Monday, February 15, 2010

Orange and Apples: University of Chicago

This year, applications to Princeton increased by a whopping 19%, however the University of Chicago greatly exceeded that, with a 42% in applications. How do these two schools compare once students make it through the doors? Carolyn Pichert '05, a master's student of International Relations and Public Policy at the University of Chicago, compares the two schools.

I like to say I got the best of both worlds when Princeton became an opportunity for my undergraduate education and the University of Chicago became an opportunity for my graduate education. As a tour guide at Princeton, I would tell visitors about the “undergraduate-focused” campus and experience that Princeton purposefully provided. In contrast, at Chicago, graduate students outnumber the undergrads, and certainly in many senses it is a grad student-centric campus. I think that both provide phenomenal educational experiences and networks to undergraduates and graduate students when they graduate.

I also made it a point to say to prospective students that they would likely have a great time at college no matter where they went, and that the most important thing is to find the best fit between the student and the school. For me, Princeton was a much better match at the time I attended than the University of Chicago would have been. In retrospect, I probably would have become an even more academically oriented person had I attended Chicago as an undergrad.

One asset that the University of Chicago has, in my opinion, is its diverse and urban campus. Chicago has a ton to offer as a city, and in this economic climate, more opportunities for jobs and internships, according to a recent article in Forbes magazine, than New York. Chicago is a place you can choose to stay after school is over, whereas not many choose or find a way to stay in Princeton, N.J.

As a grad student, I found professors at the University of Chicago to be as accessible as those at Princeton were to undergraduates. Only once did a Chicago professor offhandedly note that he had heard that Princeton undergraduates were not as intellectual and academically talented as the brilliant Chicago undergraduates. I think whether they are accessible to the undergrads at Chicago or not, the professors are, it seems, for the most part proud of the undergraduates’ abilities and reputations. As I recall, Princeton professors thought highly of most Princeton undergrads as well.

The University of Chicago's campus culture is probably more intellectual, on the whole, than Princeton’s. However, I know people who were undergrad athletes and improvisers at Chicago as well as incredibly intellectual Princetonians. Both universities benefit from having a large enough applicant pool that they can easily select well-rounded student bodies. Sometimes it seems like the University of Chicago prides itself on selecting the most unique and academic among applicants. (The unofficial campus slogan: “The place where fun comes to die.” The T-shirt seen at the student center: “Where the squirrels are more aggressive than the guys.”) But obviously someone has a sense of humor about it. I am personally a big believer that in many ways you can find your niche at almost any college campus as long as you are determined to learn, enjoy yourself and maintain a balance. For me, Princeton was the place where I felt I would be best equipped to find that balance, though I do think it's possible most places.

I do not know what the networking opportunities are for Chicago undergrads. As a grad student, I have found the job network somewhat Chicago-centric, which is fine with me because I wanted to stay here. Princeton’s various networks, funds (like the Class of 1969 Community Service Fund) and nonprofits (like Princeton in Africa) provided me with two internships and one post-graduation job. These Princeton programs are of immeasurable value to me personally and professionally. Since I do not know what the University of Chicago offers, I cannot make a full comparison, but the opportunities I received from Princeton will make me forever grateful, and unable to contemplate making a different choice almost 10 years ago.

If you're a former Tiger who is now pursuing graduate studies elsewhere or a Princeton grad student who attended undergrad outside the Orange Bubble and would like to contribute a comparison send an email to