After spending a full day and night on campus (including sleeping in the dorms and eating in the dining hall!), meeting with students, professors and administrators, I can confidently say that Montana State University hits the right notes in many ways:
- Medium sized (about 12,000 undergraduates and 3,000 graduate students)
- Personal, small-college feel, where professors get to know and become invested in students’ success
- College town walking distance from campus (Bozeman)
- Division I sports with strong school spirit
- Small Greek system for students interested in joining a fraternity/sorority
- One flight from LA, direct
- Unbelievably beautiful surroundings (it’s about an hour and a half north of Yellowstone National Park, and just 20 minutes to the nearest ski facility)
Montana State University has 7 undergraduate colleges plus an Honors College, offering a wide variety of majors and the only four-year engineering program in the state. It’s hard to condense a full day’s visit into one post, so here are the highlights of my visit to Montana State:
Engineering is one of the jewels in MSU’s crown. Dr. Christine Foreman, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering, says that undergraduates are heavily involved in research, working in labs starting as freshmen, learn how to create real world solutions to help people solve day to day problems. MSU’s Engineers Without Borders group is very active, traveling to Kenya each year to build fresh water wells. [Dr. Foreman takes students to Greenland with her for biological engineering research each year.] There are five undergraduate engineering programs, with about 3,300 students in all of the programs combined (mechanical is the largest, followed by civil and chemical engineering). The College offers a certificate in international engineering, in which students take 15 credits of relevant coursework, including language and a study abroad or work experience related to the region of the world selected.
There is no pre-engineering program, but there is a general engineering program for undecided students who still need to explore the engineering disciplines. Specific advisors help guide undecided engineering students through exploratory courses, calculus and physics. There are 26 student organizations affiliated with the College of Engineering, and strong mentoring programs for women engineers, who currently only make up about 16% of students in the College.
MSU students’ pass rate for the national Fundamentals of Engineering Exam is 10 percentage points higher than the national pass rate. The College offers separate scholarships for engineers, including EMPOWER scholarships for women and ethnic minorities.
The Jake Jabs College of Business has a strong entrepreneurship program and, according to Prof. Gary Bishop, who has taught at MSU for over 25 years, Bozeman has a “hopping business community,” allowing the (approximately) 1,300 students who major within the College of Business opportunities for internships and other hands-on learning.
Majors within the JJCOB include accounting, finance, management, marketing (management is the largest major, then marketing), as well as minors in accounting, business administration, entrepreneurship & small business management, finance and international business. All degrees are Bachelor of Science degrees, and there is no MBA program. MSU is starting a certificate program in 2015, through which students with other majors can take 18 credits of business courses and learn the basics. Business students enjoy their own scholarships and student success office. The average class size for business courses is 31 and there’s an entrepreneurial business club.
The School of Education, Health and Human Development is working with the business school to create an interdisciplinary Hospitality Management major. Montana State’s strong agricultural and nutrition programs will create the foundation for this new degree.
Letters & Science – MSU physics professor Greg Francis doesn’t have to tell you he’s passionate about teaching undergraduates. All you need to do is spend a half hour with him and you realize he is truly devoted to helping his students get excited about science! In the short time he spent with my counselor group, he illustrated a few basic principles of physics, memorably demonstrating sound waves, momentum and pressure without taking anyone’s eye out (although there was a little bit of concern!). You would also realize immediately that even in a class with 200 students, which is the largest introductory science lecture, professors here are able to connect with students individually. Simply put, you want to be in his class!!
Overall, the natural sciences (within the College of Letters & Science) are very strong at Montana State, with strong pre-professional advising for students looking to move on to medical, dental, veterinary or law school, or PT or OT programs. A full-time staff of pre-professional advisors assists students throughout their undergraduate studies, helping them select classes, find internships, take necessary graduate school entrance exams and finally, complete their essays, applications and interviews. Over 90% of the MSU graduates who apply to graduate school are admitted, and on average, about 65% of those who apply to medical school are admitted (the national average is about 40%.)
