Which Colleges are Greenest?

E Magazine: “It’s no surprise that College of the Atlantic, established in 1969 as the first American college to focus primarily on the relationship between humans and the environment, has topped the Princeton Review’s Guide to 399 Green Colleges for three years running. With only 350 students and 35 faculty members, small classes and focused learning are the norm at COA, which has been churning out environmental leaders for five decades. It became the first carbon-neutral college in 2007 and plans to be completely rid of fossil fuels on campus by 2030.”

“At the #2 school on the ‘green colleges’ list, SUNY Syracuse’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, students and faculty work together on developing innovative solutions to environmental challenges and can focus on applying what they learn in internships reserved for them with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation … Next on the list, UVM has incorporated sustainability into campus policies and curricula for decades, but has recently shown renewed leadership with its Sustainable Entrepreneurship program and campus-wide commitment to waste reduction and energy conservation. UVM has been sourcing all of its energy from renewables since 2015, with solar panels all over campus to make the most of the fleeting Vermont sun.”

“Some other schools with excellent environmental studies and science programs include Antioch, Reed, Middlebury, Colby, Colorado College, Montana State, Evergreen State, Pomona, and the universities of Idaho, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

Which Colleges are LGBT-Friendly?

US News: “Finding the right fit is important for any college student; for the LGBT community, that especially rings true. Historically marginalized and discriminated against, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is now embraced at many colleges across the US … Institutional commitment, experts agree, is key to determining how well LGBT students fare on a college campus. To gauge this commitment, students should look at factors such as housing and restroom policies, curriculum, resources and representation … LGBT advocates say that one important starting point for prospective students is to examine a college’s nondiscrimination policies. To find a college’s nondiscrimination policy, search online using that term and the school name.”

“Open housing allows students to live with a roommate of their choice regardless of gender identity. For transgender and nonbinary students, this makes housing less complicated … Bathrooms are another important aspect of the physical environment for transgender and nonbinary students. Many schools list bathroom policies online. If that policy is unavailable on the college website, students can check with an admissions officer or a school’s LGBT center – if it has one – for clarification.”

“Though same-sex marriage is legal across all states now, policies can still vary on other issues of importance for the LGBT community. Some states offer more protections than others, with laws that prohibit employment and housing discrimination against LGBT individuals, bar conversion therapy, offer state health benefits to eligible transgender citizens and more … But a state’s record on LGBT issues is not necessarily indicative of how a campus in that state welcomes and supports that community. Oberlin College, for example, is well known for being LGBT-friendly, despite Ohio scoring in the lowest category of the 2018 State Equality Index, a state-by-state overview of LGBT protections put out by Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

Syracuse Pushes Back on ‘Party School’ Ranking

NY Post: “Syracuse University is the nation’s top college — when it comes to partying. The Orange earned the high marks based on a survey of 140,000 students by the Princeton Review … The review, available this week, ranked the schools based on drug and alcohol use, study time and Greek life. In all, the schools are judged under 58 separate categories, with Syracuse placing second in the ‘lots of hard liquor’ category and eighth in ‘lots of beer’ — not that it was the only school where students were hitting the bottle instead of the books … The University of Alabama, the University of Delaware, West Virginia University and Tulane University ranked second through fifth, respectively.”

“The party tag didn’t sit too well with Syracuse officials, who said in a statement that the Princeton Review missed the mark. ‘By all measures, our student experience is rooted in the programs and services available to facilitate both personal and professional success — while at Syracuse University and beyond,’ the statement said. The school said the Princeton party list is not ‘a reflection of our distinctive approach to education.'”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

Which Colleges Have the Coolest Dorms?

Business Insider: “With the price of college rising, some schools around the country are trying entice new students with apartment style living, fancy recreational facilities, and even free laundry.” For example: “All first- and second-year Santa Clara students are required to live in what Santa Clara calls, ‘Residential Learning Communities’ … The eight Residential Learning Centers each have their own theme, like ‘innovation and integrity,’ or ‘service and community.’ These themes are meant to instill a sense of community and identity to each of the dorms. For juniors and seniors, the school offers luxury University Villas, so you’ll never have to travel far to get to class.”

