College search: city universities that aren't too big or too urban?
February 21, 2011 8:20 PM   Subscribe

College search: city universities that aren't too big or too urban?

We're starting to plan a spring break college-exploration trip with Little Darling, who's a junior in high school.

She has identified Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond as her #1 choice so far. We visited there last fall and while I liked it more than I was expecting to, there's a part of me that thinks she hasn't thought through its size (23,000 undergrads) and its relatively low barrier to entry (she is in honors/AP courses and while not a Type A, takes school seriously and is impatient with those who don't).

I think what she responded to was the idea of going to college in a city, as opposed to the self-contained bubble of a more rural/isolated campus. She liked that the academic buildings and dorms were around the corner from cafes and cool shops and she wouldn't necessarily need a car.

I'd like to take her to see some colleges where she might be able to have an "urban" experience but where she could also benefit from a smaller, more nurturing campus environment with a bit more selectivity (although not elite/highly selective - she doesn't have the profile).

We live in NC and she won't consider Chapel Hill (because "everybody goes there"). I will probably drag take her to look at NC State and Asheville because while money is not a huge consideration, it would be great for her to fall in love with a state school and its in-state tuition. She hated UNC Charlotte, Wilmington, Greensboro and App State. She's more interested in mid-Atlantic or Midwest rather than further south - so we'll probably target Virginia, Maryland, New York(?), Pennsyvania, Ohio. Maybe South Carolina, maybe further north into New England. (Maybe more than one trip!)

Ideal school size would be around 10,000 undergrads or smaller, moderately selective, with a residential student body rather than commuter, in a city as opposed to a college town. Not too snooty or homogeneous, but not so diverse that there's no sense of community or identity/school spirit.

Hopefully this question isn't a terrible combination of too much and not enough information. Thanks for your suggestions.
posted by Sweetie Darling to Education (72 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The University of Chicago. It takes a special kind of masochist person to go there, though. Don't let the elite/highly selective thing throw you off; one of my best friends there had an absolutely terrible (like Ds and Fs) record in high school (and thrived in college). It's worth trying.

-about 5000 undergrad/10000 grad
-a bit of a campus bubble and Hyde Park is a quaint little neighborhood, but you can get downtown in a half hour
-very, very close-knit undergrad community
-definitely full of serious academics, but not in a competitive way at all

And it's in Chicago, the best city in the world.
posted by phunniemee at 8:37 PM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Tufts University might be worth a visit.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:38 PM on February 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think there are a number of schools in the Twin Cities that would meet your criteria, but I didn't go to school here/don't have kids so I don't really know that much about them. For example, Macalester College and Hamline University are both in St. Paul and are smaller, but I don't know about the selectivity factor. In both cases, they have a traditional campus and are not close to downtown. There are also several Catholic universities like the University of St. Thomas and St. Kates (St. Catherine University) but that might not appeal to her. I guess I'm just trying to say, check out the Twin Cities!
posted by cabingirl at 8:39 PM on February 21, 2011

University of Maryland doesn't fit the bill at all; it's *enormous* (like 40k students) and the campus is a huge sprawling sore in an a tiny suburban armpit of a town (love you, College Park, but I don't miss you).

If she'd be interested in coming west, there are lots of colleges with the right setting - small to medium schools set in interesting small cities that have stuff going on in their own right. The west seems better for that kind of thing in general - the small cities here have distinct physical boundaries and identities of their own rather than blending into one huge metro area. For example, CSU in Fort Collins is probably too big, but the setting is just right. Maybe take a look west of the Mississippi?
posted by peachfuzz at 8:45 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

This was a while ago, but I liked the feel of American University in DC. It didn't have a well-defined campus, but it definitely wasn't a commuter school, either. George Mason, just outside DC, might also be a good choice.

Tufts might be a good choice, too--it's in a suburb of Boston.

I hear good things about UVA in Charlottesville.

From personal experience, Vanderbilt (Nashville) and Washington University (St. Louis) both have strong academics, contained campuses but with a definite city environment just beyond the gates. They're both top-20, not sure if that's too elite for you, but maybe worth a look.

My cousin loved Smith College, in Amherst (all-women, but there are plenty of boys around).
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:45 PM on February 21, 2011

Have you considered schools in Canada? UBC in Vancouver is a great school in a lovely city. (Currently a grad student there, so I am biased.) The tuition is less than what I paid at a state school for my undergrad. Lots of students here from the US and abroad, so she wouldn't be too exotic.

I've heard excellent things about University of Toronto, but no specifics.
posted by wowbobwow at 8:47 PM on February 21, 2011

GWU or American University in Washington, DC might fit. GWU is terribly, incredibly expensive.
posted by procrastination at 8:48 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

You haven't said anything about what it is she might want to study. I know its rare for a HS student to have completely committed to a career... but it helps to choose a school that's strong in fields she might be interested in. She's also more likely to find other people who are serious about school if she's in a program that's nationally/internationally recognized.

