University of Miami Compared to University of Florida
More than a few people in the state of Florida have had the honor of attending the state’s only two academically reputable institutions; the University of Miami and the University of Florida. And while the rest of the country often sees a diploma from any school in the Sunshine State as little more than a piece of paper saying “Hey, I got drunk and tanned for four years,”, those in the know are aware that both have excellent academic reputations. Or, at least they do compared to Florida State.
But while both schools have a great deal to offer, much like the cities in which they are located, they are very, very different places. Aside from the obvious differences (one is public, the other is private. One is in the middle of nowhere, the other is in the middle of America’s 11th biggest city, one has a president from Utah, the other has one from the Clinton Administration) there are a lot of things about life at these schools that you really don’t think about until you are forced to attend both. And lucky me, this fall I’ve gotten that opportunity.
STUDENT AID: 3 SERIES VS. #3
The University of Miami does an excellent job of keeping the scuz factor out of their school, unless, of course, they are making money for the athletic department. They have developed this wonderful system of human filtration whereas they charge roughly half the national debt each semester for the right to attend their institution. As a result, your typical UM student has an allowance that is twice the annual salary of their tenured professors. The parking lot is filled with German and Italian cars save for the occasional Lexus or Acura for some of the students from California. Going out on the weekend? No problem. Mom and Dad own the biggest diamond mine in Ecuador, what’s $800 on a Friday night at Opium? Books, food, and other “necessities” for most college students are generally purchased with about as much financial concern as most people put into a pack of gum. There are a good deal of international students who are sent here from “My Country” to be educated so that they can go back and take over said Ecuadorian diamond mine. So in any given class, or on any given day, much like in Miami itself, you could go a long time without hearing anyone speak English.
At UF, nobody pays to go to school. And even the six students who don’t receive the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship (a wonderful system where anyone who can correctly spell the name of the state is given full tuition, books, and a $500 gift certificate to Neiman Marcus) pay less for tuition than most UM students do for plastic surgery. So while one might think this would lead to them having an excess of expendable income, it is not so much the case. Most of these kids would be going to community college in a state that actually charged to go to school. Not because they are stupid, mind you, but rather because college, at least in most states, is expensive. So what you get are kids who go to school for free and still have no money. The student parking lots (such as they are, more on that later) are filled with late model American cars and pickup trucks. Many proudly displaying the Stars and Bars or, more commonly, the number of their favorite NASCAR driver.
SPORTS: APATHY VS. OBSESSION
As I have mentioned once or twice, while the University of Miami has a great winning tradition in a lot of sports, they still seem to draw less people than Rosh Hashanah services. This may have more to do with the size of the school (about 8000 undergraduate, 15,000 total) and the Diaspora of alumni, but most home games at the Orange Bowl aren’t the focal point of the week. Hell, they’re often not even the focal point of Saturday afternoon. The fans that do go quickly embody the spirit of the Orange Bowl and readily boo their fellow students when they do not perform, hurl obscenities at the sideline, and demand the firing of the coach after each opposing touchdown. The obstacle in going to games is not at all getting tickets, but rather finding anyone to go with you. Athletes are not held up as Gods, but looked down upon as ghetto dwellers and hicks by the student body. Most of which have never met anyone who made less than $100,000 a year. That is, of course, until they sign their first pro contract. THEN they’re gods.
Because there is little to do in Gainesville other than spit watermelon seeds or go swamp buggying, sports tend to be kind of a big deal. And by big deal I mean you’d better hope you don’t ever have a heart attack on a Saturday as the paramedics will likely wait until after the first half before answering your call. The entire county shuts down when the Gators have a home game. And I don’t mean like some stores close early, I mean like the streets look like downtown Kabul during Ramadan. If you want tickets you have to enter a lottery (much like those poor folks funding your education). If you are not lucky enough to win, you typically have to pay some enterprising college student his entire month’s rent for a ticket. This will typically set you back about $75. Needless to say, the athletes do pretty much whatever they want (except bust their car out of towing. Not even a starting defensive back is above that). This is fine with most people since they are the only reason anyone west of I-75 knows Gainesville exists. And while some slight negative encouragement may be perfectly acceptable at the Orange Bowl, if you mention that Urban Meyer has a hair out of place at a UF game you may very well not leave the stadium alive.
