Campus Visit Notes: University of British Columbia (Canada)

College:  University of British Columbia

Location: Vancouver, BC Canada

Type of Institution: Research university

Size: 41,000 undergraduates. 50,000+ including graduate students

Admissions Advice: UBC, like most Canadian universities, has a very numbers-centric admissions process. They focus mostly on GPA, standardized test scores, and rigor of a student’s high school curriculum. Admission requirements and standards vary from major to major, so it is crucial that students research those requirements before applying.

Most popular majors: Biology, Psychology, English, Commerce (Business)

Words to describe students I met: Cosmopolitan, independent, diverse, outdoorsy, self-motivated

Unique academic aspects: My excellent tour guide was very open about the average class sizes and the struggles to keep students engaged in their education in such large lectures. The average class size for freshman is 150 students, which is of course broken down into smaller tutorial/lab sections led by teaching assistants. To help track attendance and engagement in the large classes, professors use “i-clickers”. They can display questions or polls on the big screen and students then click in a response which is aggregated and displayed on the screen in a bar chart. This can often help guide the direction of the lecture and is a great way of keeping track of who is in class and who doesn’t show throughout the course.

University of British Columbia also has an excellent reputation for its co-operative education (co-op) programs. Students across all disciplines, including humanities, can do research or internships during their undergraduate experience for academic credit and for pay. This is much more common in Canadian schools in general, but is catching on a bit more in the US, particularly for STEM students.

Unique social/cultural aspects: UBC is a true melting pot of cultures and backgrounds. More than 21% of the students on the Vancouver campus are from abroad, and those from Canada represent many diverse cultural identities. It is a really remarkable place and great for students who want that international flair but don’t want to travel far.

I was also pleased to learn that on-campus housing is guaranteed for freshman year, and there are beds for 11,000 students on campus. I toured some of the dorms and met with two different resident assistants. They are serious about building community on campus and helping students to connect to each other (and to the university itself) during that first year.

Colleges that seem similar:  University of California-Berkeley, University of Washington – Seattle, University of California- Los Angeles,  other Canadian universities

Concerns about this college: University of British Columbia is a true research university. The college is proud of its research funding, projects, and the companies that have spun off from these academic ventures. However, I was surprised to learn that UBC still only receives half of what the University of Washington receives in research dollars each year and has nearly double the student population. This leaves me with some concerns about how this funding trickles down to undergraduates or how accessible these opportunities are for students in general.

Overall impressions: I enjoyed my visit to this campus, which is one of the largest universities I have ever visited (aside from Arizona State & Ohio State). UBC’s location perched along the waterfront is truly beautiful, and it is still close enough for students to enjoy the downtown Vancouver city life about a 20 minute bus ride away. As with any large university, it takes a student with maturity and independence to do well on this campus and to not get lost in the mix. And it is a fantastic option for budget-conscious families as the total cost of attendance for international students is around $36,000 USD per year.

Campus Visit Notes: Washington State University

College:  Washington State University –

Location: Pullman, WA

Type of Institution: Public research university

Size: 20,000+ undergraduates, about 30,000 total including all campuses and graduate programs

Admissions Advice: Washington State has a fairly straightforward admissions process using an index of GPA and test scores (this also carries over the scholarship awards).  There are ways for students to be admitted that fall below the criteria, however. They use a rolling admission model with a Jan 31st deadline, so I advise students to apply early and find out within a few weeks. Added bonus: No essays are required for general admission!

Most popular majors: Animal science / agricultural studies majors, business, kinesiology & sport science, hospitality, engineering, journalism. (They have 150+ majors/minors so there is literally something for everyone).

Words to describe students I met: outgoing, full of school spirit, laid-back, welcoming, collaborative

Unique academic aspects: As a land-grant institution, WSU has really excellent programs in agriculture, food science and zoology. They have the only vet school in the state and will soon open a new medical school in Spokane. This is a great launching point for students interested in hands-on research with animals in preparation for graduate programs and fellowships.

My tour guide, a senior in the animal science program, already had one publication under her belt and had been doing research since her freshman year. For the motivated student that isn’t afraid to seek out opportunities, WSU could be a great fit. Students have access to research with less competition from their peers.

Unique social/cultural aspects: School spirit is alive and well at WSU. The football field is beautiful and located in the mix of other campus buildings, bringing the community together to cheer on the Cougs. Just on the other side of the football field are tons of off-campus apartments full of students. It is common for students to live in dorms for freshman year only and then move off-campus, but still close enough to walk.

