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  • Writer's pictureJessica Chermak, CEP, LPC

College Tour Highlights: Arizona

As college counselors, we are frequently asked how we stay up-to-date on all of the changing pieces in the college admission landscape. Families are often surprised to hear that a huge portion of our professional development involves visiting colleges, attending their information sessions, and participating in official campus tours. Unfortunately, we don’t get VIP passes to secret admission meetings. Still, we do get a thorough understanding of schools by participating in the same tours families and students have access to.

We recently traveled with the Rocky Mountain Association of College Admission Counseling (RMACAC) to visit four higher education institutions in Arizona. Here are our thoughts, observations, and insights!

Disclaimer: The highlights of our college visits below are by no means exhaustive or all-encompassing. These are just some thoughts and notes about our experiences on the particular day of our visit and some facts we feel make each institution stand out. Information is based on admissions presentations, discussions with student tour guides, and basic research from an institution's website.


University of Arizona

The first stop on our Arizona college tour trip was the University of Arizona (U of A) in Tucson. If you haven’t the opportunity to visit, or if you/your student winds up attending, I highly recommend trying to stay at the Graduate Hotel. It’s one of two hotels campus-adjacent, and it’s full of character (and has a rooftop pool!).

Built prior to Arizona becoming a state, U of A is the oldest institution in the state. At the time, the entire university (classrooms, cafeteria, offices, and dorms) were housed in Old Main, the building that currently houses the office of admissions and the office of the president. The school has since grown immensely, and now has a student population of over 50,000 (about 40,000 of those are undergraduate students). U of A is a Hispanic Serving Institution, and an R1 research institution, with an incredibly diverse population (about 47% of students identify as ethnically diverse).

As with most higher education institutions in the US, U of A touts (pre) business, engineering, physiological and medical sciences, and biology as their top majors. If a student is undecided, U of A provides an entire academic center (A Center) dedicated to helping students explore potential areas of interest. With over 150 majors to choose from, and a major exploration course offered through the A Center, all students are sure to find their place at U of A.

For particularly academically-inclined students who are interested in the amenities a large school has to offer, but prefers the less daunting community of smaller institutions, the Franke Honors Program might be of interest. U of A’s honors program includes priority registration, smaller class sizes, access to a spacious dorm option with an exceptional cafeteria, two honors-specific minors, interdisciplinary courses, and the ability to apply for two early-assurance programs. The early-assurance programs might be of interest to students interested in pursuing medical or veterinary programs, because it provides students with an acceptance to medical or veterinary school when the student is still a college junior. The programs are highly competitive and selective for admission, as there are only 10 positions available each year for medical school admission and only five positions available for veterinary medicine.

Speaking of specialty programs, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the SALT institute which provides academic support to students with mild to moderate learning differences. The program does have an application and selection process, and the services provided are supplementary to accommodations students might receive through the Office of Disability Services. SALT provides peer-to-peer tutoring, and the peer tutors and staff are trained to foster student independence. As a result, many students utilize their services early in their college experience, but don’t continue services later on when they feel more comfortable and confident navigating their educational journey.

Students who earn above a 3.0 GPA are guaranteed admission to U of A, and they are one of the most generous institutions when it comes to offering merit scholarships for both residents and non-residents alike. Once a student is admitted, they also obtain access to a scholarship portal that matches the student with awards they qualify for to ensure a higher level of attainability.


Northern Arizona University

Heading up to Flagstaff to visit NAU was a nice reprieve from the summer heat of southern Arizona! Many students are surprised when we tell them that NAU is a lot like University of Colorado Boulder, not just in their academic offerings, but also in their geography and weather patterns. The school is beautiful and the campus contains many lush green areas and a lot more trees and outdoor adventure awaits than most anticipate in the state of Arizona. In fact, Flagstaff was the world’s first International Dark Sky, and the Lowell Observatory (where Pluto was discovered!) houses the Astrophysical Materials Laboratory in conjunction with NAU.

NAU is rich in diversity, culture, and tradition. As a Hispanic Serving Institution, more than 25% of their student body identifies in this category. Additionally, 46% of their student body is considered first-generation, and they have over 100 tribal nations represented in their students, faculty, and staff. A favorite tradition amongst most students and faculty is the Running of the Freshmen, where all freshmen run across the field at the first home football game. But even if that doesn’t sound exciting to a prospective student, there are over 350 clubs and organizations to choose from, and students are always welcome and encouraged to start new ones.

