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National Merit Options: Florida schools, U Alabama, or UT Dallas

FloridaMarcusFloridaMarcus 16 replies2 threads Junior Member
Hi. I am new to this forum and would appreciate insights from parents and students regarding my 2020 son, a NM semifinalist and hopeful finalist.

One note is that we are pretty familiar with the scholarship packages of each school.

My son plans to study some combination of math/finance/economics and is tentatively aiming to pursue a PhD at a big name university in the US or UK to eventually become a professor.

He loves sports and grew up an Alabama fan because of family but thinks he wants a 'no nonsense' college experience which is part of the reason that UT Dallas seems attractive.

Right now he strongly prefers to attend college outside of Florida but is at least open to staying in state. We have already visited Alabama, tentatively plan to attend a NM preview day at UT Dallas in the spring, and will likely visit FSU and UF at some point.

I welcome general thoughts and opinions but also have a few specific questions:

1) What is the environment like at UT Dallas? Pretty 'nerdy' with almost everyone focused on academics?

2) Does the party/greek scene at Alabama dominate the overall culture of campus?

3) Above and beyond the simple demographic data for Bama and UT Dallas, how different are these schools that are otherwise ranked pretty equally?

Thanks.
29 replies
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Replies to: National Merit Options: Florida schools, U Alabama, or UT Dallas

  • itsgettingreal17itsgettingreal17 4110 replies28 threads Senior Member
    If your son loves sports and is looking for a school where school spirit is high, UTD is not the school for him.
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  • ReebtoorReebtoor 287 replies3 threads Junior Member
    Is he looking for nerdy peers or for a party/sportsy environment?
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  • FloridaMarcusFloridaMarcus 16 replies2 threads Junior Member
    Thanks for the reply. He is saying that he wants to approach college as 'business' more than 'pleasure' and he can be put off by wild environments (which he observed on a Bama football weekend earlier this fall) but I wonder if he might become a recluse at a place like UTD and get bored maybe. And I think he could have a biased perspective about large/old/public universities as being 'party central' which would annoy him. And the diversity at UTD on paper at least seems attractive to him.
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  • Momof3BMomof3B 410 replies6 threads Member
    He won’t get bored or become a recluse at UTD, it’s a pretty vibrant/active campus, despite not having football or a big sports culture. I’m a born and raised native Dallasite and have had a front row seat to the evolution from when they opened up to undergraduate degrees in the 90’s to now. The old, boring UTD of yeasteryear is no more! I’ve had a big number of kids from my family graduate from UTD (cousins, my nephew, family friends) and no one has called it boring.

    My son is a junior in high school right now and we would be thrilled if he decides to stay at home and go to UTD but he wants to leave town lol.
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  • GTAustinGTAustin 1238 replies9 threads Senior Member
    My daughter is at UTD completing her fourth year there on the NM scholarship. She will graduate with a masters and 2 minors. She has traveled abroad 3 times, she has participated in 2 sports, been president and other officer positions on 3 to 4 different clubs, has been involved with UTD radio with free concert tickets, has gotten involved in the community, has had 2 well paying internships (one in Dallas, one in Austin) and has a good job offer in hand upon graduation. She has not missed football and is busy every weekend. It does help that she has a car there. She does like the diversity at UTD. She will be visiting a friend in India next summer and her roommate speaks 5 languages.

    UTD is not the traditional college experience centered around football and the Greek system. UTD does has the Greek system but it seems very mature compared to the stories I read about other universities. UTD allows you to explore what interests you and doesn't promote the drinking/partying cultures that dominate other campuses.

