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The information packet produced by a college’s admissions office provides newcomers with a narrow view of student life. Here’s where to go to find insider information that is not included in a college’s promo pack.
Although most admitted students may not have an idea of whom their professors will be until fall, it’s never too early to start gleaning information about a school’s roster. At RateMyProfessors.com users can search, not only by a professor’s name, but by school to get the lowdown on who’s who in each department. Ratings are available for all the expected criteria, such as quality, ease, helpfulness and clarity, but the site also includes a “hotness” category, in case that piece of information is necessary for the decision-making process.
With a motto like “college students and experts tell you what the colleges won’t,” Unigo is bound to give the goods. Users register via Facebook to comment and write reviews, so those who peruse the site can be sure they’re reading comments from real students. Visitors can compare schools, discuss with others, watch video dorm tours, and have access to all of the normal stats and rankings for a school. Unigo also churns out helpful 140-character-or-less information tidbits via Twitter every day.
What Will They Learn?
Visit this site for a meta-critique of what the college experience will teach you. The What Will They Learn? staff have summarized the general degree requirements of major colleges and universities and graded each on the quality of the general education offered. At the least, visitors can entertain themselves with the D and F awarded to Harvard and Yale respectively. At the most, they may gain some perspective on the value of a bachelor’s degree these days.
There’s a kid on every campus waiting to break the next expose on faculty and student misbehavior, campus crimes and loads of other things that will never appear in the college administration newsletter. On a more positive note, the paper can give the daily scoop on campus events, academic achievements by students and professors, and much more.
Facebook & Twitter
There used to be a time when Facebook was an exclusive club for college students, and it’s still a great resource to get insider information from students currently in attendance at a college or university. Joining one of the class groups (there’s bound to be more than one), and stalking group and event pages can lead to invaluable information on a school’s social scene. Admitted students are welcome to follow people and groups related to their chosen college on Twitter, but it’s also important to look outside a school’s circle on Twitter for other great resources such as @CampusGrotto, @TheCollegeGuide, @collegeprowler and @Unigo.
Check out the embedded document below for more tips on preparing for college from the U.S. Department of Education.
Excerpt from the U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid, Student Aid Awareness and Applicant Services Funding Education Beyond High School: The Guide to Federal Student Aid. 2010–11, Washington, D.C., 2010
Featured image by mkoukoullis licensed under Creative Commons
After half a dozen campus tours, you’ll be left with a heavy pile of information packets, an empty stomach and the desire to put your mind on something else. Lucky for you, just a short walk off campus you can find good eats and neat sites. Mark these spots down: You’ll be going there every time your friends and family visit you for the next four (or five…) years.
LOYOLA UNIVERSITY CHICAGO
1032 W. Sheridan Road
Photo by flickr user Monster Pete
Tour: Madonna della Strada Chapel, 6525 N. Sheridan Road
What did you expect? You’re at a Catholic University, so you should see the pièce de résistance even if you aren’t a regular church-goer. Built in 1938, this concrete masterpiece rises from the ground in all its art deco glory. The architecture carries inside with bright and airy modernism. Recently renovated, it features a 70-rank pipe organ.
For more information: Loyola University Chapel
Photo by flickr user Zol87
It was named one of Time Out Chicago’s “Essential Restaurants in Chicago,” but what exactly is “good wholesome food for the mind and body”? It’s a cafe that hosts political events, jazz concerts and even a radio show. In Rogers Park, the cafe is also connected to the Red Line Tap, which has an open mic night every Thursday and was named one of the Top 100 bars by Chicago magazine. Try a buffalo burger and don’t forget to stop in the general store on the way out.
For more information: http://www.heartlandcafe.com/
Photo by flickr user renee_mcgurk
Eat: Thai Grill,1040 W. Granville Avenue
For a cheap Thai fix, this is the place. Just a short walk to the south of campus (or a one-stop ride on the red line to Granville), Thai Grill is exactly what it says: Pad Thai and noodles. Nothing fancy, just the staples. They also have a full vegetarian menu to offer.
