On Tour: Texas College Gems
We recently divided and conquered Texas, visiting a dozen universities across the vast state. Here are our favorites:
Austin is a vibrant city with a college town vibe situated on a river reminiscent of the Charles River in Cambridge. People of all ages are cycling, running, and biking along the adjacent bike-hike trail. Just above the trail, there are restaurants galore, and public maker spaces that reflect the entrepreneurial spirit of the community. Austin is the home of the SXSW Conference that merges the interactive music and film industries. UT Austin students benefit from this convergence of innovation and creativity in their city.
Total enrollment at UT Austin is 51,000 and 40,000 are undergraduates. Only six percent are from out of state. Engineering, business, and natural sciences are the most competitive for admission. Many colleges within the university offer honors programs where the classes are smaller than the university average(our tour guide told us her largest class was Introduction to Biology with 300 students). The McCombs Business honors program represents the top 2% of applicants to business and those being considered are invited for an interview. The College of Liberal Arts Plan II Honors Program is interdisciplinary and is also highly selective.
It is important that prospective applicants understand that they may not get into their first choice major. If students are not admitted out of high school to a major, they would not be admissible later either. However, a strong student who might have been admitted out of high school but who was perhaps undecided about major at that time, might be successful with an internal transfer to these competitive majors once enrolled at UT. Students can also apply as undecided to the School of Undergraduate Studies where they will receive advising about majors.
All freshmen join a learning community where they take a few classes as a cohort, and each cohort has both a student and faculty mentor. Learning communities were added to help improve freshman retention to sophomore year, which is now at 95%.
Football in Texas is not to be underestimated and students love their Longhorns. With all there is to do in Austin, Greek life is not as much of a focus with only 14% of undergraduates participating. Families considering Texas public colleges should be aware of the law that allows students and other adults ages 21 and older to carry a concealed weapon on campus if they are licensed. However, many private businesses such as restaurants and retailers in Austin and other locales do not permit concealed weapons on their premises.
I didn’t expect Houston to have so many trees, but with more than 4,000 trees on campus there are more trees than students (undergraduate enrollment is 3,900). Forty percent are Texans and the rest come from all over the country and internationally. Rice students are a diverse bunch of very bright, accomplished students who also like to have fun. In addition to being a campus known for positive race/class interaction among the student body, it is consistently rated as having the happiest students and offering an excellent quality of life.
All Rice students are assigned to a residential college, which includes students from across majors and class years. As one student said, “It’s like the Harry Potter sorting hat, but the selection is random.” Each residential college has its own colors, crests and traditions. They sponsor a series of week-long events before classes start freshman year. Faculty magistrates are assigned to each residential college and live in a house nearby, and they facilitate social and academic events. Dining is offered in each residence, though some share a dining hall, and students are welcome to eat at any of them. Each house has special amenities such as a music or maker space. You don’t have to live in a residence to use its facilities.
While Rice is known for its science, engineering, architecture and music programs, they are strong in the humanities and social sciences too. They offer many opportunities for research across disciplines and offer centers and institutes exploring urban research, climate change, neonatal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, and women, gender and sexuality to name a few. Students can earn certificates in a language or other discipline to round out their major. Except for music and architecture, it is very easy to change majors and even engineers do not need to declare their major until sophomore year.
Houston has three medical centers including the world’s largest—Texas Medical Center. Nearby NASA space center offers opportunities for engineers interested in aerospace and Rice boasts 14 faculty or alumni who have been astronauts. There are many internship opportunities in Houston, the fourth largest city in USA, and Rice students get discounts to arts events (its theatre district is the second largest in the USA after Broadway) and professional sports.
Alas the admit rate was only 11% this past year—It’s no secret that Rice is a desirable place with generous financial and merit aid. If you are a strong student, take a look at this gem.
Located on the edge of San Antonio, Trinity University is a small college with big school resources. With an endowment over $1 billion, the college offers its students a wealth of opportunities from funded research experiences, internships and study abroad, to generous merit and financial aid.
Trinity is a traditional liberal arts and sciences college with pre-professional programs in business, communications (including broadcast journalism), and engineering which is top 40 ranked and hands-on, offering six design semesters. They also offer many offerings in immersive languages. Just over a third of students come from out of state.
Career services help students with internships and jobs in Texas and around the country. Graduating seniors we talked with were heading to consulting firms in NYC where Trinity alumni worked, to Human Rights Watch in Washington, DC with help from another Trinity graduate, and to medical school.
