Pacific Northwest College Road Trip: University of Washington

Want to know what it's like to attend this school in Seattle? Read on.

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A 10-foot-long wind tunnel, where air can blow up to 200 mph, hums in an unassuming brick building near the center of the University of Washington campus in northeast Seattle. NASA and Boeing have tested products here, as has cycling's Lance Armstrong. The wind tunnel's crew members? Undergraduate students who attend the school, known locally as "U-Dub."

The university receives the second highest amount of federal dollars for research in the country, according to the Center for Measuring University Performance at Arizona State University. In fact, one of every five of the almost 30,000 undergraduate students participated in projects during the 2009-10 academic year, says Janice DeCosmo, director of the Undergraduate Research Program and associate dean of undergraduate academic affairs.

Many of these projects involve cutting-edge science or new technology (like the development of a prosthetic titanium rib to help people with respiratory problems or a computerized contact lens that actually connects to the Internet), but others range from history to the digital arts.

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Founded 150 years ago, UW became one of the West Coast's first public universities. Everything on the 643-acre campus seems conceived on a generous scale, including the 72,500-seat Husky Stadium. Elegant brick buildings and cherry blossom trees mark the Liberal Arts Quad, and Suz­zallo Library, UW's Gothic "cathedral of higher learning," is a campus landmark.

About 150 majors are offered at UW, along with 700-plus clubs and student organizations. Undergraduates, however, are not necessarily assured of getting their major of choice. The most popular, including biochemistry, psychology, and engineering, are competitive and students must apply to be accepted into these programs.

Between classes, students mingle in the vibrant atmosphere of Seattle's University District, dotted with banks and bookstores, bars and boutiques. As one would expect in the city where Starbucks was founded, the area has many cafes and coffee shops that fill with students and their laptops in the late afternoons.

Those who crave the outdoors can row or kayak along the waterways off the campus's sweeping southern border or drive two hours out to Mount Rainier National Park to hike or ski. (Mount Rainier's peak can be seen from campus—at least for about a third of the time, when the often present clouds blow away.)

Since on-campus housing is not guaranteed, about one third of incoming freshmen find spots in town. The school is building more dorms, but plenty of Huskies enjoy living in neighborhoods around Seattle, though housing costs can vary. (Room and board on campus runs about $9,700.) In 2011-12, state budget cuts will lead to hikes in tuition and fees. In-state residents will pay $10,300, almost $2,000 more than last year. (Out-of-staters will pay about $27,800, which represents about a 10 percent increase.)

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Though the school often unites around its 19 varsity sports teams, Washington's huge size can be a little daunting. "I'm still learning about things that I have access to that I didn't know about," says senior Caitlin Donnelly of Snoqualmie Valley, Wash. To explore their options, freshmen and sophomores can meet with advisers in multiple disciplines to help them choose a course of study.

Still, students and faculty members agree that Huskies must take the initiative to navigate all that UW has to offer. "It really does push you to find your niche," says 2011 graduate Afton Tyler of Vancouver, Wash. Then "you have to make a point to make yourself stand out."

More From the Pacific Northwest College Road Trip:

Lewis & Clark College

Reed College

University of Oregon

Whitman College

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