For more information: http://www.thaigrillchicago.com/
Photo courtesy of Thai Grill
633 Clark Street, Evanston
Photo by flickr user Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar
Tour: Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston
The Block features fine art exhibitions, an outdoor sculpture gallery, even a cinema. Tours are available and there are frequently lectures and workshops to better make sense of the art world. Summer exhibitions include “I Myself Have Seen It: Photography and Kiki Smith,” with more than 200 photographs used by Smith as the foundation for her contemporary works, and “Social Mobility,” an interactive installation by Chicago artists’ collaborative Temporary Services.
For more information: Block Museum
Photo courtesy of the Block Museum
Sometimes you’re not looking for something special – you just want a quick sandwich next to your L stop. Welcome to this sandwich joint under the tracks, where the food is cheap and delicious. Try the Verde, on fresh tomato focaccia bread. This is the place where actual Northwestern students go for lunch, so get in the habit now. It’s an especially good location if you’re majoring in engineering, whose classrooms are just down the street.
For more information: http://rollin2go.com/
Photo by Tricia L. on Yelp
Eat: Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop, 825 Church Street, Evanston
Cajun and creole … even at breakfast. If you like a little kick to jumpstart your day – morning, noon or night – this is the place. Crawdads, peel-and-eat BBQ shrimp and catfish might have you stuffed to the gills (cheesy pun intended), but leave room for warm peach cobbler. President Obama even gave his vote to Dixie Kitchen on WTTW’s “Check, Please!” (“The prices are right and the portions are good,” he said.) When the Dixie Kitchen in Obama’s home neighborhood, Hyde Park, marks its last day this weekend, the Evanston location becomes the last bastion for Chicagoans lookin’ for a fixin’.
For more information: http://www.dixiekitchenchicago.com/
Photo by flickr user Eric Guo
1 E. Jackson, Chicago
Photo by flickr user Tony.L.Wong
Tour: Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park
So you think you’re too old for zoos? What if we told you that this zoo was 1) walking distance from campus and 2) free? Lions, ZEBRAS and bears, oh my!
For more information: www.lpzoo.org
Photo by flickr user cortneymartin82
Eat: Bacino’s of Lincoln Park, 2204 N. Lincoln Avenue
This place may look like your straightforward pizza shop, but the food is far from usual. Aside from the pizza (Chicago-style stuffed and thin crust), they have Italian food you’d find at a restaurant with white table cloths. If you’re not in the mood for pizza, try the poached pear and gorgonzola salad or the homemade lasagna.
For more information: Bacino’s Website
Photo courtesy of Bacino’s
This place’s mission is to “overwhelm your senses” and it succeeds. It looks like a mix between a coffee shop, book store and your grandmother’s kitchen. Known for its literary themed sandwiches – The Hobbit (a triple-decker BLT) and The Old Man and the Sea (tuna dill), for example – they also have second-to-none salads like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with cranberries, walnuts and goat cheese. Rachel Ray once visited. ‘Nuff said.
For more information: http://www.bpigcafe.com/
Photo by flickr user _nickd
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
5801 South Ellis Avenue, Chicago
Photo by flickr user Androfire
Tour: Museum of Science and Industry, South Lake Shore Drive
You’re going to college, so we know you love learning. This museum has something for everyone – anatomy (the “Body Worlds” exhibit displaying cadavers-turned-art), aviation (full size airplanes) and meteorology (the tornado alley may be particularly relevant to provide some insight into what happened in Joplin, Mo. this spring). With a student ID you can become a member for $55 and visit as many times as you want.
For more information: Museum of Science and Industry
Photo by flickr user hibino
Eat: Medici on 57th, 1327 E. 57th St.
Voted one of Chicago’s best burgers, this place has the look of a classy restaurant but with reasonable prices. With one-of-a-kind pizzas (apples on top!) and hearty weekend brunches, you won’t leave hungry. They’re also known for their bakery and unusual assortment of breads and rolls, so get some to go, too. According to Fodor’s “Chicago Travel Guide,” though, the allure is to become part of history as one of the “generations of University of Chicago students who’ve carved their names into the tables.”
For more information: http://www.medici57.com/
Photo courtesy of Medici on 57th
Any restaurant review would be remiss to avoid getting into the fray: Who has the best pizza in Chicago? If you ask the students, Edwardo’s, which has several locations, will make the list. That’s partly because the price is a little lower than its counterparts, and we can all agree college students are stingy by necessity. Known for their deep dish spinach pizza, you won’t go wrong with any of their pies.
