunities. SOAR (Southern Oregon Arts and Research) is a program designed to showcase what students and faculty have done over the year, and is open to everyone. Students can opt to do this as part of their capstone. The Chemistry department has recently added $10 million in equipment. Sophomore chemistry majors are already running equipment worth three-quarters of a million dollars. The National Fish and Wildlife Forensics lab is on campus; this is the only one dedicated to crimes against animals. SOU also is the school in Oregon with an open cadaver lab. The Communication department has a Journalism focus, providing students with plenty of opportunities for real-life experience. There’s a myth that the Criminal Justice building looks like a prison to get students used to working in that environment. Business and Education are also strong, popular majors that provide a lot of real-world experience. The Nursing program gives priority to Oregon students. Only 5% get accepted into this program as a sophomore; many more get in as incoming juniors.

SUO 1One of the admissions reps was an SOU alum. Part of the reason she chose to come here was that they let her study abroad in her first year. Our tour guide transferred from UC Davis which was too big for her and not a good fit. She finds the academics here perfect. Faculty members teach every class on campus and know the students’ names; there are no TAs. Classes average 25 students; our guide has been in classes ranging in size from 13 to 120 students; the large classes are Intro to Bio or Chem which break out into smaller labs once a week. Even though freshmen do get some bigger classes, they also have small ones like their Freshman lit class which has a specific theme, and the professor is their advisor. SOU provides a lot of support for students through a variety of programs. Trio provides support for low-income, first gen, and LD students. They have 5 Resource centers (including multicultural, GLBTQ, and commuter) that anyone can use; students don’t have to be a member of a particular group. The rooms are comfortable, safe spaces for people who want to strike up a conversation, hang out, or eat. Most have couches and fridges; students can even fall asleep and people will wake them up.

~SOU sculptureI had a few minutes as I was waiting for the rest of the counselors to check into their rooms, so I picked the brains of the student workers responsible for helping us check in. Two of them were criminal Justice/criminology majors and one was in the business department. Two were from Oregon and one was from northern California. They said that this is very much a regional university, but they love it. They couldn’t tell me what people complain about at the dinner table which is a good sign. When asked what they’d like to change, they said that they wished there were more sports and better gym facilities. The work-out facilities are small and located under the football stadium, but there’s rock climbing, racquetball, and a pool. The school is building a new athletic center for general use; the old one will be used only for athletes who participate in one of the eleven varsity sports at the NAI DII level. Club and intramural sports are available, and athletes are highly involved on campus. There are about 80 clubs and organizations encompassing a range of academic, social, ethnic, and athletic interests including one of the more unusual ones I’ve seen: SOUPS (SOU paranormal society). One of the most popular events is the annual luau thrown by the Hawaii Club. There is no Greek life on campus.

SUO art museum

The Art Museum courtyard with a view of the mountains in the distance

The campus is small and walkable with several nice buildings; the older ones are slowly being renovated or replaced. The library is a gorgeous new three-story building with an intricate tiled floor in the lobby; across from this is a stucco building across from the library was THE school at the beginning. The campus has the largest Art Museum on the I-5 between Portland and San Francisco, and directly across from this is a dorm reserved for students who are 21 and older. They are building the North Campus Village, a new $15 million dorm complex which includes a new dining commons. Currently, SOU is considered a suitcase school, “but we hope that with the new dorms, more students will stay,” said one admissions representative. One of their initiatives revolves around creating “Houses,” which is a project/cohort based approach to education for the entire time on campus.

SOU sci bldg

Science Building

Last year’s entering freshmen class averaged a 3.24 high school GPA. Upon admission, students from WUE states automatically get awarded the WUE tuition. Nursing students only get WUE for two years; once they’re in the nursing program, they lose it, but can get other specific Nursing scholarships. It’s common for students to have jobs on campus. If they want one and don’t have one, they aren’t trying very hard. Students who are admitted into the Honors Program have their full tuition, room, board, fees, and books covered. They have an advisor dedicated to the program, and students are also given a Major Advisor and a community mentor who works in their field.

© 2013

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