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!).