Three campuses, three presentations and my university impressions

Abraham Lincoln, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Wisconsin

Abraham Lincoln, University of Wisconsin – Madison, Wisconsin

When we took a trip up north recently, during winter break, it was to look at college campuses. We went to Madison to see the University of Wisconsin and in Chicago we visited the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. It was instructive to see them within days of each other — each were unique and had different perspectives.

Up top is Bascom Hall with Abe Lincoln proudly overlooking the hill in the heart of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. UW is a top-notch state school with a nice, clean and organized campus which integrates well with the City of Madison and is located between two substantial lakes. It looks like a great place to live, though it can get brutally cold in the winter.

Student Union Auditorium, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Wisconsin

The school gave a comprehensive presentation which answered all my questions — it was my favorite out of the three. The new student union is beautiful and the facilities looked well equipped. My boys and I came away liking the school and the city as well. There’s enough buildings that it felt like a city but it also had a friendly, small town feel. I think the proximity of the campus to the downtown is a real plus.

University of Chicago Campus - Chicago, Illinois
Classroom, University of Chicago - Chicago, Illinois

Located south of downtown, University of Chicago had the most impressive campus, architecturally. The central square had a real old world feel, kind of what you’d expect from Oxford or Cambridge in England or the Ivy League universities on the east coast. Unfortunately, the neighborhood is not that great. The immediate area, Hyde Park, is residential and decent enough but it’s surrounded by less desirable areas. It had the feeling of an oasis in the middle of a tough neighborhood.

Presentation wise, it was the most disorganized. We met in a relatively small admissions office and then were taken to an impressive but old Chemistry lecture hall. There the presenter talked about the school in a sometimes hard to hear manner. There were no audio / visual aids and the presenter couldn’t answer a basic question like, “How much does the school cost?”. Perhaps if you have to ask, you don’t belong there?

It seemed like the school wasn’t trying too hard to entice students. And it probably didn’t have to either. The school has a fine reputation and with less than a 10% acceptance rate, they probably attract all the great students they need. Overall, I found them stodgy and it seemed like they took themselves too seriously. The tour guide, however, was very passionate and clearly loved the school.

Visitor's Center, Northwestern University - Evanston, Illinois
Auditorium, Northwestern University - Evanston, Illinois

Located just north of Chicago in the City of Evanston, Northwestern is located on the shores of Lake Michigan. They’re older than UChicago but they seem to lack a large number of old buildings with gravitas. They did have architecturally dynamic, modern buildings, however. The visitors center was particularly nice with both the waiting area and presentation room facing the lake.

The presentation was complete and well done with the expected Powerpoint slides. I think the UW Madison presentation was the best, but Northwestern did a good job of conveying their strengths. Academically, Northwestern is on par with UChicago, though in some rankings, UChicago is a bit more selective.

What I found interesting is how different the two Chicago schools were from each other. While UChicago seems to stress tradition with an old world feel, Northwestern felt young and perhaps even hip. Marketing wise, Northwestern was significantly more impressive than their academic competition to the south.

Out of the three, my son likes UW Madison the most. And while this excellent state school is not ranked quite at the same level as the two private schools in Chicago, they seem to offer a well-rounded university experience. University of Wisconsin’s proximity to Madison is what my son and I particularly like.

All three schools are very expensive, however. The two private schools runs about $65,000 per year. University of Wisconsin is still expensive, for out-of-state residents, at $45,000 per year. With Texas state schools running about $20,000 per year, I wonder if these schools are worth 2x or 3x the cost?

The jury is still out. My son is still a junior so he still has time to look around.

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7 thoughts on “Three campuses, three presentations and my university impressions

  1. Being born in Europe, and living in Michigan (have you looked into Michigan Tech University, in Houghton, UP? You should have visited that place, at least Madison would have looked like a mild weather kind of place!), I find completely crazy that anyone from Texas would move in Midwest on their free will (and even pay 200K for it!!!).

    Great pictures, by the way. Love the indoor pictures!

      1. I am sure he will like the cold. The question is, for how long? It gets old pretty fast.

        On the other hands it might give you an opportunity to visit Wisconsin during the indian summer. In a very selfish way, I know I would enjoy the pictures you would take!

  2. Being a UW grad, but from Texas, let me chime in. First, from the Houston area, I preferred to get away so I did my undergrad at Tex Tech. Probably should have gone to UT but I visited neither, just took the one farthest away thinking Lubbock was in West Texas and there were mountains out there. This was 50 yrs ago and I didn’t even apply until the last minute. Hit the books, enjoyed the big shift in culture; one dorm roomie was named Jesse James and was a bullrider from New Mexico. Got to do undergrad research in caves in Mexico, sat around at small parties with artists like Joe Ely.

    For grad school it was off to Madison, the aquatic sciences. Another huge culture shift, with genuine anti-war protests, but great professors, great traditions. The bust of John Muir sat in the entrance to Birge Hall, just across from Bascom. Took a couple years to acquire the right clothing, but I found the seasonality to be invigorating. Got all around the state collecting critters for research and found the terrain, from the wholesome farmlands to the northwoods to be beautiful. At that time Wisconsin embodied the best of progessive thought and action. The student experience was wonderful. From the old union, to old bookstores, to a jog out Picnic Point or the really enjoyable games at Camp Randall. Academically, world class, just depends on the discipline like everywhere else. Twenty-five yrs later my son did his undergrad at Madison. We are both Badger fans.

    Yet costs for out-of-state are almost prohibitive, even in-state costs are high…you didn’t mention total costs per yr at a school away from home like A&M or Tech. As a teacher I have advised many students on college choices, but I never suggested avoiding big schools. The full university experience cannot be replicated by doing a couple yrs at Blinn then going off to A&M, for example. Smaller, academically excellent schools, however, can be found in Texas. Since a friend is a Biology professor there, I should put in a plug for Austin College in Sherman. And since my son now teaches at Alabama, and I like Tuscaloosa, some of the southern schools have their charms. Athens, GA, for example, is supposed to be a great college town.

    Good luck searching. The college years are some of the best of your life. Don’t spend them in a strip mall.

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