Brandeis and your child choosing a college -from a parent

My son is attending Brandeis and is a freshman for 2019/20.

The campus -at least for me -is decidedly uninspiring. This is a mish mash of mid century modern movement buildings with an underwhelming, boring character on a gently sloped campus. Parents, if you want to send a photo of the school your child is attending to impress that relative you are in an unhealthy competition with, this is most definitely not the school for you. Throw away any ideas of grand academic ivy covered neo-classical architecture replete with immaculately coiffed green lawns -and say hello to the humble brick and concrete facade…

At least for the freshman class, accommodation is at best basic with painted concrete block walls -and that’s the inside. In fact, you are more than likely going to find better and far more luxorious accommodation at your local state school. Remember the windows of your old High school before it got rebuilt? Yes, that’s what the windows are like.

But… this can cut both ways. This is either a school that charges ridiculously high tuition, then cuts and runs laughing all the way to the bank, or is a school that applies more of its budget on academic matters and faculty. Everyone has their own opinion of this, but I will say after talking with my son, I tend to believe more the latter (though it still wouldn’t surprise me if there was a bit of the former too, money is hard to turn down after all). From talking with my son, academics do seem to matter at this place.

This brings me nicely to the social scene: this, as far as I can tell -and experienced
-is not a party school. When I dropped off my son one Saturday night at campus (he lives in the dorms), I was rather shocked to hear the deafening sound of… silence.

“Hey, it’s a Saturday night!” I said, looking rather expectantly at my son. “Any of those wild late night parties?”.

“Daaaaddddd” replied my son. “I’m going to the library with the other kids to study” (cue teenage eye roll).

“Oh, OK” (cue parental eye roll).

Yes. I’m a parent dying for his son to socialize, maybe go a little wild (whoahh, hold on, not too wild) and here he was at a quiet campus on a Saturday night talking about going to the library (geez, things have changed since my time). Now, of course, like anything else, I’m sure there are places to go -after all, teenagers are teenagers and college students are college students, but this is my anecdote and you get the gist. The town of Waltham doesn’t do any favors here either; it’s not a cozy quintessential New England college town but rather a more gritty working class place with little “college” feel.

While we are at it: parents, also forget tipping your “Brandeis Bulldogs Football” team baseball cap, or donning the “Brandeis Ice Bullies” oversize ice hocky jersey. This isn’t a sports crazy university and does not place emphasis on it. If you are looking forward to that big college football rivalry and putting on face paint and yelling insults about the mascots to the opposing team, well, forget it. Again, this can cut both ways and may show priorities.

By now, I’m sure some of you who have made it this far are smiling faintly and thinking “this guy really doesn’t think much of Brandeis…”. Well, errr, actually no. Far from it.

My son does have an active social life, and he’s made some great friends. He really loves the academic challenges of the school as well as the really good (really good he tells me) experiences with the professors who make the content interesting. He has used the “Branvan” to go into Boston, and attends The Stein, the “pub” on campus and is in various clubs. I think this is the place for him -and this really is of the utmost importance.

So why do I like Brandeis? Here’s the rub: I know my son, and I think this school is the right fit. Don’t get me wrong, I preferred other schools over Brandeis for various reasons, but this is where -fingers crossed -where he fits. The schools I preferred were the schools I would have liked to have gone to, not the schools my son wanted to go to (parents, make note!). I’m impressed with the focus on academics, the academic rigor and the lack of focus on sports, the overall academic reputation, more intimate campus feel, but most of all it being that right fit. I’m not impressed with the campus look or the accommodation. I’m somewhat indifferent to the location -easy access to Boston and the fact there is at least a town close by counts for something, even if not ideal.

