Road Trip: University of Illinois-Chicago

We toured some of Chicago's top schools and found out what it's like to attend them.

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If you're looking for an affordable college that offers all the benefits of urban living, the University of Illinois-Chicago may be a good fit. UIC students cite the moderate cost of attendance and the university's proximity to downtown and other thriving neighborhoods as two main draws.

But if you're interested in a residential college experience, consider looking elsewhere. Many of the 25,000 students enrolled here are trying to save money and find it more affordable to live off campus with friends or family. Fewer than 20 percent of undergrads live in university housing. That makes for a sleepy campus.

"You don't come here for fraternities, sororities, or sports. If you do, you are out of luck," says Charlotte "Toby" Tate, dean of the university's College of Applied Health Sciences. "Go to a men's basketball game. If they didn't give away tickets to the area schools, we'd have no one in the stands."

Tate cites as the school's attraction the UIC mantra: "access to excellence." Students tend to agree. Murad Omery, a senior who is majoring in biological sciences, says the highlight of his undergraduate career was working with celebrated faculty members, including William Ayers, the professor of education whose 1960s radical activism briefly put him at the center of the 2008 presidential race. Ayers helped Omery with his research on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. "We disagreed on a lot of issues," Omery says. "But he taught me that you can be an advocate and stand for something while still engaging the situation as a scholar."

Omery has been able to distinguish himself from other UIC undergrads through the university's honors college, which connects ambitious undergrads with advisers who mentor them all four years. Students outside the honors college have to make more of an effort during office hours. Rogine Terrado, a sophomore who is undecided about a major, says that's tough to do when some of her introductory science classes have as many as 300 students in them. Last year, she couldn't muster up the courage to approach her professor after class, so her mother, who works at UIC, intervened. "I was having a hard time with chemistry and she was freaking out, so she made an appointment for me," Terrado says.

As for the absence of campus spirit, the university is trying to change that. It recently opened a student rec facility that features a large rock-climbing wall and a swimming pool with a lazy river. Some commuters appreciate the university's efforts, but they say they don't feel they miss out by not being on campus often. Their main concern is getting a degree without breaking the bank.

More About UIC

Plus factor: Look around you if you visit the Loop. One in 10 Chicagoans with a college degree is a UIC alum.
Undergrad enrollment, fall '08: 15,665
Est. annual cost, 2009-10: in state, $22,790; out of state, $35,180

Chicago Road Trip

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