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College tour impressions: Rutgers

With the exception of just a handful of the States in the Union, for a student aspiring to the Ivy League-level education, the nearby state school gets designated as a “safety” choice: An institution with a much better chance of being accepted to than those super-selective top schools, but something that will only be considered for matriculation in the worst-case scenario of no other schools admitting said student. Of course, in this day and age, the state school offers by far the cheapest option among Top 200-250 schools nationwide for an in-state undergrad.

Rutgers did not figure very high on the list of matches for Becky’s interests. That was somewhat surprising in itself given that as any huge school it offers about a hundred majors, but several other states’ public schools came up as better matches. Yet, it is nearly a lock for her to get admitted to it, given her grades and test results, and I’d be a fool to ignore the fact that Rutgers is considerably more affordable than the schools she has at the top of her list.

And if you remember what I said at the start of this series, I do not believe that any school outside of the very top tier of undergraduate education offers a truly competitive advantage to its students over another institution within several dozen places on any given ranking list. Yale or Cornell vs Rutgers? Yes, quite possibly a significant competitive advantage for the Ivies. Boston College? Likely, not so much.

Which makes Rutgers a very real possible choice for us. So we had to go and try it on for size.

It is the biggest school we’ve seen, spread across five campuses along a state highway. To me, that is immediately one of the biggest drawbacks of the school, the high probability of having to use the bus system to get to some of your classes. The buses may be well-run and frequent, but there is still a big inconvenience in having to “commute” to classes while living on campus.

The smallest and most central campus is located in the center of New Brunswick and is an example of a city-integrated campus that Becky finds very attractive. It has quaint streets and houses, plenty of local entertainment within a short walk, shops and eateries around the corner. Freshmen are unlikely to be housed there, but something to look forward for upperclassmen.

There are two adjacent campuses (really, it is one campus with two names) to the south of that, still within close distance of the city center. These two look distinguished and venerable, befitting a school founded in XVIII century. One of them offers only female housing, which is a bit of a weird concept in our times. The other has some of the interest-centric housing that Becky finds quite intriguing.

Two newer and expanding campuses are located well to the north of that in the adjoining town. There, the spaces are considerably more open, and the architecture is contemporary and mostly unremarkable (with exceptions). Most of the freshmen happen to live on the northernmost (as the highway goes) campus, which means plenty of traveling on that bus system.

In fact, our campus tour was almost entirely bus-enabled. We were driven through all five campuses, with a pesky junior pointing out highlights beyond the windows. She did not have a good script to explain to us why she chose Rutgers (well, she was a New Jersey resident, duh!) and an even worse example of someone choosing Rutgers over MIT (the person apparently received a full-ride scholarship at Rutgers, which tipped her hand, I imagine, as opposed to any academic considerations), but otherwise she did a pretty good job.

We got off the bus to view a dorm “show room”, which turned out to be of a reasonable size for a double.

The info session started with a 10-minute video advertisement for the school, which was followed by a pretty long rapid-fire presentation by a recent graduate who looked somewhat older than her graduation year suggested. She threw lots of facts and numbers at us, meandered into descriptions of events that held little interest for the audience, but also pointed out a couple of important details that we did not yet notice ourselves on the school’s website. Not a complete waste of time, even though I started to feel that way half-way into her talk.

Overall, we did not see anything off-putting, and Becky found quite a few things she could put into a “plus” column. Rutgers is a no-brainer for us to apply to.