The Bottom Line: The University of Memphis is a not too hard yet not too easy school located in a fun, but not insanely wild, city. It's basically what you make of it, and (in the TOTALITY of the college experience) it beats almost every other school in the Middle South/Lower Mississippi River.
First things first: By national standards, I would rate this school as “low average” academically speaking. That’s not to say the school is absolutely horrid as many people say, as there are some programs that left a good impression on me; most notably health sciences, engineering, and earth sciences. Overall, the various liberal arts programs are fairly decent. Of these, I would say the strongest one is the Foreign Languages department. There is a wide variety of foreign languages to choose from, most of them are taught by actual natives of the countries where the language predominates. The foreign language departments and labs offers many opportunities for learning both the academic and conversational aspects of the language you are studying. U of M also offers an International MBA concentration in their business school – an MBA with focus on foreign business practices and language. The geological sciences, IMO, are not too bad either – especially regarding earthquake prediction and water resources.
Overall, I would recommend The University of Memphis to people from small towns and secondary cities in the Middle South who need or desire a more worldly experience that what they experienced throughout their lives, yet are not ready to handle truly major cities. I would ESPECIALLY recommend U of M for people from these areas who back in their home town were not the popular, live of the party, celebrity of the school, all-American boy or girl types (especially if you don’t want an insanely active party scene like the SEC schools and the schools in the New Orleans area). Despite Memphis’s reputation as a conservative city, there is a fairly strong liberal community here – at least inside the “240 loop” (Memphis’ beltway). This place offers more freedom to be your true self and generally express your individuality, more avenues for self-exploration, and more freedom to express how you really feel without people acting like you ought to go back to the planet you came from (or worse yet, get a fist in your face!) than most other universities in the Middle South area (again, there is New Orleans; but personally, the ULTRA-wild-party-animal atmosphere of the city doesn’t appeal to me). By Mid South standards, U of M does come up pretty short on the number of good ole boys, but otherwise it has a pretty good mix of everybody. It’s still no New York, Chicago, or L.A, - or even an Atlanta or Houston or Austin – but it does offer a wide enough diversity of personality types so that you can find some group with which to fit in. Furthermore, both the Greek system and sports fan atmosphere, though definitely noticeable, do not aggressively impact the campus culture to the extent that they do at the SEC, or even small-to-medium sized non-SEC universities. Ditto for the typical semi-preppie, boy/girl-next-door, Abercrombie-clad types. This is definitely NOT something that can be said for most other universities in the area.
Now if you are from almost any other part of the nation, that’s a different story. While compared to other areas of the Mid-South (with the obvious exception of New Orleans), Memphis is a hotbed of radicalism, that does not mean it has very few problems – quite the opposite, in fact. This area still has more serious racial mistrust, starker voluntary and self-imposed racial segregation, higher crime rates, higher unemployment and underemployment, higher poverty rates, lower per capita incomes, and more political corruption than where you likely live. Unless you are the type who is able shove all these negatives aside as mere “background noise” and focus on the positives, I advise you to either stay in your home area or find some other part of the country in which to attend college. With the exception of hard-core blues music fans, Memphis not likely to offer you any more than what you’ll find in any other similarly sized city.
Despite these faults, Memphis has managed to keep its authentic character. Therefore, the U of M does not have a “be like everybody else or be dissed” attitude permeating a huge segment of the campus culture. The same is true for the rest of the city inside the 240 loop, especially the Midtown area, the artsy-bohemian area of the city (U of M is at the border of Midtown). True, there is a certain slightly trashy grittiness about the city, but even this grittiness is like a breath of fresh air for those who spent their lives trapped by a conformist “be like everybody else or be dissed” attitude permeating a huge segment of the Mid South culture. Going here may not propel you into the ranks of the in-crowd back home; but if U of M truly does the best job of speaking deeply to your needs of any other Middle South public university, then you probably don’t really want to be part of the in-crowd in the first place.