The center of Boston University's campus

The center of Boston University’s campus

I’ve lived in Boston for almost eight years, but I’ve never really had a clear impression of Boston University. I’ve known that it is located in a bustling part of the city and that it has solid academic offerings in a wide variety of fields (living in this city you can’t help but run into BU graduates all the time), but I wasn’t really sure how it stood out.

I finally took my first campus tour last week, and now I get it. BU fits into a particular brand of school that a lot of students are looking for.

It is a big, private school with an almost overwhelming number of academic and extracurricular offerings. If you want a school that offers just about every academic program you could possibly be interested in (and does most of them well), it fits the bill.

Furthermore, I think a huge draw to the university is its urban campus, in the middle of what is perhaps the best college town in the world.

And finally, the university has made an enormous effort to attract international students to the school, and today it stands out as one of the best schools in the country to meet students from around the world.

Campus

I visited Boston University on a sunny winter day. It was absolutely freezing, but you would have thought the students hadn’t noticed.

I passed thousands of students walking down Commonwealth Avenue, which runs straight through the middle of the campus. Many of them stopping to talk to friends passing by in the other direction and a few student groups were selling hot chocolate to passerby.

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Commonwealth Avenue

BU has a long and narrow campus that runs 1.3 miles along this busy Boston street. In the median strip runs the green line of Boston’s T (the metro system) which will take you anywhere in the city, and there are multiple stops throughout the campus.

And though some students get to class on the T (or on the free Boston University Shuttle cleverly known as the “BUS”), there are always plenty of students walking down the wide sidewalk on both sides of the road walking to class or stopping at the many cafes, restaurants, and stores along both sides of the road.

BU has an urban campus, similar to NYU or George Washington University. In fact, as I took the tour for prospective students, several a group of three high school students in our group started talking about their other top choice schools and all three of them listed NYU and GW as other contenders.

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A map of the campus – notice it is very long and narrow. It is bordered by the Charles River and busy Commonwealth Avenue.

The school does not have a whole lot of grassy collegiate areas (though it does a bit better in this department than NYU), but the school is in the middle of a bustling part of the city – right between Kenmore Square, Fenway Park, and Allston – so students hang out there instead of in a stereotypical college quad.

The neighborhoods immediately surrounding the campus are a notch down from New York’s Greenwich Village (where NYU is) in terms of excitement, but there is enough to do that I couldn’t imagine students ever run out of options.

And, BU happens to be just one block from the Charles River, so when students want a quick escape from the city streets, they can head over to the grassy banks of the river filled with benches, parks, and a bike path.

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The Charles River (as seen from campus)

Architecturally, the campus is okay. Many of the buildings are somewhat bland concrete high-rises.

However, there are a few buildings that are architecturally impressive and a number of academic departments and buildings are housed in Boston brownstones which are charming (though many of these buildings look exactly the same).

Still, I don’t think people choose BU because they fall in love with the campus. I think they impressed by the size and variety of choices at this school and come here because they want to be in the middle of a fantastic city.

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“The BU Castle” – One of the more attractive buildings on campus

So the campus is nice but not extraordinary. But the city surrounding the campus are a huge draw. The neighborhoods right around the campus are great, but one of the best things about downtown Boston is its walkability.

Within a 20-minute walk of any spot on campus you can walk to many exciting neighborhoods all with their own unique character. Back Bay, the South End, Coolidge Corner, Newbury Street, Symphony, Copley,  Avenue of the Arts, Fenway, Central Square, Kendall Square, Boston Common, Beacon Hill, and many of Boston’s other famous neighborhoods can easily be reached by foot.

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Kenmore Square – one of the bustling neighborhoods near campus

Academics

BU is the fourth largest private teaching and research institution in the country enrolling approximately 16,000 undergrads and approximately 14,000 graduate students.

The undergraduate student body is very diverse and includes students from 50 states and 120 countries. In recent years, BU has made significant efforts to increase its international draw, and today a whopping 17.5% of its student body is international.

Walking around the campus, you can tell it is a diverse place. In the student center, I heard at least four languages being spoken within a span of fifteen minutes.

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Food court in the student center. In addition to this food court, there are three full dining halls.

If you come to BU, you will eventually enroll in one of nine undergraduate schools and college depending on what you plan on studying. The schools you can choose from are as follows:

  • College of Arts & Sciences
  • College of Communication
  • College of Engineering
  • School of Education
  • School of Hospitality Administration
  • College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
  • School of Management
  • College of the Fine Arts
  • College of General Studies

If you don’t yet know what you want to study, don’t worry. BU does not require that you know which of these schools you want to enter when you apply as a freshman. 30% of freshmen come into college undeclared. If you come into BU this way, you will get a professional advisor that will help you figure out your academic interests and choose a school to enroll in when you are ready to declare a major.

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School of Management

If you do decide to apply directly into a school but then change your mind and want to switch, that is okay too. Intra-university transfers are common, and you will not need to reapply to the school. However, some of the nine schools and colleges will require a minimum GPA or prerequisite classes in order to fully process the transfer.

If you are excited about several schools or colleges, BU also allows you to get a dual degree – you will graduate with two bachelor’s degrees. You can actually get a bachelor’s from say the College of Fine Arts and the School of Management. Although dual degrees will keep you busy it is definitely doable; there are a number of students who take advantage of this opportunity.

