When It Must Be Boston (Part 2: BU and Brandeis)

We continue our three-part series on Boston with two more universities:  Boston University and Brandeis University.


Boston University

Many of the colleges in this report are not actually in Boston, but in its suburbs.  Boston University is right on the Charles River, comprised of an urban strip of buildings spread over several city blocks which does not even seem like a campus at all.  If you want to experience “Boston”, and not just take a shuttle there, Boston University (BU) offers that experience on a large scale.  It is one of the largest private, independent, universities in the country, with 18,000 undergraduates.

With that size comes greater educational choice.  BU offers 250 academic programs ranging from archeology and Hispanic linguistics to physical therapy and public health spread over 15 schools.  Students can cross boundaries by taking a major in one discipline and a minor in another, including at the Sargent School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.  BU also has highly regarded film, theater, and communications/journalism programs.  Like many other colleges, BU is renewing its physical plant, opening a biomed center, an engineering center, and a new dorm.  Housing is guaranteed for four years.

It is also easier to win admission to BU than to Tufts and Wellesley.  BU’s selectivity is 34%, the average high school GPA is 3.6, and mean SAT and ACT scores are 1296/29.  Higher scores may be required for departments outside liberal arts, and early decision applicants have a decided advantage.

Can you find a “BU” equivalent elsewhere?  Yes.  A dozen or so flagship state universities are comparable, and most offer much better financial aid, particularly if you are a state resident.  But that is not the point – BU is in Boston.


Brandeis University

I know what you are thinking:  what is a nice Jewish school doing in a place like this?  The obvious answer is that Brandeis University is in Waltham, only nine miles west of Boston.

But seriously, Brandeis will be a bit of surprise to those (like this writer) who would associate it only with Judaism.  Brandeis University is the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored college or university in the country; it was founded in 1948 (by Jews) as a school for all faiths.  One of the landmarks at Brandeis is the collection of three small chapels in a field, each hosting a different faith (Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant).  Each chapel has a window overlooking Chapel’s Pond, and each was built so that when the sun sets, no chapel casts a shadow on another.  It is beautiful in every sense.

Of course, Judaism is a focal point of the school’s identity.  Most universities have a Hillel which serves as a gathering point for Jewish students.  The Hillel at Brandeis has 11 different subsidiaries on campus.  (Somewhat less relevant, but appetizing, is the presence of a kosher deli and an Einstein’s Bagels.)

One tour guide told our group that it is an ideal place for him to explore his Jewish identity.  So there is that.  Yet, only 46% of students self-identify as Jews.

Brandeis should command the attention of Jews and non-Jews alike for its combination of a small liberal arts college with an emphasis on undergraduate research.  Enrollment is about 3,700 undergraduates, and the student-faculty ratio is a desirable 10:1.  The curriculum is very flexible, meaning that there are minimal general education requirements.  The 235-acre campus resembles a classic small liberal arts college.

For all its lack of size, Brandeis claims a larger share, per capita, of federal research funding than all other universities in the country.  (See https://www.umt.edu/research/resources/council/ResearchReport.pdf; of course I checked – this blog is about data, after all.)  Each summer, 100-150 students spend summers at Brandeis conducting research.

The other noteworthy aspect of Brandeis is its commitment to social justice.  Brandeis claims that its students perform more community service, again per capita, than any other college in the nation.  The Princeton Review agrees.  The college has its own Department of Community Service.  There are two newspapers on campus (for 3,700 students).  Students can volunteer for almost anything, and can work toward a better world without leaving campus.

When not working to save the world, students appear to enjoy a social life, with 260 organizations (again, for only 3,700 students) and 17 a cappella groups (this Glee phenomenon is getting out of hand.)

Brandeis is a small college with a big heart and serious aspirations.  Fortunately, perhaps because many pigeonhole it as just a Jewish school, admission to Brandeis is less daunting than its reputation and merit would suggest.  Selectivity is 35%, the average GPA is 3.8 (not known whether that is weighted or unweighted), and the average SAT/ACT score is only 1256/30.

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