There's a water park at Texas Tech, a campus steakhouse at North Carolina's High Point University and a 293,000-square-foot indoor beach club on the main campus of the University of Missouri, replete with lazy river, whirlpools, waterfalls and waiters. All of which raises the question: college or country club?
For the last decade, colleges across the U.S. have been tricking out campuses to compete in an amenities arms race aimed at attracting prospective freshmen. Free tanning, bouldering caves, gourmet dining and luxury fitness centers are not uncommon. At MIT, students housed in Simmons Hall enjoy PS3 gaming stations and Roku access in every lounge, a ball pit and private bathrooms.
Closer to home, residence halls at Pomona College offer smart-home technology, solar heating and a rooftop garden with a movie screen. Nearby, the romantic Spanish Colonial dorms at Scripps College are consistently voted "most beautiful" in the nation. Chapman University boasts the tallest university-owned rock wall in Southern California (51 feet), and UCLA just opened Bruin Plate, one of the country's first health-themed dining halls.
It's not home away from home. It's better.
"I think we can go through a list of amenities that 20 years ago would have seemed shocking on a college campus," says Robert Franek, the Princeton Review's senior vice president of publishing and lead author of "Best 379 Colleges." "You can call it an amenities arms race, but it solidly fits into the idea of campus culture and what we expect there."
Bottom line? More than 3 million students are expected to apply to an average of seven to nine colleges each, starting this fall. "Schools are competing for those students, and they're competing hard," Franek says. "If all things are created equal academically, what are the other campus-culture type of things that are going to affect lifestyle? I doubt it comes down to a 25-seat spa at a particular residence hall, but if there are many amenities at a particular campus, it could sway a student."