Unless she's just interested in General Liberal Degree, in which case any school will do.
posted by sbutler at 8:49 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

What about Vanderbilt? It's in the heart of Nashville, but the campus is beautiful, not all concrete and asphalt. Downtown Nashville is a 5 minute cabride away, and though it's a medium-sized city, it's not at all overwhelming and is really fun and manageable. The school has a good reputation, isn't too large and is sufficiently challenging.

I was looking at northern/New England schools and when my dad brought Vanderbilt up during my search, I admit that I was hesitant. It only took one visit and one look at the course catalog to make me fall in love with the campus and the city. I know it's in the south, but the student body is from all over (actually a lot of northern/New Englanders) and I never felt overwhemingly like I was in the "south" proper or surrounded by southerners. It's a reasonable distance from your home, has a lot of matriculation from NC, and one of the best things about Nashville is that a lot of different places - Cincinnati, Atlanta, Knoxville, New Orleans, Montgomery, St. Louis, etc - are all a totally do-able car ride away.

Good luck in your search!
posted by buzzkillington at 8:50 PM on February 21, 2011

2nding peachfuzz re: College Park, Md. Not a fun place. Also agree that American and GMU are also very good options. UVA is nice but it's private and Charlottesville isn't really a city-city. VCU isn't a fantastic school, but Richmond is way more of a city experience than C-ville.
posted by wowbobwow at 8:51 PM on February 21, 2011

I really think American would be perfect. I disagree with thinkingwoman about American's campus. It's very much defined (but small). I'd also look into Northwestern.
posted by kylej at 9:02 PM on February 21, 2011

See what you can do about pitching UNC-CH. I am also from a state with a top-notch public school (Michigan) and I had *exactly* the same attitude about UM when I was in high school:
Everybody's going there, I don't want college to be just like high school, I want to go to an Elite School to have Elite Experiences and Be Different...


For purely financial reasons I ended up at UM. I sulked for a while, and then realized that this was not at all like high school: I never had to deal with (or even see) those 100 stupid people from my hometown who were in Ann Arbor somewhere, because I was now doing more interesting things with more interesting people. I ended up having an amazing, exciting four years, making important connections for my career that I could not have made at a second-tier school in MI or in any other state -- and I graduated without any debt, something I am really happy about when I see my fellow 30-somethings struggling with student loan payments on top of mortgages, car payments, and childcare expenses.

I don't know if you can convince your daughter that the Chapel Hill university world is oh so much bigger, badder, and possibility-laden than she imagines -- but in the real world, when you are a college senior looking for internships or grad schools or job interviews, it is usually worth it to have an education from your state's top school (when it also happens to be a top school nationally!) rather than a nice second- or third-tier place.
posted by philokalia at 9:03 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

If Chicago appeals to her, also check out Northwestern University. The campus is an hour or less to downtown via el/subway or commuter rail, and has a great city view while still having trees and green space. Chicago is a fantastic city.
posted by Wulfhere at 9:08 PM on February 21, 2011

New College in Sarasota.

College of Charleston.
posted by mareli at 9:08 PM on February 21, 2011

Northwestern occurred to me. Lots of schools in the Boston area, such as Tufts and Boston College. The College Board has a nice search tool.
posted by lukemeister at 9:12 PM on February 21, 2011

Northwestern, nth'd.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:13 PM on February 21, 2011

Also, Lewis & Clark and Reed in/near Portland, OR and the Claremont Colleges just outside LA.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:14 PM on February 21, 2011

Occidental in SoCal, too.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:14 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't really understand why 10K students is OK, while 20K is not.

I graduated from Hunter College, which has ~15,000 students. I did just fine, had a great time, made friends, got to know professors, etc.

Conversely, I started college at Emerson, and while it was interesting to go to a small school where everyone pretty much knew each other, I don't really feel like I got any concrete benefit from it. Most lecture-based courses were about the same size as at Hunter, too - a small student body doesn't necessarily guarantee smaller class sections.

I felt pretty much like a face in the crowd at both schools - any institution over a thousand or so students is going to be that way. Also, if anything, I found it harder to make friends at the smaller school. I felt like the kids at Emerson were all pretty much cut from the same mold, whereas there were simply tons and tons of different sorts of people at Hunter.

As for selectivity - weirdly enough I also found that the less selective school (Hunter) was a better place to stretch my academic wings. A lot of kids went to Emerson because their families had money, not because they were especially intelligent. Whereas a lot of my fellow Hunter students felt lucky to be going to college at all - I got the sense that people wanted to be there.
posted by Sara C. at 9:17 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon University. They are both a little bigger than 10,000 but are strong schools in a variety of fields. Duquense, Chatham and Point Park Universities are all within the city and are good as well. Although the campus nearly touch each other, Pitt is a little more urban whereas CMU has more campus atmosphere. Pittsburgh was just voted as the 29th Most Livable City in the world by the Economist--not bad considering this was the highest rated city in the US. Its also been voted America's Most Livable City by Forbes and other mags recently so it has to have something going for it. Check the other threads on here about Pittsburgh for more details about the city.