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  • FloridaMarcusFloridaMarcus 16 replies2 threads Junior Member
    GTAustin:
    Thanks for the reply. UTD is definitely a strong option and where my son is leaning. Your daughter graduating in 4 years with 2 minors, a master's, and 3 study abroad experiences is wow! My son can transfer almost 60 credits into UTD according to a preliminary evaluation and so earning a master's degree is on his radar for sure. For the study abroad, did your daughter do one or more of those trips during a fall or spring semester, or just summer? And one thing I am not yet clear on is how much of a study abroad experience can be covered by the tuition part of the scholarship vs. having to come from the study abroad stipend or personal resources. Any reaction would be appreciated.
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  • Momof3BMomof3B 410 replies6 threads Member
    @FloridaMarcus one of my extended family members who is a junior at UTD is currently doing a semester abroad in Munich, Germany. I know he received the highest level of AES (full tuition covered plus the $4000 stipend.
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  • BingeWatcherBingeWatcher 984 replies7 threads Member
    edited November 2019
    @3scoutsmom has one son there on NMF and a HS SR son will be there on NMF! Nothing but love for UTD! I would be very happy if my D picked UTD. Her Dad graduated there and went to medical school. He, too would love for her to go there, but she wants a Rah, Rah school although, she is not rah rah at all.
    edited November 2019
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  • GTAustinGTAustin 1238 replies9 threads Senior Member
    @FloridaMarcus , My daughter did her first study abroad during the summer after her freshman year. She spent 6 weeks in Florence studying fine art, even though she was a CS major. That basically spent her NM study abroad stipend. She then spent a month in Peru during Christmas which she paid for herself using money she had earned thru an internship. It was thru Proyecto Peru and only cost $2000 including airfare - I highly recommend it . She studied Spanish and volunteered on an organic farm as well as traveled all over Peru. She then spent 2 weeks traveling thru Europe with a friend, not really study abroad but travel abroad and again she paid using money earned thru internships. She did get credit for the Florence trip, the other 2 were just adventures. All of this was possible because of the NM scholarship. Its been a great journey for her.
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  • FloridaMarcusFloridaMarcus 16 replies2 threads Junior Member
    Thanks.
    Regarding internships, can you speak to whether most or all are in the Dallas area or more widespread?
    And do you know if you can use scholarship money for summer enrollment or only for fall and spring semesters?
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  • FloridaMarcusFloridaMarcus 16 replies2 threads Junior Member
    Does UTD feel less and less like a commuter campus now?
    And how accessible is public transit from campus, and my son had a bike on campus could he safely and easily ride to shopping areas off campus?
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 83346 replies741 threads Senior Member
    edited November 2019
    Does UTD feel less and less like a commuter campus now?

    https://www.utdallas.edu/ospa/files/CDS_2018-2019_Final.pdf (section F1) says that 54% of frosh at UT Dallas live in campus housing. At most campuses, this is a proxy for how residential the campus is, since most residential frosh live in campus housing (i.e. these numbers suggest a little over half residential, a little under half commuter).

    However, this may be misleading at campuses where off-campus dorms are a common option for frosh, or there is insufficient on-campus housing for frosh who want it, so you may want to ask those more familiar with UT Dallas if either is the case.
    edited November 2019
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  • GTAustinGTAustin 1238 replies9 threads Senior Member
    as @ucbalumnus says, there are thousands of freshman that live on campus as well as upperclassmen. They do have 4 or 5 large dorms for freshman with really great rooms. After freshman year, there are on campus apartments to move to. As a NM Scholar, you do want to stay on campus because you get an additional $3000/stipend per year. You do get first pick at all on campus housing.

    Across the street, Northside has been built which includes apartments you can rent by the bedroom and there are restaurants on the first floor. This complex keeps enlarging every year. UTD does have a campus bus line that connects to the Dallas metro lines which include both bus and rail. The metro pass is free for students. The UTD bus line does go by numerous apartment complexes and off campus stores for the students. The rail line does go downtown and to the airport.

    Getting around the immediate area by bike does work. The area is flat but there is not official bike lanes. My daughter does do it and actually bikes to things in Plano. There is bike theft on campus so if you bring a good bike, bring a good lock.

    As far as a commuter feel, many of the students are from the area, many are not. Going there as a NM scholar, you will be living with students from all over the US and with families from all over the world. The best way to connect to the other students is by being friendly, and join, participate and initiate things. My daughter has joined and led clubs (sustainability, marketing, hacking, foreign languages), played sports (swimming, frisbee football, trains for half marathons), has a community garden plot, helps with honey bee hives on campus, writes reviews for UTD radio, leads NM school tours, as well as just as fun with her friends and does things throughout Dallas and the local area. The secret to UTD is to be involved in whatever interests you. They do have a good Greek system as well that is very social, is inclusive but less partying than other schools because they do not have houses.

    Sorry for the long answer. Have any other questions, let me know.
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  • GTAustinGTAustin 1238 replies9 threads Senior Member
    Sorry, I did not answer your question about internships. Many of the internships are in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Most of career fair participants are from that area. My daughter had her first internship in Dallas and that led to a second internship in Austin. She did not get her internships thru the career fair but thru linked in. This is the same for my daughter that went to Pitt. If you are planning on majoring in CS, the CS2 honors really helps in getting attention beyond Dallas. Much more of the hiring is being done on line. My oldest daughter did graduate from Pitt and is now working in Austin at IBM in their ExtremeBlue internship program. It is done on line. I would this assume this would also apply to other majors as well. Linked In is one of the first things they should do.
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  • BingeWatcherBingeWatcher 984 replies7 threads Member
    @GTAustin your daughters both sound wonderful. I always hear about finding jobs on Linked in but really don't understand how that works. Can you explain or PM and explain it. I think it would be helpful to us non savvy parents to know.
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  • ebh87ebh87 204 replies7 threads Junior Member
    GTAustin wrote: »
    . If you are planning on majoring in CS, the CS2 honors really helps in getting attention beyond Dallas. Much more of the hiring is being done on line. .

    I would also love to know more about finding jobs on Linked In.

