Chicago, University of
College review by Beth Cassie
The undergraduate college is central at U Chicago, both physically and in the eyes of the University. This liberal arts college, with 5,000 students, provides the unique combination of a small liberal arts college experience with the resources of a large research university. U Chicago is located in Hyde Park, a neighborhood south of the Chicago Loop.
We didn’t see much of Hyde Park, but what we saw wasn’t particularly notable. The University is laid out in a series of quads with mostly gothic architecture. Many of the buildings have beautiful stained glass windows and are covered with ivy. The reading room on the top floor of Harper is breath taking.
“The Core” is the defining experience of the undergraduate curriculum. The Core is designed so all students share a similar academic experience. Core classes are capped at 20 students and are discussion-based. These foundation courses can be taken across all four years; however, our tour guide commented that most students take most of their Core classes upfront.
Chicago focuses on the “life of the mind” with more emphasis on classical liberal arts and critical thinking than pre-professional preparation. A non-curricular program, Chicago Careers In (CCIs), is available to prepare students for the future in several professional areas (arts, law, and medicine). U Chicago operates many of their own study abroad programs, which ensures that credits are easily transferred and schedules coordinate with the quarter system.
The student greeters and tour guides at admissions were very friendly, and made efforts to engage us in conversation while we were waiting for the info session to start. The dominant style was “intellectual chic.” Our tour guide, Tim, from a Chicago suburb, was an economics/history major who came to U Chicago expecting to study math and economics. He explained that his experience in some Core classes helped him redefine how he wanted to approach the study of economics.
There was a big emphasis both in the info session and on the tour on “creating community.” Communities are created through the school’s unique House system (think Harry Potter). You are placed in a house before you arrive on campus, and houses participate in many activities together, including trips into downtown Chicago. (Housing is guaranteed for all four years, but many upperclassmen choose to move off-campus for a taste of independent living.)
Popular activities on campus include the fine arts, and concerts and performances are constantly on the schedule. The university is almost ready to open a major, new performing arts center, which will encourage collaboration between the different types of fine arts. There is a small Greek presence on campus (about 10%). Community service is another activity that many students participate in.
Our tour guide, for example, spends much of his time volunteering with an organization that connects low-income south side residents to resources they may be unaware of. There are also DIII athletics – though the student body had a decidedly non-jock appearance. Students can access nearby downtown Chicago by bus or train and are encouraged by the University to take advantage of the city’s offerings. The dining halls are purposely closed on Saturday evenings to push students to explore off-campus activities.
U Chicago is a great place for the serious student who is somewhat quirky, an “out of the box” thinker, and is looking for a rigorous academic environment in a sophisticated urban setting.