Book excerpt

The Insider's Guide to the Colleges, 2010

Students on Campus Tell You What You Really Want to Know

Compiled and Edited by the Staff of the Yale Daily News

St. Martin's Press

Alabama

Less than an hour’s drive east of Montgomery, the plains of Alabama give rise to Auburn University. The school, whose athletics department has produced stars like Charles Barkley and Bo Jackson, boasts some of the region’s top veterinary and engineering programs. But it is the student body that will most likely catch the eye of a passerby, especially if he or she hails from more northern lands. "Southern hospitality is alive and well here," students declare, and this charm mixed with fun and academics keeps Auburn students smiling.

Bed and Breakfast (and Lunch and Dinner)

Auburn students electing to live on campus can choose from four clusters of residence halls, but the housing is not guaranteed to anyone, even freshmen. The more popular living areas are the Hill and the Quad, and dorms are either women-only or coed by floor. Many in-state students and upperclassmen choose to live off campus in one of the several apartment complexes near campus. Since many students opt not to live in dorms, Auburn provides an apartment guide and some helpful tips for students shopping the off-campus market. Tiger Transit is available to get students from point A to point B, and the Off Campus Association "gets you a good deal on utilities."

There is no shortage of food options on campus. The two main dining areas, Terrell Dining Hall and War Eagle Food Court, are located at the southern and northern ends of the campus, respectively. Both have an assortment of fast food and local restaurants that cater to students on the go. Auburn offers a variety of meal plans to meet a wide range of needs, and the Tiger Card can be used "like a debit card" at local eateries and grocery stores. Students deposit funds into the account and use the swipes until the balance dwindles down again.

Students choosing to eat on campus can get all the basic sandwiches and burgers, or they can go for a smoothie at Chillers in War Eagle Court. The town of Auburn offers the traditional fare of Ruby Tuesday and family dining along with some establishments appealing to the younger crowd. Students frequent the Mellow Mushroom for a more gourmet pizza and head to Moe’s for "the best burritos in town."

Cracking the Books

Auburn University was the first land-grant college in the Southeast (a result of the Morrill Act), and to this day its engineering and agriculture departments remain strong. But the University has become more diverse in its faculty and currently offers undergraduate degrees in 12 schools—agriculture, architecture, business, education, engineering, forestry and wildlife, human sciences, liberal arts, nursing, pharmacy, science and mathematics and veterinary medicine. Moreover, the University recently began a Bachelor of Wireless Engineering program which represents the first degree of this type in the nation. Students select their majors at the end of the second year, but changing majors is not difficult with the help of Auburn’s advising system.

"Most professors are more than willing to help you out. All you have to do is ask."

The University offers plenty of options for study abroad. Auburn itself has a growing number of distinct programs, or students can participate in approved programs from other universities. One student who returned from a summer in Florence, a popular destination for art students, said "transferring credits was really easy."

While Auburn students put in their time in Draughton Library (open 24 hours a day during finals), they do not often complain of being tremendously overworked. "Some students skip classes and don’t work that hard," but workload largely depends on the course of study. If an Auburn Tiger is having some difficulties in the classroom, he or she can usually find plenty of support. "Most professors are more than willing to help you out. All you have to do is ask."

Auburn professors have earned a reputation for being accessible and invested in their students’ educations, but the same cannot always be said about teaching assistants, especially in math and science courses. Students said some TAs have problems speaking clear English, which can make learning more difficult.

In preparation for life after graduation, Auburn provides advice and information for students interested in graduate or professional school. A senior in the College of Sciences and Mathematics said her adviser has helped her not only navigate Auburn’s undergraduate curriculum, but also apply to graduate schools. The University brings in representatives from schools throughout the region to speak to students about opportunities after graduation.

Frivolity, Fraternities and Football

The social scene is alive and well at Auburn no matter what time of year, but students have different preferences for the seasons. During the fall, students don their best orange and blue to support their Tigers on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The on-campus stadium is regularly filled to capacity of over 85,000 raucous fans screaming "War Eagle," and the surrounding areas are teeming with tailgates for each home game. Don’t be surprised to see Auburn students dressed up for this Saturday afternoon affair. The game is a place to be seen as well as show school spirit. The fun continues, especially after a win, at Toomers Corner after the final snap.

The stadium is bursting at the seams when in-state rival the University of Alabama comes to town the Saturday before Thanksgiving for the Iron Bowl. Students must make sure they get their tickets early if they want a seat at this perennially sold-out event.

