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Mary C. Spears

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Profile: Emory University

Spanning more than 600 acres in Druid Hills, the Italian Renaissance–style architecture of Emory’s campus reflects the international character of its student body. Most of its undergraduates are from out of state, and 120 other countries are represented by more than 3,000 international students.

Major draws include Emory’s rock-solid academic and research credentials. The school has landed in the top twenty rankings in U.S. News & World Report for nearly two straight decades—and has been characterized as a “New Ivy” by Newsweek. Thirteen academic programs rank among the top twenty-five in various national lists.

Classes are kept at an average of nineteen students, and the school offers eighty majors, fifty-seven minors, nine combined bachelor’s/master’s degrees, and nine preprofessional programs. An all-star league of distinguished faculty includes CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Pulitzer Prize winners Natasha Trethewey and Hank Klibanoff, the Dalai Lama, and former President Jimmy Carter.

Two in five students participate in international experiences, with opportunities ranging from Tibetan studies in India and business internships in Austria to nursing research in Ethiopia. Through undergraduate research grants, students can also cash in on some of the $535.1 million in research funding awarded to Emory in 2010.

With one of the largest inventories of LEED-certified campus buildings in the country, Emory is recognized as a leader in sustainable development. The Dining Green Team emphasizes organic nutrition, with a goal that 75 percent of the university’s cafeteria food be locally or sustainably grown by 2015. In the classroom, students can minor in sustainability. Freshmen can’t bring cars, but students can use bikes free of charge through the Bike Emory program; they can even borrow cars through an annual ZipCar membership of $25.

Known for swimming and diving (the women’s varsity team just won the 2010 national championship), the Emory Eagles compete in eighteen Division III varsity sports. Nearly a third of students take part in one of twenty-nine Greek organizations, but alternatives for getting involved include more than 220 student groups, twenty-three club sports, and an award-winning student paper, the Emory Wheel.

Though ranked by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance as a top fifteen best value among private universities, tuition is the highest in the state at $38,600 a year. Luckily, Emory Advantage caps need-based loans at $15,000 for families earning between $50,000 and $100,000 and completely eliminates debt for those earning less than $50,000.

Photograph courtesy of Emory University

Profile: Georgia Institute of Technology

Founded in 1885 as a trade school, the Georgia Institute of Technology recently celebrated its 125th anniversary. U.S. News & World Report includes ten of Tech’s undergraduate engineering programs in its top ten lists, with biomedical engineering rated third and industrial/manufacturing engineering rated first. Overall, Georgia Tech ranked seventh among public universities; it has secured a top ten spot for more than a decade.

Upwards of 20,000 students are enrolled at Tech’s historic, 450-acre campus in Midtown. Undergraduate and graduate degrees are offered through colleges of architecture, computing, engineering, management, sciences, and liberal arts. Scheduled to open this summer is the $85 million, 230,000-square-foot Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons.

Tech, which recently celebrated its fiftieth year of matriculating African American students, has been recognized by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education as the second-highest producer of bachelor’s engineering degrees to both blacks and minorities in general, and third-highest to Asian Americans. Only 30 percent of undergraduates are female, but with initiatives such as the Women in Engineering recruitment program, Tech graduates more female engineers than any other public school in the nation.

Georgia Tech’s internship/co-op program has been selected by U.S. News & World Report as a top “academic program to look for” in 2011. Graduating in five years rather than four, co-op students alternate semesters between classroom and work experiences and often earn a job offer upon graduation. Top participating employers include GE, Delta, and Southern Company.

Though the Wall Street Journal listed Tech among its top twenty-five recruiter schools in 2010, such opportunity doesn’t come without hard work: The school was also chosen as one of the fifty most stressful colleges by the Daily Beast.

Twenty-six percent of students join one of forty-eight Greek organizations, and the Office of Student Involvement oversees more than 350 organizations. Extracurricular activities include free midnight breakfasts during finals, movie showings, and concerts. Fall Saturdays wouldn’t be complete without a day of tailgating and cheering on the Ramblin’ Wreck football team, which captured the 2009 Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

Photograph courtesy of Georgia Institute of Technology

Profile: Georgia Perimeter College

With 25,113 students, Georgia Perimeter College is the third-largest school in the University System of Georgia and accepts more undergraduate students than any other college in the state. Spread over four separate campuses in Clarkston, Decatur, Dunwoody, and Newton, GPC offers geographic flexibility and guides students through one of three tracks: transfer, career, or joint programs. Since it is a junior college, SAT scores are not required for admittance. Flexible course schedules accommodate adult learners.

