NY colleges (central NY)

In September 2008, I visited the following central NY colleges: Colgate, RPI, Union, Skidmore, Syracuse and Hamilton.

What follows are my reflections of each campus. We spent 6 hours on each campus and took a tour, heard from professors, admissions and financial aid staff, and from a student panel.

Regular liberal arts college (LAC) but unusual in that it also has strong programs in music, theatre, dance, and studio art. Students often combine a usual LAC major with an arts major. Other unique elements: no football and no Greek life (frats/sororities). The most popular clubs are volunteering and outings.

Saratoga Springs is a charming tourist town. The college is just a mile away from downtown and set in a forest. A tree-lined Main Street is lined with mansions of people who made/make money from the horse racing industry for which Saratoga is famous. The town's population is 30,000 but in summer swells to much more. The college was built in the 1960s and has that architechtural feel: 2-story concrete buildings that are a bit boring but solid. Lots of open space with gardens, trees and grassy areas on campus. Covered walkways connect the buildings so you are protected from rain/snow. Our tour guide was from India,  a sophomore government major who applied Early Decision. Wireless campus and halls. Our tour guide's largest class was enviro science with 48 students. Professors take attendance. She spent the summer on campus doing research with a professor. Her room and board were covered by a grant, and her article will be published. She also received a stipend.

Big majors: exercise science, business. Music building is under construction. Double majors are common.

Plays: don't have to be a theatre major to try out for the play. Auditions are not required to major in theatre. You declare your major after 3 semesters. You are admitted to the college, not to a specific major.

Food: 3 cafes on campus open 24 hours. Main dining hall is new, full of sunlight and fireplaces. Adirondack chairs outside the main dining hall.

Course work: 1/3 of your courses are Core, 1/3 are in your major, and 1/3 are electives.

Dorms: 1 tower and 9 dorms. They have apartment style coed housing (!): 3 rooms and 1 bathroom. The single room I saw had high ceilings, was spacious with large closet/storage and a window seat.

Library: tons of natural light and windows, skylights. Open til 2am. Most buildings were brick with huge atriums.

Student population: 2400 total; 60/40 female/male. Went coed in 1971 (was all female). More liberal than conservative, politically speaking. 20-25% Jewish population. 22% are students of color. On the tour I noticed lots of students in Skidmore gear; combination of artsy types, regular student types, athletes and preppies. The 92% retention rate indicates happy students!

Type of student that Skidmore attracts: adventurous (try new things, take risks), creative, eclectic, collaborative, cosmopolitan. Typically 1320 CR + Math or 1990 overall SAT score, or 29 ACT. Admit rate is 30%. They recalculate GPA by removing art and music classes unless the class was music theory.

Financial Aid: their endowment is not as rich as they'd like. Most aid is need-based and they often lose students to colleges that award more money. They may not meet 100% of need, and are not need blind, meaning your financial need may be a factor in admitting or denying you. They do have a way of figuring out your potential financial aid award well ahead of applying. See their website for details.

Seven Student Panel:
  1. Juliette:  a junior from NY who is taking classes in business, Spanish, studio art. She applied Early Decision. She likes that activities are free for students (included in your bill) but would like a new sports facility. She uses the nearby train and bus stations to get home. She is a peer mentor to freshmen and loves the town of Saratoga Springs.
  2. David: a senior from Boulder Colorado who also looked at Denison, Colby, & Colorado College. He's a government major and lives off campus (10 min walk), takes the bus to town, plays lax, and went to Australia to study abroad. He liked living on campus in multi-age housing, where freshmen are not segregated.
  3. Joe: a Massachusetts native who is eco-conscious, applied Early Decision, sophomore, and lives in an apartment on campus.
  4. Jason is a sophomore studying exercise science with a pre-med advisory track. He's from Ohio and wants the student body to be more diverse. He was the only student of color on the panel. He said the financial aid package was great for him.
  5. Olive is from Indiana and is a studio art major who looked at UVM, Vassar & Wheaton. She applied Early Decision. She was looking for a college with no Greek life. She's involved in outing club.
  6. Derek is from Chicago and is a Classics and English double major. He wanted a small college and also looked at Wheaton, DePaul and Sarah Lawrence. He applied Early Decision and lives off campus.
  7. Kate is a psych/sociology double major who lives in an apartment on campus and applied Early Decision. She has 2 jobs on campus. She also looked at Bucknell and Muhlenberg. She said there are parties on campus on weekends and freshmen go a little crazy at the beginning of the year due to their newfound freedom but then they tone it down.
I found the students to be honest (frank about pros and cons at Skidmore), well spoken and engaged in their college experience. All 7 will graduate in 4 years. They looked like Cheverus students.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
Location: Troy, NY, about 20 minutes north of Albany Int'l Airport. Cheverus connections: Jessica K '11.