Colleges that seem similar: University of Oregon, University of Montana,  Boise State, Oregon State University, University of Idaho (just 15 minutes down the street)

Concerns about this college:  Pullman isn’t a metropolis. It is a college town which swells to 35,000 people during the academic year, the majority of whom are students. There is a great little airport nearby but access to bigger city experiences and amenities are quite far away. Additionally, WSU does have a party-school reputation though Greek life represents only 1/4 of students. I’d argue this isn’t anything to be concerned about as it is a large enough university that students of all social scene preferences will find their niche, whether it involves late night video gaming sessions, theater groups or the party scene.

Overall impressions: I really enjoyed my WSU visit! After years of working in admissions at UW, WSU’s sworn enemy, I have a special place in my heart for this “rival” college. My tour guide was among the best I’ve ever had and I was really impressed with the visit program as a whole. I really felt a strong sense of community on campus and around Pullman. And how can you not love a campus tour that ends with some ice cream from the campus creamery? (Seriously. You should try it.)

Campus Visit Notes: University of South Carolina

College:  University of South Carolina –

Location: Columbia, South Carolina

Type of Institution: Large public research university

Size: ~ 25,000 undergraduates

Admissions Advice:  South Carolina is becoming more competitive each year as the university continues to recruit heavily out-of-state. The average admitted student GPA (weighted) is close to a 4.0, and test scores are also surprisingly high (24-29 ACT; 1130-1280 SAT).  For those admitted, generous merit scholarships for non-residents often make this more affordable than a student’s local public university.

Most popular majors: Business, Biology, Physiology, Public Relations, Psychology

Words to describe students I met: Socioeconomically diverse, spirited, conservative, independent, preppy, welcoming

Unique academic aspects: The South Carolina Honors College is consistently ranked among the top public university programs in the country. The program offers 400 Honors-specific courses each year, awards special research grants to its students, and the average class size is fourteen. Plus students have excellent advising support which is crucial at larger public universities.

USC also has a unique College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management (HRSM) offering majors in  Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management; Integrated Information Technology; Interdisciplinary Studies; Retailing; and Sport and Entertainment Management. For students with career interests in these fields, South Carolina is a great option with lots of hands-on experiences available on-campus with its SEC teams and throughout the region.

Unique social/cultural aspects: During my visit I decided to do a quick workout in the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center, the largest gym in South Carolina and a truly state-of-the-art facility. If you can overlook the fact that it is named after such a controversial political figure, it is an incredible space and was an interesting social experience for this west coaster. Girls were dressed up in the most fashionable lululemon outfits and full make-up, while guys stared at themselves in the mirror while drinking protein shakes. For students who enjoy fitness (and socializing while they are doing it), this is an amazing place. For an old person like me, this made me feel even older and fairly self-conscious.

Also, for being a traditional southern university, the Greek life is actually less popular than you’d think. About 21% of students are involved in fraternities or sororities, so it is not the only option for having a social life. There is a bit of a divide between Greeks and non-Greeks on campus, but with 25,000 students around and 400+ clubs, there are opportunities for everyone. And finally, the sports culture is huge here. USC is a part of the SEC, and football is king. Hundreds of thousands of people tailgate before every home game, and the stadium holds more than 85,000 cheering fans. This shapes a lot of the college’s culture and social scene, especially in the fall.

Colleges that seem similar: University of Alabama, Clemson University, University of Florida, Florida State University, Ohio State University

Concerns about this college:  Because the culture of the college is very different from the laid-back feel of Seattle and the west coast, I strongly suggest that students visit before accepting an offer of admission. The college has been pushing to increase geographic diversity through generous merit scholarships, so this culture is changing a bit each year. Currently, about 40% of USC’s students are from out-of-state. But still, students who are not familiar with the south may experience some culture shock. In my opinion, college is a great time to experience a new part of the country and new viewpoints, so this might be a perfect fit for a student with that mentality.

Overall impressions: South Carolina is the quintessential large southern university. The campus itself is large and beautiful, and the relatively mild climate is a plus for students who hate the cold (though summers are brutal). The Five Points district of the city has a real college town feel to it and is packed every weekend. After spending about a week in the area, I’ve decided that Columbia itself is not my favorite place on earth but it does have a lot of charm.


University of Washington application is open: Apply early!

uw building

About two weeks ago, the University of Washington finally opened up its freshman application. Hundreds of overachieving, Type A aspiring Huskies have already submitted the application well ahead of the December 1st deadline. An expected 30,000+ high school seniors will wait until the deadline week to complete the application.

I spent several years in the admissions office at University of Washington and, I can tell you, the weeks leading up to December 1st can be brutal. Not only are counselors returning from months of visiting high schools and meeting students and families at college events, but they are also dealing with a high volume of panicked phone calls and emails about the application. Further complicating the situation is the fact that December 1st is right after the Thanksgiving holiday which, as you may suspect, is a state holiday weekend as well. That wonderful UW counselor you connected with at your high school this fall will probably not be sitting at her desk waiting to answer your call on Black Friday. Likewise, your high school counselor will be enjoying the weekend with their own families instead of a providing you with a copy of your transcript to fill in your course grid.