    Also, do you think just doing regular CS instead of CS2 would put a student at a disadvantage in finding jobs and internships?
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  • bamamom2021bamamom2021 296 replies7 threads Member
    I can speak to UA as a parent of an honors student who is not a wild partier and who has the same majors that you son is interested in pursuing. Alabama has amazing school spirit but there is so much more than parties. While it was fun, we were a little shocked at our first tailgate football game. We are from another region where there is not as much open container, open drinking, etc. as we witnessed at Bama tents on the quad before home games. As you know as Alabama fans, the sports culture is so much more than partying. The games are electric and it permeates the campus beyond the Greek and parties. This is not just football, but all of the sports. Gymnastics is amazing, the basketball games are full of spirit, and several of the adaptive athletics teams are also the best in the nation. This school spirit extends to parents and families and as soon as you are there, you are part of the "bamaly". It is such a unique experience that you can't understand until you are a part of it. In our experience, Greek life seemed "big" for freshman but as soon as everyone gets involved in other areas of the campus it drops off for most. This is just a small part of the school.

    There is so much to do there. We are in the college search for our next right now and I don't think of Bama as a party school. For finance and economics there are two active co-ed business fraternities that hold networking events but also social events for their members. There are so many clubs and activities but for his interest he should look into CIMG, an investment group, and also the Investment Banking Academy. Both provide socialization while gaining unique and valuable experiences in his area of interest. UA offers amazing research opportunities for students and there is a mentoring program that pairs students with industry leaders which technology makes so easy to extend the reach. There are other award winning and ranked clubs like debate, mock trial, robotics, Circle K, international relations, model un, tons of outdoors clubs, and so much more. Many of these groups travel and compete all over the country. If any of these things interest him, I suggest he reaches out to members of those teams/organizations to get their take on the culture of the school. He can take his scholarship and use it to study abroad and expand his experiences. Some of students travel multiple semesters, while others don't want to leave campus and their activities there. These kids are finding their niche and excelling. They are loving their time there. The honors/NMF kids are typically coming in with so many credits that they could ALL graduate early. Most are taking these scholarships and using it to get their masters or adding on additional minors/concentrations so they don't need to leave Tuscaloosa any earlier then they need. They are loving their time there. The honors community is large and welcoming. There are so many OOS students that the entire school culture is different than any other large state flagships we have experienced. Everyone is welcome. You will find every type of interest represented.

    The internships that these students are landing are first rate. There are groups of students headed to San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, London and more for top tier summer internships with the best names in finance and banking. Most top students had next summer's internships lined up by the start or early in the fall semester. There is an investment banking seminar that UA hosts that brings in top speakers from all over. Students from so many other universities also attend. There are recruiting events on campus and the relationships built with mentors serves the students well in obtaining internships. The University of Alabama name is associated with winners and many interviews include some talk of football. Everyone has heard of UA. It is a way to get in the door and a way to be remembered in the sea of sameness in these institutions that seem to favor a small group of uber select legacy schools in recruitment. Once in the door, UA students stand out and do extremely well. Now there is a strong cohort of alums in all of the firms and they are actively recruiting more from UA. I can't speak to the other schools but we have nothing but great experiences and no regrets about Alabama.
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  • GTAustinGTAustin 1238 replies9 threads Senior Member
    I just called my daughter and she does have a Linked In profile but what she used to apply for jobs was Indeed.com or went directly to the companies web page and applied there. She used the career fair to find employers that she might want to work for and then applied directly to them. She also researched areas that she wanted to live, researched companies she wanted to work for and applied directly. It was a process based on her initiative.

    CS2 vs just CS - CS2 is the honors CS program at UTD. There is status attached to that. Since that program only accepts 30 students, the vast majority of CS students are not in it. The way to get noticed by the large tech companies is to participate and do well at hackathons, do private projects, and read the book Cracking the Coding Interview. It tells you what to expect and allows you to prepare for it. My daughter chose not to go high tech and her interviews were much more traditional with an emphasis on communication, team work, leadership skills in addition to technical skills. There is a ton of work out there for CS students both within high tech and corporate America. I have seen postings for help needed on the reddit forum. To stand out, you do need to do more than just go to class - hackathons and private projects are the best way to do it.
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  • GTAustinGTAustin 1238 replies9 threads Senior Member
    One more thing, there is another program at UTD that I wanted to highlight. It is the Clark Research program. If you are accepted into it, it allows you to get involved in research in the summer before your freshman year. It is open to many disciplines - engineering, CS, premed and I'm sure more. It is paid for by the school and includes room and board and I think the students get a stipend at the end. It is a great way to get involved in your major and looks great on a resume.
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  • CincoDadCincoDad 23 replies2 threads Junior Member
    My son is a NMSF and will likely attend UTD and join for the summer for Clark Research. He loved the environment, diversity, and the feel that everyone could just be themselves. He also liked the newer buildings and the dorms.
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