Many students hit the fraternity parties Friday and Saturday nights. A significant chunk of the student body is Greek, but "parties are open for the most part." In contrast to most other SEC schools, there are no sorority houses at Auburn. The sisterhoods have halls in dorms, mostly populated with sophomore members, and a chapter room. Greek organizations maintain a lively party environment with formal dances and band parties.

The Auburn police are usually present at larger organized events, but there is not a visible crackdown on underage drinking as long as students act responsibly. The police are strict on drunk driving. Since most students at Auburn come with cars and many live off campus, there is a volunteer designated-driver program to make sure every student makes it home safely.

In the spring semester, students focus their revelry on off-campus locales—apartments or downtown bars. College Park Apartments usually has something going on during the weekends. For good drink deals, of-age students head to Buffalo’s for a brew and then to Quixote’s, where "there is always a good band playing." While the town restaurants might let things slide, bars have no problem carding, and they can be quite difficult to get into at times.

Apart from the night life, students engage in many social activities and student groups on campus. Students can try their hand at radio broadcasting on WEGL, do community service through Habitat for Humanity or Kiwanis Club, partake in theater and singing groups, and do just about anything else that might be of interest.

Getting Your Bearings

Two important landmarks on campus for new students are the Foy Student Union and the Haley Center. These two buildings are the hubs of student life on campus. Foy contains the War Eagle Food Court, a CD and game store, study lounges, student organization offices, an ATM and a mail drop. The Haley Center houses a cafeteria, lecture halls and the campus bookstore. The one thing these buildings don’t have is parking, which can be a "nightmare" on campus. Since most students are in-state or from surrounding areas, they drive to school from home, and having a car is "a big plus on the weekends for road trips to the beach."

Go to one football game, and it’s easy to see the tradition that pervades the Auburn campus. Some students are third- or fourth-generation Tigers, but that should not scare away newcomers to the South. With pleasant weather and people, it is easy to understand why Auburn is one of the most popular universities in the region.—Adam Weber

FYI

If you come to Auburn, you’d better bring "your country music collection."

What’s the typical weekend schedule? "Drink, drink, drink, go to a football game, drink, drink, and pass out."

If I could change one thing about Auburn, I’d "move it to a more metropolitan area."

Three things every Auburn student should do before graduating are "get every single flavor of milkshake at Cheeburger Cheeburger, participate in the cheesy ‘Hey Day,’ and run in the Cake Race."

Birmingham-Southern College prides itself on its reputation as a top-notch university, and the students here work hard to live up to BSC’s expectations. Students manage the intense workload and credit the "loads of personal attention" to their success and survival.

"Life-long Learners"

As a four-year liberal arts college, Birmingham-Southern seeks to send out well-rounded, well-educated, and cultured leaders. As such, the academic requirements cover a broad range of subjects and interests. Freshmen have to take three "First-Year Foundations" courses in order to acclimate themselves to the college environment as well as to take their first steps as "life-long learners." Over the course of four years, students at BSC must accumulate at least one unit each of art, lab science, history, literature, a non-native language, humanities, philosophy and religion, writing, math, and social science. After fulfilling these core courses, students must take two additional credits in humanities and one additional credit in math or science. Although there are no preprofessional majors, many take a difficult course load aimed at medical or law school. English, Business, and Education are, not surprisingly, extremely popular majors. Math and Science majors are rarer but remain a presence on campus. A highly selective honors program is also available to the most motivated and qualified students at BSC. The program offers accelerated courses and small seminars with an interdisciplinary approach. Those interested in the program are encouraged to apply as early as spring of their senior year in high school.

BSC requires its students to go even farther above and beyond the minimal requirements, and make use of its unique "interim term." The interim term, the "1" portion of Birmingham-Southern’s 4-1-4 year, is a month-long period between the school’s two four-month semesters in which students are free to explore one specific interest. One student used one of her four interim terms to design a course as a teaching assistant in an urban school environment. The student explained, "I decided how long I was in the classroom, what types of activities I would do, how I would be graded . . . all of that." Although some students think the interim term can be a "pain," many say it also provides the opportunity to travel abroad without worrying about falling off a four-year track.