“By simply using an app, students living in Rice University’s dorms can save precious time … and have their clothes washed, dried, and folded at no cost. Upon move in, students receive a large anti-bacterial laundry bag with a barcode that lets the students track their clothes along their path to cleanliness … Most Bowdoin first years will initially live in underclass residence halls, but they’re all encouraged to eventually apply to one of the school’s eight College Houses. Described as ‘the living room’ of campus, the houses host social programs and mentorship opportunities throughout the year.”

“Students at Scripps College are treated to a refined living experience. Many of the ten residence halls on campus are furnished with ornate furniture and regal carpets. Some of the halls have outdoor communal areas where students can socialize around red tiled lined fountains or hang out around outdoor balconies. Several of the residence halls even have living rooms with communal pianos … Bennington takes the idea of a cramped, institutionalized dorm room and throws it out the window, opting instead for ‘houses’ of 30 to to 45 students. Each house includes a full living room, kitchen, and washers and dryers. Most of the homes even have cozy fireplaces.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

College Boys Gain More Weight Than Girls

UPI: “As healthy, home-cooked meals give way to a campus diet of beer and pizza, student waistlines tend to expand. But new research shows it is the waistlines of boys that expand the most. Poll results revealed that girls gained an average of about 4 pounds during their first year at university … But among the male first-year students, weight gains roughly doubled that, hitting an average of about 8 pounds … The investigators found that total caloric intake did not change much over the course of the students’ first year at school. However, food quality did decline, while alcohol consumption increased, particularly among boys.”

“For example, freshman girls saw their body mass index (BMI) — a standard measurement of body fat — rise on average from 22.6 to 23.3. That still kept most girls ‘within the normal weight category’ … In contrast, freshman males saw their BMI rise from 23.9 to 25.1. That change ended up ‘putting them into the overweight category,’ particularly given that the students did not experience height changes over the course of the year.”

“The findings were published online July 3 in the journal PLOS ONE.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

UConn Tour: Beyond Huskymania

When is an urban campus not an urban campus? One answer might be: when it’s the University of Connecticut. Set in New England’s countryside, UConn’s entrance materializes suddenly, like just another of the scattered intersections along a heavily wooded byway, interrupted here and there by the occasional strip mall or gasoline station. A quick turn transitions into a major thoroughfare and to our right, a police officer pointing a radar gun our way. To our left, rustic, white fences border vast acres of beautiful farmland, sending a very different signal. Within a matter of minutes, however, a near-skyline of large, brick buildings resolve any question. We are definitely not in Kansas anymore.

UConn may not qualify as city, exactly, but it certainly is a very large town in its own right, in certain ways not unlike some schools classified as “urban.” It even has its own zip-code, as well as fire, ambulance, and, yes, police force, on campus. As municipalities go, it is suburban-mall tidy, its generous boulevards trimmed in meticulously maintained greenery. It is also growing, as the cement trucks rumbling down its streets and destination construction sites testify. An enormous, new health and fitness center will open soon. After parking in a garage the size of a city block, we ambled across the street to the admissions office for our info session and tour.

Ushered into a classroom-style venue, our info session was led by a pair of students, Eduardo and Mikayla, who doubled as our tour guides. This, in itself, made a statement, as most schools separate the two activities, with the info session usually run by an admissions counselor, sometimes with an assist from a student. Exactly what the statement was, of course, is open to interpretation, but based on what we heard, it appeared to be designed to raise the comfort level of prospective students. After all, any college can be intimidating, but especially one as large as UConn with its approximately 24,000 undergrads.

The very first thing our guides mentioned was the convocation ceremony for incoming students, described as a really fun time, a giant block party complete with UConn swag and other goodies. This welcoming theme ran throughout the presentation and tour, and the message was this: We know your transition to college life is a big adjustment, but we will support you every step of the way. Having eminently relatable students running the introduction to UConn from beginning to end personified the message: “Don’t worry; we did it and so will you.”

