Maryland College Road Trip: University of Maryland

Learn what it's like to attend this school in College Park, Md.

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A student pats the nose of Testudo, the official mascot of the University of Maryland.

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With stately Georgian academic buildings and high-rise residence halls, cultural events in Hornbake Plaza, and students milling about the grassy, oak-lined McKeldin Mall and the shopping mall-like Stamp Student Union, the University of Maryland overflows with diverse experiences at its 1,250-acre campus in College Park. The flagship of the state's public university system brings together nearly 26,800 undergraduates and 10,800 graduate students and is located about 10 miles northeast of downtown Washington, D.C.

At UMD, undergraduates can select from more than 100 majors and participate in more than 800 student organizations. The population is diverse, too, with students of color comprising more than a third of the undergraduates, international enrollees hailing from more than 130 countries, and about 25 percent coming from states other than Maryland.

In addition to about $9,900 in room and board, in-state students pay $8,900 in tuition and fees, while those from outside Maryland pay $27,300.

[Get tips and expert advice on how to pay for college.]

The school "is huge, and there is every opportunity you could possibly imagine available," says recent graduate Traci Siegel, of Harrisburg, Pa. "But when you need to make it smaller, you can."

One way that happens is through the school's 15 living-learning programs, where honors students or those interested in a certain field are housed together, take special smaller classes and seminars, and collaborate on projects. Budding business leaders might be attracted by the entrepreneurship and innovation program, for instance, and prospective scholars across disciplines can participate in the Gemstone program, where students work with faculty members and in teams on intensive research projects, often related to science and technology.

Around campus, academic halls offer seemingly every type of classroom, from large lecture halls to more spartan seminar settings. The student-faculty ratio is 18 to 1, and many students say that until undergrads reach smaller upper-level courses, they must make an extra effort to get to know their professors.

"Freshman and sophomore year you are going to be in some bigger classes," says senior James Gray, of Philadelphia. UMD is known for its strong programs in business, journalism, politics, criminology, and engineering, but enrollment is limited, so students must apply to those departments to participate. "To succeed here, I think you do have to have that personal drive," says recent graduate Priyanka Gokhale, from Germantown, Md.

Getting around campus can sometimes be a hike and parking is a pain, students say, but bikes are an easy mode of transit, and the school operates a free shuttle service that travels to various destinations around the university.

Safety is a concern for some, particularly in light of the occasional crime alerts from university police. But students generally say they feel very comfortable on campus, since public safety officers are a visible presence and offer a 24-hour escort service.

[Learn how to stay safe on college campuses.]

Admission to UMD is fairly competitive, with only about 45 percent of the 2011 freshman applicant class earning acceptance letters. Once enrolled, nearly all freshmen live on campus, but upperclassmen tend to find housing in the surrounding community. To accommodate more students, the university added a dorm last year and more housing is under construction.

The university benefits from its proximity to Washington, which can be reached quickly by car or subway. Many students are able to secure internships with businesses, government agencies, nonprofits, or other organizations in and around the city. Or they simply visit to sightsee or enjoy the nightlife.

On campus, there are plenty of options for food. Students also rave about many of UMD's facilities, such as the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and the Eppley Recreation Center, which includes two gyms, multiple indoor and outdoor pools, and martial arts and aerobics studios.