Lastly, I have to comment about the “intangibles”. Your child has to fit that college, and that college has to fit your child. I consider my son to be serious about academics, motivated, curious and most of all disciplined but at the same time very sociable (no, really!). If you are lucky, you’ll get that “fit” feeling early in the process. No matter which college your child goes to, there is absolutely no guarantee they will meet other kids they just “click” with. Within reason this is something a college has absolutely nothing to do with -you just cannot measure personal chemistry. Additionally, from a social perspective there is no doubt Brandeis has a less than stellar social reputation. I will, however, say there are clubs and I truly believe you make your social life what it is. I’m not making excuses here (I feel like I’ve accurately portrayed Brandeis, warts and all), but I do wonder if part of this reputation is due to the kids who really like to party when they disappointingly find out it just isn’t party central. Being social and having a good social scene isn’t just about partying (can’t believe I just wrote that).

Well, there you have it. Congratulations if you made it this far. Remember there is a college for every student (or a college very willing to take your money!).

1 Like

I love the view of the Boston skyline from the new dorm! While it doesn’t show the campus per se, I think they is a mighty nice site to see. Just my opinion.

D loved Brandeis! I think it was number 2 or 3 on her list but she got in ED at her first choice and had to withdraw her app the other day.

I liked the Brandeis campus - the freshman dorms were definitely not impressive, but I thought it had some nice open outdoor spaces.

We will see what happens… their merit aid is not the best, and we are full pay. D20 is a very practical kid, and I believe she will make a choice that makes sense for us financially.

I know a number of parents who loved Brandeis for their kids, and for reason you related, kids didn’t go for it even with merit dollars in play. It’s not the right school for many students, I believe. More so than most schools in its category.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am doing research on colleges for my kid. This is really helpful :slight_smile:

Great description of a great school!

The valedictorian from our local high school’s class of 2018 attends Brandeis.

As some admissions materials note, at Brandeis “you don’t have to choose” between the small classes and intimacy of a small college and the top-flight research of a top-tier research university. Brandeis has both.

Moreover, Brandeis is incredibly special because no one religion has a majority (i.e.,over 50%) on campus. It is the only fully secular, never-religiously-affiliated college in the United States that does not have a Christian majority.

When there was a quota system against Jews at the Ivies, Brandeis was created for the purpose of creating a top college that would admit people regardless of their backgrounds.

The architecture at Brandeis even symbolizes fair treatment of people with all religious backgrounds, with three different religions’ places of worship on campus built so that none of the three ever casts a shadow on the others.

Finally, Brandeis admits a higher percentage of applicants than other colleges where the average test scores are as high as they are at Brandeis.

I’d like to echo OP’s essential points. For those of you choosing now between Brandeis and other schools or for those starting the process for next year’s round of applications, there is something special about Brandeis. My kid also loves the combination of rigorous academics, friendly, tolerant community and – to be honest – the campus! Let’s start with the campus–as there are mixed views on it. It’s a hilly, 235 acre campus close to Boston. It’s not at all gothic, nor is it the typical New England campus–it represents its era. It has an open feel, with a good mix of open space and facilities. Dorms are fine! The campus flourishes as you would expect in the New England fall and in spring, is nicely landscaped with lots of blooming flowers and views of Boston from the hilltops. So, it isn’t classically lovely, but neither is it intimidating or off-putting. It’s honestly welcoming. It’s walkable, knowable, and creates a sense of envelopment for students who choose not to get lost in a larger campus. Academics are superior. If your kid wants to step into the classroom and be challenged yet also known, this is the place. As @TheGreyKing noted, “it admits a higher percentage of applicants than other colleges where the average test scores are as high as they are at Brandeis.” This is so true. This is a school for top students who are specific fits == they are serious about their studies and they also have a particular commitment or passion for something that is uniquely them. And that fit is very well identified by the admissions committee. The Brandeis student is recognizable–open minded, studious, true to themselves, capable of accomplishing what they care about. The website Niche has many of the Brandeis students choosing the top descriptor for the Brandeis student as “quirky.” Well, what is quirky? It is a kid who follows their own interests, is not captured by just one worldview, and is relieved and happy to discover in college that they are not alone. We love Brandeis.