The tour was tag-team style, with Mikayla doing the talking with Eduardo — or Eddy as he called himself — making sure to speak directly with each and every student along the way, reinforcing a spirit of caring. “How’re you doing?” he’d say. “Just want to make sure all your questions are answered.” He had spent at least five or ten minutes engaged in casual conversation with each student by the time the tour was over. Incidentally, it was a diverse group, with prospects not only from Connecticut, but also Washington DC, Indiana, Massachusetts and even Hong Kong. Mikayla, meanwhile, was unafraid to reveal her own sense of vulnerability, confiding at the outset that this was her very first time leading a tour. She did great. We never would have guessed it was her inaugural voyage.

We were taken through a typical array of stops for a larger school, such as the student union, the academic services center, and the business school. At every opportunity, we were reminded of the ways in which UConn supports the college transition, with programs such as ACES, which pairs students with an academic advisor, and FYE, or the first-year experience, where students get to know professors and classmates in a particular area of interest. The other big emphasis, naturally, was career/jobs, including periodic job fairs, “Career Tuesdays” that offer weekly meetings with potential employers, as well as opportunities to become Bloomberg certified. True to form, UConn also makes a point of easing the transition from college into the real world of jobs and careers.

We stopped outside the Neag School of Education, which offers a five-year combined undergraduate and Masters program, the Babbage Library, home of some 3.5 million books, and the William Benton Museum of Art, housing some 6,500 pieces, dating back to the 15th century. We heard tale of “One Ton Sundae,” when students can fill up a bucketful of UConn’s famous Dairy Bar ice cream, for free. It happens in February but is a very popular event.

Our final stop was the Brien McMahon residence hall, one of eight on campus that features a themed cafeteria. McMahon offers international fare, while others specialize in kosher/halal, vegan/vegetarian, and, on message: comfort food. We stopped by a picture-perfect model dorm room, and were then asked to take a seat and fill out an evaluation form. They wanted us to offer comments and suggestions to improve their presentation and tour! UConn may not be the only school to do this, but it is unusual and speaks well of both their level of confidence and willingness to listen. Once again, it was comforting.

In yet another nice touch, we were asked to pose for a group picture with a cut-out of Jonathan Husky, the school mascot. It was also surprising, in that there had been little mention of “Huskymania” during the info session or tour, suggesting that UConn is more interested in building its reputation on academics, even though bragging about its enviable sports program would be an easy thing to do.

It was a healthy reminder that a little humility goes a long way.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

Georgetown Tour: What Rocks? Hoya Saxa!

We gamely followed Matt, our witty and vivacious Georgetown University tour guide, as he ascended what appeared to be a fire escape. Where were we going, and why? After our large group arrived on the rooftop, and continued along a fenced-in catwalk, the uneven, concrete tiles wobbling under our footsteps, the answer came clear. Matt perched himself precariously on a fence and with a wave of his arm proudly pointed out the many landmarks dotting our sweeping view: the Kennedy Center, the Washington Monument, Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials and the Pentagon, not to mention the notorious Watergate Hotel. The moment instantly captured Georgetown’s sense of time and place, specifically its history as a university whose founding coincided with that of America itself.

Georgetown is by no means the only university in the nation’s capital, but it is the oldest and most selective, as well as the oldest Catholic university in the nation. Matt carefully noted, however, that the school is neither inherently religious nor political. Its student body is less than 50% Catholic and a “God Squad” of campus chaplains actively serve a spectrum of faiths. In fact, the school was the nation’s first to be open to students of all beliefs. Moreover, even though Georgetown attracts a healthy dose of politicos, its students pursue business, science, theater, art and more, both in the classroom and the District beyond. He added that while DC may be thought of as a cut-throat culture, Georgetown is a kinder, gentler, collaborative place.

