Dollar$ and Sense: Why students choose UMass

By DailyCollegian.com Staff

Editor’s Note: The following appears as part of a series, Dollar$ and Sense, featuring reports from the class of Journalism 301, taught by UMass journalism department lecturer and internship coordinator B.J. Roche.

Cows and horses graze the rolling landscape that surrounds the University of Massachusetts campus, boasting high-rises that mimic skyscrapers and a view that, from a distance, could resemble a city skyline. The 1,463 acres that UMass rests on is filled with a diverse range of scenery.

Amanda Joinson/Collegian
Amanda Joinson/Collegian

This scene is one reason why some out-of-state students are drawn to UMass.

The College Board shows that out-of-state students account for 26 percent of the first-year UMass population.

According to UMass, the campus educates 3,880 out-of-staters from 50 states. About 1,300 first-year students came from out of state this fall. Many students come from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, California, Rhode Island, Maine, Illinois and Colorado.

Junior Ali Baltrusaitis, 19, comes from Long Beach, N.Y., only about a three hour drive from Amherst. But that was just far enough for her to feel relieved of the same old scene of her home state.

“I guess it was the personality and mentality,” said Baltrusaitis. “I wanted a change in that aspect. The state schools in New York are all pretty much the same.”

UMass fulfilled the top criteria of Baltrusaitis’ college selection process.

“I looked at a bunch of schools all over the country and decided on UMass because it had a large class size and Division 1 sports,” said Baltrusaitis. “Since my high school didn’t really have a great amount of school spirit, I knew coming here would be a perfect fit. Also the fact that you can participate in club and intramurals got my attention because if I didn’t want to do a club sport, there were intramural teams that seemed to be just as competitive.”

Social life was also an important aspect when choosing to come to UMass, Baltrusaitis noted.

“I knew all about the Southwest [Residential] Area and how it was more of a party scene with the type of people I would like to meet,” said Baltrusaitis. “I also liked the whole feel of the Southwest [Residential] Area with towers and low-rises and how even at a school this big it seems smaller at a glance. I knew I didn’t have to join Greek life to meet people and have a good time here so that was a plus compared to other schools.”

Sophomore Julia Crescentini, 19, of Nashua, N.H., had planned for her major right out of high school. This young woman with Freeze-Pop red hair paired with minty green eyes decided against University of New Hampshire, even though it costs her more to go to UMass, because she felt UMass had more academic options.

“I didn’t even apply [to UNH]. I’m a double major in German and Japanese and my state school didn’t offer any German,” said Crescentini. “That was pretty much the deal breaker so I didn’t even look further into it.”

Crescentini’s mother did most of her college research during her junior year of high school. Her mother thought she would like UMass because of its balance of being a big school that isn’t too urban.

What really had her on her way to UMass, though, rather than another school offering her desired majors, was the desire to start anew, she said.

“I didn’t really have any friends in the area and I just wanted to go somewhere else but not somewhere far away,” said Crescentini.

Sophomore Kelsey Henshaw, a 19-year-old from Rhode Island, picked UMass and the University of Rhode Island as her top two schools; UMass won.  She said she’s glad to be in a different environment and meeting new people.

“I like Rhode Island but I’ve been living [t]here my whole life, so it’s kind of getting old,” she said. “Over 75 percent of my high school went there.”

Henshaw didn’t need much convincing from a friend that gave her a tour last year of UMass.

“At my high school, they had representatives come and I signed up for UMass because it sounded cool and my friends were doing it,” she said. “The representative explained the school really well. I took a tour and I really liked the campus a lot.”

Henshaw lives in the Sylvan Residential Area on campus and feels that it is much more accommodating than URI’s housing.

“They automatically have three in a room,” said Henshaw. “They have bunk beds in the room so they could even have four people in there if they needed to – which is the same size as our doubles.”

California born Courtney Zimmer , 21, of Texas, also needed a change and decided to come to UMass.

“I pretty much hated everything about growing up in Kingwood, Texas, and always knew that when I turned 18 I was going to leave,” said Zimmer. “I went to a very big high school and small college didn’t interest me. Basically it was a chance to get out of Texas and living on the east coast intrigued me.”

Senior Zoe Balmuth, 21, of Towson, Md., also wanted to see new faces.

“[The University of Maryland] – College Park was filled with everyone I had always known and when I visited it just didn’t feel like the right fit – little fences around all the grass, no one sitting around just enjoying the day,” said Balmuth. “Everyone looked stressed out and was running around looking confused.”

Balmuth also had an unconventional reason for coming to UMass.

“I came to UMass because of the song ‘UMass’ by the Pixies,” said Balmuth. “They actually met in Van Meter Hall. When my parents tried pushing me to go to an Ivy League school, I just kept saying I was going to go where the Pixies went. It became a bit of a joke.”

Out-of-state students, though, pay $25,400 in tuition and fees compared to an in-state tuition and fee charge of $12,612.

“The tuition for New York’s state school compared to UMass is only about a $10,000 difference,” said Baltrusaitis. “That didn’t seem very steep to my parents.”

These numbers, though, can sometimes be challenging for students who are newly responsible for all of their own college expenses.

“Tuition went up $5,000 for me this year, which obviously is a little ridiculous,” said Crescentini. “I still got my financial aid, but I have to start paying out of pocket this year as well.”

Some out-of-state students get a break for participating in certain academic programs. In some instances, these breaks can attempt to even the keel between in-state and out-of-state tuition.

“Out-of-state tuition is a lot here,” said Henshaw. “But I’m in [the] sport management [program], which is the New England regional rate so I get $10,000 off. One thing I didn’t like is that they don’t offer the major international business, but I like the school better.”

For Balmuth, the change in scenery was worth the price.

“I considered price including in-state tuition,” said Balmuth. “But it was important to me to get out of where I had grown up, and it was actually cheaper than the other out-of-state schools I had gotten into.”

Besides her gravitation toward UMass when she visited the campus, Henshaw said she has found aesthetic value in the individual buildings on campus. She also said she likes not having to have a car to travel between the buildings.

“I like the way the buildings are – they look historically cool,” she said. “One thing about here is they have buses. They have buses around Rhode Island but it’s mainly in Providence which is not close to URI  in North Kingston.”

Some of the out-of-state students also said that the surrounding area in the community also drew them to the campus.

“I like rural areas and the farm is nearby,” said Crescentini. “The towns nearby aren’t packed. I guess it kind of reminds me of Boston a little bit, which is one of my favorite places.”

Baltrusaitis said she is delighted to have new small-town ambiance on hand whenever she needs it.

“I loved the towns of Amherst and Northampton that surrounded the college and the country feel they gave me that I was not used too,” said Baltrusaitis.

Zimmer said she enjoys the difference in culture from her home in Texas at UMass.

“I just love the whole New England feel of Amherst,” said Zimmer.

“I love the area,” added Henshaw. “I like how when you’re on campus you feel like you’re in some type of city, but when you go off campus it’s like farm out there. So it’s like you’re still part of something here but if you want to take a break you can go out there.”

Christina O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]