I went to Pitt as I was looking for many of the same things in a campus your daughter seems to be interested in.
posted by buttercup at 9:22 PM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

University of Rochester, in upstate NY, is moderately sized and selective. The campus is on one bank of a river and within easy biking distance from Corn Hill and the South Wedge, two of the Rochester's artsy/yuppie neighborhoods. Rochester is a small, reasonably safe city with a lot of parks and green space. Summers get pretty hot, lots of snow most winters.
posted by Nomyte at 9:30 PM on February 21, 2011

I've heard excellent things about University of Toronto, but no specifics.
Canadian schools: now I play the canuck's advocate!

n.b.: the university of toronto is excellent. it is also NOT a small school: upwards of 55,000.

I have heard amazing things about UBC, and vancouver is a fantastic city.
posted by ameliaaah at 9:32 PM on February 21, 2011

Since you mention South Carolina, I have to say that I loved my summers at USC. It's an urban campus, but very nice. The "Horseshoe" green space at its center has tons of Old South charm--hang around there, drop into the museum, walk past the reflecting pool at the library, sit around the shady areas at the student center, and (if you're there at the right time) go to the theater nearby or go to the ballet/symphony. But it's a pretty easy walk to shopping, restaurants, and services in Five Points and downtown. It's a bit more competitive than VCU, but about the same size. It's probably worth a visit, since you're so close.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:37 PM on February 21, 2011

UBC is a huge university - around 40,000 students - and is very spread out on a Peninsula which absolutely requires a commute to get into the city proper. It's pretty much the antithesis of an urban experience.

Going to classes at U of Toronto is pretty much like having a series of unpleasant appointments in the soul-less downtown of an average Midwestern City.

The best "urban" university in Canada is McGill - and some would say it's the best university, period. The Quebecois - Anglophone - Allophone mosaic in Montreal is fantastically stimulating.
posted by Rumple at 9:39 PM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Seconding University of Chicago. Hyde Park is a perfect little bubble of academia! People here who blow off academics tend to get looked down upon just slightly. Downtown and other neighborhoods are only half hour away (20 minutes by bike up the Lake Shore trail!). Plus, it's actually in Chicago, unlike Northwestern...

The university has become slightly more selective now, but it's still nowhere near the single digit admittance rates of comparable universities on the east coast. If you're daughter leans towards nerdy/geeky while quirky, she'll have a good chance of getting in.
posted by astapasta24 at 9:49 PM on February 21, 2011

Seconding Hunter as a pretty unexpectedly good school. I just kind of ended up there and was very happy to graduate with no debt, the experience of living in Manhattan, and a lot more diversity than I would've been exposed to at other schools I was considering. 90% of classes were rewarding and challenging depending on the specialization and level of study.

Sometimes I wish I went to McGill though. Montreal is such a nice place and not a continent away.
I think it might more specifically fit your criteria.
posted by pynchonesque at 9:52 PM on February 21, 2011

UVA is nice but it's private and Charlottesville isn't really a city-city, UVa is public. It's just so good that you'd think it would have to be private. It's just a wee bit bigger than you're looking for, with a bit over 10K undergrad. The student population is almost entirely resident, either in dorms or in apartments/houses near the grounds. Even if you had a car to drive, you wouldn't want to try to drive it to school as the closest open school lot to classes will be further away than where you live.

Charlottesville isn't a very big town, but acts much more cosmopolitan than its size. There's a decent old-timey urban commercial district right near the school with a lot of options for food, and downtown is about a mile's walk away.
posted by LionIndex at 9:54 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I stand corrected! I think I was thrown by the big-name alums and general preppy-ness of the student population.

slinks away, slinkingly
posted by wowbobwow at 10:05 PM on February 21, 2011

The only thing about Hunter as a recommended school in your daughter's situation is that space in the dorms is very limited. When I was there, you were only guaranteed two years of housing. A few people I know did a third year as an RA, but if she went to Hunter her living situation would definitely be a factor at some point. If she is interested in Hunter, she should look into admission to their Honors program.

It's funny that pynchonesque and I are both Hunter alums, because I too often wish I'd gone to McGill. That, or University of Chicago. Or maybe one of the many colleges in Amherst, MA (Smith, Hampshire, UMass, etc).
posted by Sara C. at 10:06 PM on February 21, 2011

Smith is in Northampton, which is lovely (and a little more vibrant than Amherst) but if she didn't like Boone as a city, as opposed to not liking App State, she'd probably feel the same way about it.