Traditions abound. Students expect to get thrown in the campus fountain by friends on their birthdays—and take an obligatory lap. They look forward to a holiday tradition where the president and faculty who live nearby open their homes to students for refreshments and music. Greek life attracts 23 percent of students and there are no houses—they are more of a social club. Students support their peers by cheering them on at athletic events, especially basketball, and they love going into the city for great food and festivals.
Trinity is selective but accessible for strong B+ students who have challenged themselves in high school. We highly recommend it.
Southern Methodist University, better known as SMU, is situated in a lovely neighborhood called Highland Park, ten minutes from downtown Dallas. It is nondenominational and not especially religious. Sixty percent of the 6500 undergraduates are from outside of Texas. SMU offers five undergraduate schools including business, engineering, humanities and sciences, arts, and education. The Cox School of Business is the most competitive among these. Students apply to enter a particular school during sophomore year based on their grades in the pre-requisite courses. A limited number of stand-out applicants are offered “direct admit” status to Cox at the time of application. Note that SMU’s majors in Advertising, Corporate and Public Affairs and Journalism are all housed within the Meadows School of the Arts. The Simmons School of Education offers an interesting major called Applied Physiology and Sports Management.
Given the many opportunities available to undergraduates in Dallas, SMU’s Hegi Career and Development Center is active and strong as are career advising programs within each school. Students are crafting resumes as early as the fall of freshman year.
SMU’s freshmen and sophomores are housed in one of eleven residential colleges, which offer close-knit living and learning environments. Faculty in residence positions are popular among professors with a wait list in place. A typical SMU student is socially inclined, in and out of the career office, active both on and off campus, and often double majoring across schools. Greek life is popular and the campus boasts traditional fraternity and sorority houses.
About thirty minutes away, Texas Christian University is located in the vibrant community of Fort Worth, the US’s sixteenth largest city. Students say that while TCU is a very values-driven university, “the C in TCU can be as big or as small as you choose.” There are almost 8,900 undergraduates with fifty percent hailing from outside of Texas. The University offers multiple schools: business, education, fine arts, communications, liberal arts, nursing and health sciences, and science and engineering. The most competitive of these programs is Nursing. Pre-health courses are challenging and TCU has major ties within the Fort Worth medical community allowing for excellent internship and shadowing opportunities as well as undergraduate research. They will be opening Fort Worth’s first medical school this fall. The College of Fine Arts includes majors in fashion merchandising, interior design and graphic design. About seven percent of undergraduates are enrolled in TCU’s Honors College with opportunities for priority registration, small class sizes, and the chance to write a thesis with significant faculty support.
TCU is the smallest college in the Big 12 but boasts some very accomplished teams. Students love to attend games and cheer on their Horned Frogs with pride. All games are free and open to undergraduates. Fifty percent of students are involved in Greek life. Fort Worth, with the beautiful Trinity River winding through it, is a fun and welcoming place for students.
About three hours south of Dallas/Fort Worth is the happening capitol of Austin, Texas. Music and food venues are a-plenty in Austin as are technology opportunities reflected in Austin’s nickname “Silicon Hills.” Texas’ flagship public university is located here, but there’s another, lesser-known liberal arts university perched on a hilltop about ten minutes away from UT’s campus: St Edward’s University. St Edwards is home to 3,800 undergraduates, with thirty percent coming from outside Texas. Students here are passionate about learning and changing the world. It’s an open-minded Catholic university (about 50 percent of students identify as Catholic) with a vibrant Hillel house. St Edwards lives its Catholic values as demonstrated by its long-standing commitment to financially and academically supporting undocumented immigrants and children of migrant workers.
Stand out programs include forensic science, digital media management, bioinformatics, and interactive games studies, where students take advantage of the hundreds of Austin-based technology and gaming companies for internships and jobs after graduation. There are a number of business majors too. They offer both a BFA and a BA in Acting where several graduates have gone on to Broadway and Hollywood. Students earn stipends for undergraduate research and more than a third do some kind of study abroad program.
The university boasts high levels of participation in intramural and club sports. Many out-of-state students receive generous merit scholarships. Students know their professors with a faculty to student ratio of 13:1. Academic supports are strong. If you want to be in Austin but UT is a little too big or out of reach, consider St Edwards.
By Joan Casey & Rebecca Kenney