While programs vary slightly from campus to campus, the school overall offers forty associate’s degrees, four career and technical degrees, and nine dual-degree programs with DeKalb Technical College. Associate’s degrees range from journalism, political science, and biology to more career-specific tracks such as homeland security and emergency management or pre-dentistry/pre-medicine/pre-pharmacy. Vocational programs include fire management, sign language interpretation, nursing, and dental hygiene.

GPC also hosts the largest online program in the state, and new for this spring is the first three-year accelerated bachelor’s of business administration degree in Georgia, provided in partnership with Georgia Southwestern State University. Structured as either a combination of in-class and online courses or fully online, the degree offers concentrations in management and accounting.

Through a Transfer Admission Guarantee, students who maintain a minimum GPA (anywhere from a 2.0 to 3.0) while completing core courses or an associate’s degree are guaranteed transfers to more than forty four-year colleges. These schools are some of the largest and highest-ranked in the state, including UGA, Georgia Tech, and Mercer; there are even out-of-state options such as Syracuse and Auburn University. Students in GPC’s honors program can transfer to participating four-year college honors programs.

While there are no Greek organizations and no student housing, the school offers a variety of ways to get a “traditional” school experience. Dozens of student organizations are available, as are volunteer opportunities. Sports teams include baseball, softball, basketball, and tennis, and both the men’s and women’s soccer teams are ranked nationally—second and third, respectively.

Photograph courtesy of Georgia Perimeter College

Profile: Georgia Southern University

If you want that quintessential college experience—with a cozy, university-oriented community, spirited football weekends, and a green, walkable campus—then consider Georgia Southern. Located in Statesboro, the school has been listed as one of the top twenty-five safest colleges by the Daily Beast, a testament to the tight-knit community of town and gown.

Founded in 1906, the school of nearly 20,000 students was dubbed a Carnegie research university during its centennial year. Undergrads can choose from more than 100 majors that range from fashion merchandising and apparel design to recreation. Especially popular are nursing and business administration—the Princeton Review named the College of Business Administration one of the 300 best in the country. This fall, the school will introduce baccalaureate degrees in civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering—making Georgia Southern the state’s only engineering school outside Georgia Tech.

Georgia Southern’s honors program, requiring a minimum two-part SAT score of 1200, has helped make the university one of the state’s most competitive. Participants receive benefits beyond the priority registration and premium housing typically offered by similar programs. Perks include graduate-student-level library privileges, an exclusive study alcove in Russell Student Union, and free book loans for all designated honors courses.

The campus stretches across nearly 700 acres and includes the newly renovated Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health. Other recent additions include a $22.75 million expansion of the Zach S. Henderson Library and a luxurious residence hall, Centennial Place, with “super suites” and individual bathrooms.

With intramural sports ranging from Ultimate to inner-tube water polo to a wheelchair basketball league, plus more than 250 student organizations, students don’t feel pressure to go Greek (though 11 percent do). Fall Saturdays are spent cheering on the Eagles’ six-time Division I national football champions, and weekends offer time for exploring downtown’s Main Street. Students can also hit the beach within about ninety minutes by heading toward Savannah or Hilton Head.

Photograph courtesy of Georgia Southern University

Profile: Georgia State University

A brand-new football program isn’t the only sign that Georgia State is outgrowing its commuter stereotype. A Greek housing development—a cluster of nine three-story townhouses—opened this past fall. And in 2009, the university opened the $15.7 million, 87,000-square-foot, suite-style Freshman Hall, which houses 325 first-year students. The school expects to open two more dorms this fall.

However, Georgia State’s greatest asset remains its urban setting, with forty university buildings lacing through the streets of Downtown Atlanta. Drawing around 31,000 students, it is the second-largest school in the University System of Georgia. Through sixty-two degree programs, students can choose from 250 fields of study at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels in six colleges: policy studies, arts and sciences, education, health and human sciences, law, and business. More than ten annual job fairs enable students in every discipline to start networking early.

At the leading urban research institution in the Southeast, graduate studies play a high-profile role. Both the undergraduate and graduate programs in computer information systems are ranked in America’s top ten by U.S. News & World Report. The public affairs program in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, as well as the Robinson School of Business’s part-time M.B.A., rank in the top 10 percent of graduate programs. The school’s highest accolade is the College of Law’s ranking as the nation’s best value by National Jurist.

Opened last spring, the 350,000-square-foot Petit Science Center houses the Neuroscience Institute, the Center for Diagnostics and Therapeutics, and the Center for Inflammation, Immunity, and Infection. The $141.6 million building offers state-of-the-art research labs, classrooms, and equipment for students in a range of science and health studies.

Students can find their niche through more than 275 student groups, twenty-four Greek organizations, and a variety of intramural sports. Album 88, an award-winning, 100,000-watt radio station, reigns as the most powerful student-run station in the country and can be heard all the way to North Georgia.

