Campus Visit Notes: Boston University

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College:  Boston University – http://www.bu.edu/ 

Location: Boston, MA

Type of Institution: Private research university

Size: 16,500 undergraduates, over 30,000 including graduate students

Admissions Advice: Boston University has become increasingly competitive in recent years as the university pushes to move up in the rankings and due to the fact that the college has decreased the freshman class size. Nearly 20% of students are international, further inflating test score and GPA statistics. The university highly values demonstrated interest and there is a big difference in admission rates for Early Decision, so students with a true passion for the university have an advantage.

Most popular majors: Communication/Journalism, Business, Biology, Health Sciences

Words to describe students I met: Preppy, bros, outgoing, wealthy, confident, active

Unique academic aspects: BU has a range of programs for students with varying interests, from a 7-year accelerated medical school program to a popular two-year liberal arts program for undecided students. The combined med school program has an acceptance rate of 2.5% (!), so it truly is only for the most passionate and prepared undergraduates. The College of General Studies, on the other hand, is a great place for students who want to explore different disciplines while fulfilling general education / graduation requirements. It is a great way for the undecided student to stay on track, something which can often be challenging at larger universities.

Unique social/cultural aspects: Hockey is big at Boston U, and the Terriers have a rich history in the sport. The team has won multiple national championships over the years and tons of rowdy fans can be found at games throughout the season. Not only are sports big on campus, but in the nearby neighborhoods as well. BU is very close to Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, so students have ample opportunities to enjoy the city’s sports culture just a few blocks away. A good portion of BU students can be described as “bros” or “jocks”, though Greek life is not as large as one might expect (only about 13% of the student body).

Colleges that seem similar: New York University, George Washington University, University of Southern California, American University, Fordham University

Concerns about this college:  Boston University, like many universities in hip urban coastal cities, has tons of students just dying to get in, many of whom are willing to pay full tuition. Boston U has historically been stringy with financial aid and scholarship money, a concern the admission officer I spoke to agreed with fully. However, he said the college is trying to improve its financial aid and scholarship reputation to attract a more diverse range of students. I’m excited to see how this plays out in the coming months and years.

Overall impressions: Boston U’s campus is long and spread out, and very well-integrated with the surrounding city. A metro line runs right along the length of the campus with easy connections to other parts of Boston, and the nearby Allston neighborhood is a fun place to be a college student. I had visited the campus nearly fifteen years ago and was happy to revisit and see the changes in the neighborhood and campus improvements. The college has a lot to offer students interested in business, film and journalism who don’t want to be overwhelmed in NYC or LA, and is a good alternative for those who don’t want to attend a massive urban university (though 30,000 is still pretty large). Overall it was a good visit with a great and enthusiastic tour guide. And I’m very excited that at least one of my current seniors will be enrolling next fall.

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Campus Visit Notes: Northeastern University

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College: Northeastern University – www.northeastern.edu

Location: Boston, MA

Type of Institution: Medium size private research university

Size: 16,000 undergraduates

Admissions Advice: Northeastern has absolutely surged up the college rankings lists over the last decade, and not by accident. The university has received lots of press about its huge marketing, PR and recruitment push geared towards raising GPAs, test scores and selectivity. The admissions office uses a holistic review in theory, but former application readers indicate this isn’t necessarily the case. One admissions reader comments “From an insider view, I remember getting calls from angry parents whose student had gotten admitted to Ivy Leagues, with scholarships, and not been admitted to Northeastern. It was hard for parents to understand since Northeastern‘s popularity skyrocketed over a short period of time.” Because of this uncertainty and rapid growth in applications, Northeastern should be considered a reach school for most students.

Most popular majors: Business, Engineering, Biology, Computer Science

Words to describe students I met: Enthusiastic, professional, articulate, career and real-world oriented, independent

Unique academic aspects: Northeastern has one of the oldest and most well-developed co-op programs in the country. Over 90% of students participate in the program which allows them to work full-time with a company, research organization, non-profit, etc. during their undergraduate education. Students typically graduate from Northeastern in 5 years, and some even choose to take up to 1.5 years for their co-op. And exciting news for parents: More than 50% of students receive full-time job offers after completion of their work experience. Northeastern really is focused on career and post-college outcomes.

Northeastern also offers numerous accelerated graduate programs or pre-professional tracks for students. Aspiring doctors, pharmacists, physical therapists, lawyers and others will find opportunities to jump in to these studies sooner than the traditional routes.

