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University of San Francisco: Jesuit, Urban, and Diverse


I visited the University of San Francisco last week.  It was a beautiful, sunny day, but the wind was brisk.  Despite the chill in late April, I was able to get a good introduction to the campus and is programs.

1.    First off, USF is an urban campus.  It is located in the heart of the city.  Still, the campus has solid geographical identity, and is primarily residential in feel.  While there are some commuter students, and not all students actually live on campus, one has the sense that the campus has its own vibe that is complementary—and not subsumed—by the city of San Francisco.
2.    USF is a Jesuit institution, so it shares many characteristics with its fellow Jesuit schools across the country.  Yet USF is different from most, both in terms of its urban location and in the composition of the student body.  USF is a school of minorities:  only 39% of the student body white.  There are plenty of students from other ethnic groups, including Asian (21%) and Latino (14%) and Black (5%).  But get this:  30% of the students in the Gospel Choir are white.  USF is a place where students can get outside of the cultural constricts of their childhood and high school experience.  Students can “mix it up,” literally.  Thirty percent of students are the first in their family to go to college.  Forty percent have an AGI of $60k or less—at an institution that costs $50k per year. 
3.    So which groups constitute the “majorities” at USF?  Catholics make up 51% of the student body, while women make up 60% (note that the School of Nursing pulls this average off, because 95% of School of Nursing are women). Also, 75-80% of students come from the Western states, though there are representatives of most states, and a whole bunch of foreign countries.
4.    Like most Jesuit institutions, USF is a mission-driven college. They focus upon “education the whole person” and learning is considered a “humanizing social activity rather than a competitive exercise.” 
5.    USF has 5000 undergraduates, plus about 3800 graduate students.  At the undergraduate level, 75% of classes have 25 students or fewer.
6.    USF has a core curriculum, like most Jesuit institutions. But there are still differences.  The curriculum requires a total of 11 core classes (each of which can be chosen from a list of options), plus a class that includes a service learning component.  At USF service learning is not considered just a “bunch of hours,” but rather an integrated part of what happens in the classroom.
7.    USF admissions officers encourage phone calls.  They do not have  “wall” between web users and the admissions staff.  The director of admission made it clear that both students and counselors should feel free to “pick up the phone; we’re old fashioned.”  USF web pages also list all the phone numbers of faculty.  So if you’re interested in how good the biology department is, or what the major’s priorities are, you can just get on the horn with the chair of the department and ask.
8.    USF offers merit scholarships for “high value” students.  If you have a cumulative GPA of 3.8 in grades 9-11, and you earn a score of either 1320 on the SAT (math + critical reading) or a composite of 30 on the ACT, you will be awarded a $19,500 annual scholarship renewable for all four years.
9.    Twenty-five percent of faculty are “of color,”  and 45% are women.  Diversity is a core value at USF.  While Catholics do predominate, all religions are represented.  Five percent of the students are Jewish, and the campus is only about a mile from the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco
10.    Some programs require separate admissions procedures or standards.  One must apply separately to the nursing program, and it’s important to apply to the architecture program as a freshman, because it is very competitive.  
11.    Nursing:  must apply separately, and this is the most competitive program at USF.  Architecture is also important to apply to as an incoming freshman.  Within the nursing program, there are about 600 students.
12.    Some students may opt for the Saint Ignatius Institute, an interesting Great Books program within both the Jesuit and the liberal arts tradition.  Students read the classics of Western Civilization (Plato, Homer, Augustine, Dante, Göethe, Kafka, Borges, etc.).  This program is open to all students, but spaces are limited.  For students who want the “Great Books” sort of program offered at St. John’s (but who don’t want the strict focus of St. John’s), this might be a great fit.

I came away from my visit to USF with a very positive view of the campus and the quality of education it offers.  For a student looking for a Jesuit institution in a vibrant urban center, and who wants to rub shoulders with a very diverse group of students, USF may be a great fit.

Mark Montgomery
College Counselor


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