This echoed what we had heard earlier during a well-attended info session in a posh auditorium inside the school’s Intercultural Center. Georgetown sees itself as a trio of communities. The first is the campus itself, a compact 110-acre spread, fronted by Healy Hall, graced by large trees and a lush lawn, and bordered by a stone wall that, legend has it, figures into Georgetown’s official cheer, “Hoya Saxa.” Allegedly, when sporting events were held on the lawn, spectators would remove rocks from the wall and throw them in the direction of the visiting team. When met with objection, Georgetown students would yell, “hoya saxa,” which roughly translates into “what rocks?” Other origin stories abound, but that one, um, rocks.

Georgetown’s second community is set squarely within the upscale, 12-block, Georgetown neighborhood that surrounds it, home to shops, restaurants and a waterfront area offering lots to do just footsteps away. Community number three is the city of DC and all it has to offer. Getting there requires taking a shuttle bus to a metro station, and then a few minutes’ ride to the National Mall, Capitol Hill, and all other points of interest. (A fourth type of community, known as Living Learning Communities, or LLCs, allows students to reside with others of common background or interests, e.g., social activism, religion, sexual identity, foreign languages, and transfer students.)

As info sessions go, Georgetown’s was relatively heavy on the school’s history and prime location as compared to its academics, which was surprising given its stellar academic reputation. As we waited for the session to begin we were entertained by a steady stream of Georgetown fun facts: it accepted the first international student in 1792; its blue and gray colors were adopted to promote post-Civil War healing; its Mask & Bauble theater troupe is the nation’s oldest; and so forth. Of course, we did hear about Georgetown’s four undergraduate schools: arts & sciences; nursing; foreign services; and business. We learned that while it is not difficult to transfer between schools, it is not possible to double major across them. Pre-med is offered not as a major but as a concentration that can be combined with any other major, even something ostensibly unrelated, like, say, history.

Pursuing a major and a double minor, meanwhile, seems to be a popular way for students to weave diverse interests into an interdisciplinary program. The classical Jesuit “whole person” philosophy is emphasized, as is the commitment to connecting one’s education with public service, and a larger purpose. Banners extolling university values, such as “contemplation in action” and “community in diversity” hang from lampposts along walkways across the main campus.

We were shown exterior photos of the impressive-looking science and business buildings during the info session, but were not taken inside those or any other facilities during our tour, save an abbreviated jaunt through the beautifully ornate, neo-Medieval Healy Hall, Georgetown’s flagship. A photo of the spectacular Gaston Hall auditorium was shared, but nothing more. Some schools can’t wait to show off what’s behind their curtains, while others are strangely modest about their assets. Maybe there’s a good reason for this, but if there is, we haven’t yet heard it.

Georgetown does look pretty darn good, if only from the outside. Especially memorable is the Dahlgren Quad, named for the Dahlgren Chapel, for which there is a 5-7 year waiting list if you want it for a wedding. It is also framed by the Old North Building, the oldest structure on campus, and from the top step of which some 14 U.S. presidents have appeared or spoken, starting with George Washington, including Abraham Lincoln, and most recently, Barack Obama.

Healy Hall and its famous clock tower further define the quad. Mischievous students periodically have “stolen” the handles and sent them to famous people as an invitation to speak at the university; Bill Clinton, a Georgetown alum, reportedly autographed the handles and Pope Francis purportedly blessed them. The university actively discourages this particular tradition.

With its near-ivy level of selectivity (an approximately 14% admit rate), getting accepted into Georgetown is certainly a challenge. In addition to grades, rigor and board scores, Georgetown “strongly recommends” submitting at least three SAT subject-matter tests. This may be waived if such tests are not available to the student. It does not offer a binding “early decision” option, but does allow a restricted “early action” opportunity. However, those applying to it may not apply “early decision” to any other schools. Both “early action” and “regular decision” applicants are notified on May 1st. Georgetown has its own application and does not use either the Common or Coalition app, however it requires essentially the same essays and information as the Common app.

