Heading into my junior year, I had an idea about what I want to study in college (some sort of evolutionary biology/computational biology), but absolutely zero clue about where, exactly, I should study. With college on the horizon, though, there’s no better time to figure that out. That’s why this June, I, along with fellow rising junior Junyi Xiu, traveled to the “Southern Ivies” (Vanderbilt, Emory and Duke) to narrow down our options. Since not everyone has the time or resources to travel to these colleges, I decided to share my thoughts so you can get an idea of what the general vibe is like. Keep in mind, however, that there may be people with the complete opposite impression of the school, so it’s good to keep an open mind about all colleges I mention. With that in mind, onto the college reviews.
A forest paradise nestled between the green, deciduous trees, Vanderbilt is a peaceful reprieve from the energetic “Music City” of Nashville. The red brick buildings are reminiscent of Heritage, giving the university an old-school feel that pleasantly contrasts the modern, high-tech interiors. Vanderbilt has four separate schools: the School of Engineering, Blair School of Music, College of Arts and Science and Peabody College (which focuses on human development/education), but the students all intermingle in the freshmen dorms, which are assigned based on a survey. While students have to stay on campus all four years, they have the option for apartment-like, single or suite living as upperclassmen.
There are five different dining halls on campus, including two buffets, but even if none of them tickle a student’s fancy, Vanderbilt has partnerships with several off-campus restaurants where students can grab a bite to eat, with $50 per year included in tuition, plus an additional $250 at the start of freshman year. Vanderbilt also makes it easy to double major or minor between schools, and they accept AP credits as well. A liberal arts core combined with a plethora of research options makes Vanderbilt a truly interdisciplinary campus. Overall, Vanderbilt is a beautiful campus with so many academic opportunities and a student body that seemed very supportive, with my tour guide particularly emphasizing the support she received from upperclassmen and faculty alike when she first started her Vanderbilt experience.
Located in the heart of Atlanta, Emory is a sprawling urban campus with a modern feel. There are two ways to enter as an Emory freshman; either through the main Emory campus which is what I toured, or the much smaller Oxford campus around an hour away. On the other hand, there are three ways to graduate: from the main Emory school, the Goizueta Business School or the Woodruff Nursing School (students can enter the latter two their junior year). Several large company headquarters such as Coca-Cola, CNN and Delta are situated near Emory, and many students receive internships at these companies.
Emory believes in a well-rounded liberal arts education and promotes research in all subjects with more than 50% of students involved in research including STEM and liberal arts. One major drawback is the lack of an engineering school; while Emory has a partnership with nearby Georgia Tech, allowing students to receive an Emory degree in three years and then transfer to Georgia Tech after meeting prerequisites, this does not make any sense for students who want to solely focus on engineering since it takes significantly longer to get the degree they want. Unfortunately, even the cool-colored exterior of Emory could not distract our tour group from the sweltering Georgia heat. I feel I didn’t receive the full Emory experience because the tour guide did not pause at any building to discuss it; instead, he gave us information as we walked which made him difficult to understand since I was near the back of the group. Regardless, from the few minutes we stayed inside and he was able to answer questions, I learned that Emory is a great place for students to enjoy a well-rounded education in an urban environment.
The green trees of college town Durham, NC give way to the iconic Gothic architecture of Duke, a university that combines both STEM and liberal arts. With both an engineering school and an arts & sciences school, Duke caters to students’ individual interests but still promotes a unified campus, particularly at the sports arena where some students are willing to wait hours just for first-row seating at a Duke game. While most classes are held on West Campus, East Campus about eight minutes away by shuttle is where students start out. There, students can find a dining hall, library, gym and multiple dorms, all freshmen-only, with random dorm assignments and roommate assignments based on a survey.
Over on West Campus, students can sample one of the many restaurants and food stations either by spending money or swiping their food card, and I can personally attest that the custom pasta bar is excellent. Students have to live on campus for their first three years, but Duke guarantees housing for all four. Students can opt into Greek life, live in regular dorms or participate in specific living situations revolving around a certain research project (such as sustainable living). Research is also very important to the Duke community, with ample opportunity for both STEM and liberal arts research. Ultimately, I felt invigorated by Duke’s school spirit and their plethora of amenities including a recreational engineering lab and art studio (both available to all students even if they are not taking classes regarding these subjects).