With all that Birmingham-Southern requires, "the workload can be tough"; however, students have advisors at their disposal and a strong support system. Professors are generally described as "great" and "absolutely approachable." Classes with good reputations may be tricky to obtain for freshmen (it’s not easy getting that first-choice class), but amazing classes are definitely available. "[My professor] set up a fake crime scene . . . roped it off, had a chalk outline of the body, fake blood everywhere . . ." said a student about his Forensic Science course. "We had to walk around, take it apart . . . all the way to conviction." The bottom line remains: people at BSC take academics pretty seriously, and as one student affirmed, "people do what they’ve got to do."

Outside the Classroom—Like Wonder Bread?

Despite the high academic expectations, BSC students know how to balance the books with some much-needed down time. With Birmingham in their backyard and a variety of clubs and activities to choose from, students have a wide array of weekend options. Prospective students should be aware, however, that Birmingham-Southern has a definite Greek feel. "The frat scene is definitely the dominant social scene here . . . the rush process starts during the summer," a freshman explained, "but the formal rush doesn’t happen until the third week of school or so." The downside of having such a close-knit and supporting Greek system is that "what Greek organization you belong to has a large impact on who you’re going to be friends with." As one student remarked, "It’s sad in my opinion that in the cafeteria, people still sit at certain tables based on what fraternity, sorority or sports team he/she is on." Still, students are quick to point out that the Greek life isn’t for everybody at BSC—and that’s okay. The Student Government Association sponsors movie-nights out, for example, and clubs such as "Chaos" and "Platinum" are a short drive away. And as most students have cars on campus—"if you don’t, you can always mooch off someone else," according to one student—transportation is usually not a huge issue.

Big annual activities include the Greek-sponsored "Philanthropy Party" as well as the Entertainment Festivals (E-Fest in BSC vernacular) where local talents are showcased each semester. Students also note attempts by administration and other students to broaden the cultural offerings on campus. Although diversity at Birmingham-Southern may prove a disappointment to some (minority enrollment has been documented at around 20 percent, but students generally deemed geographic and class diversity to be somewhat lacking), clubs such as the BSC Step Team are giving a different feel to the pervasive—as one student termed it, "Wonderbread—white and rich"—culture of the school.

"We know how to do things—be it academics, partying, or whatever—right here."

Another extracurricular option is intramurals, also known as IMs. Flag football, inner tube water polo, and dodgeball are just a few examples of available intramural activities. "People play [IMs} and they can get pretty competitive, but everybody realizes it’s just IMs and we’re all out of shape," one BSC student said. In addition to IMs, students can cheer for their school’s teams. While Birmingham-Southern does not have a football team, they "live vicariously through [University of] Alabama and Auburn [University]." The basketball and baseball games are well-attended, and "it’s a face-painted, T-shirt-wearing, screaming, jumping good time." One student summed it up saying, "We know how to do things—be it academics, partying, or whatever—right here."

Living and Dining

"Dorms are . . . well, dorms" one junior explained, "you can’t expect too much." Freshmen guys live in New Men’s, while freshmen girls live in either Cullen Daniel or Margaret Daniel. A student revealed that "New Men’s is pretty nasty, but it’s a cool experience." The freshmen dorms have two people to a room and communal bathrooms. Other options include a four room–four person suite, a four room–eight person suite, or two doubles connected by a bathroom. Housing situations improve with both seniority and GPA—those with seniority and higher GPAs pick first. Residential Advisors (RAs) are on each floor of the freshmen dorms, ready to help with any problems. However, RAs are also meant to enforce the rules: "Level of strictness varies from person to person . . . they’re there to enforce the rules through fines mostly." Students sometimes choose to forgo dorm life for student apartments on campus or the Sorority Townhouses and Fraternity Row. Other notable buildings and locations on campus include the science building (which was remodeled in 2003), the humanities building, and the United Methodist Center. The Center recently built a new facility on the former Frat Row. "The [Frats] are a hangout area . . . as well as the Caf, and the Cellar." The Cellar, a coffee house, is a popular place for both relaxing and studying. The cafeteria, or "Caf" as BSC students call it, was recently revamped and is "a definite improvement" over the old cafeteria, and now boasts a Subway, a KFC, a soul food bar, a grille and a salad stand. Students living on campus have to purchase a meal plan; the choices range from light, medium, and hearty, which differ in numbers of meals provided.