Culture: lots of group work, collaborative projects, "work hard play hard" attitude. Smart students who have a life outside academics.

Student Body: 5,000 undergrads. 2500 grad students. 30% women. 25% are RPI medalists. 3-4% international. ROTC is maxed out at 100 students.

Housing: apartments are inexpensive in Troy and in the neighborhood, so many live off campus after soph year. Freshmen & sophomores must live on campus. Triples with shared floor bathroom, or several rooms share a bathroom. Frat houses off campus. Triples were spacious, huge actually!

Reputation: RPI educates inventors. Guitar Hero born here. Disease breakthroughs discovered. Close ties to GE, IBM and government contracts. Patent lawyers usually graduated from RPI. MacGyver types are attracted to RPI.

Free: wait what? The fifth year is free! Earn your masters with free tuition.

Majors: 17 engineering majors, including nuclear. Largest part of the college. Humanities, management are growing in size. Architecture is smallest major. Science a big part of RPI, with National Science Foundation (NSF) grant money coming into the college.

Graduates: become top wage earners in the country, a Forbes survey found.

Financial Aid: generous to women especially. Need-based aid too. Same financial aid package regardless of whether you apply ED or regular. International students can get merit money. Decent awards for even middle class families: merit money, AP credits.

Admissions: 25+ ACT score. 1340 SAT. 65% are in top 10% of high school class. B+ GPA. Every student takes Calc, Bio and Chem at RPI. You should take Pre-Calc and Physics in high school. Many come in with AP Calc. 43% admit rate. Higher admit rates in Early Decision rounds 1 & 2.

Sports: D1 hockey and D3 other sports.

Greek Life: 30 frats and 5 sororities. 25% of the students are in a frat or sorority. Big part of social life. Freshmen can join as soon as fall semester. One is a coed service organization.

Tour Guides: a senior, product design major from Portsmouth NH. Transferred from Wesleyan and lives off campus. Largest class was Psych: 200. Teaching Assistants conduct study groups but professors teach all classes.

Architecture: industrial looking: 2-4 story brown brick buildings, large lecture halls, concrete library.

Student Panel:
  1. Nate: from Mass, nuclear engineering major, senior, interned at GE in Georgia last summer. Has a job offer. In orchestra, outings club.
  2. Barbara: 5th year architecture major, studied in Rome. From NY and in a sorority.
  3. Bob: senior management major from NY also involved in improv group.
  4. Garrett: senior humanities major from Ohio, also involved in improv group.
  5. Mark: senior premed major from NY who is 1st in his family to go to college and is now applying to med school. Clubs: fencing. In a fraternity.
  6. Molly: sophomore Information Technology major from NY who plays flute and dance dance revolution (DDR)
  7. Sehrish: junior engineering major from Dubai.
Here's what they had to say:
Students on the panel also applied to: Union, U of Rochester, Drexel, RIT, Carnegie Mellon, Case Western Reserve U, Syracuse, NYU, Siena, UMass Lowell, WPI.

Financial aid was generous, there's a good feel on campus, hands-on learning was appealing to them.

They were normal and not too geeky, smart and bright with lots of interests outside the classroom.

They agreed that time management is key for freshmen. Don't spread yourself too thin at first, figure out what you can handle, learn to say no. There was consensus that the campus is more moderate than liberal and not terribly politically active even though it's an election year. If you did not study at all in high school and did well, college is going to be an adjustment, especially at RPI. The nuclear engineering major fell into this category but quickly learned - after a 32 on a physics quiz - tests are hard and he needed to step up his game.
Their advice to high school students: visit and tour many campuses to get a feel for different types. Stay for a day and shadow/attend classes. Don't room with a friend, even though it feels safe. Branch out and be brave!