So, UNC Asheville. Smallish (sub-5,000 undergrad) in a town that has a definite "college town" vibe, but one that's largely not generated by the students. It's easy to forget that it's there, as opposed to, say, Athens, where UGA overwhelms the city to the point of absurdity. You can conceivably get by without a car, though the bus network is limited and limiting, and cycling beyond well-travelled routes is a challenge. It's a little bit commuter, a little bit residential, a little bit campus, a little bit urban, though not so embedded in downtown as USC in Columbia. Not my cup of tea as far as a college experience goes -- it is a satellite university, and the Triangle remains the academic hub of NC -- but worth a look.
posted by holgate at 10:30 PM on February 21, 2011

Amherst Mass is very much a college town as opposed to a city, and Smith is down the road in Northampton, which is not a "city" either. I loved going to Smith, but it doesn't sound like the OP's daughter is interested in women's colleges. At any rate, none of the Five Colleges in the Pioneer Valley are going to provide any sort of urban experience.

If she liked VCU, what about University of Richmond?
posted by ambrosia at 10:44 PM on February 21, 2011

Definitely not GMU, contrary to several suggestions above - it has lots of commuters, it's a solid half hour outside of DC and very suburban, and it's not much more selective than VCU - everyone in my high school thought of it as a safety. American is much more what you're looking for.
posted by naoko at 10:52 PM on February 21, 2011

And I'll second University of Richmond and Tufts.
posted by naoko at 10:59 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

How extensively have you talked to your daughter about your concerns? I'm just looking at your statement that she "hasn't thought it through".

I was in the IB program in high school and much like your daughter, high-achieving, quickly frustrated with unmotivated people, etc. I had pretty high grades and very high test scores and could have easily gone to a "better", smaller, more selective school than the one I'm at now. Most of my teachers, parents friends, and the other adults in my life told me that I was "wasting" my grades, etc on a large state school that has an undergrad enrollment of ~30k, 50% acceptance rate, but this school was exactly what I wanted and I love it here.

Anyways, the point of saying all this is that your aspirations for your daughter or your thoughts of what would be a good school environment for her may not be what she's looking to get out of college. She could be looking at her current choices as a way to break away from what her parents or those around her think are good options. I think a better way to address this would be to ask her to sit down and make a list of exactly what she's interested in as far as schools go, and what you're interested in for her- straight from someone who wanted one thing when pretty much every adult in my life besides my parents was telling me "no, that's not what you want".

After saying that, though, I agree with the above that UVa could be a good compromise.
posted by kro at 12:26 AM on February 22, 2011

I hate to say it, but has she considered Duke? Durham is a fantastic city and Duke is right in the middle of everything, although few undergrads take advantage of the city's resources (because they are mostly suburban kids and terrified of an actual city). There are scholarship programs specifically targeting NC students, because so much of the student body is from elsewhere.

If she disliked UNC-G itself and not Greensboro as a whole, Guilford is a great place.

The smaller liberal artsy places near Philadelphia have full access to the city: Swarthmore, Haverford, Villanova, Bryn Mawr, etc. Villanova feels the most urban to me (the mainline stop is right on campus) and reminds me a lot of Duke.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:18 AM on February 22, 2011

Wow, I love this place. Thank you so much for the suggestions so far.

A couple of responses that hopefully will help generate more ideas:

* I'm focused on size because I have worked "in the business" at both a very small liberal arts college and a very large public university.

At the small college, the focus on students (and their precious tuition dollars) created an environment where the opportunities available (internships, study abroad and community service) were pretty incredible, considering the size of the place. Also, Mr. Darling and I went to a small liberal arts school in the Midwest and loved it, so I think we would both admit that we have a certain bias towards those kinds of places.

At the large public U, undergraduate students were kind of an afterthought and largely seen as a nuisance by faculty. Advising appointments came in 15-minute increments and didn't go much deeper than the course checklist. I'd rather pay more to have her taught by a real professor in a smaller class than a GA in a giant lecture hall, and to give her access to support services and those outside the classroom opportunities.

* kro, your comment is very insightful and I definitely see your point. Her high school is very competitive, with an IB program that relegates honor students like her to second-tier, while also stressing that they should avoid "regular classes" like the plague. She doesn't respond particularly well to that kind of pressure, which may be why she doesn't want to replicate it in college. I was in a similar environment during my high school days, and loved that I ended up at a college where people never talked about their grades. These are hard qualities to parse out in an admissions visit, though - you need to listen and sort through the "code."

* Some schools/cities you all have mentioned that we've thought about or sound appealing: College of Charleston, Pitt/ CMU/ Duquesne (my in-laws live near Pittsburgh), Tufts, American/GWU, U of Richmond. Please, keep them coming! I plan to go through the thread again after I've had more caffeine.