For more information: http://www.edwardos.com/
Photo by Greg D. of Yelp
COLUMBIA COLLEGE CHICAGO
600 S. Michigan Ave.
Photo by flickr user John Picken
Tour: Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park
At Grant Park, this is the iconic symbol of Chicago, seen in TV and movies and a definite must-visit for anyone new to the city. According to Chicago Traveler, it uses 1.5 million gallons, with 14,000 gallons circulating through each minute, pushed by 134 jets. It’s no wonder that Rahm Emanuel chose this to be the backdrop of his inauguration.
For more information: Chicago Traveler
Photo by flickr user David Paul Ohmer
One of the many firsts to come out of the World’s Columbian Exposition, this restaurant is a keeper, and a staple among the downtown professional crowd (in other words: the people you hope to be someday). While it offers a lunch buffet of fresh carved meats, the dinner menu filled with German staples and inventive takes on classics (try mascarpone mac and cheese) is the true treat. Dinner can get a little steep, so save this trip for when you have Mom and Dad to foot the bill.
For more information: http://www.theberghoff.com/
Photo by flickr user Señor Codo
“Chicago SUCKS as far as studying places go,” wrote Francois B., a somewhat disgruntled Yelp reviewer. While that may be true for Francois (and Yelp reviews aren’t always the best barometer of worthwhile places to visit) there are actually quite a few coffee shops and cafés Chicago’s students can visit if they’re looking for a change in scenery, quality coffee or good food while they study. Here’s a list of places near some of Chicago’s popular universities that new students may want to check out.
Northwestern University- Evanston
While Northwestern has a lot to offer as far as libraries, student lounges and outdoor space for studying, NU students can be found enjoying cafés all over Evanston for their ample space, Internet access and good coffee. The Unicorn Cafe, just a five-minute walk from campus, is a favorite among Northwestern students, who can often be seen working on laptops or reading at the tables outside on a nice day. With a decent amount of space, free wifi and Metropolis coffee (a Chicago favorite), Unicorn Café is a good alternative to the Starbucks across the street. Be prepared to bring cash; it doesn’t take credit cards.
If you’re serious about your coffee and want a bit of latte art to go along with it, head to The Brothers K coffee shop on Main Street. It apparently boasts a great patio and friendly, personable baristas (which can be somewhat of a rarity in ‘hip’ coffee shops these days). Metropolis coffee and free wifi abound. A second outpost, The Other Brother Coffeehouse, is located on Sherman Avenue.
DePaul University- Lincoln Park
Just down the street from DePaul’s campus on N. Sheffield Avenue, Savor the Flavor has what many Chicago students would likely want from a café: lots of space with large tables, Metropolis coffee and free wifi. Many Yelp reviewers praise its food, especially the grilled cheese sandwich and ice cream, but some say it’s a little pricey.
Another Lincoln Park coffee spot known for its good food is The Bourgeois Pig located on Fullerton Avenue, also not far from DePaul’s campus. Its menu features numerous dessert and pastry options, as well as sandwiches and salads with cute names like ”The Hobbit”, “The Tale of Two Turkeys” and “Ham I Am”.
Walk into Noble Tree Coffee and Tea on North Clark Street on a typical day and you’ll find several students scattered throughout the café’s three floors, hunched over books and laptops. Noble Tree – which is much bigger than it looks from the outside – has the feel of a huge, cozy abandoned house, with charmingly mismatched furniture throughout. There’s so much space, it’s fairly easy to snag a table, but if you’re looking for a truly unique study experience, try and find the Pacman game-turned-table on the second floor and play a round or two for a study break.
Loyola University, north campus- Rogers Park/Uptown/Edgewater
Students looking for ambiance, super-friendly baristas and lots of space to study should definitely stop by the one and only Metropolis Coffee Co. near Loyola’s northern campus. While many of the cafés on this list brew its beans, the actual Metropolis is a can’t-miss for most Loyola students, with many sandwiches and pastries to go along with its popular coffee. People are encouraged to come and stay a while, so you’ll never feel rushed.