Film/Photo/Art/Architecture – I spent a bit of time with Professor Andrew Nelson, an expert in Western Film History and a professor in MSU’s School of Film and Photography, which is housed within the College of Art & Architecture. Film and photography students start together with a foundation year, which includes introductory courses in digital filmmaking, film analysis and screenwriting. “We really believe in photographers having a foundation in film, and filmmakers having a foundation in photography,” Nelson says. Students in both disciplines begin working with production equipment in their first year, and at the end of the first year, they must present a portfolio to stay in their respective program. In the third and fourth years, film students can start taking classes in specialty areas such as cinematography, directing and editing. Average class size within the College of Art & Architecture is about 16 students, and the program is very production-oriented and hands-on. MSU hosts a year-end film screening for students, and the Bozeman film society will show student films before commercial movies in local movie theaters.
MSU has had a strong track record of placing students in film industry jobs in Los Angeles. The School of Art & Architecture takes between 40-45 film students and 30-35 photo students each year. A portfolio or reel is not required for admissions, but would be required for talent scholarships.
MSU created the first accredited five-year masters of architecture program, and their music technology program integrates sound engineering and composition. [I asked if film students who were interested in film scoring could minor in music technology; he replied that music technology was fairly intense and students can’t really “dabble” in it, but that this is a good place for students with this interest.]
Montana State – General Info
About half of MSU’s freshman class of 3,000 students is from out of state, and California is the third top feeder state after Washington and Colorado. Bridger Bowl – about 20 minutes away – is the closest ski resort (class in the morning, ski in the afternoon!). MSU is right in the middle of downtown Bozeman, though, so students can literally walk into downtown to take advantage of restaurants, movies and shops.
Academically, about 20% of the freshman class enters Montana State undecided on their major, and nearly all of them declare a major after 3 semesters in the University Studies program. All MSU students have a research or creative experience as part of the Core curriculum.
MSU has two main dining halls on campus and one was undergoing a major renovation when I visited in summer, 2015. The new dining facility, scheduled to be opened before classes start in fall, 2015, will have an espresso bar, a meat smoking station, a brick pizza oven and other high-end food amenities. With a strong focus on serving local/sustainable foods and a nutritionist on campus, MSU’s dining services works well with all dining/dietary restrictions, and they are working towards an online ordering system for students with special food needs.
Bozeman is about an hour and a half north of the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park and has very strong ties to the park and to conservation issues in general. In fact, Bozeman has more environmental non-profits per capita than any other city in the U.S. MSU professors are actively working on ecological and wildlife research with the National Park Service and other academics.
The students on my panel were diverse in geography, ethnicity, and academically. I ate lunch with one who had high test scores but low grades in high school – despite the fact that he was indeed very smart, it took him a little longer to learn the responsibility of turning in homework! He also entered MSU with over a semester’s worth of credits, and will graduate in just three years. After he graduates, he will spend a year doing research at the NIH headquarters in Maryland while he applies to medical school (he told us his top choice is UChicago). Another student on the panel had been president of her sorority and noted that although only about 5% of MSU students are involved in Greek life, a majority of student leaders on campus are involved in the Greek system (this is not uncommon but MSU has a very small fraternity/sorority system with just five national fraternities and four national sororities).
The WUE tuition exchange program is limited at MSU; students with strong SAT or ACT scores are awarded the tuition discount. Some scholarships for very strong students actually result in a lower tuition than the WUE rate. With the WUE rate, and with most merit scholarships (ACT 23+ or SAT 1560+ and they do superscore for scholarships!), Montana State tuition and room and board will be less than the amount you would pay for a UC.
MSU professors are very proud of their rating as a Very High Research institution (Carnegie Foundation) but are similarly proud of the school’s position as a land-grant university, which means students at MSU span the academic spectrum. Largely because of the existence of the engineering school and the Honors College, though, MSU has the reputation of being the more academic of the two flagship institutions in Montana. The entire MSU community prides itself on the strength and well-roundedness of the academics here.
While Montana State may not be what you were picturing when you started to think about college, it has so many of the features that many students look for. The beautiful setting, strong academic foundation and good value for the money make it worth a look and a visit!
Evelyn visited Montana State during an extended trip to Montana colleges in July, 2015. You can see all of her photos here.