Campus Visit Notes: University of Idaho

College: University of Idaho – http://www.uidaho.edu/ 

Location: Moscow, Idaho (a small college town 1 1/2 hours from Spokane, WA and 15 minutes from WSU-Pullman)

Type of Institution: Public university

Size: ~9,500 undergraduates

Admissions Advice: University of Idaho admits students primarily based on a combination of GPA and standardized test scores and is a fairly accessible university. This chart illustrates the combination required for admission. The university (like most public universities) is not as concerned about students showing demonstrated interest or cultural fit with the college as it is a medium-sized school with more than 100 different academic majors.

Most popular majors: Education, business, economics, forestry,engineering, environmental sciences

Words to describe students I met: down-to-earth, Greek (fraternity/sorority), outdoorsy, active, friendly

Unique academic aspects: My tour guide shared a number of anecdotes about unique University of Idaho academic programs throughout my visit. For business or economics majors, they offer an upper-level trading class where students actually invest real money (thousands of dollars!) in the stock market. At the end of the class, the school absorbs any losses while students who do well can donate money back to the university, often selecting where it goes.

Additionally, the university prides itself on hands-on learning, in some ways bridging the gap between a smaller liberal arts education and a large research university. Because the school is smaller and focused on undergraduates primarily, there are many research opportunities on campus and approximately 70% of students participate each year. However, as a state university and one of the most important research centers in the region, the school has ties in with local industry as well. Though Idaho isn’t quite a Tier I research university, it does still have a “high research activity” rating by the Carnegie Foundation. University of Idaho is constructing a new research center which will serve as a hub of interdisciplinary research activity starting in the next year or two.

Unique social/cultural aspects: Students at University of Idaho are a whole different level of outdoorsy. The school boasts the tallest climbing wall west of the Mississippi and the outdoor recreation center offers tons of subsidized expeditions every weekend. They also offer one of the nation’s only Fire Ecology programs and have strong environmental sciences research opportunities. Not necessarily “unique” but notable is the fact that the Greek system is popular among Vandals – about 40% of students participate and can even start living in Greek housing starting freshman year.

Colleges that seem similar: Washington State (located just 15 minutes down the highway), Colorado State – Fort Collins, University of Montana, Eastern Washington University

Concerns about this college: Moscow, Idaho is definitely a college town. Families who visit in the summer don’t come back with great impressions of the area due to the fact that the vibrancy of the area is completely tied to the academic calendar. Students seeking more exciting off-campus opportunities or city experiences may not enjoy this college. Additionally, like most public universities the majority of students come from Idaho. Because the state itself is not very ethnically diverse, this carries over to the campus population. About 75% of University of Idaho students are Caucasian, so for a student coming from a highly diverse part of the country, Idaho may be a bit of a shock.

Overall impressions: I enjoyed my visit to University of Idaho even though it was a dreary day. The beauty of the campus and surrounding area really surprised me. The campus visit program was well organized and thorough – they are very welcoming! I could see very outdoorsy students thrive at University of Idaho, as well as students interested in conservation and ecology programs unique to the Inland Northwest region. As expected, the campus diversity and surrounding town did not blow me away, but it means the community on-campus and in the Greek system is strong.

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Eastern Washington / Western Idaho College Tour

Earlier this week I planned my own college tour of a few great (and very different) colleges in eastern Washington and western Idaho. Though I’d been to the area many times over the years and had stepped foot on a few campuses, I never did the full and official campus tours.Often parents and students don’t know where to start with planning their own college tour. So, over the next few months I’ll be sharing some hints on which colleges to include on your tour, driving distances, tips about on-campus visit opportunities and what to experience in the region beyond just the campus. I’ll also be writing more detailed profiles of some of the colleges I’ve visited, not only sharing my visit experience but my impressions of what type of student would do well in that environment.

Day One: I started off by spending a day in Spokane. This is the largest city in the eastern Washington region with over 200,000 residents. Sure, it’s no Seattle, but this city has a lot going on, including a handful of colleges and universities. My first stop was Eastern Washington University, located about 30 minutes past Spokane in Cheney. The school only offered a campus tour led by a current student, so I took advantage of that opportunity in the morning. Then I drove to Spokane, passing through the Washington State University’s Spokane campus en route to Gonzaga University. (Side note: WSU-Spokane is much larger than I thought! It is primarily a graduate health sciences university, but they offer a few Bachelor’s programs in nursing, nutrition and speech/hearing sciences). My visit to Gonzaga was more comprehensive, including a small campus tour led by two students and a meeting with an admissions counselor for Seattle. They also offer class visits and can connect you to professors during your visit if you reach out early enough.

The other four-year college located in downtown Spokane is Whitworth University, a small private Christian university. They didn’t offer tours or other visit opportunities while I was in town, but it is another school worth considering if you are interested in a Christian education.

Day Two:  I visited University of Idaho and Washington State University on this fairly long day. Many people choose to stay in the picturesque Coeur d’Alene and make the scenic 1.5 hour drive down to Moscow, Idaho for their campus visit. However, there a small number of hotel options in Moscow as well, and staying there overnight could provide good insight into what this college town looks like in the evening. My University of Idaho visit consisted of a student-led campus tour, residence hall tour and free lunch in the dining hall. After devouring some standard college kid faire (pizza and a salad), I got back in the car and less than five minutes later I was in Washington. Only 15 minutes down the road is the Washington State University campus and town of Pullman. At WSU, I attended a short information session and went on a campus tour with a very enthusiastic tour guide, one of the best I’ve had so far! My favorite part of the visit was treating myself to some huckleberry ice cream at the creamery / ice cream shoppe on campus. All of the products are made by students using the dairy cows on-campus – definitely a first for me!

After my visit concluded at 4 PM, I began the long drive through the Palouse region to Walla Walla. The drive was supposed to take just over 2 hours, but I ended up pulling over to take pictures along the way and admire the beauty of the rolling green and gold hills. You pass many small farming towns on this drive as well as hundreds of wind turbines. It is one of my favorite drives in Washington state! Be sure to print off directions or have a map handy as my cell phone didn’t work for most of this drive and there wasn’t much signage to tell you where to go. By 7 PM, I arrived to my hotel in Walla Walla and quickly found many excellent dinner options within a few blocks.

Day Three: And finally, on my last day of the tour, I experienced Whitman College and the town of Walla Walla. There aren’t many other four-year colleges to add on to a Whitman visit on the same day due to its isolation, but fortunately the Walla Walla area has a lot to offer for a free morning or afternoon of exploring and relaxing. There are also a few direct flights from Walla Walla to Seattle (or from the Tri-Cities area, about one hour away), so if this is your first or last stop you’re in luck. Whitman offered one of the most comprehensive visits of any school, including a full one-hour information session on the admissions process, campus tour and meeting with an admissions counselor for the Seattle region. Be sure to set aside a full 3 hours for your campus visit experience.

After this visit, I headed back to Seattle, feeling excited about some of the great college options just a few hours away.