My #1 piece of advice is this: Submit the UW application before November 15th! Open it up now, take note of your user name and password, and begin filling in the basic information. If you have trouble answering a question, send an email to admissions and they will happily respond within a few days. While there is no statistical advantage to submitting your application early, you do have more time to ask questions and get answers in a timely manner. Plus then you will be able to sit back, relax and enjoy your Thanksgiving break.

Second tip: Be sure to complete the self-reported sections of the application completely and to the best of your ability. Here’s a quote from my amazing former colleague who will be working with prospective students and reviewing applications in the coming months.

“The UW application tries to accommodate applicants who come from a variety of different academic backgrounds.  It’s important to complete the application by the December 1 deadline to the best of your abilities.  You can trust that the UW Admissions staff can usually figure out what the applicant entered, but they will always contact an applicant if anything is unclear or missing.  As long as you submit your application by the December 1st deadline, your application will be reviewed and considered.”   — Sabrina Moss, Lead Counselor for International Student Admission

Sabrina is referring to UW’s self-reported course and grade section of the application in particular. Instead of requesting official transcripts from your current high school, UW requires students to self-report this information to the best of their ability in a course grid. Be sure to obtain a transcript from your high school counselor so you can fill this section in accurately and, as Sabrina mentions, if there are any questions UW admissions will contact you by email for clarification.

And my last tip for success is that aspiring business, computer science or engineering majors should talk about their interest and background in these disciplines in the essay and/or additional comments section of the application. Don’t re-hash your resume entirely, but be sure your passion comes through. UW admits a small number of students directly into these competitive majors by simply checking the box that you are interested in that major on the application. Take this further by detailing your accomplishments and goals in a short 1-2 paragraph essay in the additional comments section. It’s not a perfect system by any means and is still incredibly competitive, especially for computer science, but it is worth a little extra effort for that consideration.

Changes in tuition at Washington’s public universities

UW campus

In case you missed it, Washington state’s public universities are about to do something practically unfathomable in the age of skyrocketing college costs: They are decreasing tuition. Tuition rates for the state’s public four-year universities will decrease by 15-20%, which equates to $1,700 – 2,100 per year, depending on the university. This is welcome news for the thousands of students and families who rely on loans and/or student jobs to pay the tuition bill each year.

Below are two articles with more information on these changes and how this will be rolled out over the coming years.

Seattle Times article

Huffington Post

However, for parents who have invested in the state’s GET program over the last few years, these changes are not necessarily welcome. In response to the tuition decreases, the GET program has been suspended for two years as the state figures out exactly what to do. The state also announced it will be refunding units purchased over the past four years for interested families. Here is a statement from the committee’s most recent meeting with an overview of the refund terms and timeline.

Campus Visit Notes: University of Michigan

About two weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending a full day at the University of Michigan, just a short one-hour drive from where I grew up in Ohio. I had visited the campus and college town of Ann Arbor many times as a child, but I was in need of a longer and more formal evaluative campus visit. Because I was in town during summer break, I wasn’t able to do a traditional tour. However, I designed my own visit (which I encourage families to do if visiting during a slow time of year).

I spent a full day wandering around campus, popping into buildings, peeking into facilities and asking questions of the students wandering around. I also met with the admissions representative for Seattle, an undergraduate engineering adviser, a representative from the Ross School of Business, and a former colleague who works in residential life. Below is my summary of this non-traditional visit.

College:  University of Michigan

Location: Ann Arbor, MI (approximately 45 minutes from Detroit)

Type of Institution: Tier I public research university

Size: ~28,000 undergraduate students

Admissions Advice: Apply early! My admissions representative was very open and honest about just how helpful it is for students to select early action (applying before November 1st). This is less competitive for admissions and also provides a greater chance for merit scholarships. Additionally, I was surprised to learn that demonstrated interest in the school as shown through visits, emails with the admissions office, and a compelling “Why U – M” essay are actually incorporated into the review. However, given the sheer volume of applicants, he also advised that students should really only apply if they are within or very close to the university’s middle 50% for GPA and test scores (3.7+ and 2040-2260 SAT / 30-33 ACT, respectively). Because it is a public university, Michigan natives do have priority.

Most popular majors: Business, political science, experimental psychology, economics, English

Words to describe students I met: The campus in the summer looks and feels very different from the campus during the school year. There are many more graduate and international students onsite during the summer months, so I recognize that my visit interactions weren’t reflective of the typical student body. However, I did meet a few undergraduates and know many high school classmates who attended Michigan. They can be described as: focused, science-y, spirited, not afraid to take initiative, studious and outgoing.