Coming to Birmingham-Southern is coming into a great tradition of excellence. With its mixture of Division I sports, academics, and bridges into the business world, Birmingham promises to provide not only an unforgettable college experience, but connections for life. "We produce the best and the brightest—but not only that, once you’re a part of the BSC family, those ties never die. [That] sounds so sappy, but it’s true."—Melody Pak

FYI

If you come to BSC, you’d better bring "your leg muscles, it’s hilly."

The typical weekend schedule includes: "Friday: some sort of party Friday night, Saturday: football games, sports, party on Saturday night, Sunday: really low key."

If I could change one thing about BSC, I’d "bring more diversity."

Three things every student at BSC should do before graduating are "spend half of your day trying to figure out what you did the night before, make love, and still pass with a 3.5 or higher."

Tuskegee University has historically been home to many generations of African-American men and women searching for an outstanding academic experience in addition to a unique cultural enrichment. Tuskegee’s close-knit student community lives and studies in one of the country’s most historic African-American universities.

Changing Tradition

Tuskegee affords its undergraduates the opportunity to pursue a true liberal arts education through the College of Liberal Arts and Education. Although it was founded with the intention of giving African-Americans a more technical, career-specific education to give them an edge in specific job markets, the curriculum has gradually changed to ally Tuskegee with other liberal arts schools. Still, some traditions remain: all freshmen are required to take an orientation course, which consists of University history, including the mandatory reading of Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, and advice for adapting to college life. Freshmen will also discover that their other basic requirements include physical education and English courses.

The University includes five colleges in total: the College of Agriculture, Environmental and Natural Sciences; the College of Business and Information Science; the College of Engineering, Architecture and Physical Sciences; the College of Veterinary Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health; and the College of Liberal Arts and Education. Thus, despite the shift toward a more liberal arts–oriented academic environment, many Tuskegee students are engineering or science majors. The school often receives acclaim for its pre-vet, pre-med and nursing programs, and students confirm high numbers of enrollees in each of these disciplines. Lower level lectures tend to enroll between 40 and 50 students, but the average class size overall ranges from 10 to 20 students. Students like the class sizes, and report that "whatever class size you prefer, you can usually pick accordingly." The smaller class sizes and minimal use of TAs keep student-faculty interaction high. Students generally give Tuskegee’s academics a high rating. There were those who disagreed, remarking that "it can be easy to feel lost in the larger classes that don’t have TAs," but on the whole, many agreed that the school is "demanding but rewarding." Tuskegee’s history is clearly visible around its campus. A senior commented that "It’s very cool, some of the brick buildings were built by students when the school was founded."

Still Living in the Past

The residential life on campus is one of students’ more frequent complaints. In addition to being "ancient" and "without much furniture," dorms are not coed and students are required to live on campus both freshman and sophomore years. The older dorm buildings have a reputation for being in poor physical condition, and one student called the dorms "older than rocks." "You had better bring things that make you feel at home," said one undergrad, because "there’s no real cozy feeling." The on-campus apartment situation is slightly better; the Commons apartments offer students the amenities of a kitchen in addition to rooms that they can make their own with decorations. Students’ biggest problem, however, is with the University housing regulations. Because of the school’s conservative nature, men’s and women’s dorms are separated by a 10-minute walk to prevent students from visiting those of the opposite gender. The University staff also keeps a close eye on dorms; students are not allowed to be on the "wrong" side of campus after 11 p.m. and, if caught, face punishment.

"The town of Tuskegee offers nothing except seclusion from the modern world, but you learn a lot trapped in the wilderness."

Many upperclassmen choose to move off campus. One student said of the coed policies, "I love my campus, but I had to leave it because of the rules." Students tend to meet in the student union, which contains a movie theater, a grill, a game room and offices for student organizations. The student cafeteria is another popular meeting place, and serves as a place where Tuskegee’s many clubs and organizations can meet to bring students together. Some of the biggest clubs are the state clubs, which unite students hailing from the same state to plan activities relating to their home turf. African-American groups like the National Society of Black Engineers and several prominent fraternities and sororities are also present on campus. There is an active chapter of ROTC, which helps some students to fund their education. Students are active in community service, and the nearby hospital employs a number of Tuskegee students.

Football and basketball games generate great excitement at Tuskegee. In particular, the rivalries with Morehouse College and Alabama State University tend to draw the largest crowds to sporting events. Homecoming is one of the biggest social events of the year. The weeklong tradition incorporates performances by student groups, the Miss Tuskegee Gala and a number of pep rallies to boost school spirit. In the spring, the school hosts "Springfest," an event drawing many students together for shows, concerts and a dance.

