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Natalie Murphy - Binghamton University

High School: City Honors

Major: English and Rhetoric

How many undergrads are there? 11,787

Classes you are taking this semester: General psychology, math in action, social anthropology and Is There a Correct Way to Speak English? (a writing and linguistics class)

What are your class sizes like? My largest class is a lecture hall of 400. However, three of my discussion courses are held in classrooms of 20.

Why did you choose this school? Compared to most private schools, the tuition is unbeatable. In addition, Binghamton's Harpur College is a well-respected liberal arts school. And, location-wise, Binghamton was perfect for me because I am only a 4 1/2 -hour drive from home, but I'm still far enough that I feel like I am on my own and independent.

What type of student would like/not like this school? Those who are academically driven and conscientious but still make time for socializing are the ideal students for this school. At Binghamton people definitely study hard but also take full advantage of being away from the library. If you are a student looking for a big-city atmosphere, you probably should not consider the school as an option. Binghamton is definitely a city centered around the university rather than just a city with a university.

Pros: I know I am going to graduate with a great education and no student loans to pay off. Despite the fact that there is not much to do off campus, this contributes to the school's close-knit feel and the friendliness of the students, which has made adjusting to college life a lot easier. I also got my first-choice housing community, which is made up of new dormitories and a collegiate center equipped with a new dining hall, computer room and study and social rooms, so it doesn't hurt living in the dorms people often refer to as the "hotels" on campus.

Cons: Vestal Parkway. It is impossible to walk almost anywhere off campus unless you want to dodge speeding traffic and cross a six-lane intersection. And even when you do miraculously make it across, there's not much more waiting for you than Walmart and Target. Also, if you are from anywhere outside of the New York City or Long Island area, be prepared to hear never-ending Upstate New York jokes.

How is the food? To actually enjoy college food, you have to be more concerned with quantity over quality. And by this I mean take advantage of the wide selection of offerings. By switching up what I eat daily, I haven't gotten sick of anything too quickly. But I must admit there are times when I crave a home-cooked meal, and what I can get at the dining hall just doesn't cut it.

How is the social life? Since there isn't a ton to do off campus, people love hanging out in the dorms' spacious common rooms. This is probably where most of the school week socializing takes place. I've noticed that Binghamton has a pretty active student body and people are always on the basketball courts, playing beach volleyball or heading up to our beautiful nature preserve, all when the weather permits, of course. Even though we don't have a football team, a lot of school spirit revolves around sporting events. When Friday comes around, you see people loading up into $3 cabs or onto free buses to downtown Binghamton, where a lot of the weekend nightlife takes place. However, on Fridays and Saturdays the school also offers something called Late Nite Binghamton for those not interested in the downtown scene, which hosts events such as movie showings, concerts, crafts, games and more.

How are the campus activities? I never stop getting emails about nightly events being held in my residential college. They range from question-and-answer sessions with academic advisers to tie-dye parties to self-defense classes, and they always include free food. In addition, there are literally hundreds of extracurricular clubs, competitive and noncompetitive intramural sports and an active volunteer center.

What has surprised you most about college life? Even the days during the week when I only have class for two hours, I am surprised by how fast time flies at school. I did get lucky and live in a really social dorm, so I always have something to do. Being in the presence of friends and keeping busy and active has surprisingly left little time for me to be homesick.

Anything else you would like to add? For students thinking about college, make sure you apply to at least one SUNY school. Even though I did not think I would choose Binghamton at first, I still applied and now I am grateful I kept my options open. It's not smart to just bank on getting enough aid from pricey private universities. The most important thing about surviving the college process and getting integrated into whatever school you end up at is to keep an open mind. I have grown to love it here and realize that even though Binghamton is a SUNY school, it does not skimp whatsoever on diverse and fulfilling educational, extracurricular and social offerings.

***

Alyssa Phillips

Pratt Institute, Brooklyn

High School: Immaculata Academy

Major: Graphic Design

How many undergrads are there? About 3,000

Classes you are taking this semester: All freshman art students (except for fashion and architecture majors) are required to take foundation-year courses. I take three six-hour classes -- drawing, 3-D design and light and color design. I also take 4-D design, history of art and English.

What are your class sizes like? I have about 20 people in each of my classes.

Why did you choose this school? I wanted to go to a school that focused only on art, rather than a school with various majors. I also wanted to venture away from Buffalo, and I absolutely love New York City. Basically anything I need is within walking distance, there is always some sort of community event going on somewhere nearby, and Manhattan is only a 30-minute subway ride. I am amazed each time I step off the elevator to my floor of the dorm building, because I can see the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building right out the window.

What type of student would like/not like this school? Students with an interest in art would love Pratt. It is very pleasing to be surrounded by other people who you know have the same passions and interests as you. If you love city life or just need a change from the suburbs or rural town, it is in a great location; Brooklyn is very calm and quiet while still retaining the city aspect.

Pros:

*Everything -- grocery stores, post office, art stores, a plethora of restaurants, apartments, clothing stores, etc. -- is within walking distance from the school.

*Pratt has a campus, as opposed to most other New York City schools. The campus is relatively small, so it is easy to get around, and many students ride bikes. There is security at each gate, so the campus is extremely safe.