Photograph courtesy of Georgia State University

Profile: Kennesaw State University

Near historic Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, Kennesaw State University is located in suburban Cobb County. Founded as a junior college in 1963, the school transitioned to a four-year institution in 1976 and did not become a university until 1996. Now, with more than 23,000 students, KSU is ranked thirty-second among regional public universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report and is the fourth-largest school in the University System of Georgia.

Through schools of business, education, health, humanities, arts, and science and mathematics, KSU offers fifty bachelor’s, twenty master’s, and several doctoral programs, as well as two education specialist degrees. Coles College of Business enrolls the second-highest number of business majors in the state, and Businessweek ranks its part-time M.B.A. fifty-sixth in the country. KSU also operates one of Georgia’s largest nursing programs, now housed in Prillaman Hall, which opened last August. The $56 million facility includes fifteen health and science labs, several large-scale classrooms, an auditorium, and a pediatric lab.

With a mixture of both traditional and nontraditional students (the average age is twenty-four), KSU has more than 1,500 international students representing 131 countries. The U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy has recognized the school as one of ten higher education institutions nationwide for fostering strong international involvement; through KSU’s Year Of initiative, lectures, performances, and special courses focus on a specific country for the entire academic year. (This year is Romania.) A variety of study abroad opportunities are available, including international business studies in Dubai and a marine biology program in Belize. This year also marked the start of doctoral studies in international conflict management.

KSU has made concerted efforts to create a sense of community with the opening of a $46 million, 915-bed residence hall for freshmen in 2008 and the university’s first full-scale dining hall in 2009. Ways to get involved include more than 230 registered student organizations and twenty fraternities and sororities. Other recent additions include new intramural fields in 2009 and a soccer stadium in 2010; a football team may start as early as 2014 if approved. Of course, since admission to all sporting events is free with a student ID, fans enjoy cheering on the Owls’ existing fourteen NCAA Division I teams.

Photograph courtesy of Kennesaw State University/David Caselli

Profile: Mercer University

Eighty-five miles south of Atlanta, Mercer University lies in the heart of Macon. Established in 1833, Mercer sits on a 130-acre, magnolia-studded campus with historic architecture that exudes the Old South charm of its roots as one of the oldest universities in the South.

Mercer has just over 8,200 students and enrolls more valedictorians and STAR students (those with both top SAT scores and top-of-the-class rankings) than any other private college in the state. The average GPA of those accepted was 3.6, and U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Mercer as a top ten regional school for the twelfth consecutive year. The 2010 graduating class produced two Fulbright Students.

More than sixty majors and nine preprofessional programs are offered through the schools of education, music, business, engineering, liberal arts, nursing, and professional studies. Though most undergrads study at Macon, many graduate and professional studies are on the Atlanta campus, and teaching hospitals are in both Macon and Savannah. Mercer offers guaranteed acceptance for several of its graduate and professional degrees, including law, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant, and M.B.A.

Mercer’s private-school tuition is steep at $30,560 a year. In an effort to lighten this burden, the university has created an optional four-year pledge: If students do not graduate within four years despite passing their classes and following regular academic advising, then the school will cover the full cost of any additional courses needed to graduate—and will waive housing and dining plan costs.

Greek organizations are a robust element of student life, with a quarter of students participating in Mercer’s seventeen sororities and fraternities. Other opportunities for involvement include more than fifteen club sports and around ninety organizations. As home of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, Macon offers an active music scene. And new students can look forward to an upcoming change in their weekend ritual: The Mercer Bears are officially reinstating their Division I football team, with the first game set for the fall of 2013.

Photograph courtesy of Mercer University

Profile: Morehouse College

Speckled with monuments honoring famous alumni and administrators, including civil rights leaders Howard Thurman, Benjamin E. Mays, and Martin Luther King Jr., Morehouse sits in the historic district of Atlanta’s West End. Founded in 1867, it now hosts 2,800 students, is a member of the Atlanta University Center—America’s largest conglomerate of African American private colleges—and is the nation’s only liberal arts college exclusively for black men.

In 1994, Morehouse was the first historically black school to produce a Rhodes Scholar, and it has since produced two more. U.S. News & World Report ranks Morehouse third among the nation’s historically black colleges and universities.

The school offers twenty-six bachelor’s degrees through three academic divisions: business administration and economics, humanities and social sciences, and science and mathematics. Popular majors include business administration, political science, and psychology; preprofessional tracks such as pre-medicine, pre-law, and pre-dentistry are available.

