Road Trip: “Aha! Moments” at Boston College and Boston University

I will no longer confuse Boston College and Boston University!  They are truly distinct and similarities are not apparent. To start with, Aha!  Boston College is not even in Boston!  It’s close.  But, it moved from Boston’s South End to nearby Chestnut Hill a little over a century ago.

Boston College is one of 28 Jesuit colleges in the United States.  Given its Jesuit context, it is surprising the degree to which Aha! Boston College doesn’t “feel” Catholic.  In fact, 70% of the students are Catholic — but there is a palpable feeling of openness. The campus has a multi-faith chapel including a Muslim community and an agnostic community. The two women greeting visitors as they entered the Admissions Office wore headscarves and an Associate Director of Admission who graciously spent his time answering questions was Jewish.  These facts point to more than tolerance but demonstrate and active acceptance of others.  

To be clear, the Jesuit faith shapes much of the attitude and activity on campus – a commitment to service (29 service-based student organizations), a level of intellectual curiosity (31% double major), and intentional opportunities for spiritual growth (13 faith-based student organizations). However, I felt a stronger sense of religious formality at Notre Dame than I did at Boston College. 

Of interest, Boston College recently completed a billion and a half dollar capital campaign.  Roughly $400,000 of those funds will go to lowering the percentage of loans within financial aid packages.  Another significant chunk of capital will go to increasing the number of endowed faculty chairs.  The admissions director described the strength of Boston College’s faculty in this way, “Historically we were raiding other Boston area schools for faculty; now we are being raided for our faculty”.

Boston University is very much in Boston.  Situated along about a mile and a half stretch of Commonwealth Ave. along the banks of the Charles River, the university is twice the size of Boston College and has eight times the number of international students.   

The two schools have similar overall acceptance rates with BC slightly more challenging at 28% vs. BU at 32% per the CollegeBoard.  At BU, however, you apply to one of their ten colleges within the school rather than the school as a whole.  [Note: the Common App is dynamic and you will not see the option to select a college until you respond to previous questions, e.g. the term you are applying for.] But, no worries, Aha! Boston University is extremely flexible in allowing students to study according to their interests. Inter-university transfers are not a difficult process, though you do have to stay in your applied for major for one semester, and colleges typically have minimum GPA requirements and some have perquisites.

I asked for specific examples of BU’s flexibility — here are two:  An electrical engineering student wanted to also study archeology (BU has the only stand alone archeology department in the US).  He was able to graduate in four years with a BS in Engineering and a BA in Archeology.   Today he is creating satellite imaging for archeological sites.  Another student majored in the College of Communications and minored in the College of Fine Arts School of Theatre leading to a job in advertising for Broadway plays.  These examples are “not uncommon” according to the admissions officer.

Other interesting comparisons:

  • BC’s Carroll School of Business is well-regarded and ranks 17 points higher than BU’s Questrom School (#22 vs. #39) per US News. Carroll’s strength is its Finance and Accounting programs.  
  • BU offers undergraduate engineering, and if you are interested in Bioengineering it is a well-regarded program (#12 by US News).  BC does not offer an engineering program.
  • International students are a rarity at BC representing 6% of their student body.  BU’s international population is at 26% and given the size difference of the two schools, there are eight times as many international students at BU than at BC.
  • BC Admissions claims that the university does not consider demonstrated interest in their acceptance decisions and offers Early Action but no Early Decision option. BU on the other hand states that Early Decision is a little easier to get in (43%) than Regular Decision since “they want to come to BU so we want to let them in.”

Consider Boston College if you are a non-engineer looking for an open but religiously grounded experience in a suburban setting near an urban center and if finance/ accounting is of interest, Carroll School of Business could be a good fit.

Consider Boston University if you are looking for an urban environment, enjoy the diversity international students bring to campus, and are likely to want to study a combination of disparate subjects.