Unique social/cultural aspects: On-campus housing is guaranteed for all four years and is required for the first two years. This is fairly unique for such a large university in an urban center and shows that the school is really trying to create community on-campus. Some of the neighborhoods around the campus are a little sketchy also, so dorm living ensures a bit more safety and security than living off-campus.

Colleges that seem similar: Rochester Institute of Technology, Drexel University, University of Pittsburgh, Temple University, Villanova University

Concerns about this college: As mentioned above, the college’s push to move up in the rankings is concerning. It can disadvantage strong and capable students who simply don’t have the stats to benefit the university. Additionally, it seems very clear that Northeastern is having a hard time keeping up with its new popularity. The campus visit was poorly executed and staff and guides were frazzled, leading to a less-than-stellar experience for myself and dozens of other visitors. This left me with concerns that new students would get lost in the mix coming to campus in the fall.

Overall impressions: I have been fascinated with Northeastern University for a number of years and I’m happy I was finally able to visit. The co-op program is truly spectacular, and students enter the job market leaps and bounds ahead of their peers. The campus itself was more diverse than I expected, both in terms of the student body and architectural style. I would recommend this college to students in the sciences in particular who are seeking this unique co-op experience. It is also a good match for students who prefer more hands-on and career-oriented learning.

Campus Visit Notes: Emerson College

College:  Emerson College – http://www.emerson.edu/

Location: Right in the heart of Boston, MA

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts college (with a strong arts and communications focus)

Size: 3,500 undergraduates

Admissions Advice: A full overview of the admissions requirements for freshman applicants can be found here. Emerson’s admissions policies are fairly standard with the exception of the additional artistic review materials and creative samples required for performing arts and media production majors, respectively. This is a serious arts, media and communications school, so the extra step in admissions ensures that students are truly passionate and excited about these fields of study.

Most popular majors: Communications; journalism; performing arts; visual arts; writing, literature and publishing

Words to describe students I met: Bubbly, artistic, strong communicators, funny, independent, quirky

Unique academic aspects: The entire Emerson experience is focused on getting students ready for real careers in the arts and communication realms. Classroom spaces, labs, production studios and theaters all operate according to the most up-to-date industry standards for film, television, theater, and even marketing. One of the highlights of my tour was visiting a space used by Boston area companies to conduct marketing focus group research, with Emerson students participating directly or behind the scenes. The college prides itself on its co-curricular opportunities (aka internships and real-life experience both on-campus and beyond). For parents concerned about job prospects for a student who wants to study fine arts, writing and other disciplines, Emerson really is a phenomenal place.

Unique social/cultural aspects: This campus is about as urban as it gets. It is located right across the street from the Boston Commons park and close to the financial center of the city. Despite this, the campus has a pretty decent community feel. In fact, students are required to live on-campus for the first two years, which can be crucial for students who aren’t quite ready to tackle the big city and who want to build a solid friend group early on in their education. I really got the sense that students are a part of this community and don’t get lost in the crowd like at other urban campuses.

The EVVY Awards at Emerson is Emerson’s own awards show held on campus each year. It is a completely student-run production similar to the EMMY awards which showcases student achievements in various categories. The college even brings in real writers, actors, producers, etc. to assist with the judging!

Colleges that seem similar: NYU, The New School, Savannah College of Art and Design, Syracuse, Chapman, University of Southern California

Concerns about this college: Obviously Emerson is a highly specialized college, so students must be sure they are interested in the majors/minors offered before enrolling. There isn’t a option to pursue the sciences, for example, so I would not recommend Emerson to a student who is even remotely considering majors outside of arts and communications. This means less opportunities to explore random areas of study in college, which can be an important part of the college experience.

Additionally, the truly urban campus may not be for everyone. Students I met commented that it can be loud in the dorms (not just from fellow students, but from the local bars, traffic, and other city noises). The dining hall food hasn’t been great historically according to my tour guide and friends who attended Emerson within the last ten years, but apparently it is improving. And finally, students who are not comfortable with confronting homelessness may struggle in this urban environment (or really at any urban campus).

Overall impressions: My tour guide was excellent, the facilities were impressive and the campus is in the heart of a vibrant city! Getting around the area was easy and the buildings I toured were close to each other and had a college feel. I was really surprised to learn about the marketing and business classes offered here as well as the popularity of these as minors on campus. This is a great school for aspiring entertainment industry professionals who don’t want to head to Los Angeles or New York for college, but want to be able to access strong alumni networks in those cities (and Boston of course) upon graduation.