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Articles / Applying to College / Less-Than-Beautiful College Campuses

Less-Than-Beautiful College Campuses

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Aug. 5, 2014

Have you done any college campus visits yet? Many high school juniors — even sophomores — and especially seniors use the summer to travel to the schools to which they're thinking about applying. Prior to visiting, thanks to the mail bombardment most colleges unleash on high school prospects, most colleges appear to be quite gorgeous. Those expensive, glossy, full-color brochures tout their respective institutions' images with unabashed glitz.

Have you ever noticed that a lot of them seem very much alike? If visitors from another solar system came to Earth and found a bunch of these slick marketing pieces, they would no doubt report back to home base that America's higher-education institutions have the following characteristics:

  • students are tall and thin; they dress smartly and smile frequently
  • most colleges and universities are located in “Sun-belt" areas where clouds are rare
  • classes are small and seminar-like and held on lush, green lawns
  • a beautiful lake is the visual center of most campuses; ducks and geese abound
  • the architectural theme is “Gorgeous Gothic" with spires and arches galore
  • and so forth and so on.

See where this is headed? The bottom line: Don't judge a college by its brochure. You must gather first-hand intelligence about the schools on your list by actually visiting. You must trod the sod to see what a college is really like!

Perhaps the most misleading impression that you might get about a prospective school is that one particular bullet point above that says:

– the architectural theme is “Gorgeous Gothic" with spires and arches galore

The truth may actually be more like “Sixties Reinforced Bomb Shelter Concrete." Which brings us to the point of my article: Ugly American College Campuses.

There are a number of “Ugly College" articles out there, but I stumbled upon one that is vying for premier status: The Daily Caller Presents: The Definitive List Of The 17 Ugliest College Campuses In America. Let's take a look at a few of the “sad seventeen," along with excerpts from the sometimes hilarious Daily Caller comments (and BroBible). Let this serve as fair warning to those of you who may have some of these schools on your list but have not yet have visited.

Boston University

Few universities located in big cities are much to write home about, but there is arguably nothing about Boston University that is aesthetically pleasing. Not for nothing does BU also stand for “big and ugly."

Even the folks at BroBible agree: “… The campus is rather enormous and takes up a number of stops on the T, but doesn't necessarily make anybody drop dead with awe. It's just kind of there, like a your very vocal Uncle. A much larger presence than it probably should be, and annoyingly in-your-face. …"

Carnegie Mellon University

The admissions people at Carnegie Mellon can hoodwink you with some pictures of pretty buildings on this campus. Do not be fooled. Too many CMU buildings are hideous. Some are ominous and bordering on inhumanely totalitarian.

BroBible: “Common reaction to a first time CMU visitor: “Boy, Hamerschlag Hall sure is one stately looking building!" Then you remember you're in Pittsburgh, where the architectural modus operandi is to make everything look like a turn-of-the-century train station. At CMU, there is still a sense of decorum in designing a campus like a 19th century industrialist would. …"

Drexel University

The atmosphere on Drexel's campus ranges from dreary to very dreary. There is little in the way of grass. And then there's the surrounding awfulness of Philadelphia.

BroBible: “Existing in the drab West Philly hellscape (the same one Fresh Prince ran away from and never came back to) a stone's throw away from 30th Street Station, Drexel is Philly's redheaded stepchild institute of higher education … Fortunately the school is finally getting around to upgrading it's architecture from that of an Eastern Bloc country … If there's a tree or blade of grass in a 10-block radius of what Drexel calls home, we've never seen it."

Brandeis University

Boring modernist rectangles proliferate on this mostly post-World War II era monstrosity of a campus. There's also a weird-looking castle-like thing.

BroBible: “It's just kind of all over the place–you have these modern looking buildings, you've got a bunch of multi-colored brick [expletive deleted], and you've got a castle. It's almost like they decided to put the whole campus in a blender, but forgot to turn the thing on. Says Complex Magazine, 'Planes of brick that slice into glass walls never really struck gold as an architectural trend.'"

Rutgers University

Rutgers is a huge, spread-out campus and some niches of it are quite pretty. However, haphazard design, an utter lack of coherence, and too many unsightly buildings add up to a depressing whole.

BroBible: “… do you enjoy living in dorms that look like VA Hospitals? No thanks. Parts of the campus are parking lots as big as oceans, which is fitting since it is New Jersey. …"


That's just a sampling of the ugliest campuses, seen through the eyes of Daily Caller and BroBible. But don't just take their word for it. Check out College Confidential's discussion forum for this thread: Ugliest Campus. A few highlights:

– Drexel University has a pretty crappy campus. I visited there a few times and didn't like the area too much at all. School wasn't bad at all, but the area was an eyesore.

– Brandeis..can you say “EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!"

– i thought about applying to carnegie mellon…until i saw the campus…

The entire campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago is built in a style of architecture called Brutalism. It's a concrete jungle, there's very little grass on campus. It's a pretty ugly campus.

Drexel Drexel Drexel

Well, you get the idea. Trod the sod before you give the nod!


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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