As our 90-minute tour wrapped up, Matt perched himself, once again precariously, atop a narrow brick wall, with the school’s Jesuit graveyard in the background (“a cute campus addition,” he quipped). As is often the case with campus tours, he concluded with his reasons for choosing Georgetown: the size (7,500 undergraduates); the location (DC & Georgetown); and the people (the alumni network which he said had been incredibly responsive to his requests for career and other guidance). “Georgetown is not just an education,” he said, “ it also forms you as a person and a global citizen.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

Hofstra Tour: Monkey Puzzles & Other Surprises

One would get the wrong idea if the aging, high-rise residential halls visible from a bordering turnpike were one’s first impression of Hofstra University. This would be doubly problematic if it were raining and 45 degrees on what should be a glorious Spring day. So many students form fast, hard, negative opinions based on such cursory glances, especially when the surrounding area looks a lot like … Hempstead, Long Island.

This is why taking the time to tour colleges is so important. Pass through its gates, and Hofstra’s transformation is remarkable. What appears from the outside to be a gritty, urban neighborhood is in reality a 240-acre campus that is home to an honest-to-goodness National Arboretum and enough exotic greenery to fill perhaps a dozen or more so-called “green campuses.” Venture inside its buildings and you will find an art gallery, state-of-the-art television studio, full-fledged trading floor, a near-scale replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and a towering library with a top-floor view of the Manhattan skyline, a mere 25 miles away.

Hofstra certainly knows what it has, and is eager to show it off. Dispensing with the usual jam-packed info session, Hofstra limited its dog-and-pony show to just 10 minutes, opting to let the campus itself do the talking. In a rare move, our hosting admissions counselor joined us on the student-led tour. One of the first stops was the Guthart Cultural Center Theater, which you might recall as the site of the 2008, 2012 and 2016 U.S. presidential debates. If not, there’s a shrine commemorating it. Next stop was the Mack Student Center, the hub of student life, with food court, book store, bank, and probably because it is Long Island, a hair and nail salon.

Unlike certain other schools, which are reluctant to let you see what’s inside their buildings and behind their curtains, Hofstra can’t wait to walk you through its empire, in particular the science and brand, spanking new business building. The Zarb Business School is so new that it actually smells new. In addition to a 34-terminal trading floor, it has a really cool entrepreneurial center, with 3D printers, drones, a recording studio and garage door walls that open up to encourage collaboration. A career center sits directly across the way from Zarb.

The science building has all the labs and such like, of course. The stairwells were memorable because one features renderings of icons of science, like Darwin, and the other various sea creatures, such as horseshoe crabs. The simple, black and white, stencil-style images are courtesy of the school’s art department, a reminder that arts connect with sciences.

Hofstra is fairly young as American universities go, dating back only to 1935. Built on the former estate of lumber mogul William Hofstra, it originally was an outpost of New York University. This changed at its first commencement, when the school’s 83 students were given a choice to have diplomas from Hofstra or NYU. They overwhelmingly chose Hofstra, and “pride” has been the school’s signature value ever since (although the current slogan is “pride & purpose.”) “Pride” doubles as a reference to the lion on the school’s official crest, as well.

The nearly overwhelming greenery on campus is of course rooted in its past as a rich man’s backyard. Most memorable is the thorny Monkey Puzzle tree (google it; it is weird and fascinating).

As we strolled through one building or another, monitors promoted a baseball game versus The College of William & Mary, a reminder that opposites attract. Sports is important at Hofstra; after all, it is located across the street from Nassau Coliseum, and its own Shuart Stadium is the home of the New York Lizards, a professional lacrosse team. Students are treated to two free tickets to all home games. At one time Hofstra’s stadium was the training camp for the New York Jets. It fields 17 teams of its own, including just about everything you can think of except football. Perhaps inspired by U Chicago, it built a medical school where its stadium used to be.

We didn’t see the entire campus, which is split by the Hempstead Turnpike and bridged by overhead, enclosed walkways. Basically, the North side is the residential area, including the athletic fields, and the South is where classes happen. Hofstra likes to refer to nearby New York City as its “satellite campus,” and it does afford students with ample opportunities to enjoy everything the Big Apple has to offer. While touring the campus’ award-winning radio station and tricked-out television studio, our guide noted that the major networks in NYC are a major source of internships for Hofstra undergrads.

