When I decided to attend the University of Rochester (or rather, when they offered me a scholarship and by doing so made my decision for me) I had a feeling that this school was on an upward trajectory. It's quite well known in New York, as well as among the academic community, but most people that I know still confuse it with RIT or RPI. I think that this is about to change.
Rochester recently received two very prestigious rankings, one national and one international. At the end of the summer, Newsweek and Kaplan included us in their list of the 25 Elite New Ivies. The article gives a short blurb about what makes us special -- the lack of general education requirements and the high percentage of students that go on to grad school top the list. I was surprised, however, that Brown and Cornell were on our list of "Overlap Schools." The article defines Overlap Schools as schools specified by admissions directors that many students also consider in addition to their school.
Brown and Cornell were the two Ivies that I visited that I disliked the most. Brown, which to me did not seem very different from any of the other Ivies that I visited, talked up how unique they and their students were and how "Just because you get into Harvard doesn't mean that you will get into here." The admissions director giving the the talk even went so far as to suggest that we send her cookies just for reading our application. At Cornell I sat in on a physics class, and I was horrified by the rudeness of the students. They talked throughout the entire class, even as the professor tried multiple times to regain their attention. At the time, I wondered if it was somehow acceptable to talk in class, but now that I have actually attended college classes, I can't even imagine something like that happening here. Professors are given a lot of respect, even in huge intro classes. Cornell students seemed to think they were so great because they got into an Ivy League school, but Cornell is one of the biggest Ivy League schools, and they accept a lot of in-state students. This wasn't supposed to turn into a Brown/Cornell bashing session, but I provide those anecdotes as a comparison to the atmosphere at Rochester. There's really no way to be stuck up when you attend a school whose name no one recognizes, but that is irrelevant because this school does not attract many of those kind of people anyway. The student body here is driven, but not competetive. The freedom of the curriculum provokes learning for learning's sake, which I believe is the most important and most satisfying reason to learn.
The second nod to our rising status was given by the Times of London, which publishes a yearly list of the best 100 universities in the world. Rochester was 48th in the world this year and 21st in the United States. We jumped up 25 spots from our last year's ranking of 73rd, and also of note is the fact that we beat out both Brown and Dartmouth. I'm not the only person that thinks that this is cool. The Campus Times notes that
"UR students are very excited about the positive recognition that the University has been receiving…This, on top of the recent ranking as a 'New Ivy' in Newsweek, continues to show the caliber that UR is currently at and what it continues to work toward."
Who wouldn't be excited about the possibility of their degree getting more value every year? This is the position that students who graduated from Duke a few decades ago find themselves in today. Duke wasn't always the darling of the rankings that it is now. Their campaign to become more prominent on a national scale began in the 1970s, and the results of it can be seen today. Duke is a school that now churns out both Division I championships and Rhodes scholars (three this past year!). It is now regarded as one of the very top medical and business schools in the country, as well as a science powerhouse, especially in the area of biology. Rochester will never be a Duke, and neither do we want to be, as many of the hallmarks of Duke would never fit in at this school (I'm thinking foremost of the athletic program). However, Rochester can certainly follow a similar trajectory and go from a really good university to an exceptional one.
One of the things that I like best about Rochester is that it defies classification. This is a double-edged sword, however, in that it keeps many students from considering us because we don't fit into one of the well-defined categories. In the world of Higher Education, you have Ivy League schools, Liberal Arts schools (Middlebury, Amherst, Williams, etc.), tech schools (RPI, RIT, MIT, etc.), Large Universities, you get the idea. Rochester is a combination of all of these. We are a liberal arts college inside of a research university, but a small one. However, many liberal arts programs don't have engineering, but we have that too, and it's quite good. Then we have some oddball departments that are regarded as the best in the country, such as the optics department. And we have that weird thing with the curriculum where you aren't actually required to take anything except for freshman writing. All this means, though, is that our students can't be classified, either. There are a lot of very different, very unique students at this school. Almost all of them are smart, a surprising number have previous musical experience, and all of them are driven students. But that is where the similarities end.
I was going to discuss in this entry some of the recent initiatives on campus that have brought about these higher rankings, but it is too long already, so there will be a continuation post later in the week.