A charming place to spend your formative independent years. John Carroll, named after the first archbishop of the United States (and a Jesuit archbishop, at that), is, unsurprisingly, a Catholic university, sponsored by the Jesuit order. This means you get a Jesuit education. Now, the great majority of kids these days seem not to go to Catholic school past their senior year of high school, if at all. Not so in my case, and in the case of the students here. No, we have two religion requirements to fulfill (although I'm pretty sure the grad students don't have any), 24 brothers living on campus, a very active chapter of Right to Life (one of my suitemates senior year was vice president), a new Institute of Catholic Studies, the Cardinal Suenens program in theology and church life, the Ignatian Spirituality Institute, the Borromeo Seminary, and a chapel in the main recplex to boot. All this in the middle of a half Catholic, half Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in University Heights, on the east side of scenic Cleveland.

In 1886, St. Ignatius University was founded as a men's college in Cleveland. It was renamed to honor John Carroll in 1923. After a period of time, the funds were available to purchase a different, larger campus in what was then a fairly rural area outside the city. The school moved to this location in 1935, and remains there (although now surrounded by the far inner suburban belt) today. Women were admitted in 1968; today John Carroll is a fully coeducational institution.

JCU is small, compact, and cozy. There are lots of trees, lots of brick, lots of skunks, and a giant bust of John Carroll himself, over which you can throw feather boas in order to take pictures. You can walk from any one building on campus to another in five minutes: very handy if you live on campus and have tendencies to sleep in. The main quad is surrounded on four sides by dorms and classroom buildings; a few other dorms and buildings trail off, but for the most part, the university is laid out within this square. Currently, there is a new science center under construction on the front quad (i.e. there is no more front quad on which to play intramural soccer); after this is completed, it will serve (with the AD building) as one of the two main classroom buildings. In the meantime, there is at least a year of construction left; it will be pretty noisy on campus for a couple years. The construction site is separated from all dorms by the AD building, though, so I wouldn't worry too much about missing sleep. But keep in mind that John Carroll has been consistently undergoing construction projects since the 1980s; after revamping the oldest dorm and the AD basement, and building two new dorms, the O'Malley Center, the Dolan Center, and the Don Shula '51 Arena, who knows what they will do next?

The JCU community is also pretty compact, with only 3300 undergraduate students and a student/faculty ratio of 15/1. Students tend to live on campus, often for all four years of their education: the dorms are all pretty nice, and offer a sense of tight community you will not find at a large university. Most of those who live off campus either commute from their homes in Cleveland or live within walking distance. Everyone sees the same signs and reads the student paper: everyone knows what is currently going on at the university. Everyone knows each other. Everyone knows all the gossip: it's almost like high school. Faculty are active and visible: the Jesuit brothers and the president of the university can be seen walking around campus practically every day, while the professors frequent the same Fairmount Circle bar and Arabica as the students do. You will run into friends and acquaintances constantly, whether on or immediately around campus. You can find the professors you need to talk to, and they have the time to talk with you. You can even usually find the administrative officers you need to talk to, as a smaller school makes for a smaller bureaucracy.

Speaking of bureaucracy: while I was a student, the office of university president was semi-vacant, and the administration was in a constant tizzy over filling it. The previous (and much loved) president of the university, Father Michael Lavelle, had died suddenly in 1994, the year before I came in as a freshman. The administration was totally unprepared to hire a new president, having had no time to form the usual search committees, and so they essentially panicked and dithered for a few years of subsititutes and unsatisfactory choices. Eventually, by my senior year, they hired Father Edward Glynn. Although I haven't been around to witness firsthand, he seems to have adjusted into the university community very well -- certainly better than any of the candidates on campus while I was there.

JCU is said to be pretty strict, academically; while I have little to compare this to in an undergraduate university, I do think it is true. While classes are not as diverse as those offered at a large university -- it is difficult to concentrate on one branch within a major, for instance, but the university is simply too small to support too many classes within each major -- the available classes are thorough and detailed. Students are required to take a wide variety of classes, according to a liberal arts curriculum: there are multiple humanities, social science, and math/science division requirements. Philosophy is required (three classes), as is religion (two). One full year of a foreign language is required as well. People bitched up and down about this requirement when the core curriculum was changed several years ago, but I personally think it is a good, important development: you damn well need to know at least one other language.

John Carroll offers a wide variety of extracurricular activities for such a small school. The sports teams participate in the Ohio Athletic Conference and the NCAA Division II. The drama program puts on a constant schedule of plays and musicals. The debate team kicks some serious ass at state competitions. You get newspaper, band, choir, a few fraternities and sororities, intramural sports, a variety of service organizations, academic honor societies, and a student union: all the regular activities. And it is relatively easy to start your own union-recognized and funded organization if you so desire.

And then Cleveland is just a Rapid Green Line ride away. I personally wanted to live in a small city, so I could learn to operate in a limited urban environment; that worked pretty well. There are lots of things to do in Cleveland, but it's not overwhelming for a small town kid (which, well, I wasn't one, but you do get a good chunk of small town kids along with the suburbanites). You can go to Jacobs Field for Indians games (and you had BETTER learn to like both the Indians and Browns if you want to live in Cleveland), Severance Hall for the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra (at student rates, no less), Tower City for expensive shopping. John Carroll is in close proximity to the Coventry district, a great shopping and residential area in Cleveland Heights, as well as to University Circle, home of Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institutes of Art and Music. It's not dead; it's not boring. Cleveland is good! I lived there for four years, and you can just shut up with your making fun of it. You do Not make fun of Cleveland if you live there: you are proud of it.

Yes, anyway. John Carroll is a good school. It's small and personable and secure, and you will get a good education there. The kids there are largely Catholics from the greater Cleveland area, but there are substantial Protestant and Chicagoan and Pittsburgher populations as well: no one is going to harp at you for not being Catholic (they will say "oh, okay" instead), and certainly not for being from out of state. There is a large blue-collar population; John Carroll offers one hell of a lot of financial aid for a small private school, so it is a better quality school than many of these kids would have the opportunity to attend otherwise. There are problems, yes, but any school will have problems. For instance, JCU is said to have a big per capita binge drinking problem; most students think this is a bunch of crap next to the industrial drinking that goes on at larger public universities, but it is still mentioned frequently. There are lots of dorm parties, but there are lots of busts of said dorm parties if you can't keep it down: the RAs are stricter here than they seem to be at larger schools, but they aren't ridiculous. It all seems pretty regular to me, and realistic.

I can't figure out how to end this without sounding like an advertisement, so. It's a good school. I liked it, although I also had problems with it. It might be a good choice of college for you.


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