Uni in the USA review
Boston is a city full of universities. On just one short stretch of metro line you can get off at Harvard, MIT and Tufts, to name just three world-class institutions. While Boston University’s reputation isn’t quite up there with those luminaries, it’s only a short way behind – and gaining. And what it lacks in prestige it more than makes up for in the invigorating educational experience you’ll receive in one of America’s most dazzling (and oldest) cities. It’s not surprising that Martin Luther King started the history-changing Civil Rights Movement after finishing his PhD here.
Most people think that Boston University doesn’t actually have a campus. It’s certainly hard to spot it – a lot of people walk through the whole thing thinking that they’re just in an interesting part of town. But actually the jumbled stretch of buildings all the way down Commonwealth Avenue from the city down towards the hip-again neighbourhood of Allston is owned by the University and used for the purposes of its students.
Commonwealth Ave runs parallel to the rather lovely Charles River. A ribbon of park land runs between the university and the river, ironically named the BU Beach, and students are known to sunbathe there in summer. Mostly it’s used for jogging and contemplating one’s hatred of Harvard and MIT which sit smugly on the opposite bank.
“It really feels like you’re in a city, the whole time”, say the students, who love its urbanity. It’s one of BU’s main advantages over some of the big name universities, where you might get better teaching but you won’t (or so the BU students claim) have as fulfilling an education, due to being isolated on some too-perfect campus away from the real world.
Having a city campus doesn’t mean that BU is poorly equipped, however. The library is great and the huge gym is loved by one and all.
The dorms are “on the whole, pretty good”; some of the older ones allocated to freshmen can err on the dingy side, while some of the new apartment-style complexes are luxurious. Now home to 76% of the undergraduate population, the accommodation system at BU is the 10th largest in the country, and the university officially guarantees dorm space to everyone for four years. Many upperclassmen, however, move off to cheaper or trendier areas.
With a diverse, urban, and humongous student body (fourth biggest private school in the country), every kind of student thrives here, and they can all do their own thing with other people like them. There is a certain level of cliquiness, and you can point to certain groups that are more noticeable than others – the hipsters, the Asians, the rich kids, the “bros”, to name a few – but “you just can’t say what a BU student is like”. The good news is that there are a large number of international students at BU who fit in well and are a great asset to the college atmosphere.
Unlike similar schools, there is not much of a school spirit at BU, perhaps a result of the more independent natures of the students, but more likely because sports aren’t big and it doesn’t have a decent (American) football team. Hockey is popular though, and victories are greeted with major celebrations. BU’s official mascot is Rhett the Boston Terrier and the school colors are scarlet and white. The mascot is named Rhett as a reference to Gone With the Wind, because “no one loves Scarlet more than Rhett.”
As a very city-oriented school, BU students’ attitudes are shaped a lot by Boston itself. Ironically, this probably makes them more collegiate and friendly, if anything, because Boston is the mega-college town. An extraordinarily high percentage of the people you see on the street are in their twenties or younger, and so the whole city, of which BU is an active member, feels liberal, switched-on and often artsy and alternative. Students describe themselves as “worldly” and “knowledgeable”, and also “charity oriented”. They also know how to have a good time…
There are a large number of international students at BU who fit in well and are a great asset to the college atmosphere.
Hitting The Books
Academics are managed through various colleges – the colleges of arts and sciences, general studies, management, engineering, education, communications, and fine arts being the main ones. Arts and sciences obviously covers most of the basic courses, with the college of general studies being a slightly narrower, simpler version for people who aren’t sure what they want to study.
Problems can arise when you try to switch college – if you are studying Japanese in the college of arts and sciences but then wish to change to Oriental media studies, which falls under the jurisdiction of the college of communications, be prepared for bureaucratic shenanigans before you are able to do so.
Red tape aside, classes at BU are challenging and “high quality”, though students prefer the professors to the curriculum. The former are “helpful”, “well-renowned”, “have real world experience”, and “fantastic”, while the latter can be frustrating. Overall, the experience is positive, and most students are intelligent, work hard and enjoy their studies. “You can definitely form bonds with your professors”, said one student (no small achievement for a school of BU’s size) “and a wide range of well-taught classes means there’s always something interesting on offer”.
One drawback that gets mentioned is the “narrow minded” curricula that sometimes don’t allow for much exploration or wiggle-room, but which professors are good at dealing with. “The things you have to learn are often not that worthwhile”, complained a freshman, “but teachers can just circumvent this”.
Another problem is competitiveness. BU students agree that they suffer from terrible grade deflation (unlike the kids at Harvard who, they claim, have their grades artificially boosted). This means that people have to struggle harder to get the grades they need, and they know that they do better if their peers do worse. “The academic system turns people against each other”, said a science major.
As a student in her last year summed it up: “if you are city person, this is definitely the place to be.” While there is a campus life at BU, most students get their kicks from what Boston itself has to offer. The combined possibilities are eclectic and include almost anything you could want to do, especially in cultural areas. Be warned though – “there is no coddling” here, so if you need your hand held then you might want to look elsewhere, since some students do slip through the cracks.