The Daily Cup, just a short walk from the Loyola Red L stop, serves fresh food and baked goods, gelato and delicious coffee, all at a reasonable price. Open until 10 p.m. on weekday evenings, the Daily Cup is a convenient study place for Loyola students eager to study in a coffee shop that’s not the Starbucks nearby.
University of Chicago- Hyde Park/University Village
Intelligentsia coffee, good food and beloved owner Belinda seem to be the main draw at Hyde Park’s Café 57, not far from the 59th Street, University of Chicago Metra station. Though Yelpers admit the space is small, they praise the atmosphere and employees. May be a good place to spend at least an hour or two studying, and the free wifi definitely helps.
Kick back with a gelato or a panini to go along with your coffee at Istria Café at the Hyde Park Art Center. The café takes cues from the Istrian peninsula, incorporating a mix of traditions from the Italian, Croatian and Slovenian area into its meticulous preparation of the Intelligentsia coffee it brews. Lots of comfy seats, free wifi and a cool, artsy vibe seem to satisfy Istria’s regulars.
The Unicorn Café
1723 Sherman Ave. (between Church St. and Clark St.)
*Davis Purple line
The Brothers K Coffeehouse
500 Main St. (between Chicago Ave. and Hinman Ave.)
*Main Purple line
The Other Brother Coffeehouse
1549 Sherman Ave. (between Grove St. and Orrington Ave.)
*Davis Purple line
Savor the Flavor
2545 N. Sheffield Ave. (between Altgeld St. and Lill Ave.)
*Fullerton Brown, Purple line
Bourgeois Pig Café
738 W. Fullerton Ave. (between Burling St. and Children’s Place)
*wifi with purchase
Noble Tree Coffee and Tea
2444 N. Clark St. (at Arlington Place)
Metropolis Coffee Co.
1039 W. Granville Ave.
*Granville Red line
The Daily Cup
1217 W. Devon Ave. (between Sheridan Road and Broadway)
*Loyola Red line
Hyde Park/University Village
5030 S. Cornell Ave. (between 49th and East End Ave.)
1220 E. 57th St
Students, there’s really only one thing you need to know about public transportation, and it’s the U-Pass. Treat it like your baby. Don’t lose it.
U-Pass is a cooperative program between local colleges and universities and the CTA. If you attend a participating school, the cost of your U-Pass is embedded in your tuition, but you’re saving a ton of money.
U-Pass basically gives you unlimited use of CTA rail and buses. Unfortunately U-Pass is not accepted on Metra trains or Pace buses, but these routes are generally suburban.
A few things to be careful of: don’t share the card, don’t put it in the cash slot on buses, and don’t try to use it at the same station in succession. The CTA is strict about U-Passes that need to be replaced if lost or stolen. It’s a long process and it costs an extra $50. For a full list of participating schools as well as the rules and conditions of the U-Pass program, visit the CTA website.
Once you’ve made your college decision, the hard part is done.
But that doesn’t mean you can slack off.
You’re coming to the third-largest city in the country, a place where the people are loud but friendly, the food is plentiful but pricey and the weather is … well, we’ll get to that. Before you talk to your roommate and decide who’s bringing the TV and who’s bringing the microfridge (and definitely before you send your teary-eyed mother on her way), read this list to prepare for the adventure of your life.
This isn’t a test. It’s just planning to make the fun part even more fun.
Eat out once a week.
Chicago has this little thing called Grubhub.com, where you can order just about any food at just about any time of day for a reasonable fee. Check this out at 2 a.m. after a hard night of studying (or “studying”) and you’re bound to find hundreds of joints willing to deliver you a “hangover burrito” (this exists and is amazing) or the greasiest not-Chicago-style pizza (because sometimes you just want it like they make it at home). Furthermore, each campus in this city has its share of little coffee shops, brewpubs and sandwich makers where the in-the-know students hang out. You’ve got to eat, so why not eat well? That said, your meal plan is a much better deal (especially if it’s on Mom and Dad’s tab), and the Freshman 15 is not an urban myth, so make sure you do your splurging in moderation.
Dress for the weather.