* Selectivity: We'll probably need to focus on second-tier rather than nationally-ranked because of her grades (she has a couple of Cs and will probably get a D this year in an AP course that in hindsight we shouldn't have signed her up for, and discovered too late that she'd get an F if we withdrew her). She hasn't taken the SAT yet.

* What she wants to study: Unsure at this point. Her strengths are in the right-brain side of the liberal arts - especially writing. Some talent in visual arts/graphic design. An interest in marketing/ PR on the practical side. Some talk being a teacher like her dad. The idea of spending $150k at a private vs. $50k in-state is definitely something I think about, although we haven't discussed it much. We don't want her to base her decision on a sense of guilt about money - this would be very much in keeping with her personality - but we want her to understand that a high-price school will mean some sacrifices for all of us.

*We really do want her to find a place that she loves, so if it's VCU that will be OK. I just want to make sure she doesn't propose on the first date.

Wow, this is very therapeutic. Thanks again to everyone.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:34 AM on February 22, 2011

A little late, but I wanted to mention that I'm currently a junior at NC State University. Similar to your daughter, I felt a little weird about coming here at first because a lot of people from my high school come here, we have a huge student body population, and, well, I just wanted to go out of state. However, after being here, I can completely and wholeheartedly say I love it. Size isn't an issue because of the various programs, villages, and organizations on campus. I feel really connected to my school, and this is coming from a classic introvert who mocks people with too much school spirit. We have a lot of great resources on campus and though you certainly will meet faculty who think of undergraduates as a nuisance, there are far more staff and faculty who are supportive and encouraging. Because of our size, we offer a lot of majors which is great for someone like your daughter (or me!) who doesn't necessarily know what she wants to major in or do with her life. We're also located in Raleigh, so there is always a lot going on both on campus and in the larger community. A lot of things are walking distance and if not, the bus system is easy to navigate. And if that doesn't work out, whoo hoo we just got student zipcars on campus earlier this month! Deciding to come to NC State was probably one of the best decisions I could of made and I could talk about it for a while. I'm really happy that I'm here and I really encourage you to embrace larger schools and for your daughter to think about staying in state. Feel free to memail me if you and your daughter decide to tour NC State as I'd love to meet up with you and show you my school.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 4:34 AM on February 22, 2011

I have never encountered a "rural" university where cafes and cool shops were not killing themselves to be right by the school. (Drive ten miles and you might get run over by a tractor, but that's another matter.)

Colombia MO and Urbana IL (homes of Missouri State and U of I - which do not fit your small school criterion) probably have as many cool shops and cafes in walking distance of the university as any urban university. It's the beyond walking distance range where your option plummet to the levels of a non-university large town / small city.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:34 AM on February 22, 2011

Seeing your most recent comment changes my suggestions a little. Duke is out if her grades aren't so good. If she hated UNC-Charlotte, but not Charlotte, Queens University is a great little place that meets a lot of the other criteria. George Mason is suburban, but easily accessible to DC (like College Park, but less dull).
posted by hydropsyche at 4:41 AM on February 22, 2011

Seconding Guilford College.
posted by mareli at 5:18 AM on February 22, 2011

Nthing American!!! A great campus with really nice people.
posted by jgirl at 5:24 AM on February 22, 2011

I attended the George Washington University in DC. GW, American, and Georgetown* are all great choices and have different campus feels: GW is very urban (the largest freshman dorm, Thurston, is three blocks from the White House); Georgetown is less urban but has easy access to the Georgetown area; and American feels more like a traditional campus that's also in the middle of the city. They're all great choices and should provide your daughter with great educational opportunities. You will see some rivalries between them -- Georgetown students tend to think of GW students as "people who couldn't get into Georgetown" while GW students think Georgetown kids are snobs -- but generally people are pretty friendly, and I have friends who've attended all three.

Going to college in DC is great -- it is REALLY cool to be able to walk to the National Mall and go sledding on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the museums (including the Zoo) are all free, and DC has some great cheap eating options (including the US' largest expatriate Ethiopian population, with correspondingly great food). I was beating down offers for internships while I was at school and jobs after I graduated (with an engineering degree). Memail me if you're interested in hearing more.

* I know that I'm leaving a bunch of DC colleges out of this list, but these three are the ones I (and most other people are likely to) know.
posted by kdar at 5:34 AM on February 22, 2011

Oh, and don't let GW's price tag shock you: they typically offer large merit-based scholarships to students who've got the right credentials. Most of my friends fell into that category; we all were getting around $20,000 per year based on nothing but our high school grades. It's worth applying and seeing what they come back with.
posted by kdar at 5:37 AM on February 22, 2011

I'd highly suggest UW - Eau Claire. It gets cold in winter, but it's the right size and price that i think will appeal to you, and depending on what she wants to study the curriculum can be very challenging/rewarding.
posted by zombieApoc at 6:06 AM on February 22, 2011

I'll nth American in that it seems to fit your criteria - smallish, selective, and has a *great* combo of urban and suburban. AU's campus is small, but well defined and in a very nice, suburban-feeling neighborhood... but still actually in DC. There's a metro stop nearby (10-15 minute walk and there is also a school shuttle bus) and you are super close to Friendship Heights, Bethesda, Georgetown, and then the rest of DC.

