First Impressions: University of Rochester, Rochester NY

The last school that I visited during my recent travels to Central and Western New York was the University of Rochester. I spent enough time on campus to gather many First Impressions. I have also collected photos for a Pinterest page.

The University of Rochester is much like Johns Hopkins. It’s mid sized (about 5,400 full-time undergrads), has a relatively flexible undergraduate curriculum in the arts and sciences as well as engineering, and is highly praised for its music conservatory, medical school and public policy and international relations programs. Both campuses have similar amenities (Rochester has the nicer student center) as well as Greek life. The major differences are location and selectivity.

The University of Rochester, attracts  excellent students (3.80+ GPA/1400 average SAT) but the school is much less selective than Johns Hopkins. However, those who come— a third of the most recent first-year classes arrived through Early Decision—will be welcomed to a campus that resembles Harvard and MIT, if they were designed together on the same site, even considering a river.

The University of Rochester separates itself from Johns Hopkins by encouraging students to stick around past four years, even for academic enrichment. It is the only highly selective research university that offers a tuition-free fifth year for students to take undergraduate coursework outside of their major for enrichment or skill development, or to launch a start-up business. There are also several combined degree programs. In addition, with the exception of a writing-intensive first-year seminar, there are no required courses. Students declare a major in one area (Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences and Engineering) and take clusters of three or more courses in the other two. Clusters often become second majors or minors.

Unlike the neighboring Rochester Institute of Technology, which emphasizes cooperative education, University of Rochester students prefer to work on research with faculty or on their own research projects during the school year, and do their internships in the summer. The university’s connections are global and quite extensive. Graduates are quite likely to find the same employment opportunities or gain admissions to the same advanced degree programs as their peers who attended Johns Hopkins or an Ivy. Over a third of the University of Rochester begin an advanced degree within a year after completing their undergraduate education.

The University of Rochester is not a spirit and sports school, unlike Johns Hopkins, which has had success in football and lacrosse, among other sports. And, from reading a few editions of the Campus Times, the student newspaper, I felt that there is an air of cynicism and discontent within the student body over a current investigation into charges of sexual harassment against a faculty member, a story that first covered by Mother Jones, then carried by mainstream media. The university administration’s initial investigation concluded no wrongdoing. Protests within the university community have led the university’s trustees to fund an investigation conducted by  independent legal counsel. While that investigation has not concluded, it has serious potential to impact the university’s recruitment of female first-year and transfer students. Women currently represent half of the undergraduate student body.

In addition, the city’s job market has been seriously diminished by dramatic reductions in the workforces at venerable firms such as Bausch and Lomb, Eastman Kodak and Xerox. While in prior years it was common for the university to attract more of its students from New York, and have them continue to study there for advanced degree, only 40 percent of the current student body hails from the Empire State. That has helped lead to a more diverse student body—30 percent are international—but it is one that is more likely to leave the area after graduation. However,  few selective private universities do as much to help undergraduate students form new businesses as the University of Rochester.

The University of Rochester has been, and will continue to be, one of the leading mid-sized private research universities in America, and will become an even tougher place to gain admission. The curriculum will also continue to be a major draw, especially versus the most selective colleges. However, the Johns Hopkins alumni appear to be more likely to return to campus for homecoming weekends.

Report Card: University of Rochester

  • Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: A/A
  • Freshman Retention: A
  • Costs: B+
  • Curriculum: A
  • Community: B
  • Comforts: A
  • Connections: A

Check out my First Impressions of the University of Rochester!

Check out my University of Rochester Pinterest page!

Visiting colleges? Daytripper University’s travel guides highlight the best restaurants and hotels as well as the most interesting attractions near the University of Rochester. Founded by Liora Yalof and Bonnie Klein and relying on a network of parents, locals and current students, this comprehensive website features guides to over 100 campuses and resources to help you navigate the college process.

Need help in planning your list of colleges? Received acceptances but don’t know which school to choose? Contact me at or call me at 609-406-0062

Sharing is caring!