University of Maryland gets right to the point, quantifying itself with data. Twelve colleges, 90 undergraduate majors and 4,447 total faculty. Seven libraries and at least 4 million books. Three gyms. Ranked 10th by Kiplingers for “best value” and #8 by Princeton Review among “entrepreneurial colleges.” More than 400 study-abroad programs and 19 Division 1 NCAA teams (two of which date back to the Civil War era). Forty-three percent “students of color,” including nearly 7,000 international students from 123 countries.
Based on what we saw during our visit, the student population is notably diverse, not only in terms of ethnicity but also type: everything from hipster to nerd to preppie to athlete and even some combinations thereof. Maryland prides itself on its inclusiveness, punctuated by a prominent and dramatic statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a Maryland native son.
Qualitatively, Maryland offers five adjectives to describe its students: Bold, Fun, Kind, Curious and Smart. This is good to keep in mind when you write your essay. Another keyword is “Fearless,” which certainly applies to any recent high school grad game enough to navigate a universe as large as the College Park campus. For starters, Maryland claims the largest collegiate mall in the United States, on a campus spanning some 1,335 acres. Yes, shuttle buses are running, bike racks are filled to capacity, and scooters are available. Walking is popular, too. The school’s large-scale format is its own fitness program.
As with every super-sized school, Maryland goes to great lengths to minimize its potential to overwhelm. As our tour guide put it, “You can make a big school small, but you can’t make a small school big.” Fewer than 10% of classes have more than 100 students, and the big lectures are divided into smaller discussion groups, led either by graduate students or undergrads who have earned an A in the class. Overall, the teacher-student ratio is about 18:1.
Maryland also offers the option to join a “Living & Learning” community, in which a group of first-year students with similar interests reside in the same dorm and take at least two courses together. To qualify, applicants must apply by the “early action” deadline of November 1st.
It’s also important to keep in mind that Maryland designates certain majors as “limited enrollment programs,” meaning they are more selective. These include journalism, psychology, computer science, natural sciences, engineering and business, among a total of about a dozen others. For some students, it may be advisable to apply as undecided to increase chances of admission.
Admissions criteria are holistic, taking some 26 factors into account, spanning academic, extra-curricular, geographic and other personal considerations. The school is selective, claiming typical SAT scores of admitted students between 1330 and 1470, or 30-34 on the ACT. It expects academic rigor, including high-school AP, IB and A-level courses. The admit rate is approximately 45%.
As big as it is, the university is still growing, with about 20 construction projects underway when we visited in early 2020. Dump trucks, cranes, backhoes and bright-orange barriers dot the campus. Among the projects is a renovation of the Admissions building, so be aware that information sessions and tours originate at the on-campus, four-star hotel, which funnily enough is called The Hotel. It’s very nice and no doubt a major plus for visiting parents.
Campus architecture is a mix of old-fashioned red brick and ultra-modern steel-and-glass, sometimes combined. The new Brendan Iribe Computer Science building is walls upon walls of glass, replete with hi-tech collaborative classrooms and maker-spaces. Its design is said to be informed by Silicon Valley, specifically Google, whose co-founder, Sergey Brin is an alum. So is Kevin Plank of Under Armour and Jim Henson of Muppets fame. Larry David, too. Pretty, pretty good.
Maryland’s cutting-edge proclivities are on full display with its biometric identification program, where students are admitted to dining halls with a scan of their hand. Its looming concrete football stadium is a monument to its school spirit (all games are free of charge to students). Its Xfinity Arena, which seats about 18,000, is the largest indoor stadium in Maryland.
The Stamp Student Center meanwhile boasts a bank of pool tables, a bowling alley, the campus bookstore and a full-blown food court. Its Eppley Recreation Center offers basketball, racquetball, squash and weight-training, as well as outdoor and indoor swimming pools (Olympic legends Michael Phelps and Katie Ladecki have trained there). That Maryland is located inside the Washington, DC Beltway and a relatively short hop to the nation’s capital is another major plus. It’s a connection that will feel even closer with the completion of a new campus Metro line.
Some may not feel a need to leave campus, given the 800-plus student organizations, which famously include not only a squirrel-watching club, but a squirrel-watching watching club. Definitely lots of squirrels on campus, although the official mascot is a diamondback turtle, more specifically a terrapin, or terp, known as Testudo. Terrapins are indigenous to the area. If you enroll, you’ll have to be comfortable being called a Terp.
A total of three Testudo statues can be found on campus, most prominently outside McKeldin Library on the massive university quad. Similar to many other schools, significant lore surrounds Testudo, especially that students rub its nose for good luck before exams. Another fun fact: Maryland is the only NCAA school to have four colors: red, white, black and gold.
It’s hard to imagine that the bustling thoroughfare now known as Route 1 in College Park, Maryland, was once a dirt road. Harder still that the University of Maryland, a sprawling yet somehow compact community of 30,000+ undergraduates and 250 buildings, began life as a tiny agricultural college with just a half-dozen students. The only palpable hint of this mid-19th century past is the on-campus dairy farm, and maybe the faintest whiff of manure on an unusually balmy day in early March.
The good news is that the school-made ice cream is killer, and better yet that only a university this large could crack open so many possibilities.