Oh, and Jones Beach is just a half-hour down the road.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

DePaul Tour: A Distinctly Vincentian Education

Never afraid of getting too much of a good thing, we squeezed in one last college tour during our Chicago whirlwind. With just hours to spare before our return flight, we grabbed a slow Lyft to DePaul University’s Lincoln Park campus — the residential, horizontal one, as compared to its more compact high-rise Loop campus located about five miles, or 20 minutes, south.

DePaul is a big, private, university of about 16,000 undergraduates and 8,000 graduate students, making it America’s largest Catholic university. What comes clear, pretty quickly, is that DePaul’s Catholic identity is of a distinctly inclusive variety, welcoming a robust mix of Jewish and Muslim students as well as Latinx, Asian and LGBTQ.

Vincentians, followers of the 17th-century French priest Saint Vincent de Paul, founded the school as St. Vincent’s College in 1898. The name changed to DePaul in 1907, but its operative philosophy remains grounded in “teaching and service,” and it still lives and proudly articulates its founding principles more than 100 years later. Our info session leader, herself an impressive recent graduate, summed it up in three succinct bullet points: education, environment and ethos. It’s not often that a school’s defining characteristics are spelled out so quickly, clearly and with feeling.

Education at DePaul finds expression across a total of ten schools and 300 programs. The Lincoln Park campus is home to the colleges of education, arts & sciences, science & health, music and theater. The Loop is where you’ll find schools for business, law, communication, digital media and new learning (for adult students). Both campuses follow the Chicago-style quarterly system, which here includes a 10-day, freshman-year study-abroad opportunity during the six-week winter break.

DePaul considers the Chicago environment to be its classroom, providing opportunities for internships, co-op employment and research. Lincoln Park is where the vast majority of the students who live on campus reside, complete with a lake, a quad, shops, restaurants and nightlife. The Loop more of a downtown, big-city experience. Transit fare is included in tuition.

For all students, the notion of “teaching and service” is the classroom ethos, with studies framed by the questions: What must be done? Whom are you helping? What difference are you making? This holistic view of academics and action perhaps further informs DePaul’s five-year law school program, which students can begin as freshmen, and helps explain why undergraduates can apply to the university’s medical school while pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

One curiosity is the school’s logo. It’s just a little puzzling why a college named after a saint would have a sports team called the Blue Demons and a red-eyed, blue-hued mascot that appears quite the opposite of saintly. The story goes that the team originally was nicknamed the D-men, which morphed into demon and then a blue one because it was a school color, along with scarlet red, accounting for those eyes.

Our tour lasted only a few minutes because we had to return to our hotel to get our bags and then head to the airport. This made us sad, because our guides were a hoot. The one with purple hair said he told his mom he would apply to DePaul and DePaul alone the minute he set foot on campus. “It was just something about the vibe,” he said. The other, a former film production major who switched to economics confided: “I realized I was more interested in watching movies than making them.” With a wry smile and sideways glance, she quipped, ”So, if you know anyone who needs any film production credits …” Clearly, a budding capitalist.

With that, she pointed us to the nearby L station, a mercifully fast train ride downtown, and then yet another bumper-to-bumper car ride back to O’Hare.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail

U Chicago Tour: Yes, We Had Fun

Looking for the admissions office, walking through a grand archway, not knowing exactly what was to come, we were stunned by the jaw-dropping elegance of what other colleges might call a quad but at University of Chicago is better described as an English garden. A cut-stone walkway, antique lamp posts with flowers clustered just-so at the base, plantings meticulously curated and placed in tidy circles and squares. This couldn’t possibly be the place where fun goes to die, although it doesn’t exactly scream “let’s play ultimate frisbee!” The 215-acre space is in fact officially designated a Botanic Garden. It certainly makes a statement. This place is different.

