A Visit to Michigan State University

It’s certainly a unique experience to live in a state that is home to not just one, but two Big Ten universities, both of which have longstanding traditions and a multitude of alumni spanning the world.  (It certainly keeps football season interesting – in particular on that one special weekend of the year when the two teams meet for their annual cross-town showdown.)

Michigan State University's famed Beaumont Tower.
Michigan State University’s famed Beaumont Tower.

From my position as an independent educational consultant, however, having Michigan’s two powerhouse universities within a 45 minute drive of my home is certainly handy and, having toured the University of Michigan back in August, it was high time that I made the trip north to East Lansing to visit their rivals over at Michigan State University.  So on a fairly mild, forty-three degree November afternoon, I bundled up and made the trip.  Once there, I discovered a campus that brings new meaning to the term “walkable” – and one that continues to be popular with students from across the state, the country, and the world for some very good reasons!

Michigan State is a large university made up of 17 different colleges (with their graduate-level College of Veterinary Medicine among the more recognizable of these – especially among horse people!) and was the prototype for land-grant institutions in the United States when it was founded in 1855.  (There are 69 land-grant institutions in the U.S. today.)  The university boasts a total of 47,954 students, with 36,675 undergraduates making up just over 75% of the population.  Normally, prospective undergraduate students might fear that this will engulf them in enormous lecture classes of 500 students or more for the majority of their undergraduate schooling, but MSU makes a point of telling incoming students that 80% of their classes will feature 50 students or fewer thanks to a 16 to 1 student to faculty ratio.  In addition, MSU professors are noted for their availability during office hours and students are always encouraged to take advantage of weekly review sessions for the larger classes so that they receive necessary one-on-one attention – especially during their prerequisite classes.

A typical MSU lecture hall.
A typical MSU lecture hall.

For students who seek a small school experience on MSU’s expansive campus (more on its sheer size in a moment!), the university offers three residential colleges that can appeal to a variety of majors and interests; the James Madison College is dedicated to students with a particular interest in public and international affairs (policies, history and cultures, etc.); the Lyman Briggs College is geared for those who seek a liberal arts education in the hard sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, geology, etc.); and finally, the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH) allows students to examine the roles that art, literature, and other related topics play in the world, as well as in their future careers.  Students in each of the three residential colleges are also invited to apply for the MSU Honors College if they choose (and if they meet admission requirements).  I was fortunate on my visit to get to explore both sides of MSU’s undergraduate experience, as I have a good friend from my admission counselor days who is currently a recruitment coordinator for the RCAH program and who agreed to introduce me to some of her students and let me explore her program a little bit after I explored the greater campus.

MSU isn't just a bike friendly campus - they're practically bicycle REQUIRED.
MSU isn’t just a bike friendly campus – they’re practically bicycle REQUIRED.

…and by “greater campus,” I do mean greater!

The 90 minute walking tour given by the admission office begins at the MSU Union building (newly refurbished, with a tremendous food court on the bottom level and the office of undergraduate admission on the very top) and ends all the way out at the famed Spartan Stadium, with a lot of walking in between.  To be fair, I’m quite accustomed to campus tours and 90 minutes is somewhat a standard time frame for most campuses due to the number of stops that guides make along the way for residence halls, libraries, and classroom spaces.  At MSU, however, I definitely began to question my tour fitness level right around the 70 minute mark!  It’s little wonder, then, that MSU is one of the Top Five bike friendly (and bike encouraged!) campuses in the nation – so bike friendly, in fact, that they have their own on-campus bike shop – as well as featuring discounted student rates for the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) buses that constantly run across campus.

As with many of its university counterparts, MSU is in an ongoing process to update its dining and residential facilities to better accommodate the needs of current and future students.  Academic buildings are a mix of old and new, with the newest addition to campus found in the very modern-looking Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum that is situated along Grand River Avenue, just across from elder statesman Old Horticulture.  Depending on an individual student’s academic program, they may also find themselves studying off-campus at one of MSU’s research sites around the state of Michigan or even studying abroad on one of their international programs.  Either way, the students I encountered during my time there all spoke of a feeling of being at home at the university.

The new Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.
The new Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.

In particular, I enjoyed my time visiting the RCAH program, as it felt even homier than the rest of the larger university.  Students in MSU’s residential colleges (like RCAH) live, eat, and go to nearly all of their classes within a single building (or series of interconnected buildings).  While this is bad for those who enjoy snow days during the winter months, it’s a tremendous opportunity for students who thrive in these community-oriented environments.  Faculty and staff in the RCAH know each one of their students by name and it isn’t unusual to see them “hunting” in the dining hall during peak hours to find students that need a little extra advising or who may need a push to get them more engaged in the classroom.  What’s more, the resources that are afforded to these programs as a part of the larger research university as a whole lend added strength to the academic programs and a new and different dimension to the social life that is available to students when they head out onto campus to meet with friends, go to the gym, or cheer on the Spartans at a sporting event.

For equestrians, MSU is home to two IHSA teams (hunt seat and western), an IDA team for dressage, a polo team, a rodeo team, and a variety of livestock judging teams as well, so there are plenty of opportunities to become involved as an undergraduate student.  (Thanks to the numerous events held on campus as well, students who don’t wish to participate but still wish to attend equine events as spectators can do so as well!)

Could a large research school like MSU – or one of its smaller residential colleges – be a good fit for you?  Contact me and we’ll find out!

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