Founded in 1794, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville celebrates tradition. Atop a sloping bank known as "the Hill" are the red-brick, Gothic-inspired Ayres Hall and the school's oldest building, South College Hall, which offer panoramic views of the 560-acre campus.
The university's 21,100 undergraduates can choose from more than 70 degree programs across nine schools, including colleges of business, engineering, nursing, social work, and agricultural sciences. The university also houses about 6,300 graduate students.
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UT's campus is large and hilly, but easily traveled by foot, bike, or local transit systems. Modern facilities like the James A. Haslam II Business Building, completed in 2009 and filled with state-of-the-art computers and teleconferencing systems, sit alongside more venerable ones, like the unassuming red-brick Carolyn P. Brown Memorial University Center, a campus hub built in 1952. The center houses dining facilities; an auditorium for major gatherings, lectures, and films; meeting rooms; the university bookstore; and a bowling alley.
Some students say the center is a little cramped and could stand refurbishing, but the university has already begun building a replacement: a new student union. When completed in 2016, it will be at least 50 percent larger.
UT benefits by being located in Knoxville, a vibrant college town—population nearly 180,000—that regularly hosts festivals, concerts, and other cultural events. Restaurants, bars, and shops line Cumberland Avenue, locally known as "the Strip," which runs along the north edge of campus and is generally packed.
Sports are a major presence, and the school's Division I teams draw large crowds. The 102,400-seat Neyland Stadium sits near the Tennessee River, along the campus's sweeping southern border, and fans have been known to park their boats nearby to "sailgate" before games.
The university offers hundreds of extracurricular activities, including cultural and religious groups, theater and dance troupes, scuba diving and shooting clubs. Fraternities and sororities also have a presence as about 12 percent of undergraduates are members, while outdoor lovers can take advantage of the Great Smoky Mountains about 40 miles southeast.
As senior Blair West Kuykendall, of Atlanta, puts it, "There are a lot of different small groups that you can get plugged into. You can redefine yourself every year if you want to."
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Many students see UT's size as an asset in terms of academic offerings. Motivated undergrads can take advantage of various research opportunities to learn outside the classroom. For example, more than 200 students work each school year at nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which UT comanages in a partnership and which houses one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, the Kraken.
Because the often large freshman and sophomore classes can seem rather intimidating, UT breaks many down into smaller groups led by teaching assistants at least once a week. The university also offers a number of freshman seminars that are capped at 18 students.
Still, finding one's niche takes initiative. "I think if students don't kind of stick their hands up and ask for something, they could get lost," acknowledges recent graduate Mark Walker, from Oak Ridge.
About one third of UT students live on campus, with many others finding affordable housing options in the Fort Sanders neighborhood north of campus. Tuition and fees at UT run about $27,600 for out-of-state students and $9,100 for Tennessee residents, plus some $8,800 for room and board.
Since roughly 90 percent of undergraduates come from the state, sometimes it feels like "everyone here knew each other from high school," says Chelsee Gatchel, a sophomore from Chicago.
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