Off to the right, there it was, Rosenwald Hall, office of admissions, all spires, gothic gray stone, a red-tile roof, and, naturally, ivy. Once inside, we felt instantly humbled by the faint echo and vaguely damp, dusty aroma that only the most venerable of academic institutions can muster. But first things first, are there any pens? The receptionist seemed startled by our question, but quickly recovered by turning up not just one but five high-quality maroon pens with uchicago in a lowercase gothic font. We were off to a good start.

Our new pens and worn notebooks in hand, our small group was ushered into a compact conference room, replete with one of those European-style, intersecting arched vaulted ceilings. We were invited to take a seat around a dark oak table, with an admissions counselor at its head. It felt more like we were about to participate in a seminar than an info session, which most probably was intentional. What followed was indeed more of a discussion than a presentation. It was certainly one of the crispest, clearest admissions expositions we’ve ever experienced.

Our host wasted no time setting the frame, which is all about 3s. UChicago, like other schools in town, has a trimester system, in which the school year is divided into quarters, with students taking classes during three of the four segments. Courses of study are also divided by thirds, with one-third each dedicated to a major, the core, and electives. The idea is to make sure each student spreads it around, and especially that the opportunity to have some fun with electives is not lost in the avalanche of core and major requirements. The core demands are also flexible, with plenty of options and the freedom to complete them anytime.

To keep their choices on track, all students are assigned an academic advisor the summer before their first year and required to meet at least once per quarter thereafter. This is mandatory: those who fail to schedule such a meeting are barred from registering for the next quarter. Each student is also assigned a career advancement advisor prior to arrival, and while internships are not required, about 90% of students complete at least one, all of them paid.

What’s more, some 900 organizations, everything from major corporations to startups, recruit at UChicago each year. This strong pre-professional emphasis is a little surprising, as UC is historically perceived as overwhelmingly academic. Of course, the two goals are by no means mutually exclusive.

Our discussion turned to campus life, in particular the residential system, which features “houses” within dorms, each composed of between 30-100 students, cutting across all years, who live and play together, taking trips around Chicago, to restaurants, zoos, games, museums — all funded by UChicago. Each house decides by vote how the money will be spent, and the largess is perhaps the centerpiece of the school’s determination to dispel the legend that life there is as serious as a heart attack.

Theories abound as to how UC earned its hard-boiled reputation; it is no doubt a place where students work hard and just might pursue small talk as a blood sport. That could be true of any number of elite universities, though. According to our host, the unfortunate trope dates back to the 1960s, when UChicago disbanded its clubs and built a library where its stadium used to be. That would do it. He said that “fun goes to die” T shirts remain popular, but only as a joke.

That fun is alive and well was dramatically reinforced by Ellie, our tour guide, who introduced herself by rapping about her life at UChicago and what she loves about it. As we walked the campus, she wisecracked about the questionable aesthetics of the new Max Palevsky dorm (the best thing about it was being inside because then you don’t have to see the outside), touted the arts pass that gets you into countless museums and venues, and the free public transportation that is an open invitation to explore all that Chicago has to offer.

As we walked through the Science Quad, Ellie pointed out a foreboding, windowless brick building with vented siloes running from bottom to top and said the Zombie Readiness Task Force, a student club, had named it the safest building on campus in the event of an apocalypse. She regaled us with stories of a madcap scavenger hunt, a mini art-museum, and a really weird cafe where plastic gloves hang from the ceiling as Gregorian chants waft through the sound system. If any doubt remained as to whether one could have fun here, Ellie erased it. The only real X-factor may be your idea of fun.

Meanwhile, back at our info seminar, we turned to the so-called Chicago “extended” essay, which applicants sometimes approach with dread, although the prompts clearly are built for whimsy. The question can be deceptively simple, such as: compare apples and oranges. The point is to get a sense of how you think, and so the key is to interpret the question in the context of something that’s meaningful to you. For example, one might write about apples versus oranges in terms of science, philosophy, linguistics or economics.

A new essay topic is released each year in mid/late June, but applicants have the option to choose from any question ever posed from years past. Just pick a prompt that speaks to you and for which your response comes easily. It’s basically an opportunity to showcase whatever you are most passionate about.

Be true to yourself, and, yes, have fun with it.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail