“So You Don’t Have To”: A Visit to Rochester Institute of Technology

As promised, I will use this space to share my experiences visiting colleges with you. Hopefully you will find these notes useful. If you like the schools I discuss you should do everything you can to visit on your own, but this will tide you over until you are able to get there yourself.


In mid-April I visited Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), a private university located in upstate New York. RIT sports a modern, brick-clad campus and its research and laboratory facilities are first-rate. My perspective on RIT has benefited from having several of my former students choose it. Just recently (during a great follow-up visit with them at a diner near the campus) they disclosed that RIT has been a good mix of challenging academics and preparation for their future careers. After seeing the combination of “geek chic” and vibrant energy on the campus, I am happy to recommend it to my college counselees who are looking for a thriving community that offers lots of practical experience.


Rochester Institute of Technology At A Glance

About 13,500 undergraduates (approximately 67% men/ 33% women). There are an additional 2,500 or so graduate students.
Programs of Study:
Over 95 majors, 82 minors and 42 “immersions” (three-course concentrations). Bachelor (B.S. or B.F.A.), Master and Doctorate degree programs in many fields, including accelerated B.S./M.S. and 4 + 1 M.B.A. options.
NCAA Division III (except men’s and women’s ice hockey, which is Division I); 26 varsity teams (13 women’s, 13 men’s); over a dozen club sports and numerous intramurals.
Campus Life:
Over 300 clubs and organizations on campus. Downtown Rochester is not far away, and it has several nice museums as well as parks along the Erie Canal. They also have campuses in Bosnia, Croatia and Dubai.
Costs & Aid:
Tuition, room & board and fees total just about $47,300 (tuition is around $35,000); note that total costs for deaf and hard of hearing students is closer to $26,000. Parents need to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
The Early Decision deadline is December 1. Other admission is rolling, with a priority deadline of February 1.
SAT or ACT. Mid 50% of the old scale SAT are 1630-1950 (CR+M+ W) and 26-31 for the ACT. Note that for some programs the mid 50% of scores is much higher. The overall acceptance rate is around 57%
In the center of campus is this infinity sculpture.

Rochester Institute of Technology is located just outside the city of Rochester, New York. Rochester is the third largest city in the Empire State, but it is on the smaller size with less than a quarter of a million people.  Rochester boasts that they are “within six hours of New York City, Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Montreal” and that they are “much closer than that to Niagara Falls and Toronto”. In plainer language it means that they are a relatively isolated campus. This might explain why all students (even first years) get to have cars. I’m sure that comes in handy when people just need to get away or when they want to take advantage of the many off campus work opportunities presented to them at RIT. Despite its size it offers many work opportunities thanks to the presence of such large corporations as Eastman Kodak, Monroe Muffler and Brake and Wegman’s; all of which are based in the metro area. RIT was established in 1829 and it moved to its present campus in 1969, which explains its architecture, some of which is modern and interesting, while other building exteriors are nondescript at best.

More academic buildings

RIT’s campus is quite extensive. My tour was not as comprehensive as a normal one because I attended on a special open house day, but I was able to see quite a lot (while logging over 6,000 steps according to my iPhone!). Nearly all of the buildings look virtually identical, thanks in part to the use of a special type of brick which is unique to RIT. They call the campus “Brick City”, and it is easy to see why once you get there. I found the campus to be pretty unattractive myself, but I don’t think people should choose a college based on the exterior of the buildings (besides, for half the year it is so cold most people use the underground tunnels anyway, and they seem to be much more appealing.

My tour guide did not emphasize campus security the way that many tours do, and I didn’t see lots of emergency call boxes, but the campus seemed to be very well equipped with light posts for nighttime walks around the campus. Later, when I mentioned this to one of the members of the admissions office I was told that there are actually 90 “blue boxes” around the campus. But most notably, RIT has found a new, modern, high-tech solution to the issue of student safety. RIT students have designed a smartphone app which students can activate and will send Public Safety officers right to their location, even if they move. Pretty cool!

The pool in the Gordon Field House


RIT has 22 varsity sports (11 each for men and women) which compete at the NCAA Division III level, except for the ice hockey teams, which are Division I (and play in a brand new 4,000 seat arena complete with a 100 member pep band). They also have numerous club sports and intramurals, and RIT makes sure to keep their turf field plowed of snow even in the deepest winter to facilitate student participation; according to the school, more than 50 percent of students play intramural sports. RIT’s athletic and recreational facilities are very well-equipped, including multiple pools, workout facilities, tennis and racquetball courts, and numerous sports fields. There also seems to be a bit of the quirkiness that one finds on a campus full of smart people; when I was walking back to my car after the tour I passed three strangely dressed young women (wearing striped shirts and tulle skirts) advertising a “prom dress rugby” match the next day.

Images of Ritchie (get it?) the Tiger are all over the campus

Students who are interested in applying to Rochester Institute of Technology can use the Common Application. RIT is somewhat selective, admitting about 57% of its applicants. That said, some majors are more competitive than others. Overall, 95% of students finished in the top half of their graduating class; the mid-50% of the SAT are 1630-1950 (CR+M+W) and 26-31 for the ACT–these are pretty high scores! Please note that 15 programs require an art portfolio to be submitted along with the application. RIT has a comparatively late Regular Admissions deadline of February 1, and after that they have rolling admissions until the class is complete. To be considered for financial aid, parents need only complete the FAFSA. 


I still can’t believe this was made on a printer!

It is important for me to emphasize that RIT is not a liberal arts institution. Students who want to take a smorgasbord of introductory classes and dabble in various disciplines would find themselves out of place at RIT where focused, driven student who enter with a clear sense of their future plans are the norm. Students learn deeply about their chosen field, and academic buildings have much more laboratory space than classrooms, emphasizing RIT’s hands-on approach. And the lab spaces are SERIOUSLY high-tech. In the space of only a few buildings I saw a semi-conductor lab, a high-end woodworking shop, and a production facility for small cars and aircraft.  In the last room, a motorcycle was mounted on the wall. Our tour guide told us that the cycle was manufactured in the lab–in fact, she said that except for the rubber tires, the entire thing had been printed on 3-D printers!

“What happens when the left brain and right brain collide”

RIT places a premium on students learning by doing. One of my former students is studying
mechanical engineering, but he has also begun developing mobile apps (winning second place in “Tiger Tank”, a take-off of tv’s Shark Tank). The president of RIT gave my student a $30,000 grant to develop the program and RIT will be the first customer.  RIT does everything they can to encourage students to make a contribution to their field. Every May they host “Imagine RIT”, which draws over 35,000 visitors to campus to see the creative output of RIT students. It sounds like a great event, and when I visited (about three weeks prior) there was already lots of excitement about it. According to RIT’s President Bill Destler (who is quite popular with my students–they call him “Banjo Bill” for his large collection of the musical instruments), “Imagine RIT demonstrates what can be accomplished when the left brain and right brain collide”. In a lot of ways, that is a great description of RIT itself.

A student at the WE@RIT booth in the engineering building

The most popular majors at RIT are engineering, computer and information sciences, and visual and performing arts. Perhaps that explains the extreme imbalance between men and women on campus. At a time when 71% of women attend college the year after graduating high school, but only 61% of men do, it is not common to see a college with two-thirds of the student body being men. With these demographics in mind, RIT appears committed to doing what they can to improve opportunities for women. I met with two of my former students and they said that they felt that the messages of gender equality and equal opportunity were constantly reinforced in their classes and in interactions with professors. The “WE@RIT” women engineering group seemed to have a high profile on campus, and several of the most outstanding graduates (more on that later) were members.

Keeping in mind RIT’s approach of practical educational experiences and fostering creativity, the university offers over 95 majors in the following colleges and schools:

    • College of Applied Science and Technology

        • School of Engineering Technology

      • School of International Hospitality and Service Innovation

    • Saunders College of Business

    • B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences

    • Kate Gleason College of Engineering

    • College of Health Sciences and Technology

    • College of Imaging Arts and Sciences

        • School for American Crafts

        • School of Art

        • School of Design

        • School of Film and Animation

        • School of Media Sciences

      • School of Photographic Arts and Sciences

    • College of Liberal Arts

    • College of Science

  • National Technical Institute for the Deaf

Students can also earn degrees from the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies, and the Golisano Institute for Sustainability.

RIT is also one of a small number of institutions that requires (in most cases) a co-operative or internship experience for all students. A co-op is an opportunity for students to leave the groves of academe and get real work experience (and get paid for it) during their college years. This is a great chance for students to learn more about their chosen fields while also getting exposure to prospective employers and building their resumes. One of my former students did a co-op with Cisco and was offered a job with a year and a half left in his undergraduate career; how wonderful it must be to know that a great job awaits him when he finishes his studies! According to RIT, nearly 95% of their graduating students are employed or in grad school within six months of commencement, and of those employed, over 50% work for one of their co-op employers. If you are interested in RIT (or in co-operative education) you should request their brochure. It lists the requirements for co-ops for each major, and the average earnings per semester for students. This is a fantastic advantage for RIT graduates and appeals to students who can’t wait for that real world experience.

Another aspect of RIT which sets it apart is the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. Deaf and hard of hearing students are fully accommodated at the university. According to their website, the NTID provides “deaf and hard of hearing students with outstanding technical and professional education programs, complemented by a strong liberal arts and sciences curriculum, that prepares them to live and work in the mainstream of a rapidly changing global community and enhances their lifelong learning.” Every class, lecture, or public gathering features sign-language translators and videos are all close-captioned. Deaf and hard of hearing students can have their own personal translators as well, and anyone wanting to learn American Sign Language, or considering a career in translating, might want to consider RIT.

Rochester Institute of Technology is a very interesting place, and one thing that I really liked was the culture of appreciation and gratitude that they exude. I visited in April because one of my former students was going to receive recognition as an RIT Outstanding Undergraduate Scholar. This is an award given to the top 1% of students in every major; actually being in the top 1% is just the beginning, because the award is only granted following the vote of faculty. The award ceremony took place in the fieldhouse with faculty and administrators parading in full academic regalia preceded by a bagpiper. As each student was brought to the stage to receive their medal from President Destler, the university Provost read a long list of compliments about them written by their professors. When that was done, students were able to shake hands and/or hug their professors. It was a warm, moving ceremony that celebrated the students’ personalities and their accomplishments, and the descriptions of each student in the program were impressive indeed. I have no doubt that the best of the best at RIT are truly among the top students in the world.


I will always cherish this certificate

It wasn’t just students who were recognized at RIT that weekend. They also had a ceremony for outstanding alumni and one for outstanding staff members (I was so psyched to see that one of the staff members receiving recognition had been a close supporter of my former student). Another really neat form of appreciation and gratitude came after the ceremony you saw above. It turns out the RIT asks each of the Outstanding Undergraduate Scholars to nominate the high school or community college teacher who meant the most to them earlier in life. I was honored beyond expression that my student named me as that teacher. The other honorees and I were brought to Rochester from all over the country (or the world), put up in a hotel and invited to the awards ceremony and to a banquet immediately following. After the lovely dinner (at which students, professors, family and high school teachers enjoyed convivial conversation) the provost went to the microphone and read wonderful tributes to the teachers written by the students while the president presented a commemorative certificate. The entire event was built around the leadership of RIT expressing their appreciation for secondary school educators, and an awareness that we (and the students) were all partners in their success, and in making the world a better place. I am so thankful to have had the chance to be a part of this ceremony and I know that I will treasure this experience for the rest of my life.


This statue is a mash-up of art, engineering and humanities

After reading this post, I think it goes without saying that I enjoyed my visit to Rochester Institute of Technology, not just because of the chance to connect with two wonderful former students but also to get to know the university that has helped them thrive and reach the next level of their careers.  RIT compares well against larger state universities in terms of resources but also provides many of the amenities and benefits (especially financial) of a prosperous private university.  The campus, while not particularly attractive, was very functional and easy to navigate, and it didn’t lack anything (though more trees and grass might have been nice).  According to the presentation I attended, RIT guarantees “the best career focused education anywhere” and that their alumni will be “as competitive in the job market as any graduate anywhere in the world”. If you are looking for a large, college on the east coast that offers co-op programs (such as Drexel University, or Northeastern University or Worcester Polytechnic Institute) I would definitely give RIT a close look. I look forward to recommending it to more of my own students.


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