Only drawback: career fairs are all focused on engineering/computing/science, so management majors are neglected.
Union College in Schenectady

Uniqueness: one of only a few liberal arts colleges that offers engineering as a major.  Half of the students major in engineering and half in humanities.

Happiness Factor: 92% retention rate indicates happy students!

Architecture: 4-story Beige brick buildings that all match since this was a planned campus built at the same time. Huge quads and grassy areas.

Class Size: Psych 101 is 35 students. Smallest class size is 5.

Courses: take 3 per trimester.

Greek Life: yes. Can join sophomore year. It does not rule social life.

Location: 15 minutes from Albany Int'l Airport

Fitness: huge cardio room and pool.

Tour Guide: She was from the south and wanted a friendly campus.

Volunteering: hospice and Catholic Charities are in town near campus.

Activities: bus tickets to NYC for weekends: a 3-hour drive. One play per trimester, one musical performance per trimester. The male acapella group performed for us.

Admissions: 39% admit rate. SAT optional. 30% do not submit scores. 28 ACT for those who do submit.

For art majors, no portfolio required. You are admitted to the college and can choose any major.

Sports: D1 hockey (no scholarships) and D3 other sports.

Housing: not dorms but houses that the social life revolves around. Feels like a house with a huge living room downstairs. 13 themed houses like culinary, eco, community service, foreign language. Suite style for upperclassmen. Standard dorm rooms for freshmen: singles, doubles and triples. Victorian mansions on campus and triple deckers are apartments for upperclassmen. A 7-story former hotel, a 10 minute walk from campus, houses students because Union over-enrolled last year. 5% live off campus.

Student Panel:
  1. Natalie is a senior psych major applying to law school. She found the financial aid generous, lives in the eco house, and likes Union for its politically aware and active campus life.
  2. Matt is a mechanical engineering major from Minnesota. There's no civil engineering at Union. He studied abroad in the Czech Republic. He likes the work hard play hard culture.
  3. Mary is from NY, a senior political science major, studied in DC, France and India, and likes the discussion-based classes at Union.
  4. Patrick is a sophomore Bio major involved in the coed acapella group and music. He's from NY and plans to apply to med school.
  5. Isaiah is from Texas and is a bio/pre med major.
  6. Kim is from NJ, a senior English/Economics major, in a sorority. She advises freshmen to get into a good study routine asap, putting in 2-3 hours of work for each 1 hour in class.
  7. Eric is from Long Island NY, a bio/econ major on the swim team and on his house council.
  8. Miles is from Tennessee, an English/Spanish major who studied abroad in Spain, has his own radio show and is a senior.
Hamilton College in Clinton NY
Student Body: the students I saw on campus were smart, friendly, serious, real, preppy, athletic. Minority and international students were well represented; a very diverse group.
study abroad: 40% of juniors do it.

Majors: govt, econ, math, English, psych, bio, chem.

Courses: no distribution requirements is great for students and faculty, according to a math professor I spoke with. Students take what courses they want, what challenges them, and the professors like having students that elected to be in their class.

Location: hilltop overlooking small town

Lots of alumni support: means connections, networking, and pretty good donations for financial aid.

Professors: live within 5 miles of campus.

Sports: women's lax national champions. Football doesn't win often. 60% of students play intramural. 33% play varsity sports.

Graduates: become loyal alumni. Any college graduate these days can expect 12 careers/jobs in their lifetime and a liberal arts education prepares them for anything. A studio art/math double major who graduated last May is a retail art buyer for a large hotel chain. She also designed their website and transformed a local gallery into a place that focused on local artists. A recent math/history major went to Harvard Law, became a local TV trial commentator, now a national commentator. His job is not directly related to his degrees but the liberal arts education prepared him for any job that required writing, speaking, thinking.

Activities: big outdoor club that owns kayaks, skiis,

Financial Aid: need sensitive, not need blind. Award package the same if you apply ED or Regular. They lose students to other colleges that are more generous, such as Middlebury, Bowdoin, Tufts, Harvard. They 'win' against Skidmore, Union, CT College, Bates and Bucknell.

Tour Guide: from Acton Mass, govt major.

Student Panel: two seniors who studied abroad in India. Emma is from CT, a history major and a volunteer EMT on campus. Her sister went to Hamilton and Emma also looked at Bates. Ash is from RI, in a frat, plays rugby, also looked at Dickinson, Richmond, Wake Forest, Bates, Colorado College. He said when he visited people were so friendly and genuinely interested in him, and whether Hamilton was a good fit for him.

Greek Life: yes. 30% are in a frat or sorority. Freshmen can join 2nd semester. No frat houses.
Cheverus connections: John S '08.

Colgate University in Hamilton, NY
Home of Kat H '08, who loves it here! She is a premed major and already joined clubs and enjoys living in clean / sober housing. She noted that the freshmen dorm has been partying since they arrived, but she thinks they will run out of steam soon.

Student Body: 3000 students, 20 grad students. This university appeals to the engaged, active learner and citizen. 25% are students of color.

Location: on a hill overlooking Hamilton NY, about a half hour from Hamilton College. Confused yet? Hamilton is a small rural farm town. Very hilly campus!

Buildings: We spent some time in the planetarium. The campus center looks like a ski lodge with fireplaces and a pub. Largest classroom seats 200. Class size averages 18. Geo Science has 75 students while Spanish has 12. Students take 4 courses per semester and usually graduate in 4 years. The Library was sunny with comfy chairs.

Housing: frats, sororities and theme housing across the street from campus. The freshmen quad contains housing and classrooms near each other.

Greek life: can pledge sophomore year. This may be a healthier time to join, after making friends freshmen year and finding your place is not strictly allied with Greek life. There are 6 frats and 4 sororities.

Financial Aid: CSS Profile only form needed for fin aid. File at same time you apply. 100% of need is met. D1 athletes can get partial scholarships.

Sports: 25% are involved in varsity sports. Patriot League is D1. 80% are involved in intramurals.

Admissions: As in honors and AP courses. 650-750 on SATs.

Study Abroad: 70% do it junior year.

Student Panel:
  1. Emily: a junior from Canada studying political science
  2. Molly: from NY, a sophomore history major who also looked at BC, Bucknell and Lehigh. She's in club soccer, ski club, plays cello, sister is at Univ of Rochester. She applied ED.
  3. Jeff is from CT, a sophomore English / premed double major.
  4. Shannon is a senior from NY studying econ/sociology.
Second Student panel: all white, 4 out of 5 are in a frat or sorority. 3 out of 5 seniors used the Career Center already.
  1. Brooke looked at Vanderbilt, Lehigh, Bucknell, Wake Forest and Lafayette. She is a senior from NJ who studied in Florence. She loves the school spirit at Colgate and the sense of community. She's involved in a green initiative.
  2. Kyle is a senior from Illinois, a pol sci major who likes the rural location and the fact that 100% live on campus. He says there are many Type A leaders on campus and being around smart people is challenging and makes classroom life great. He applied ED and spent 4 months in Amsterdam.
  3. Kate is a pol sci major from Mass who sat in on classes before deciding on Colgate. she admits there's a bit of a campus bubble effect that can be isolating. She spent a semester in DC.
  4. Graham is a senior econ major from PA who likes the size of Colgate. He was invovled in debate and Model UN in high school. He thought Cornell was too big, and did not get into Dartmouth. Also applied to Wake Forest. Spent a semester in London.
  5. Dan is a NY junior philosophy major. He loves his smallest class of 8 students. He admits that half the students are Greek (in a frat or sorority) and that can be a pro or con.
Cheverus connections: Kat H '08 graduated Colgate and is in med school. Lizzie G '12.

Syracuse University
Since Syracuse is large, three colleges were highlighted: business, communications, and architecture.
Syracuse Basics: 11,000 students, private university with 9 colleges.

Financial Aid: need blind admissions. SATs really matter when awarding merit money. 30% of students receive merit money.

Tour: our tour guide was a member of the student-run EMT service. An urban surrounds campus and there's lots of cars, traffic and busses. Her biggest class was 200 in forensic chemistry. It was broken down into discussion groups a couple times a week, run by a teaching assistant. Labs are taught by the TA.