*The freshman dorm rooms come with microwaves and refrigerators with freezers, and two of the dorm buildings have community kitchens.

*Class sizes are small, so it is easy to receive more one-on-one help from professors.

*Pratt is a beautiful sculpture park and is open to the public during the day. New sculptures occasionally pop up here and there.

*Manhattan is a 30-minute subway ride away. It is an excellent place to go on weekends, and you quickly learn about so many fascinating places in the city, rather than just the tourist attractions.

*Pratt has a huge generator, so if the power goes out, the campus still has electricity. It can also power a good amount of the area surrounding the campus.

*Pratt has about 12 cats that roam the campus. They are taken care of by a man who runs the generator. It is always wonderful to pet one of them if you are feeling stressed.

Cons:

*The offices and the post office are open during the day during classes, which makes it somewhat difficult to get help if needed.

*If you leave food out, mice will visit.

*Although there are breaks, sometimes the six-hour classes get tiring.

*The food is expensive.

How is the food? The cafeteria food has its good days and its bad days. There is also the PI (Pratt Institute) Shop, which sells brick-oven pizza, desserts, smoothies and ice cream, pastas and Starbucks goods.

How is the social life? It is not difficult to become acquainted with people because of the small student body. There are also many clubs, and dorms usually host activities for the building or for specific floors. It is easy to get to know people in classes, because there are usually a handful of students that have the same schedule as you.

How are the campus activities? Pratt is constantly hosting activities. In the beginning of October, it celebrated its 125th anniversary, and hosted a free Phantogram concert for the students. Last weekend was Fall Fest to raise money for cancer research; some of the features were a bounce house, tarot card readings and free Dippin' Dots. "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was presented for Halloween. There are comedians and speakers periodically, and students also get discounted tickets for movies and various Broadway shows. Just the other night I heard music outside my window, and upon going to investigate, I found that a small and energetic marching band was weaving around the campus.

What has surprised you most about college life? I was pleasantly surprised at the nature of my classes at Pratt. I knew what I was getting myself into when I was inserted into four art classes, but I was unsure of what they would be like. It fascinates me that my homework is to create artwork.

Anything else you would like to add? Contrary to popular belief, art school is not all fun and games. At Pratt, students are expected to spend at least an hour on homework per every hour of class, so with six-hour classes, homework takes careful thought and is very time consuming. There are deeper concepts involved on top of simply creating pretty art projects.

While it is exhausting, it is extremely pleasing to know that most of your time and effort is going into something that you love to do.

***

Sara Payne

Point Park University, Pittsburgh, Pa.

High school: Barker High School

Major: Journalism

Undergraduates: 3,037 (2010 figure)

Classes you are taking this semester: Honors psychological foundations, introduction to business, journalistic skills I, honors survey of mass comm and the university experience.

What are your class sizes like: Most of my classes have around 20 students. I'm taking two honors classes and the numbers are kept low in these classes -- around 15.

Why did you choose this school? I chose this school because of its location. Pittsburgh is the next biggest city close to home, and Point Park's campus happens to be right downtown. It is perfect for a student looking for opportunities.

What type of students would like this school? Point Park is a perfect school for students that are serious about finding jobs after graduation. Many of the professors here have had experience in the communications field and a lot of them actually still work these jobs. They have connections and know how to help students find what they're looking for in a career. An annual job fair is hosted here where many businesses from around the Pittsburgh area attend.

What type of students would not like this school? If you have a fear of elevators or any hint of claustrophobia, Point Park may not be for you. The location in the city means that many buildings must be vertical. My dorm building is 20 floors. Life here is all about cramming as many people into an elevator as possible, so we can all try to get to class on time. It's not unlikely that one of the elevators will decide to stick itself at the same floor for a couple of hours either.

Pros: Downtown location; internship opportunities sent to you by email already in your freshman year so you can get an idea; very liberal.

Cons: Distance from home; long elevator waiting times

How is the food? The food here isn't very consistent. Our cafeteria is similar to an all-you-can-eat buffet, but the options aren't always guaranteed to be what you're looking for. One plus is we have a cafe open until midnight right in my building. The cafe has great options for snacks and they also provide meal exchanges, so you're not spending all your flex dollars.

How is the social life? Social life is great for freshmen at Point Park. The dorms have themes for each floor, so you usually have something in common with your floor mates. The first two weeks on campus were great because freshmen frenzy and welcome week activities kept us busy. There was something to do each night that was free, and food, too. Life as a college freshmen is all about free food; you learn that quickly.

How are the school activities? Point Park has a ton of campus activities. The fliers are posted all around the school. They also make sure to have them hanging right before you enter your hallway on each floor.

What has surprised you most about college life? The most surprising thing about the college experience is finding out how easy it is to get involved. Clubs are always happy to have members to help out. One of my first days here I spent the afternoon helping to raise money for a local shelter. I seriously got to play with a dog and her puppies and get money for the cause by doing it. Also, I had an article published by our school newspaper within my first month of being here. You just have to take initiative and show up to the meetings.

Anything else you would like to add? I was lucky enough to receive the apprenticeship that I applied for over the summer. I am able to help a professor out with the news service class he teaches. It just goes to show how willing Point Park is to help its students gain the experience that is crucial to getting a job after graduation.