Spanning a two-mile stretch of Commonwealth Avenue along the south shore of the Charles River, Boston University is its own distinct neighborhood — and it mirrors the globe, says Kelly A. Walter, associate vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions.
About a quarter of the undergrads typically are international students — from 130-plus countries — and 40% represent a race or ethnicity other than white.
Most students share a motivated mindset, observes Tyler Ross, a junior speech, language and hearing sciences major from Somers, New York. “Everyone really takes advantage of what BU has to offer,” Ross notes.
Those offerings include 10 undergraduate schools and colleges offering 250 majors, more than 450 student organizations, plentiful research opportunities and 24 Division I varsity sports teams. Popular majors include biology and health sciences; students can participate in professional training programs and conduct research at local hospitals.
Tatyana Da Rosa, a 2020 biology grad in the premed and veterinary medicine track from Brockton, Massachusetts, chose BU for the opportunities STEM majors — those studying science technology, engineering or math — get to study abroad. Her sophomore year, she spent a semester in Madrid taking classes such as cellular biology and organic chemistry; junior year, she knocked out her required biology courses during a tropical ecology program in Ecuador.
“It just seamlessly worked into my schedule,” Da Rosa says. Programs geared for students in music and drama, engineering, health and more make study abroad doable in just about any major.
Beyond the arts and sciences, BU schools and programs include education and human development, business, hospitality administration and fine arts, which hosts more than 500 performances and exhibitions each year. About 150 first-years join the Kilachand Honors College, a smaller community in which students often participate in experiential learning opportunities like traveling to settlements of displaced Syrians and offering solutions to challenges they face.
Applicants to BU need to apply to a specific school, but switching from one to another is common. “It was easy to transfer, and so many people helped me along the way,” says Ross, who started off in elementary education before moving to speech, language and hearing sciences in the College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College.
A general education program that promotes cross-college teaching and research helps ensure that credits from one school can count in another. All students are required to take 10 to 12 HUB courses to master such “essential capacities” as quantitative reasoning; diversity, citizenship and global engagement; and communication.
To address the philosophical inquiry capacity, for example, students can choose from an array of classes in different majors, including Puzzles and Paradoxes in the philosophy department and Modern Political Theory in the political science department.
BU boasts a 10:1 student-faculty ratio, and professors are generally very approachable, though large lectures and labs often have teaching assistants who can be an easier first go-to, students say. More than two-thirds of classes enroll 30 or fewer students.
“It’s a big school, but that only works to your advantage,” Da Rosa says. Resources abound, including the Educational Resource Center for peer tutoring, language practice groups, and advising. The Center for Career Development offers help with resume writing, networking, interviews and internships.
At the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground, students participate in classes and programs like The Common Thread Podcast, art exhibits, book clubs, board games and events to share ideas, learn about differences and engage in discussions centered on community and culture.
Some 75% of BU students live on campus all four years in more than 140 residence halls, including a renovated 1920s luxury hotel, modern high-rises and charming brownstones overlooking the Charles River. Many housing options boast sweeping city views.
Through a faculty-in-residence program, professors live alongside students, serving as advocates and often planning bonding activities like French crepe-making or open tutoring hours.
For a break from the campus hustle and bustle, the nearby Charles River Esplanade offers jogging trails and kayaking. There’s also BU Beach, a green space on campus with no sand, but cars passing on a major road nearby are said to sound like waves. About 13% of students join one of BU’s 20 fraternities and sororities.
The T runs right through campus, giving students easy access to other Boston neighborhoods. However, students say there’s plenty to do without leaving BU, from theater performances to cheering on the men’s hockey team, which boasts 37 conference titles, has produced dozens of Olympic and NHL athletes and has won The Beanpot — an annual tournament against local rivals Boston College, Northeastern University and Harvard University — 30 of the last 60-plus years.
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This story is excerpted from the U.S. News “Best Colleges 2021” guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.
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