CAMPUS LIFE: COUTURE VS. CUT-OFFS
Going to class at the University of Miami is always an interesting spectacle. Because there are one or two students who come from wealthy families in South America, it is not uncommon to see a guy headed for his Psych. 101 class wearing a new Versace shirt and Diesel jeans with a pair of Ferragamo loafers and a Gucci belt. That of course, was for days when he felt like dressing down.
Don’t even get me started on the girls, as the few who have not had breast augmentation wear outfits that cost more than that procedure. Even the American kids have to keep up, and your 8AM class often looks more like the line outside Pearl than it does a college classroom. It’s nice insofar as everyone looking good all the time and developing a keen sense of fashion. Not so nice when you have ten grand in credit card debt when you graduate.
At UF, the line between gym clothes and class clothes is very fine. I think it just has to do with whether you’ve washed them or not. Soccer shorts and a tank top? No problem. Free T-shirt you got when you signed up for your 11th credit card with the sleeves ripped off and a pair of Target warm-ups? That’s the norm. If you are dressed for anything other than bed or the elliptical when you walk into class at UF, people ask why you are so dressed up. Sure, sometimes a guy will wear a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, or a girl will throw on a pair of short shorts and a cute top, but that is generally only if there is someone in class they want to impress.
CLASSES: PERSONAL ATTENTION VS. FIERCE COMPETITION
One thing you really take for granted when you are spending your parents’ life savings on college is that you are usually getting what you pay for. At UM, if you need to take a class, you get in that class. Period. Because at $35,000 a year, the only people taking more than four years to graduate are the employees’ children who go there for free. When you go into your advisor’s office and say “Hey, I know that Methods of Micro-Management class is overenrolled by 15 students, but I need it to graduate,” your advisor, in true Miami fashion, says something like “Okay, let me talk to some people.” And, BLAMMO, the next day you are well on your way to learning to Micro-Manage. Don’t ask any questions, just go to the class and be sure to get you advisor a nice gift for Staff Appreciation Week.
Save for a few lecture classes you may have early on, you will rarely be in a class with more than 30 other people. Many classrooms have leather seats and the air conditioning is always on.
You need a class at UF? You’d better either be sleeping with the registrar or get to that office at 10PM the night before registration starts to camp out. Even though UF has lecture classes with upwards of 300 people, they seem to fill up faster than the student section at a football game. With over 45,000 students on campus, there is a little bit of competition for class space. So, as a result, there are people in the 300 level course I teach that are older than me. And I was born in the 70s.
If you are lucky enough to get into a class, typically the professor of record will not be able to distinguish you form the Mongolian exchange student sitting on your right. When you go to your “lab” (a big-school word for smaller class where you go if you skipped the lecture) your TA either…
GETTING TO SCHOOL: LONG COMMUTE AND NO PARKING VS. LONG COMMUTE AND NO PARKING
Whatever the University of Miami is spending that GNP of a small country you pay for tuition on, it is NOT the dorms. My uncle, who is a criminal defense attorney, came to visit me my freshmen year and his first remark was “I’ve never been in a building like this without a visitor’s badge before.” So, as soon as their mandatory first year in the dorms is over, every UM student rushes to find an apartment off campus. And, even in the jacked-up rental market that is Miami, it is still often cheaper than living in the dorms.
The problem, of course, is that UM is not in a college town. So there are only a couple of large apartment complexes located close enough to campus that a student doesn’t have to drive. Despite the fact that your average UM student would rather have their left foot amputated than step on a bus, Dade County’s public transportation system is so bad it is never even a factor in where someone moves. No UM sophomore who just got their first place across US-1 from Dadeland has said “Yeah, and all I have to do is jump right on the Metrorail and I’m there!” This leaves most students with a sizable commute every day. Unfortunate for the student, but good for the city as this early exposure to Miami traffic plays a large part in their eventual decision to move back to Long Island.
At UF, not only do apartment buildings cater to students, they name every single complex after the school. They basically take one name from column A (consisting of Campus, University, Gator, College and Gator) and one from column B (consisting of Commons, Crossings, Estates, Villas and Place), stick a big pool in the middle, and surround it with cottage-cheese ceilinged and new-appliance having 2 and 4 bedroom apartments. Rented out by the bedroom.
And all complexes boast of being “right on the bus line” that takes you straight to campus. I have yet to ride this alleged “bus line” but I must imagine it takes quite a while as it apparently stops at every single apartment building in Gainesville. But it’s still probably better than the Metrorail.