Unique academic aspects: I have long been impressed with Michigan’s engineering program. Their direct freshman entry is pretty amazing. A student who is admitted to engineering starts in the program immediately and is guaranteed a spot in any specific engineering discipline they desire (assuming they maintain a 2.0+ GPA in the freshman year). This is surprisingly unique among selective research universities and allows students to make a much more informed choice about which engineering major is the best fit for them after starting at the university. I also learned that U – M recently started conducting invitation-only alumni interviews for prospective engineering students in a handful of cities throughout the U.S. (Seattle is included). Students are selected based on the application which must be submitted by mid-October.

Unique social/cultural aspects: Ann Arbor is the quintessential college town, a strange academic oasis in the land of automotive factories and working class America. The student body at U – M is very diverse, and so are the food and nightlife options in Ann Arbor. The region has a large Middle Eastern population (the largest outside of the Middle East, in fact), which contributes to great on-campus discussions and opportunities for students with an interest in this part of the world.

Colleges that seem similar: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Washington, University of California (Berkeley, Davis, LA in particular), University of Virginia

Concerns about this college: The campus is very large and quite spread out. For a student double majoring in different disciplines, getting to and from classes could be more of a challenge than at your average university. There is a free bus running between north and south campus fairly regularly, but it can still take 20-30 minutes to get from Point A to Point B.

Overall impressions:  I am really glad I spent a full day exploring this large and diverse campus and learning about some of the top programs of interest for Seattle-area students. I leave this visit feeling much more excited about the Engineering program, especially for students with an interest in working in the automotive industry or computer science realms. The school has a lot to offer for a range of students, from the super social “rah-rah” fraternity bro to the research-oriented neuroscience major. It is truly one of the nation’s most impressive public institutions and I leave the visit feeling even more confident that students who attend will be able to graduate on time with a job already lined up.

Campus Visit Notes: Arizona State University

College: Arizona State University –

Location: Main campus is in Tempe, Arizona, located just 20 minutes outside of downtown Phoenix

Type of Institution: Large public research university

Admissions Advice: At ASU, GPA, test scores and class rank are among some of the most important aspects in the admissions process. These are some of the major factors considered in the Honors College application process as well. The university is becoming increasingly selective but is still accessible with about an 80% admission rate.

Size:  ~50,000 students in total at Tempe campus (including graduate students); ~7,000+ in entering freshman class

Most popular majors: Business, engineering, social sciences (economics, political science, psychology), biology

Words to describe students I met: Honestly, at a school as large as ASU you will encounter every possible kind of student! A few words about the smaller number of students I’ve interacted with during my multiple visits to campus: social, bros, tan, energetic, Hispanic/Latino, party animals, future business leaders, spirited, cliquey

Unique academic aspects: For being such a large university, you’d assume that every class is a huge lecture, right? Surprisingly, the main campus boasts a 23:1 student to professor ratio and about 25% of classes are over 40 students. For a student entering with lots of AP credits, they may miss out on a lot of those larger lecture classes. And for students admitted to the Barrett (the Honors College), they will also experience smaller classes. It’s no discussion-based liberal arts education, but a student seeking a mix of different class sizes and settings might enjoy ASU.

Over the last few years, ASU has been growing its Engineering/Computer Science programs and are producing a strong alumni network in these fields. They are also drawing in students from outside of Arizona interested in these highly competitive majors. Faculty have been bringing in millions in research funding which can trickle down to undergraduate work if you can take the initiative to get to know your professors.

Unique social/cultural aspects: ASU’s student population is as large as some small cities. Every student can find a social niche there, whether you are a social butterfly seeking Greek life or an an aspiring actor seeking an improv comedy group. It is a good place to explore your interests both academically and socially – there aren’t many schools out there with the diversity of opportunities available at ASU. It is a big sports school with lots of school spirit. And finally, ASU is one of a handful of colleges with a higher percentage of male students than female students!

Colleges that seem similar: University of Southern California (USC), San Diego State University, Florida State University, UCLA, University of Texas – Austin, UC Santa Barbara

Concerns about this college: As with many large campuses and state universities, students must be ready to deal with and navigate bureaucracy. Registering for classes can be tough, finding rooms for a club meeting may be a challenge and figuring out how to successfully manage your financial aid and scholarships will take a few tries. Students who come here must be prepared to take ownership of their education and keep themselves on track to graduate on time. This wouldn’t be a good fit for a student who is shy and unable to ask for help along the way.

Overall impressions: I definitely see the appeal of ASU. The weather is warm year-round, the social opportunities are endless and the business program has a good reputation and alumni network in the region. I’m personally not a huge fan of the Phoenix area (reminds me of the sprawl of Los Angeles), but the campus itself and surrounding college town are fun and manageable.