- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 15, 2006

George Washington University student Russell Tanguay came here to learn about leadership. Georgetown University’s Moises Mendoza liked the Jesuit tradition of the university and also the M Street scene and the District’s diversity. Jessica Artis was offered full scholarships at several universities but chose Howard University in Northwest, just a few miles from her Mitchellville home, because “it captured my heart.”

Ask any of the 140,000 Washington-area college students (70,000 of whom attend school within the District of Columbia) what attracted them, and you will get as wide a variety of answers as there are students: Business programs. Arts departments. The proximity to Capitol Hill. The Greek scene. The bar scene.

As thousands of high school seniors look to their mailboxes this month for college acceptance and rejection letters, local colleges, naturally, have a presence on the return-address labels.

Sure, Boston, with its ivy-covered walls and Harvard, Boston College, Boston University and MIT, comes to mind. Perhaps Philadelphia, home to the University of Pennsylvania, Temple and Villanova universities and a host of others, would be a good place to go to school.

Despite the dozens of schools around the nation’s capital, Washington for some does not immediately come to mind as a hot college town, says Sally Kram, director of public and governmental affairs for the Consortium of Universities of the Metropolitan Washington Area. Her group is an association that fosters communication and sharing of resources and ideas among area colleges.

Two main reasons: The federal government will always shape Washington’s main identity, and D.C.-area campuses are spread out, Ms. Kram says.

“In Philadelphia, you have Penn on top of Drexel,” she says. “Other than Catholic right next to Trinity, we don’t have that here. You have Georgetown in Georgetown, George Washington in Foggy Bottom, Howard over on Georgia Avenue. Students don’t get that much of an opportunity to interact with one another.”

Mr. Mendoza, a senior from Oregon who hopes to be a journalist, says his Georgetown experience has been within “kind of a bubble.”

“We don’t have a Metro stop here,” he says. “I don’t really know many people from other schools. But this is a fantastic college town. There are great restaurants, sports, politics. There is a little of everything.”

Indeed, there is an atmosphere or program to fit almost all types, Ms. Kram says. Looking for a smaller, more contained school? Try American University. Are you religious? the Catholic University of America or Georgetown might be for you. Looking for a larger, state-school atmosphere? The University of Maryland has the parties and a huge variety of majors. Like sports? George Mason University’s recent run to the NCAA Final Four has brought new attention to the Fairfax school.

“The campuses are all very different,” Ms. Kram says.

When Christina Mica, director of admissions at Catholic, promotes her 6,000-student school in Northeast, she also is selling its Washington location. Cherry blossoms and Chinatown are played in the marketing materials alongside Catholic’s top social work and music schools.

“I don’t think Washington is perceived as a college town,” Ms. Mica says. “The government and political aspects overtake it. We have applicants from all 50 states who are often looking at other colleges in D.C. We try to emphasize in our literature the urban environment, the tree-lined campus, the Division III athletics and the location — three minutes from the Capitol.”

George Washington highlights its location in the nation’s capital with an up-close tour for prospective students and their families. Visitors take a trolley ride past some of the District’s most famous sites — including the Mall and the White House, located just four blocks away from the GW campus.

“People can see how close we are to everything,” says GW spokeswoman Adela de la Torre. “We tend to think we are unique to be here in the heart of D.C.”

GW senior Russell Tanguay needed no sales pitch. As a high school student in Connecticut, he considered the University of Connecticut, Northwestern University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill among his top college choices.

Mr. Tanguay already was planning a career in law and politics, so George Washington was the best fit, he says.

“I came here for a leadership conference in high school,” he says. “When I returned for an interview [at GW], I pictured myself happy here the second I set foot on campus.”

Mr. Tanguay, whose graduation is just weeks away, says he has had the total D.C. college experience. He likes to go to Clyde’s of Georgetown and Porter’s Dining Saloon in Foggy Bottom. He belongs to a fraternity. He works part time as a paralegal assistant at the Department of Justice.

He calls the latter experience “uniquely D.C.”

“I wouldn’t have done anything like that at UConn,” he says.

Mr. Mendoza says an important part of his college experience has been seeing urban life at its best and its worst.

“If you never leave Northwest D.C., you think everyone in Washington is wealthy and white,” he says. “But you go farther afield, and you see diversity and people overcoming interesting challenges. A lot of Georgetown students are committed to the service aspect of the Jesuits and volunteer in other parts of the city.”

Rabiah Susberry, a Howard senior from Houston, says she chose Howard because she wanted to learn about business, international relations and African studies.

“Howard has been a really good opportunity to branch out,” she says. “It’s a wonderful chance for an international experience. I wouldn’t get that in Houston. This is an international city — it has really opened my eyes.”

Miss Susberry, who would like to work in international public health, likes the area so much she wants to go to graduate school at George Washington.

Howard student Jessica Artis was just 16 when she graduated last year from Charles H. Flowers High School in Prince George’s County. A year later, she is an experienced college student and city dweller.

“I love it here,” she says, sitting at the Starbucks attached to the Howard University bookstore as she fills out paperwork for an internship with the nonprofit Executive Leadership Council and Foundation. “There is so much to do. I always discover something new. There is the Kennedy Center. There is U Street — I have been to some really nice restaurants. I am taking DJ lessons.”

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