Though just a mile and a half from downtown Nashville, Vanderbilt University's 330-acre campus boasts thousands of trees (and its own arboretum) as well as a residential feel with its spacious greens and many residence halls, which house some 90 percent of the school's 6,800 undergraduates.
"You get the culture and everything that's going on, but you're not stifled" by the city, says senior Chris Honiball, of Naples, Fla.
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One hallmark of the Vanderbilt experience is the Martha Rivers Ingram Commons, a network of 10 freshman residence halls grouped around several open quads. Each building contains classrooms, and there are shared dining and workout facilities.
These living-learning communities vary in size and style. For example, the refurbished East House, with its classical white-column exterior, houses 100 students, while the more recently built Hank Ingram House holds almost 300.
Each residence also has a live-in faculty member who resides with his or her family. Students credit the Commons with helping them develop a strong sense of community.
Each year all the houses compete for the Commons Cup, awarded to the group earning the most combined points for academic achievement, community service, energy conservation, and intramural sports. Over the next two years, the university plans to build two similar living-learning halls for upperclassmen.
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Admission to Vanderbilt is highly competitive. Only about 16 percent of the 24,800 undergraduate applicants received an offer for fall 2011. Tuition and fees in 2012-2013 will run about $42,100, with room and board adding roughly $13,800.
To participate in one of the school's 67 undergraduate degree programs, most students enroll in the College of Arts and Science, but a number also take courses at the engineering school, the Blair School of Music, and Peabody College of Education and Human Development.
Students say the university's size (12,900 undergrad and grad) feels about right and that the 8-to-1 student-faculty ratio allows for one-on-one relationships with professors. There are also plenty of research opportunities for enterprising undergrads.
The workload at Vanderbilt is substantial, students note, but "we like to have as much fun as possible," says senior Ryan Blatt, of White Plains, N.Y. About 40 percent of students join fraternities or sororities.
"You can't come to this school and think it's not a big deal," says junior Shannon Crosby, of Westchester, N.Y. But students say they don't feel pressured to be part of the Greek system and appreciate the school's 350-plus organizations, including mock trial and moot court competitions, minority student associations, and a cappella groups. The Division I Commodores are also well supported.
Off campus, many students take time to enjoy the restaurants and shops in Nashville's nearby Hillsboro Village neighborhood or venture deeper into downtown "Music City" for a performance at the city's legendary Ryman Auditorium, to sample a classical music venue, or to check out the storied country and honky-tonk scene.
Some wish the school could shake its reputation as a rich, preppy, homogeneous place, a perception that may be changing. Minorities now represent slightly more than a quarter of the undergraduate population and just 37 percent of students hail from Southern states. These changes, students say, contribute to an atmosphere that is inviting to all.
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