The Typical Tuskegee Student

While the Greek system is a visible presence on campus, students report that they do not feel an urge to rush. There is little animosity between the fraternities, but they reportedly have a "friendly rivalry." Officially, alcohol is prohibited on campus and students who are caught with it face fines or other penalties. As a result, drinking generally tends to occur off campus. Students said they considered the town of Tuskegee "slow," but most agree that it has most of the things necessary for college life. And, as one student put it, "Tuskegee has a lot of potential to grow," adding, "but you come for the school, not the town." Tuskegee students also added that their campus is safe, with a large body of security officers and a closely monitored electronic keycard system.

Tuskegee is more than just an academic college experience; it is also one of cultural and historical enrichment. The school’s fundamental mission remains an avid part of why students attend, and the school’s community and tradition are enough to overcome some of its more conservative and comparatively strict policies. The experience tends to bind people in a lasting way. As one student said, "There are a lot of good people here and you can meet a lot of great minds—not to mention we’re friends for life. People might complain about things here, but in the end, you don’t want to leave."—Melissa Chan and Staff

FYI

If you come to Tuskegee, you’d better bring "a car to survive here because the nearest mall is 20 minutes away. The town of Tuskegee offers nothing except seclusion from the modern world, but you learn a lot trapped in the wilderness."

What’s the typical weekend schedule? "Go to a football game if we’re playing at home and then party at a fraternity at night."

If I could change one thing about Tuskegee I’d "change the administration. It seems to have no respect or regard for the students, the registration process takes three days, and the dorms are really run-down."

The three things every student should do before graduating from Tuskegee are "try the food at the Chicken Coop, go to Homecoming, and visit the George Washington Carver Museum on campus."

With four buildings that survived the Civil War (Gorgas House, Maxwell Hall, the Little Round House, and the President’s Mansion), the graceful architecture and serene campus might be awe-inspiring to a new freshman arriving at Alabama. As one student said, "The campus is just so beautiful, it really can be a very peaceful place." But before you can say the words "Roll Tide," the semester propels forward into football season, with the first games taking place in the month of September.

You would have to try really hard to leave "Bama" without knowing the significance of the Iron Bowl, "Bear" Bryant, and why Alabama must always beat Auburn in any competition. But students agree that athletic traditions and rivalries hardly define the UA experience: "It’s just a great school in so many different ways."

Academics

Overall, students at Alabama seem pretty satisfied with the academic opportunities. "There’s pretty much any major you could ever want" and a fair amount of minor options too. In addition to completing the requirements for each individual major, students must also complete the core curriculum requirements for graduation. These requirements force students to take courses in a variety of areas, such as humanities and fine arts, history, social/behavioral sciences, natural science and mathematics, foreign languages or computers, and writing. "The requirements actually aren’t that hard to fill," says one student. "By the time you’ve taken all the classes that look interesting to you, you realize that you’re really knocking out the core requirements."

But for those not satisfied with Alabama’s offerings, the interdisciplinary New College program, though "relatively small and relatively new," allows admitted students to design their own majors and minors. The program is considered "pretty intense," requiring, in addition to the University requirements for graduation, extra language classes, New College seminars, and independent study. The program boasts that it promotes more independent thinking and allows a student a closer relationship with his or her advisor.

Another option for Alabama students who desire "more of a challenge" in their academic pursuits is the Honors College, which is divided up into three programs: the Computer-Based Honors Program, the International Honors Program, and the University Honors Program. The trailblazing Computer-Based Honors Program accepts about 40 students each year and allows undergraduates of any major the opportunity to work one-on-one with faculty members in computer-oriented research. The students "really jump in" with an intense course freshmen year in computing concepts. The International Honors Program helps students incorporate an international flair into their major, grooming the students for a study-abroad experience. The University Honors Program is the largest of the programs, with approximately 10 percent of the undergraduate population taking part. The program seeks to provide a higher level of education to Alabama students; admission is primarily based on ACT or SAT scores, and honors students are required to maintain their GPAs throughout college.

Excerpted from The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges by The Yale Daily News.

Copyright © 2009 by The Yale Daily News Publishing Company.

Published in July 2009 by St. Martin’s Press,.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

The Yale Daily News is produced by undergraduate students at Yale University. It is based in New Haven, Connecticut.