When universities divide their students into multiple colleges, it sometimes means they are not committed to a liberal arts education. This is not the case with Boston University.

BU requires all students to explore the liberal arts in some way. There are several options.

Students can choose to fulfill at set of distribution requirements within the College of Arts & Sciences to ensure they take a couple of courses in each of several broad areas.

Or, they can choose to participate in BU’s core curriculum which is an interdisciplinary program consisting of eight seminar-style courses that are designed to introduce students to the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

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School of Education

Some students choose to enroll in the Kilachand Honors College in addition to the college that houses their major. Students must apply to the Kilachand Honors College with their freshmen application and if accepted will take certain classes in the liberal arts specific to this program, participate in occasional field trips and lectures, and live in a specific dorm with other students in the Kilachand Honors College during their freshmen year.

Living at BU

 The residential system at BU does not stand out for any particular reason, but it seems just fine. The dorm they showed us on the tour, one of several high-rise dorm buildings, was about as stereotypical as you could get. It was a characterless, relatively small room with two beds, two desks, and two dressers.

But the impression I got from the students was: who cares?

You only sleep in your dorm. If you want to hang out, you’ll go hang out at the coffee shop or bar downstairs. And apparently there is a bit more diversity for upperclassman.

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Sample dorm room

Some upperclassmen (and even some lucky freshmen) live in college-owned Boston brownstones which have substantially more character. Some of the dorms have themes such as Classics House (for students with majors or minors in the classics) or Earth House (for students interested in environmental issues and sustainability).

Housing is guaranteed for all four years if you want it (and required for first-year students), but a sizable percentage of students (approximately 20%) do decide to live off campus.

Due to the urban nature of the area, there are lots of housing options nearby so the experience of living on-campus vs off-campus isn’t really that different.

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Boston brownstones like these house many student residences and some academic departments. The campus has several blocks of buildings that look exactly like this.

Extracurricular Activities

 Sometimes, urban campuses don’t have as active as an extracurricular scene just because there is so much going on in the city and the attention is a bit drawn away from campus life.

Despite its location, BU does seem to have a thriving extracurricular life. There over 500 clubs and organizations.

Sports are not huge but there are still many options at the intramural, club, and varsity level (interestingly there is no football team which is unusual for a school of this size).

The arts scene, however, is very active. The College of Fine Arts enrolls conservatory-level musicians and actors and supports a vibrant campus arts scene.

The campus radio station is annually ranked as one of the best in the country.

The international student body supports a number of cultural organizations. And the diversity of academic offerings means pre-professional organizations are prevalent. Plus, the campus’ urban locations also means there are tons of community service opportunities.

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Student groups holding fundraisers in the student center

The large number of graduate students create a large number of research opportunities for undergraduates, and the university spends over $1,000,000 a year funding undergraduate students that want to participate in research through UROP (University Research Opportunities Program).

Study abroad programs are also huge. The university offers over 90 study abroad options and taking advantage of them is highly encouraged (and even required in certain departments).

And in recent years, it has become an increasing priority for the university to help students gain practical experience in the fields they are studying.

Today, the university goes to great lengths to help students get term-time internships or summer internships both here and abroad. Every student in the School of Education, for example, now gets placed in a Boston public school before graduation to gain hands-on experience.

The Center for Career Development is accessible to students for all four years to help them find and secure both internships and jobs. They offer private counseling sessions, resume review, and host several annual internship/job fairs.

Overall

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Kenmore Square has lots of restaurants and pubs

I thought BU was great, but I definitely do not think it is a school for everyone. Given its size, urban campus, and the decentralization of student life into many different schools and departments, I think a lot of students could get lost here.

Visiting the campus really made this sink in for me. You have to go into this school knowing exactly why you are there and what you want to get out of it. And if you don’t know that, you need to know how to be proactive about reaching out to professors and advisors so you can figure it out.

I know several people that dropped out of BU, and the story I’ve heard from almost all of them was that they had some personal crisis where they didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives and couldn’t remember why they were there.

This is not a school that will hold your hand.

But I know there are a lot of students out there that don’t want a school to hold their hand. They know what they want and how to get it, and when they leave high school they are ready to move out into a big city and start living their lives.

And I think if you are this kind of person, you’d probably really like this place.

Because you can live here however you want, and nobody is going to get in your way. You can study anything, choose from thousands of academic and extracurricular opportunities, hang out in any part of the city, meet friends from all over the country or the world, and be exactly who you want to be.

This is a school that will give you as many opportunities as you could possibly want but will not force any of them down your throat.

Some facts

BU offers 250 majors and minors

80% of students live on campus all four years

17.5% of student body is international

Average composite SAT of accepted students was 2016

Average ACT of accepted students was 30

BU offers need-based aid and several merit scholarships. The Trustee Scholarship pays full tuition for all four years and the Presidential Scholarship offers $20,000 per year

 

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This area known as the “BU Beach” (because it is on the river) is one of the few grassy areas on campus

Some other schools you might like if you like Boston University:

New York University (NYU)

George Washington University (GW)

Fordham University

American University

Northeastern University

 

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