Greek life: 25% of students are in a frat or sorority. 9 dining halls! Freshmen and soph live on campus. Busses take you downtown. A huge quad for frisbee and hanging out.

Syracuse: School of Public Communications
  • We got to see Sportscaster Bob Costas, who was on campus answering questions from mass comm majors. Very cool! Looking for an accredited communications school? Syracuse boasts that certification. ABC News and MTV News are on campus, one of five colleges that host the 2 networks' online, radio and TV content.
  • Majors: broadcast journalism, photojournalism, visual & interactive communications, public relations, new media graphics, mass comm. Declare your major end of sophomore year. Syracuse sent interns to the Olympics. The school is housed in a modern, sleek building with marble floors and bright and open spaces. There are 13 computer labs: both Mac and PC. Small meeting rooms for studying. Students take part in 2-3 internships. We toured Studio B, an actual newsdesk where students can practice news, sports and weather.
  • 10% of the Syracuse students are in this school.
Syracuse: School of Business
  • Very corporate looking buildings and spaces. Career Fairs for each major bring 115 firms on campus looking to hire Syracuse students. 80% of seniors had a job at $50,000/year upon graduation in 2008. Faculty and students from around the world teach and learn here. Syracuse earns high marks for 'amount and quality of faculty interaction with students'. So too does NYU, BC, Georgetown. There was an internship fair going on and many students were in blazer and tie.
  • Students take half their classes in liberal arts and half in their major. The business school is AACSB accredited.
  • Lots of students take a double major, and graduating in 4 years is possible.
  • 3.7 GPA with 600s on each section of the SAT is average for admitted student.
  • Future plans are to add a Real Estate degree, and require all students to take the GMAT/GRE so as to prepare them to apply to master's programs.
  • Service is a required part of the major (40 hours plus a reflection paper. Sound familiar?) International experience is a required part of the major, but could be a study abroad semester or a course.
  • Syracuse has one of the few entrepreneurship majors in the country. They get seed $ to try out new ideas.
  • 1700 business majors total. 400 graduates per year. Should declare major end of freshman year so you'll be better able to plan your courses and graduate on time in 4 years. Want an MBA? Most MBA programs require a bachelor's followed by 3 years work experience.
Syracuse: School of Architecture
  • The Professor who spoke with us earned his Masters in Architecture at UCLA and PhD at Princeton.
  • Syracuse competes for archit students with Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Wash U St Louis, Cooper Union and the following art schools: RISD, Parsons, Pratt.
  • 450 students in this school. Rated #3 in the country by Architect Magazine. Rice and Cornell were #1 & #2. The degree is a 5-year program that you must start as a freshman; cannot transfer in or change major into the school. After you graduate, you work for 3 years and then apply to become a registered architect.
  • Wentworth and Norwich are not top caliber archit programs. He's not a fan of Cal Poly's archit program either. (Ouch!)
  • Three years of core classes in archit then 2 years of specialized classes: design, history, theory, technologies, and structure. 4 courses in architectural history, sustainable arch, and economical arch. Each student has their own desk in the Design Studio where they work on projects. They are in class 11 hours a week and have loads of faculty interaction due to the nature of the program. Students present their projects to faculty and 'defend' them and receive feedback. There are 35 full time faculty and 8 part time faculty.
  • New courses: real estate development and design, renovation and innovation.
  • The school partnered with the state and the city to rehab a neighborhood. Teams of designers and community members were the jury to decide which plan to implement. Syracuse U received grant money to carry out the rehab.
  • Year 4: visiting critic studios and study abroad. 95% study abroad, mostly in London and Florence.
  • Year 5: thesis project.
  • There's a career counselor just for archit majors. 50 firms interview on campus for summer jobs and real jobs. Average salary at graduation: $46,000.
  • Student Activities: there are 7 clubs just for architecture majors! (women in design and sustainable studio for example)
  • Portfolio required for admission. AP Studio Art is the way most high school students prepare their portfolio.Calc and physics would be the ideal prep for an archit program. A 6-week summer program for high school students let's them test drive the major and build their portfolio.
  • Other admission stats for the Architecture program at Syracuse: 27% admit rate and 25% will drop out at end of first year. (That seems high)
links checked 4/2013