Visit to US Colleges: Part 1 - Northeastern University

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Visit to Northeastern University (NEU), Boston

NEU spans both sides of Huntington Avenue and is totally a city campus, is not gated and is right on the roadside – to move around from one building to another one may need to cross the main street (with trams running in between!!). With around 29,000 students and quite a diverse student population, the campus seemed quite alive! There seem to be an increasing number of Indian kids going to NEU in recent years and they all seemed very happy. Hearing the experience from the kids first hand was a real blessing and they were truly amazing ambassadors for their Univ.

While we could not visit the academic classrooms, the buildings seemed quite modern and large and the entire university infrastructure seemed huge. One of the research centers (I think it was physical sciences) was supposed to have been built at the cost of many millions of dollars! There were also many creative spaces/ buildings for students clubs and other activities on campus. Professor to student ratio is not too great in year 1 with anything between 100-300 in a class, but thereafter from year 2, we were told, the ratio is around 20:1. Apart from professors, there are teaching assistants who help students clarify doubts post class. I didn’t get a sense of the teaching quality.  I learnt from current students that they need to put in a couple of hours of work every week and on weekends but it is manageable. The choice of subjects and courses students could choose from were huge (125). Personalized attention from Profs may not be easy to get and a lot of the onus of completing work, learning and making the NEU experience count, seemed to be in your hands.

Students were unanimous in their view that the best part of the curriculum was the unique ‘co-op’ system – students are required to do 3 stints of 6 months each in their 5 years. This is like a job but during this period students get paid and don’t have to pay college fees although they are enrolled as full time students. Co-ops can be in Boston, anywhere in US or global. Students need to organize these on their own with some help from NEU. The most important part of this co-op system seemed to be that students get coached for many weeks prior to a co-op on how to apply, how to present themselves in the job market, organization cultures and how to operate in the world of work etc. Kids also told me that after each co-op they have come out very enriched. They also learn to figure what they have an aptitude for and what not.  For example you may do a co-op in an insurance firm and realize it isn’t a field for you and then next co-op may be in an IT firm and you realize its more your kind of work and the next co-op you try marketing within IT sector and feel this is exactly what you wanted to do! Apart from co-op, there seemed to be a lot of emphasis on global summer programs and all students seemed to have great experiences.

I checked on athletics and men’s soccer seems popular – there are options of playing at various levels – Division 1 or intermural or varsity or club or even just for fun! Recruitment is possible even mid-term if you try out and get selected. Winters are a hindrance to playing outdoors but there are indoor practice areas. In fact, indoor sports facilities were fantastic with very huge recreation/ sports centers, indoor pools, courts etc.

We visited residence halls – the buildings were somewhat old and disappointing from inside and rooms had 2 students each in the freshmen year but for upper class onwards the accommodation seemed quite nice. There is a swanky international village which is a building for housing for only honor’s freshmen and upper class students. Dining halls seemed pretty good although the Indian students seemed sick of burgers, pizzas, pastas and were actually waiting to go home and have dal subzi (if that’s ever possible!). In their second year, some students move out of the campus and share apartments close by. There are great places close to campus fully equipped for students. What I did hear though is that the cost of living in Boston is very high – it’s an expensive city and eating out, shopping etc. can be a big dent on the pocket for parents earning in Indian Rupees!

In terms of overall location, campus is around 20 minutes from the airport – it is bang on Huntington Avenue, right next to the Newsberry and Boylston Street (like a smaller version of Oxford Street in London). There are four other college campuses in the vicinity including BU.  Around 45 minutes away is another cluster of colleges like Babson etc and around 20 minutes away is MIT, Harvard etc. Apparently, students from these campuses hang out in the same bars/ streets on weekends and the networking opportunity to meet and make friends with kids from all over is certainly there.

Boston seems like an exciting city with a lot happening, culturally, professionally – proximity to New York is also an advantage. The downside, however is the lower ranking, overall reputation in the US. The weather with snow and -15 in winters (October to April) and strong windchill could be tough to manage. Mid April was supposed to be spring but it was 12 degrees and freezing!

Pros: coop system and proximity to other colleges

Cons: weather and ranking