I last visited Union College (NY) nine years ago. I took advantage of the opportunity to attend a virtual counselors event so that I can give you an update. You can also check out my Pinterest page to see this beautiful campus. Union College is the fourth-oldest college in America.It was actually the first college chartered by the Board of Regents of the State of New York. In 1800, Union was known as one of the “big four” along with Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Union was the first liberal arts college to teach engineering, starting in 1845. It was also one of the first to offer colleges to offer coursework in American history and constitutional government.
All three are liberal arts schools with fewer than 2,500 undergraduates. But they have also offered engineering education for over a century. Greek life is popular at all three, partly because these schools are male majority. Spirit and sports are important at all three, though Union has also been a National Champion in NCAA D-1 Men’s Hockey. All retain around 90 percent of their freshmen and you’re not likely to sit in many large lectures. They all have test-optional admissions. But Union’ has a wider SAT range (1200 to 1410) and ACT range (28 to 33) for the middle 50 percent who submitted scores.
The “sweet spot” for test scores to be competitive for admission to all three would probably be a 1350 SAT/30 ACT plus excellent grades in a truly rigorous academic program. All three schools have strong alumni bases, especially in New York, Boston and Washington.You won’t go wrong with career services at any one of them. These schools are all quite expensive. You can graduate owing over $27,000, the maximum that you can borrow from the Federal Student Loan Program, unless you qualify for merit or need-based scholarship aid.
A Union degree covers 36 to 40 courses versus 32 at other selective liberal arts colleges. This makes it easier for students to pursue second majors or multiple minors. The Fall and Winter trimesters are separated by a six-week break from Thanksgiving week through January. This allows time for study abroad or experiential learning opportunities. Some will argue that the Union student gets more for their money through the trimester system. However, the six-week break pushes the spring term into June, more than a month after students at similar schools have left campus. Not to mention that you must master a semester of material in less time.
Every student belongs to a Minerva House, a “second home” where students gather for meals and social events. Participation in both is voluntary, and students are also welcome to attend meals and programs at any house. At the end of the freshman year students may apply to live in their Minerva House or choose another living option. Each house has its own faculty and staff advisors though students take the leadership roles in programming. Upper-class students mentor the new students and help them to navigate the system.
Union has so many on-campus living options that it does not really pay to consider off-campus living during the junior or senior year. However, given Union College appears to be a place where you need to build your circle of close friends quickly, as in the first three semesters.. A less social person can probably find a single room in an upper-class hall, but this school is better for those who can find their group and make friends.
The college offers 58 majors, and most of them can also be minors. During the virtual session I attended, I learned that Union makes it easy for students to double major, even in engineering, as well as carry minors. You can “double dip” to apply a general education requirement towards a requirement for a major or minor.
The college has launched initiatives to help students in the humanities and social sciences better understand how the sciences and technology relate to the liberal arts and vice versa. You might not want to be a math, science or engineering major. But you will learn how to work with them while you are in school, and shortly after you enter the workforce. When I visited Union, and during the virtual session, I had a feeling that this school cared about how it taught math and science to humanities and social science majors. Taking the school at its word, this will help graduates succeed in a work world that expects them to have a comfort level with analytics and financial issues.
Union is also trying to attract more women into engineering. During the virtual session I learned that Biomedical Engineering was most popular engineering major chosen by women. Environmental Engineering ranked second. The college is now preparing proposals to offer Civil and Environmental Engineering beginning Fall 2023.
This year, Union also launched a San Francisco Semester. The college provides housing and academic instruction downtown and combines an internship experience with tours to employers and explorations around the Bay Area. In addition, Nearly 60% of Union students go on terms or mini-terms abroad–and 80 percent of these opportunities are led by Union faculty.
Get accepted to the Leadership in Medicine program and you can earn three degrees in eight years: a bachelor’s from Union College, an master’s. or M.B.A. in Healthcare Management from Clarkson University-Capital Region Campus and the M.D. from Albany Medical College. Even better, admission to Albany Medical College is automatic provided students meet academic and extra-curricular requirements. There’s no need to go through the medical school interview process or take the MCAT.
Union had the first unified campus plan in America, a great central court flanked on three sides by buildings and open to the west, with a round pantheon as the focus. At the center of the grounds stands Union’s most unusual building, the distinctive Nott Memorial, a round auditorium (pictured above). When I visited I saw that the 186 acre campus was surrounded by housing that ranges from stately (the former General Electric Realty Plot off Lenox Street and Rugby Road) to student-oriented (theme houses and rentals off Seward Avenue) to sticks (deteriorating row houses along Nott Avenue). I hope that the neighborhood has improved around its rough edges.
While Union’s campus is located close to downtown Schenectady, the downtown is not within easy walking distance, though the bus ride or a drive is quite short. Downtown Schenectady is evolving into an arts center anchored by the renovation of Proctors Theatre. It was the first downtown historic district approved in New York State. The theater accommodates large Broadway productions as well as giant screen films. New York State’s Capital District Region has many strengths with respect to economic development and recreational opportunities. It’s also home to SUNY-University at Albany and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Skidmore College and Siena College, among others. There will be many internship and job opportunities as well as lots to do in the region, but you need access to a car to get to anything outside Schenectady.
Union College is a great school that does not get on as many lists as it probably should. It’s less selective than not only Lafayette or Trinity but also larger schools such as Bucknell or RPI. However, the trimester calendar means that the work goes faster. But Union also has one of the best career development operations that I have seen at a liberal arts college. Through the efforts of faculty and various offices on campus, Union does a great job at preparing students for further education and the job market.
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community, hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
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