Students aim to represent the legendary “Morehouse Man.” What exactly embodies this Renaissance man has come under hot debate in recent years, but President Robert Franklin describes him as “well read, well spoken, well traveled, well dressed, and well balanced.” As a result, students must attend a minimum number of assemblies a semester, abide by a dress code, and are highly encouraged to take part in one of the school’s more than 250 study abroad programs.

2010 marked the opening of the $20 million Ray Charles Performing Arts Center and Music Academic Building, which includes a 650-seat concert hall, twelve studios, an electronic piano lab, and preproduction workstations. Morehouse also houses a $32 million collection of more than 10,000 original Martin Luther King Jr. documents and manuscripts, including letters, speeches, and sermons.

Whether through the sixty-five-plus student organizations, five fraternities, or the renowned marching band known as the “House of Funk” (which appeared in the 2007 movie Stomp the Yard), students get involved. In fact, with 75 percent of Morehouse students taking part in community service, the school landed among the twenty-five best schools for “do-gooders” in 2010, as ranked by Newsweek. Other activities include intramural and club sports, plus seven NCAA Division II athletic teams. All students enjoy Hump Wednesdays—a weekly break to enjoy music, barbecue, and miscellaneous vendors.

Photograph courtesy of Morehouse College

Profile: Savannah College of Art and Design

Only thirty-three years young, Savannah College of Art and Design has grown exponentially since its beginning in 1978. Cofounder Paula Wallace has been president since 2000, and under her leadership the school has more than doubled its enrollment to 10,300-plus students, started an award-winning online program, and opened three branch campuses: Lacoste, France, in 2002; Atlanta in 2005; and Hong Kong in 2010.

At SCAD’s flagship campus, the historic landscape of Savannah offers a more traditional college-town experience and hosts the school’s staple annual events. SCAD Atlanta, with more than 1,700 students, is located in the heart of Midtown, where big-city networking opportunities abound. The newest venture in Hong Kong offers eight programs of study, and the Lacoste campus allows students to choose from a constant rotation of classes. (Current programs include architectural history and sequential art.)

SCAD offers 107 bachelor’s and master’s degrees in forty-three areas of study, plus six certificate programs—more degrees than any other art and design school in the world. Three additional disciplines are offered exclusively at SCAD Atlanta: printmaking, television producing, and sculpture. Especially popular undergraduate majors include animation, fashion, photography, and graphic design. Graduate programs in interior design and design management have won top national recognition.

SCAD’s career services make sure students don’t end up as starving artists by providing guidance on portfolios, entrepreneurship, salary negotiation, and branding. For the past four years, eight out of ten graduates have either been offered employment or were admitted to graduate school within six months of commencement.

Annual SCAD events in downtown Savannah include the International Festival on Broughton Street; a student fashion show; and the Savannah Film Festival, featuring work from both industry award winners and student filmmakers. Honorees at the 2010 festival included Isabella Rossellini and Liam Neeson, and panels were led by big-name guests such as director Michael Lembeck (Emmy winner for Friends) and film editors of the hit show Lost.

Photograph courtesy of Savannah College of Art and Design

Profile: Art Institute of Atlanta

Originally founded in 1949 as Massey Business College, the Art Institute of Atlanta—housed in a five-story office building—still looks businesslike from the outside. But since changing its focus to the applied arts and joining the national network of Art Institutes in 1975, it has been all creativity inside.

The school, whose Atlanta alums include Ty Pennington of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Kevin Gillespie of Bravo’s Top Chef: Las Vegas, is one of more than forty-five Art Institutes in the U.S. Thirty degrees in design, media arts, fashion, and culinary arts include concentrations such as audio production, interior design, baking and pastry, and digital filmmaking. Students can earn a Bachelor of Arts, Science, or Fine Arts or an associate’s degree, and the school offers diploma programs in eight areas of study, including web design, commercial photography, and culinary arts.

On its main campus near Sandy Springs (a three-year-old satellite campus is in Decatur), AI Atlanta emphasizes hands-on instruction. The 115,000-square-foot main building houses professional photography studios, darkroom facilities, and digital audio labs with recording booths and editing suites. The top floor holds five teaching kitchens and the Creations dining room, where culinary students prepare meals for the public. A second building nearby features an interior design resource room, art foundations studios, and a student lounge.

Nearly 86 percent of all graduates from 2009 were employed in their fields within six months of graduation—no easy feat in today’s economy. Part of this success is due to quarterly portfolio shows for potential employers. Atlanta students also have access to the career resources of all Art Institutes across the country for up to six months after they graduate.

About half of the students are under age twenty-two, and many of the rest are adults returning to school. Though AI Atlanta doesn’t offer dorms, there are off-campus housing complexes with resident advisers and student activities for those seeking a more traditional college experience.

Photograph courtesy of Art Institute of Atlanta

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