Wisconsin College Road Trip: Marquette University

Learn what it’s like to attend college in Milwaukee.

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If Goldilocks were looking for a college, Marquette University might be just right. The not-too-big, not-too-small school in midsize Milwaukee is home to roughly 8,000 undergraduate students and inhabits several blocks in the heart of this city of nearly 600,000.

"We really provide a balance," says Andy Schneider, assistant dean of undergraduate admissions. "You get the opportunities and the access to things academically and extracurricularly that you'd find at much larger schools," he notes, and "the attention that you'd find at much smaller schools."

Students are surrounded by sophisticated research facilities like the Integrative Neuroscience Research Center, for example, and are able to enjoy big-ticket athletics – the men's Golden Eagles basketball team attracts a rabid fan base – but they don't have to deal with feeling lost in large anonymous classes or on a sprawling campus.

The university is split across the center by Wisconsin Avenue; north of the divide sits the social and residential side of campus, home to residence halls and campus apartments and fraternity and sorority houses. Academics are contained on the south side.

[Consider the pros and cons of participating in Greek life.]

Cutting-edge nursing facilities and a $50 million state-of-the-art engineering hall stand alongside centuries-old St. Joan of Arc Chapel, which was transported brick-by-brick from France and eventually given to the Jesuit school as a gift and rebuilt on the school's quad.

The chapel still holds daily Mass – the most popular one being on Tuesday evenings, when close to 200 students pack into the tiny sanctuary. "It's definitely on everyone's bucket list to do before graduation," says recent graduate Elizabeth Johnson.

Also on the bucket list, according to students and alumni: Attend a basketball game, get pelted in the annual snowball fight and polish off a Double Sobelman with jalapenos from the neighborhood burger joint.

Active learning – through internships, volunteering and study abroad – is a Marquette staple, and part of the school's mission as a Jesuit institution.

Roughly 95 percent of undergraduates participate in service projects such as tutoring or mentoring local students; some professors integrate community service into their course requirements.

[See how community service can pay off with scholarships.]

Students are encouraged to complete at least one internship before graduating, and some go well beyond that mark. "I'm on my 11th internship," says Johnson, who managed to find work every semester and summer of her college career.

Practical experience happens inside the classroom, too. Engineering students had a hand in designing both the former and the new engineering halls.

The school is not inexpensive, but roughly 55 percent of Marquette undergraduates receive need-based scholarships or grants. The average award totals just over $12,000.

The university has an active social media presence, which parents and alumni have embraced as well as students. Marquette families use the school's social media channels to get help on issues large and small, says Andy Brodzeller, a Marquette alum and associate director of university communication.

He recalls a time when a mother posted that her daughter's car had broken down just when she needed it to get to a dentist appointment. A local mom offered her daughter's help, and when it turned out she was unavailable because of class, drove in and acted as chauffeur herself.

Looked at one way, that might count as overinvolved parenting. But those who live here see it as a sign of the Marquette difference.

More From the Wisconsin College Road Trip:

Beloit College

Lawrence University

University of Wisconsin—Madison

This story is excerpted from the U.S. News "Best Colleges 2014" guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.