I had an extended visit to the University of Alabama in the summer of 2013, with a group of about a dozen independent college counselors. We spent a day and a half on campus, meeting with college deans, admissions staff, students, professors and even the University President, Dr. Judy Bonner.
Located in Tuscaloosa, about an hour south of Birmingham, the University of Alabama has about 25,000 undergraduates, and while the published number of out-of-state students is about 35%, that number is increasing; more than half of the incoming class of 2017 will be out-of-staters. Students come from all 50 states and 68 countries to study in one of the ten undergraduate colleges, with over 80 majors from which to choose.
We met with the Dean of the Honors College, who shared with us that of the nearly 6,000 students in the Honors College, 63% graduate in four years. This is significant because while about a quarter of the overall student population is involved in the Honors College (priority registration, smaller classes, separate housing, lots of good perks!), about half of the Honors College are engineering students. Students from across the University have the opportunity to become Honors students with GPA and test score thresholds. This is an excellent example of how Alabama helps make a large school feel smaller.
An academic adviser from the College of Human Environmental Sciences provided an overview of some of the very interesting programs offered within this division. Majors range from food and nutrition to athletic training to apparel design and fashion retailing, as well as early childhood education, adolescent and youth development, and consumer sciences (two tracks include family financial planning and consumer affairs, a good preparation for pre-law students and those interested in nonprofit advocacy). The school also has a hotel/restaurant management/event planning major which stresses internships for practical experience.
Other colleges within the University include Social Work, Business, Nursing, Engineering, Communication, Education and Arts & Sciences. Professor Ken Fridley emphasized the Engineering school’s very strong co-op program and the “Engineering-Plus” plan, in which students are encouraged to volunteer, work in teams, pursue outside interests, and generally do more than just study. Author Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird) is an Alabama alumna, and the person who wrote the book that inspired Steven Spielberg’s Amistad teaches history here.
Alabama’s freshman retention rate, the number of students who return after the first year, is about 85%, which they are trying to raise (but this is quite a respectable number). Alabama also ranks first in public schools for National Merit Scholars, likely because of the very generous scholarships they offer to finalists (full tuition for four years, one year of housing, a stipend for research/internships and an iPad!). The scholarship program is generous even for non-merit scholars.
Football is a huge tradition at Alabama; students who are full of school spirit will feel right at home in the fall. About 30% of the students are members of the Greek system. While the school is large with over 20,000 students, the Honors College and very strong advising programs within each school can easily make it seem smaller and more manageable for students; each college has a full staff of advisors who help guide students through their requirements.
Alabama is not a member of the Common App; no recommendations or essays are currently required, though this may change. As the school has grown, selectivity has grown as well as Alabama tries to become a more national university.
You can see all of my photos from my trip to Alabama here (if some of them look like they were taken out of a moving car, that’s because part of our walking tour was done in a van, since it was thunderstorming!).