Virtual Impressions: Brandeis University (MA)
After visiting Bentley next month, I would have visited Brandeis University. Back when I was in high school, I considered applying to Brandeis. Raised a Reform Jew in New Jersey, I had thought of the university as a “Jewish college,” much like Yeshiva University in New York City. Brandeis was founded by Jews, but the university has no religious affiliation.
At first impression, I had thought of Brandeis University as a liberal arts college. Brandeis has 3,600 undergrads, same as Bucknell. But US News classifies Brandeis as a National University. Brandeis “ranks” 40th among those schools. It’s tied with Boston University, Case Western, Northeastern, Willam & Mary and Tulane. Among the US News top 40, only Cal Tech has fewer undergrads than Brandeis. Brandeis is also the second-smallest member of the research-oriented Association of American Universities after Cal Tech.
Unlike the larger, equally ranked institutions, Brandeis has only one undergraduate school, the College of Arts and Sciences. Brandeis also has graduate schools of International Business, Arts and Sciences, Social Policy and Management and Continuing Studies for working adults. The university grants an undergraduate business degree, but it will be a BA not a BS or a Bachelor of Business Administration. More ambitious business students can enter an accelerated program towards a MA in International Economics and Finance. The university features four students who tackled more than one major or minor, or designed their major. That’s quite common at a liberal arts college, not so common at a much larger school.
Brandeis is well networked in the cities that appeal the most to recent college grads.. About a third of the 43,000 Brandeis alumni registered in LinkedIn.com are based in the Boston area. The university is also well represented in and around New York, Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Nearly 30 percent of the graduates in the Class of 2019 went to graduate or professional school. Sixty-five percent were employed, most likely within six months after graduation. Forty-one percent were employed in either science and technology or health care. But Brandeis does not appear to be the best school for those who hope to work in investment banking or consulting after graduation.
Because of its size, location, liberal arts education and research opportunities, Brandeis gets cross-shopped against smaller and larger schools. Brown, Boston University and NYU, among other schools,, get serious consideration, and often come up winning. Just under a quarter of the students who were accepted to Brandeis’ Class of 2022 decided to come. Only a third of the class was filled Early Decision.
If you’re an excellent student, and you really like what you see about Brandeis, write strong essays, no matter your intended major. The average SAT is around 1400 and the average ACT Composite score is 31. But don’t be discouraged if you come up slightly short on the test scores. Brandeis has been test optional for some time. Your essays and extracurricular resume will count for more than your test scores.
But like other selective private colleges, Brandeis is quite expensive. This year the direct charges alone (tuition and fees, room and board) were close to $76,000. The average merit scholarship doesn’t cover a third of the tuition and fees. But the school came close to meeting full need for students who had financial struggles. Less than half of the students who graduated in 2018 had to take out loans. But those who did borrowed, on average, close to $30,000.
I’ll stop with the data dive, and get on to the visit.
- Touring Brandeis by drone, I thought that the campus looked like an expansive and expensive corporate office park. It reminded me of the ETS complex near Princeton. There’s some interesting modern architecture, on this campus, but there are also bland interiors.
- I watched a few videos on YouTube that Brandeis students had made on their own. After watching them, I felt that Brandeis’ social life was a bit like BU or NYU, large, diverse schools with low-profile sports programs. The students are very bright, but they needed help to make friends, or they needed to put themselves out there. It really helps to have access to the Boston cultural and entertainment scene for escapes that build friendships.
- The university’s newest residence complex, Skyline replaced its oldest, Usen Castle, which was demolished two years ago. Three-quarters of Brandeisians live on campus. I went to apartments.com to check out rents near campus. Expect to pay over $1,000/month for rent and utilities to share a two-bedroom if you move off. Chances are you won’t.
- Brandeis’ clip about downtown Waltham had more information than Bentley’s. It’s a really nice college town, a “mini-Princeton.” Brandeis also provides a commuter rail subsidy to students as well as a shuttle to make it less expensive to trek into Boston. Another plus: the university is served by its own transit stop.
- Brandeis takes diversity quite seriously. A fifth of the students are international, high for an American university, especially one so small. There does not appear to be a dominant social group on campus. There’s no recognized Greek life on campus, but there are unrecognized fraternities and sororities. I recommend ’23 Questions’ and Brandeis Stories from the school’s YouTube page to “meet” some former students. These videos felt less scripted than student videos produced by other schools. I also liked the writing in The Brandeis Hoot, the independent campus paper.
- If I became a Brandeis alumnus, I felt that my most likely memories would be my friends among classmates, faculty and staff. I did not believe that I would remember much else about my time on campus. Brandeis does not appear to bond around traditions beyond the freshman welcome and graduation.
- Brandeis does not feel like a “spirit and sports” school. But the athletic facilities are really nice. Brandeis also has some interesting athletic connections. An arena is named for legendary Boston Celtics coach, Red Auerbach. Three former Celtics, two who played for Auerbach, have coached the men’s basketball team. The Celtics also trained at Brandeis from 1990 to 1998. Highly respected tennis journalist Bud Collins coached the tennis team for five years. The university’s first athletic director, Benny Friedman was a college and pro football star, posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He also coached the Brandeis football team from 1951 to 1959.
- Unlike Tufts, the big player in a small college D-3 sports conference, The Brandeis Judges compete against much larger schools in the University Athletic Association . But Brandeis plays 17 sports. Tufts plays 28. That prompted a data dive. I had to wonder if Brandeis and Tufts were in the wrong sports conferences.
- I checked out Brandeis’ men’s basketball attendance on the NCAA Web site. Brandeis had more than double the attendance over the season (4,800 vs. 2,200) versus Tufts. The Judges ranked fourth in their conference, right behind NYU, which attracted about 100 more fans per game. Brandeis students got to cheer against schools that might have turned them down from high school. Given the size of the school, and the attendance figures, plenty took advantage of the opportunity.
I thought that Brandeis was quite similar to the University of Rochester, which I have visited in person. Brandeis students are equally serious, when they need to be, and equally intelligent. The liberal arts education is flexible at both schools. The research facilities appear to be equally impressive. Both schools provide a rigorous education with an opportunity to challenge yourself in graduate courses. Both are strong in the arts. I’d give Rochester the edge for music, because of the Eastman School of Music. Brandeis gets the edge for visual arts because of the Rose Art Museum. More important to prospective students, Brandeis gets the edge for location because of its proximity to Boston.
But there is one similarity that bothers me: neither school appeared to be the first choice, or possibly the second, for the students who chose to come. I realize that I’m an adult comparing a virtual visit to one school versus a personal visit to another. But this is a time when colleges have to consider their virtual appeal to parents as well as prospective students.
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