The academic programs offered at NAU are equally impressive. There are seven direct-entry engineering programs, a selective honors college, and they hold the highest accreditation for business schools in the US (only 5% of institutions meet this criteria). They are also the only CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation) accredited college in Arizona. While NAU is home to many unique undergraduate programs (for example, a BS in Applied Indigenous Studies, a BS in Interior Design, a BS in Indian Country Criminal Justice, and a BS in Immersive Media and Games), they also highlight their Interdisciplinary Global Program (IGP). IGP is a 5-year program that incorporates a year-long internship abroad, and blends the studies of a foreign language and either STEM or Business.

As with most large institutions, NAU offers students access to many experiential learning opportunities including a robust career center, academic tutoring, a database of past, present, and future internship opportunities, and many other student services. The school even owns part of the Centennial Forest, which is used as a classroom and lab for Forestry students.


Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

The name of the institution may give you an inkling of what the school offers, but Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) is far more than just an aviation school. There are two main campuses, and we toured the smaller of the two in Prescott, AZ (another Dark Sky community). The larger campus is in Daytona, FL, but most of this information applies to both institutions (and I’ll point out key differences).

While the Daytona campus is home to NCAA D2 sports, the Prescott campus is NAII. With a student population of just over 3000 students, we were surprised to learn that all 50 states and 47 countries are represented. Approximately 10% of the student body are international students, and about 27% identify as female. The campus has a more insular vibe than the other institutions in the state of Arizona, but with over 200 clubs and organizations (including six fraternities and two sororities), any student can fit in.

Unsurprisingly, ERAU is most well known for their aviation related programs. In fact, they are the largest supplier of graduates to Boeing. The Prescott campus just acquired a second observatory, but the first has been consistently ranked as one of the top ten in the country. In addition to the obvious aviation-related degrees (like aerospace engineering, aviation management, and aeronautical science), ERAU also offers degrees in cybersecurity, business administration, data science, and space physics. The Daytona campus offers more majors, but the Prescott campus is home to a few notable and unique majors, including Forensic Accounting, Forensic Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial/Organizational Psychology, and Simulation Science, Games, & Animation. ERAU is a fabulous option for students who are interested in employment with one of the three letter government agencies, as the FBI, CIA, and NSA heavily recruit from their programs.

Professors teach every course at ERAU, so students will never be taught by a graduate student. They also tout a 100% medical school acceptance rate, and extensive undergraduate research and study abroad opportunities. In addition to their standard majors, ERAU offers several language immersion programs (Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, Spanish, and German).


Arizona State University

Our last stop on this whirlwind tour was Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, AZ. It was over 100 degrees by mid-morning, but students were milling about campus despite the heat and lack of shade. ASU is one of the largest universities in the USA, partly thanks to their robust online degree offerings and their partnerships with employers like Starbucks that make higher education affordable and accessible.

With over 400 majors, minors, and certificates available, every student can explore their interests thoroughly across their four campuses or online. To put into perspective how large of an institution ASU is, they have over 160 countries represented on campus each year and have at least one student from every congressional district in the USA. ASU also hosts over 1000 clubs and organizations, 10 residential colleges, 7 student coalitions, and more than 65 religious organizations and houses of worship. Students are strongly encouraged to engage in at least one study abroad program while enrolled, and the school offers many scholarships and workshops for funding these opportunities. Unlike most large public institutions, ASU goes above and beyond to provide opportunities to make their education affordable to all students.

Innovation is highly encouraged at ASU, and the school is frequently ranked within the top five for innovation in the USA (ahead of MIT and Stanford!). My favorite building on campus was the Creativity Commons, which houses over 200 computers for student use, a student-run technology lab that provides free services to students, a black box theater, and a motion capture/virtual reality studio. As part of our experience on campus, we were able to experience one of their virtual reality science labs and a virtual reality gaming adventure to an alien zoo.

The program that stands out most at ASU, though, is the Barrett Honors College. It was the first residential honors college in the US, and participating in the program allows students access to smaller classes, priority registration, additional scholarship and funding opportunities, and specialized academic advising. The competition to be admitted to the honors program might be a bit steeper than other large public universities, but the prestige is reflected in both the opportunities and facilities offered to participating students.

Good luck (but I know you won't need it),

Jessica Chermak, LPC, CEP

Independent College Counselor

Co-Founder of Virtual College Counselors

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