Chicago has a unique style: Weather appropriate. The people who live here know how to let their winter-musts make the fashion statement for them. David Murphy, a graduate of Northwestern University who has since moved to the warmer climate of San Francisco, says it comes down to two words: “Thick coats.” Chicagoans learned this the hard way during a record-breaking blizzard in February. A zero-rated parka (check out these coats from L.L. Bean) might make you look like little Randy lumbering around in his snowsuit in “A Christmas Story,” but when you have a mile to walk between the dorm and class, you won’t be sorry.
Chicagoans will tell you that there are only two seasons here: winter and summer. That was true this year, but usually there is that period in March and April where the average high temperatures are in the 40s and 50s (and NOAA knows better than anyone). Spring here is rainy, and nowhere in the world will you see a better assortment of galoshes. Check out the selection of rain boots on Zappos.com for a style that suits you.
Then there’s the hot weather, a three-month anomaly that just this week led Chicago Police to shut down North Avenue Beach when four people suffered from heat exhaustion. That’s when it helps to get some sweat-wicking clothing (Moosejaw in Lincoln Park has a great selection) and constant hydration.
Learn the CTA.
This was our top tip from Chicagoans themselves. Annie Koval, who did her undergrad at the University of Illinois before moving to the big city to pursue her graduate studies at Northwestern, says it best: “Figure out the L, and figure it out fast.”
Many universities give students a U-Pass, which let’s you ride as much as you want. Your student fees pay for it, so use it. Within the city, a CTA bus or train can get you anywhere you need to go, and if you’re a future Wildcat headed to Northwestern’s Evanston campus, you can use the Pace bus, which directly connects to the CTA.
Remember the buddy system.
As soon as you told people you were moving to Chicago, you probably heard lots about being safe. In the end, your safety is largely a result of your common sense and intuition. According to the Chicago Police’s Personal Safety Tips Checklist, you should be alert and be prepared, carrying your money in places that aren’t easy for pick-pockets to get to and walking on well-lit streets. Women are always recommended to leave the clutch (which can just as easily become an un-clutch) at home and carry all that stuff in a sling bag or cross body purse.
Most importantly, travel in pairs or in groups at night and, if you must go out alone, tell a roommate or resident assistant where you’re going and when you should be back.
Leave campus whenever possible. (Be a tourist!)
This city has so much to offer, from parks to museums, theaters and clubs. If you stay in your dorm and never venture past the cafeteria or classroom, the world that is at your fingertips might as well be a world away. Instead, check out the list of events at Metromix and plan a hall night out on the town. Or choose one of the many plays or shows in Chicago – this summer, we have the Broadway touring casts of West Side Story and Beauty and the Beast. After a quick read of Chicago’s official tourism site, you will find something for everyone.
Buy a map. (But leave the car at home.)
The cost to park here is astronomical, and public transit is reliable and cheap. So catch a ride to Chicago with your parents (they’ll feel better if they see you settled into your new home anyway) and leave your car at home.
That doesn’t mean you won’t need a map, though. The last thing you want is to get turned around in a neighborhood you don’t know well and not know how to get back from whence you came. Yes, there’s an app for that, but what if you don’t have 3G/4G? What if you’ve dropped your phone? A good carry-around pocket-sized map is the Randy McNally Chicago Pop-up Map. Bonus: It has the Blues Brothers on the cover for maximum hipness.
As Christopher Rios, a student at Dominican University, explained on Ask Metafilter: “Learn the grid system of Chicago. You’ll never get lost if you know it.”
Become a fan (or at least give it the ol’ college try).
Chicago lives and dies by its teams, especially the Bears and the Blackhawks, which have a regional following and rabid fans who want to talk shop year-round. It helps that these teams are good – though not the best this season, sadly – so even if you aren’t a walking sports encyclopedia, you can check the headlines every now and again just to have the talking points. To get you started: Cutler’s knee. Canucks’ hair-pulling.
Talk to strangers.
This isn’t advice you’re going to get from the grandparents, but if you want to know Chicago like Chicagoans do, you need to talk to Chicagoans. As we journalists like to say, go to the source. This city has all the charm the Midwest is known for, just in a larger package. As long as you’re not chasing the strangers into dark alleyways, striking up a friendly conversation with the person you’re skin-to-skin with on a packed train or sitting next to at the bar, it’s a great way to become acquainted with the city fast.