Road Trip: the University of Colorado-Boulder

We toured four schools in the Centennial State and found out what it's like to attend them.

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Environmentalism is stamped all over the University of Colorado campus, right down to the light switches that remind students to save energy. Curbs are dotted with overstuffed bike racks, while the sidewalks are divided into three lanes: two for riders in each direction and another just for pedestrians.

CU's environmentalism is sincere and deeply institutional. Students and staff are quick to boast that the school's powerhouse Environmental Center was founded by students in 1970, six months before Richard Nixon set up the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and the campus lies within a neighborhood of alternative energy and climate change research, including the National Renewable Energy Lab and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Grass-roots efforts, however, rule the day. Students petitioned for cage-free eggs in the dining halls and got them. They jump-started a local- and slow-foods movement, and they are attempting to make the college's football stadium, which holds 53,000, completely waste free. Last year, students sorted through and channeled 80 percent of stadium waste to recycling and compost centers. Dave Newport, the Environmental Center's director, wants to take the football stadium approach and scale it up for the entire university. His vision? Greener lights, greener cars, and not a speck of trash.

Even with its green-leaning tendencies, CU is still pretty much what you'd imagine from a flagship state school. On a nice day—and there are plenty of them—expect to see a Hacky Sack game or drum circle, and don't be alarmed by the barrage of pitchmen on the prowl ("Any interest in the hiking club?" or "Have you found Jesus today?"). Boulder is the quintessential college town, its downtown within easy walking distance of the main campus. With more than 26,000 undergrads, CU is a huge school that can offer academic diversity, a robust athletics program, and, thanks to its size, a lot of choices.

Those options don't come without potential pitfalls. A large institution can be overwhelming for some, so the school does its best to help, replicating the small-school feel with its living-learning communities. "We're trying to mirror some of the experiences you can get from a private, small school," says Director of Admission Kevin MacLennan, "but with the resources of a research institution."

Living-learning communities aren't the only way to find direction. There are clubs, sports, and tight-knit degree programs, and with some self-motivation, finding a group of like-minded people isn't the issue. It's deciding which one you belong to.

More About Colorado

Plus factor: Instruments designed at the school for NASA have been launched to every planet in the solar system.
Undergrad enrollment, fall '08: 26,725
Est. annual cost, 2008-09: in state, $17,138; out of state, $34,796

Colorado Road Trip