Union College is one of the rare liberal arts schools with engineering. It’s a college searching for students with broad interests that span the sciences, humanities and the arts, including music, dance and theatre. Lots of mechanical engineering students, for example, have minors in sculpture.
There are a few hallmarks of the student experience at Union College:
Students are assigned to a “Minerva House” before they arrive on campus their freshman year, and they remain affiliated with their house for their four years. The Minerva Houses are not residential – all freshmen live together regardless of their house – but they are a center of social activity – some refer to the Minerva houses as the “campus living rooms.” Each house has faculty advisors and sponsors social, cultural and educational events. The Minervas are each self-governed – an excellent opportunity for students with an affinity for an ongoing student government experience.
Union is on a trimester system; terms are a fast-paced ten weeks long. The first term starts in September and goes until Thanksgiving; then students have a six-week break through New Year’s, when they return for winter term. Spring term goes from April through mid-June. This schedule is actually ideal for student-athletes, because most students only take three classes during each ten-week term. Trimesters also make it more possible for engineers to take a term abroad, and more than half of engineers do go abroad.
Union students develop deep and lasting relationships with their professors. “We want Union to be a place where students find faculty champions,” says President Steven Ainlay. I met several professors who had students working with them on research. Classes in all disciplines are small – with a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio and all professor-taught courses, the average class size is about 20. This upstate New York school almost never closes for a snow day, but on one day each May, the whole campus shuts down for the Steinmetz Symposium, in which students have the opportunity to present their research (Steinmetz founded Union’s Electrical Engineering department while he worked at GE).
While Schenectady isn’t exactly the center of the universe, Union’s location is actually convenient for students. The train station is just a few minutes away in downtown Schenectady; Boston and NYC are three hours away and Montreal, three and a half. GE used to be headquartered here, and still maintains all of its sustainability-related research and development activities here (great for internships!). There are also lots of theatres and cultural activities accessible to Union students.
Union reminded me of Allegheny College outside of Pittsburgh, one of the Colleges that Change Lives. It seems to be a place where students can have divergent interests – sports, arts, vastly different academic interests – pursue all of them and still be able to have a social life. It seemed as if all of the students I met – athletes, fraternity members, club leaders – enjoyed a good balance during their time here.
Admissions Stats: SAT Mid-50% CR 590-680; M 630-720; Wr 590-690
Visit Date: September, 2014