I don't think GW is what you're looking for - GW is the very definition of a super-urban campus, IMO. That said, visiting DC and checking out all the schools (AU, GW, Georgetown, but maybe also the larger and public UMD-College Park and GMU).

If you or your daughter have more specific questions about AU, I went there, so feel free to shoot me an PM.
posted by alaijmw at 6:27 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and while I *love* UBC and Vancouver in general, UBC is a huge school. A really great school in possibly the best possible location, but definitely large.

As mentioned, Reed or Lewis & Clark in Portland might be good too - good schools and Portland is an awesome, fun city.
posted by alaijmw at 6:29 AM on February 22, 2011

It's great to see some love for McGill in this thread but I don't think it's a good match for what you're describing. It does have a well-defined campus in a wonderful city, but it has over 20,000 undergrads and is the most mind-bendingly-bureaucratic bureaucracy I've ever had to deal with. If you're looking for somewhere nurturing, with lots of advising and small classes, McGill is not it.
posted by ootandaboot at 6:42 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

On Canadian schools, UBC and U of Toronto are too big, but I concur that McGill is a great school. You may also want to look at Dalhousie University in Halifax. It's a small city but has a lot going on - it's got 5 univeristies. Dalhousie is only 15 min walk from downtown.
posted by Gor-ella at 6:55 AM on February 22, 2011

Tulane University fits the bill - about 6,000 undergrads, in a city (a great one, IMHO), very few commuters. Great campus feel. I completely understand what your daughter wants - to be not just in a "college town."

From what I understand, Vanderbilt would also fit.

That might give us a better idea...for instance Northwestern was mentioned upthread but it's very competitive. You said "moderately selective" so I am not sure if she would get in.

Oh and Occidental was mentioned but it's *tiny*.
posted by radioamy at 7:29 AM on February 22, 2011

Emory Hasn't been mentioned. Neither have the Universities of Louisville, Evansville, and Memphis. While we're on Memphis, how about Rhodes? Too small? How about Tulane and Loyola in New Orleans? Too far south? There's always Washington University in St. Louis.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:41 AM on February 22, 2011

I don't know all that much about it as a school (although a very smart friend of mine enjoyed a summer research program there during her undergrad years), but I think Case Western Reserve University meets your guidelines in terms of size, neighborhood, and selectivity - it's walking distance from a lot of pretty neat stuff, and Cleveland is a more interesting city than one might guess (I say this as a non-Midwesterner).
posted by unsub at 8:03 AM on February 22, 2011

If your daughter wants to take graphic design courses (you mention design in your followup), she likely won't have the large lecture hall experience much in her major. It's a little funny reading your thread - I teach graphic design at UNC-Charlotte, one of the schools she hated. She might not have liked it because you live in Charlotte according to your profile and she may want a change of scene. In any case, graphic design courses start at around 30+ for the intro courses here and transition to 12-15 student courses at the Sophomore/Junior level. A student does need to have a portfolio to apply, but I thought I'd mention that different majors can have very different experiences at different schools. For what's it worth, I went to a small (<1000 students) liberal arts school in Kentucky, graduate school at the University of Michigan, taught first at a smallish (<10000) regional public and now teach here at UNC-Charlotte.
posted by Slothrop at 8:10 AM on February 22, 2011

What about Johns Hopkins? The Homewood campus is attractive, relatively modest in size/accessible, and there is plenty to do in Charles Village, the surrounding neighborhood. Yes, it's urban, but Hopkins is in a nice part of town. It's very solid academically, too.
posted by cheapskatebay at 8:19 AM on February 22, 2011

Neither is UBC a small school.

SFU is where you go for a small school that's in a big city like greater Vancouver.

(My bias - I did my undergrad degree there and loved it.)
posted by Kurichina at 8:46 AM on February 22, 2011

I went to GWU, and I really regret it. It's horribly expensive, and it is very much a sprawling urban university with no real "campus" feeling. It's neither nurturing nor small, and feels quite a bit bigger than it is. kdar is correct in that financial aid is pretty readily available, but if you don't qualify for aid, the price tag is staggering. The other major problem for me in college was having any sort of life outside school - DC is a very, very expensive city, and GW was (at least in my experience) terribly socially stratified. I hate to say this, because it reeks of poor-boy-at-the-party, but if you're lower- or lower-middle class economically, GW is not the place for you. (end rant)

That being said, I had several friends who went to American and loved it. It's less urban than GW, but it's still in DC and easily accessible to everything. Expensive as it is, DC is a pretty great place to live when you're young, and there are definitely employment opportunities here than you can't find anywhere else.

