Best Colleges of 2016 Revealed

As a proud graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I tend to keep an eye out each year for Princeton Review’s The Best 380 Colleges and other rankings as they are released. But, more on UMass later.

When it comes to the best universities and colleges, most people know that the Ivies typically fight for the top spots. But did you know that Princeton University only ranks 12th in students that study most? How about the fact that Kansas State University ranks fourth in happiest students? Or that the University of Puget Sound ranks 15th in “Birkenstock-Wearing, Tree-Hugging, Clove-Smoking Vegetarians,” while Stanford University ranks seventh in LGBTQ friendliness?

Here’s what we have to say about our own alma maters’ rankings.

Tanya’s Alma Mater: SUNY Binghamton

Photo courtesy of Alex Erde.

That’s about the thousandth time I’ve read, “best bang for your buck” in regards to Binghamton University. More, I can see that regurgitated descriptors like “SUNY of the Ivies” or “public Ivy” were yet again re-purposed–this time, into “Ivy League workload at a SUNY school price.” But that’s boring so we’ll move on.

I graduated from this school over seven years ago, so let’s see what’s changed. As far as demographics go, things appear pretty similar by the mostly “Jewish & from Long Island or Asian & from NYC” description. (I recall some not very-PC Facebook groups circa 2004 like “Not Jewish and not from Long Island.”) There were a large number of Turkish exchange students when I was an undergraduate but the write-up doesn’t mention that so I can’t tell if it is still the same.

I must say, according to the Princeton Review’s review, the campus fashion hasn’t evolved much. I suppose the style hasn’t devolved, either: it’s remained stagnant. I’ll never forget the swarming wintertime sea of students sporting Uggs, over-sized sunglasses, and North Face fleeces–a look that has apparently been replaced with “sweatpants or pajama pants and a sweatshirt.”

Beyond the suburban bubble of the state school campus, there’s the city, and I’m happy my favorite motto about it still persists: “Binghamton is the carousel capital of the world.”

Molly’s Alma Mater: Ithaca College

Photo by Molly Freeman.

The fact that Ithaca College placed second in Best College Radio Station, fifth in Best College Theater, and first in Reefer Madness in The Princeton Review for 2016 doesn’t surprise me.

As a journalism major, I went into IC with an eye to work for both the newspaper, The Ithacan, and the school’s alternative magazine, Buzzsaw. However, I wound up spending my four years dedicated to IC’s online-only radio station, VIC Radio (the little sister station to the local FM favorite, WICB).

Although I never expected to become as involved with Ithaca’s radio as I did, it was my favorite part of my college experience. Even my sophomore year when it was my responsibility to organize the 50 Hour Marathon event (two DJs stay up for 50 hours straight to raise money for a local organization), which became a mess of no sleep, a lot of emotions, coloring books, and diner food–but it was still a fun weekend spent with my best friends.

Plus, Ithaca College placing second for Best College Radio Station doesn’t surprise me since they place high on that list every year (it’s not bragging if it’s a fact!).

Jess’ Alma Mater: University of Colorado at Boulder

Photo courtesy of Chris.

No big shocker here–The University of Colorado at Boulder makes the top 10 list for “Reefer Madness.” Long before pot was legalized in the state, CU was widely recognized for its lax policies on smoking weed. I was born and raised in Boulder and every year since I can remember all the college kids and locals alike celebrating 4/20 by getting really stoned on one of the main campus lawns. It’s actually quite the sight to behold: thousands of people turn up and at 4:20 pm on the dot everyone takes a hit and blows it skyward; you can actually see the smoke mushrooming up to cover the city. The police are there only to make sure no one gets hurt, otherwise, they chill and chat with you while you get high as a kite.

CU also made the list for best college cities and, again, there’s no shocker there. Boulder is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in the country, and in the last five years it has become the Silicon Valley of the west. Twitter has one office there, Google opened one as well, and there’s been a steep rise of marketing and PR start-ups that have attracted thousands of new young residents. The major influx in city revenue spurred a swanky bar and restaurant scene that caters to the young and affluent. Then surrounding the college campus itself is an area known as The Hill, which houses most of the student population in gorgeous stone mansions turned dormitories. Oh the number of times I escaped a cop raid at a Hill party.

Aubrey’s Alma Mater: The George Washington University

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

According to The Princeton Review, The George Washington University ranks number one for Most Politically Active Students, surprising approximately no one, nowhere. But the coolest part about GW was that even if you weren’t politically oriented, you still had the opportunity to experience rallies, elections, votes, and protests up-close-and-personal.

When I tell people that my freshman dorm was four blocks from the White House, I really do mean four blocks from the White House. In the 2008 presidential election, I sat in a dorm room with 10 of my closest friends and watched on four screens as different media outlets officially projected the Barack Obama victory. Cheers erupted from rooms all up and down the hall. We knocked over our chairs and ran down to the dorm lobby, out onto the street, and without speaking, sprinted straight for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I expected to see mobs and news vans and reporters struggling to jostle their way through throngs of eager people. But when we rounded the corner to the White House, the street was vacant. Silent. We were literally the first people there. We looked at each other, winded and confused.

Several minutes passed, and other freshman from my dorm arrived in small packs. Then we heard it: the distant, rolling sound of many hundreds of voices shouting together, and in one of the most surreal moments of my life, I watched as thousands of people poured into the street from both sides, cheering, singing, sobbing, waving flags, lifting each other into the air. The cameras followed. Strangers hugged and danced and cried together. I have never witnessed a city’s social barriers melt so quickly.

The celebration in front of the White House lasted until sunrise. Thanks to GW, I’ll someday be able to tell my grandkids that their old, crazy grandmom was once cool and young, and that I lived on the front lines of a historical event. How many other schools give you that?

Dane’s Alma Mater: University of Massachusetts Amherst

Photo courtesy of Trace Meek.

When it comes to UMass, a handful of themes come to mind without having to look at the Princeton Review page. For one, choosing UMass was in large part due to how wowed I was by the food on campus. The dining halls are amazing and filled with tons of healthy options, and when I was there, the Campus Center and Student Union offered an array of great dishes from lobster bisque to gelato to build-your-own spicy curry soups. So, the only shocker here is that UMass ranked number two overall in Best Campus Food. Don’t worry, Bowdoin, we’re coming for you.

Aside from the food, UMass is also fairly green (21 overall in Top 50 Green Colleges). The dining halls use good quality reusable dishes and the Campus Center and Student Union were composting when I finished school. I hope they still are.

The school also ranked number nine overall on Least Accessible Professors, with which I have to agree. I became close with a number of my TAs, but I doubt most of my professors would recognize me on the street today. Still, they were great professors and it just speaks to the lecture sizes (as large as 470). The discussion sections are incredible, so no complaints from me.

I’m happy to just keep singing about the food. Oh, and did I mention that Jet Tila completed his famous world’s largest stir fry at UMass? Yeah, I ate it. It was damn good.

Feature photo courtesy of Phil Roeder.