THE CAMPUS: MANGROVE VS. IVY
UM is a lush, tropical garden of a campus with a beautiful lake in the middle and large, majestic trees dotting the landscape. They have these trees because the majority of buildings on campus were built during that renaissance of architecture known as the 1970s and therefore need to be hidden from view as much as possible. In addition to the ubiquitous flora, the campus is small and easy to get around, with at least short term parking at every building, if not a full-on lot. Again, you get what you pay for.
While parking is still a perpetual problem, there are now two large garages and lots near every classroom. The Student Union is small, the food court is smaller, but then again who needs an on-campus bowling alley when you have Lucky Strike? The gym is more like a high-end health club and for those who like to run, the perimeter of the campus is a pleasant 3.2 mile jaunt, perfect for the recreational jogger.
The only guy I know who regularly runs around UF’s perimeter is my friend Trevor, who is training for the Florida Ironman. I am in good shape and I once tried to walk from my office in the business school to the Southwest Rec gym and had to stop and take a bus. UF’s campus is bigger than a lot of cities in Florida.
On campus, the brick buildings and ivy on the walls almost make you forget you are at a nationally ranked party school. The northeast section of the campus is actually a state historical site, and it looks it. The buildings are grand and old, which at least gives you something to look at as you mate the Bataan death march from class to class. Because only a true massachist would even think about driving.
Even if you do purchase a parking pass, the best you can hope for is parking in one of the large remote lots in the far reaches of campus and either packing two days provisions to walk to class or, you guessed it, taking a bus. And really, if you were going to take the Magic Bus Line anyway, why even bother driving? Most classroom buildings do not have a parking lot adjacent to them. So if you happen to, oh, say, forget your bag in a classroom and then take a bus to your car and drive home and then realize you forgot it, you have to repeat the whole car-to-bus-to-class process over again to get it back. This may be yet another factor in why nobody ever graduates in less than five years.
NIGHTLIFE: A $10 BEER VS. QUARTER PITCHER NIGHT
UM, though technically in Coral Gables, is still in a major metropolitan area. A major metropolitan area with world-class nightclubs, hundreds of bars, and more strip clubs than churches. The only problem, of course, is that a night out in South Beach costs more than tuition at UF. Good thing most students can afford it.
What this leaves is a crippled on-campus social scene, as most students choose to go out to bars and clubs rather than attend a fraternity party for a chapter with 35 members where you can’t drink. The school recently started running a shuttle to Coconut Grove for drunk students to take home, but most still prefer the old “No, no, I’m fine” method that worked for generations of Hurricanes before them. Most students have scoped out the routes back home that feature the least police but, then again, with this being Miami they’d pretty much have to drive into a canal before anyone would stop them. And even then, there are more than a few Miami police who would just keep on driving.
UF, as I’ve said, is a Southern school. This means the Greek system is big, and therefore fraternity parties and off-campus parties in Gainesville are big deals. If Tim Tebow shows up, it is the social event of the month. There are also a bevy of pool parties at the aforementioned student complexes, most of which offer free keg beer and pizza. When it doesn’t rain.
Across from campus is a strip of bars known as “midtown” (and, really, does a place the size of Gainesville rate having a “midtown?”) which makes for convenient and cheap binge drinking for the students, but does deprive them of that great college tradition of black-out driving. There is a downtown too, which features some higher-end clubs and lounges. And by higher end I mean they charge $100 for a bottle of Grey Goose in the VIP. Yes, drinking in Gainesville is aimed at kids who go to public school, so getting wasted on a Monday doesn’t really have much of a financial deterrent.
Getting home, however is another story. As the world recently learned, cops in Gainesville don’t have a whole lot to do, so getting pulled over after a long night out is a lot more likely. Good thing the city has ample taxi cabs. And by ample I mean 6. Towing laws here would make even a South Beach tow truck driver salivate, so while going out here is a cheap easy social endeavor, getting home is a little more difficult.
So while some may prefer life in the cosmopolitan insanity that is Miami and go to UM, others will prefer the big state school experience in Gainesville. The schools are about as different as the cities themselves, and the students, their lives, and their lifestyles don’t have much in common besides going to class and studying. But despite the good, the bad, and the often annoying, there is still one great thing about both institutions: Neither one is Florida State.
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