GMU is not that accessible to DC unless you drive - it's in Fairfax County. It's primarily known as a commuter school, and is definitely less selective than VCU. I live five minutes from the main campus, and I love where I live, but it's definitely not close to DC.
posted by timetoevolve at 10:59 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

For fewer than ten thousand students, maybe The New School? The interdisciplinary programs with other Manhattan colleges can give her the big-university experience whenever she wants, but this school's campus is in relatively cozy Greenwich Village. Also, if she's not sure of her educational direction, there are several dozen undergrad majors.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:08 AM on February 22, 2011

Heh, I came to suggest my alma matter, Tufts, but find I was beaten to the point. It's in Medford/Somerville, so it didn't have the annoyances and lack of campus feel that schools in Boston can get (people actually hang out on campus and do things, not just go into the city), but it's a short trip in to do anything you want and no car necessary. However, Tufts is getting more and more selective, so those Cs and Ds will hurt her there. (note, I do admission interviews for Tufts, and I've seen a lot of great kids, ones that I highly recommended getting in, not get accepted. Being from out of state you probably have a bit of a better chance, but it is something to consider)
posted by katers890 at 11:27 AM on February 22, 2011

I'd rather pay more to have her taught by a real professor in a smaller class than a GA in a giant lecture hall

This is by no means a guarantee if she attends a small liberal arts school.

It sounds like the difference between the institutions you describe is the difference between a big research institution and one that is more focused on the undergrad experience. This might also be why I experienced "big public school" and "small private school" as being similar in most of the areas you're concerned about -- my big public school wasn't focused on grad students and research. In fact, aside from the living situation aspect, in this sense one of the CUNY colleges might be ideal for your daughter, as the rarefied academia atmosphere is sequestered into the CUNY Graduate Center in all but a few disciplines. To take the focus off my particular school experience, what you might really be looking for is "focused on undergrads", not "small number of students enrolled" or "mega-expensive tuition".

You're right that a more elite/expensive school might have more to offer in terms of study abroad, internships, and other nebulous scare-quotey "opportunities". But then it might not, either. If there's some extracurricular or off-campus thing that she's definitely interested in doing, she should of course look into prospective schools' offerings. The sheer number or quality of programs isn't that important - what's important is that what the school offers is useful for the student in question.
posted by Sara C. at 12:27 PM on February 22, 2011

Stevens Tech in Hoboken. Small university (~3000 undergrad?) In a town/city with lots of cafes and nice views of NYC. A half hour away from NYC by path train. Parking there sucks, so no need for a car, although it'd be hard to go back and forth between home and school without a car.
posted by at 12:34 PM on February 22, 2011

Oh, and re the mentions of colleges in New Orleans - given your criteria, what you say about your daughter's outlook, and the schools themselves, I would recommend Loyola above Tulane.

Tulane is excruciatingly expensive, not especially well-regarded academically outside of certain aristocratic New Orleans social circles, and has the added problem of being known as a party school in a party town. It also has the problem of being one of the few respected research and graduate institutions in Louisiana, which means that despite the megabucks you'll pay in tuition, she'll run up against the same huge lecture classes taught by TA's she'd deal with at your cheap local state U.

On the converse, quite a few of my high school classmates and family members opted for Loyola, and pretty much every last one of them has had nothing but wonderful things to say. It's very small (smaller even than Tulane, I believe), has a self-contained campus within the larger city, and doesn't have that We Have Better Things To Do Than Deal With Undergrads mentality you're worried about. Loyola is another school I'm still kicking myself for not giving serious thought to.
posted by Sara C. at 12:39 PM on February 22, 2011

One more thing - The New School doesn't really have much of a campus. The facilities are in Chelsea and the East and West Village(s), but they're in isolated buildings spread out across a somewhat sprawling area, not even really in the same neighborhoods. It has even less of a "campus" feel than the other schools in New York.

If she wants New York with a real campus, she should look into Columbia, or maybe NYU if she's concerned Columbia is way out of her league. CUNY's campus vibe really depends on the specific school - Hunter is self-contained in 4 buildings sharing a street corner on the Upper East Side, while Kings and Queens colleges have more traditional campuses on the outskirts of the city. SVA, The New School, and Pace don't really have campuses.
posted by Sara C. at 12:46 PM on February 22, 2011

What about Fordham? It has a very defined campus despite being in NYC (caveat: my impression is that students don't hang out in the neighborhood immediately around the school - it's in the Bronx - and spend more going-out time in other areas of the city, but I could be wrong).
I'll also second Rhodes, Loyola, Reed, and Lewis & Clark as options. It occurs to me, though, that she's likely not going to get to study PR/marketing in a lot of the small liberal arts schools, which often don't have communications or business departments and those "practical" sorts of things. Just one more thing to consider.
posted by naoko at 1:05 PM on February 22, 2011

Fordham has such a self-contained campus that I often forget it exists!
posted by Sara C. at 1:12 PM on February 22, 2011

FWIW: If you're looking for smaller class sizes that aren't taught by TAs, then start looking at schools that don't have doctoral programs.
posted by bodaciousllama at 2:14 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Came in to say Tufts, Northwestern, UM-Minneapolis, possibly BC.

