With an official name like the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, you might easily draw the wrong impression of Virginia's leading research institution.
Founded in 1872 as a public land-grant university, the school is imagined by plenty of people to be "a purely agricultural school," says professional writing major Katie Winand.
Instead, Virginia Tech has grown into a world-class institution offering 215 undergraduate and graduate degree programs and managing a research portfolio of $450 million.
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The school also offers myriad opportunities for service and research and maintains a strong sense of community.
The neo-Gothic architecture that graces the sprawling 2,600 acres in Blacksburg is expressed in Hokie Stone, limestone mined from a nearby university-owned quarry.
The town is dotted with art galleries, restaurants and outfitters serving anyone wanting to enjoy the hiking, fishing and kayaking of this region, which lies between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains.
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"We're a big university in a small-town setting," says Bill Hopkins, an ecotoxicologist and associate professor of wildlife. But it's one with a window open to the world.
Hopkins and other Tech professors have taken students to Ecuador to conduct supervised independent research and to learn about tropical ecology and conservation issues, in the Amazon and cloud forests, for example; more than 1,200 students go abroad each year through 200 programs in 60 countries.
The average high school GPA among the class of 2016 was 3.98, but "our goal is to admit as many students as possible," says Mildred Johnson, associate vice provost for enrollment management.
All told, Tech admits about 60 percent of applicants. White students make up 71 percent of the population; Asian students, 12 percent; Hispanics, 5 percent; and blacks, 3 percent.
More than 1,000 are members of Tech's Corps of Cadets. The university is one of a handful of institutions in the country with a senior military college, offering participants both a structured military-school experience and all the offerings of a big university.
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Virginia Tech gets high marks for preparing graduates to succeed on the job; internship placements abound.
Cameron Vaile, a senior English major from Richmond, interned at an advertising firm in his hometown last summer; Shannon Jagodinski, a 2013 mechanical engineering grad, held summer internships in equipment innovation at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., and in manufacturing and engineering at GE Aviation in Cincinnati.
An interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving is a Hokie value, starting with a requirement that every undergrad take about one-third of his or her courses from Tech's Curriculum for Liberal Education, which features writing, philosophy, cultural traditions, reasoning and human behavior.
Introductory classes can count hundreds of students, but the average class size is 45, and nearly all are taught by faculty.
Hokies are crazy about their sports, particularly football, and "intramural sports are big," says Vaile, who plays basketball, soccer and volleyball.
There is always something else to do, too, with more than 700 student clubs and organizations. Dorms tend to be judged as only satisfactory – most students live off campus after their first year – but the meal plan gets raves.
The campus is home to nearly a dozen food courts and dining halls, among them a teppanyaki grill and sushi bar and a wood-fired chargrill steakhouse. Says Jagodinski: "I honestly crave the food from school when I'm back home."
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This story is excerpted from the U.S. News "Best Colleges 2014" guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.