Brandeis University - Comments and Student Experiences|
Having said this, if one is not Jewish, it will not be a friendly environment. Essentially, there is the Jewish community and everyone else. It runs about 65/35 Jewish/gentile. This can make life very difficult in the classroom. For instance, I took complex variables with a small group. About ten or so. Well, 7 or 8 students were Jewish, and they gathered before and after class to discuss homework, test preparation, etc. I felt invisible. I don't think the students recognized me around campus. I would greet them and they would either not respond or look at me as if I were crazy. I honestly believe that some of them simply did not realize I was in class with them. I had to work the problem sets alone. So I was at a serious disadvantage.
The liberalism that is claimed is not extant. Those who thought of themselves as open minded, etc. I found to be condescending, xenophobic and racist. They just smiled alot and said "What up, bro!". But don't try to socialize with them. The pain will come quickly and in big doses. I will never forget a dining hall conversation. This Jewish guy who thought of himself as a really lefty from San Francisco asked this black kid with a rather large Afro hair style where he bought his hair. After a lot of wrangling, the Jewish guy finally asserted that he asked because black people cannot grow hair longer than an inch. I was flabbergasted. But this is what you get from the lefties at Brandeis, so imagine what the conservative Jews are like.If you are Jewish, it is a great place to study. The academics are superb, and the professors will send you to the best graduate schools in the world. If you are not Jewish, be prepared for a long, enervating, disorienting experience that tests your ability to spend an entire day in class and not have a single student say anything to you. Be prepared for invisibility. If you can handle that, you will survive, and maybe even get good grades if you don't take classes with professors who do not believe that you do good work, or that it isn't yours if it is good.
Academically speaking, you'll do very well if you're the type of person who appreciates breadth over depth in your education, enjoy immersing yourself in whatever takes your fancy one semester or another, are talented in many areas and enjoy letting academic advisors tell you what to do. Granted, there are many extremely interesting courses that I wish I could have taken in the past or could in the future; Brandeis is blessed with world-class faculty who are extremely passionate about their teaching and about enriching the students. Many faculty lead discussion-based courses, which is excellent if that's the type of course you like taking. Faculty are approachable and love working with and knowing their students, no matter how deep your interest is in their subject area. The rigour of the work is high; it comes in two stages. During your first year you're likely to take some lower-level classes, and the instructors will sometimes treat you as though you've never written a paper before, and other times they'll be flexible in terms of working with you at your level. Beyond these courses, stuff gets intense really fast. If that's what you're up for, then go for it - I personally enjoy a challenge academically, but if you want a place that you can just breeze through, it's not Brandeis - students in general here love the challenge of the coursework: it's central to the academic ethos of the school, and that's something to like a lot.
Now, Waltham is (and there's really no other way of putting it) a sh*thole. There's absolutely nothing to do and it isn't the safest place at night. Campus is very isolated as it's up on a hill and there's one road in/out (which is a HUGE drawback if you either enjoy going out or, like me, have to have a job and don't get helped by the university in finding a federal-work-study job on campus that you're qualified for - more on that later). Getting to Cambridge or Boston can be inconvenient at times. There are busses on the weekend from on campus, which sound convenient on paper, but are chronically late or canceled, and crowded. A regular bus service, the 553 stops outside campus and takes an hour to get into Boston via Newton. The commuter rail also stops right outside campus, but it's bloody expensive. Zipcar oneway is convenient from getting from doorstep to doorstep in terms of where you're going, but a car isn't always available near campus. Once you're in Boston or Cambridge, though, there's a wealth of things to do. Boston metro area also has many other universities that host events and parties.
The administration of the university is not the best. They try hard to listen to the students' needs, but in recent years have failed to effectively answer students' questions and qualms about the budget and how bloody expensive everything is, or, while still being pretty progressive compared to other universities in America, to address issues of diversity that have been brought to attention recently. (The student body is very much divided on issues of diversity; half are ignorant, rich, privileged white kids who don't understand issues facing marginalised demographics barely represented at Brandeis and in the real world, and half are socially conscious and occasionally hostile students who are very active in tackling issues of social justice - the latter half obviously includes the small percentage of students of colour and students who are from low-income backgrounds).
The resources at the university are mediocre. Academic resources like the library are really nothing special - I've gone to other universities nearby for academic material more so than gone to Brandeis' library. The health services are subpar, as well. The health centre is understaffed and not particularly friendly; the psychological counseling centre provides pretty good services, but it's almost impossible to get to them at all - speaking personally, it took me over a full semester to even book my first appointment due to being double-booked more than once.
The facilities are mixed. Dorm life is pretty crap freshman year - the buildings are outdated and the appliances are broken more often than not (I had no heat all winter and facilities services *never* came to fix it), and the dining hall food is absolute garbage (the people who prepare it are all warm-hearted, wonderful people who strive to please, but unfortunately the food they're given to prepare is awful). This is a trivial complaint, but since the school is not actually secular at all, we *never* have real bacon. The bottom line here is that if you're looking for an academically stimulating environment in which to delve into many of your interests and learn from world-class faculty just as passionate as you, and you aren't worried at all about social life, living on a college campus, caring about the community you live in or paying for all of it, then you've found the right school. If you're even remotely worried about any of the other above attributes, look elsewhere - it isn't worth 40k a year.