One thing to keep in mind about the University of Chicago (though I do think it's otherwise a good fit) is that she'll be in a lot of classes taught by grad students in her first two years as she finishes the mass of required classes. Most of the grad students at Chicago are really sharp, though; they are people who will go on to be professors at top institutions, and they're often teaching small courses that allow them to give a lot of personal attention to their students. So no, they're not real professors, but it's not the anonymous lecture hall experience either. When you're looking at larger schools with doctoral programs, it may be worth asking not just about who is doing the teaching, but how it's being done.

I'm a bit confused (as a Reed alum) by all of the mentions of Reed in this thread-- it's much, much smaller than the size range mentioned in the question, and it's not really integrated into the city of Portland. Moreover, it's a school that requires a certain willingness to be completely invested in the liberal arts experience, which doesn't seem like what's called for here. I think it's the best place in the world for the people who like that sort of thing, but it would be miserable for most people. The only school in Portland that's really in the city is Portland State, which doesn't have much of a reputation but is actually a decent school. I wouldn't have thought of it beforehand, but it might be worth investigating.
posted by dizziest at 4:17 PM on February 22, 2011

As a Richmonder, going by the criteria you're looking for, I think UR would be perfect. It is just on the edge of the Richmond city limits in a very well-to-do area, but still close enough to easily get in and out of the major activity areas (Carytown, the Fan, VCU, Shockoe Slip/Bottom).

If your daughter wants something in a small-city setting, William & Mary (Williamsburg), UVA (Charlottesville) or James Madison University (JMU) would also be good choices. W&M and UVA are higher ranked than JMU, but all three are public universities, while UR is private.
posted by armage at 8:03 PM on February 22, 2011

I'm a bit confused (as a Reed alum) by all of the mentions of Reed in this thread-- it's much, much smaller than the size range mentioned in the question, and it's not really integrated into the city of Portland.

As one of the perpetrators of this, I'll admit that I've never been there and have no idea where in Portland it is or how it relates to the rest of the city. I applied there (and was accepted! they put confetti in their acceptance letters! so cute!) but never got the chance to visit and ended up going elsewhere - I think I just still have a bit of a crush on Reed and wonder what might have been.

As far as size...Sweetie Darling, could you clarify whether 10,000 is your ideal size or just the absolute maximum size you're interested in?
posted by naoko at 8:07 PM on February 22, 2011

Nthing American University. I went there for a summer many years ago and loved it. Small but very defined campus, easy to walk everywhere, and public transit-accessible.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:35 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh dear god, not William and Mary. Alum here, and Williamsburg suuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. It is nothing but tourists and old people. There are like 4 bars in the entire town, and the "town" is a mix of pretty but boring residential neighborhoods, colonial crap, and gross strip-mall sprawl. There is seriously nothing to do there. There are some good things about the school itself, but if she wants to live somewhere fun then she should run far, far away. Charlottesville is much cuter.
posted by naoko at 9:17 PM on February 22, 2011

You all are great - thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I'm sending Little D off to explore the websites for a lot of these schools, to see which ones catch her fancy. You've given us both a lot to think about!
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:58 AM on February 23, 2011

Totally late to this, but I wanted to second looking into two schools already mentioned - Macalaster in St Paul, and Bryn Mawr near Philadelphia. Both would probably be reach schools for her, but I think the culture of both sounds like what she's looking for. They're both quite a bit smaller than you describe, but from the opportunities you want for her, they're great. I believe Mac is more urban, BM is a 20 min train ride from Philly and in a nice town - plus she can cross register with Haverford and Swarthmore from BM. She might have better luck with BM just because it's a women's college and therefore somewhat less selective (though still quite selective). Possibly also consider Villanova.

And as a wild random longshot, I bet she would love UC Berkeley. Just the kind of urban environment she seems to want, great opportunities, great grad students and profs teaching, etc etc. Definitively a reach school, and far from home too, but it doesn't hurt to consider it.
posted by annie o at 9:45 AM on February 25, 2011

Just popping in to say that UC Berkeley is around 40,000 students, and that the application is very complicated for someone out of state (I just finished applying there a few months ago). That said, the campus and area is pretty great.
posted by kylej at 8:47 PM on March 7, 2011

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