College admissions are competitive, and not just from the student's side. Sure, sometimes it's hard to get into the college of your choice, but the schools are fighting just as hard to lure in top applicants. While some colleges boast about class sizes, graduate fellowships, and endowment growth rates, this sort of info is likely to bore the 17-year-old students they're wooing. Instead, some schools try to come up with unique perks that appeal to students, often in the form of free services.
While the cost of these "free" perks is undoubtedly built back into tuition bills, when a family's spending upwards of $40,000 a year for school, it can't hurt to help them feel like they're getting something for nothing. Here are a few you might be jealous of:
1. Free Laundry
Nothing's more maddening for a college student than wanting to study, party, or sleep, only to be confronted with a massive mound of laundry. Most of us know that if left unchecked, these piles of dirty clothes can grow until they're on the brink of becoming sentient beings, but students at Davidson, an elite liberal arts college in North Carolina, don't have to worry about it. Their college does the laundry for them.
Since 1919, Davidson has been operating a laundry facility that allows students to drop off their laundry and pick it up once its clean and smelling of dryer sheets. At the Lula Bell Houston Laundry, students' dress shirts and blouses are even pressed and put on hangers for them. The laundry clears about six tons' worth of dirty clothes and linens a week, but if students prefer to keep their filthy t-shirts to themselves, the school also offers free self-service washers and dryers in the dorms.
As if that's not enough, Davidson was even more generous when its basketball team made a miraculous run to the NCAA's Sweet 16 last March. The school shelled out the cash for free bus transport to the venue in Detroit, two nights' lodging, and a free ticket to the game for any student who wanted to go cheer on their Cinderella in person.
2. Free Skiing
Michigan Technological University offers a pretty standard slate of majors for its students, but it also has a real estate holding that might lure in applicants. The school owns Mont Ripley, a ski slope on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. While normal lift-ticket prices run at around $35 a day, Michigan Tech students can hit the slopes without dropping a dime.
3. Free Computers
At my undergrad alma mater, Wake Forest, one of the chief perks is that when you showed up for freshman orientation, the school gives you a fully loaded IBM Thinkpad and a printer. Students keep this laptop for two years, then trade it in for a new model before their junior year. Students then take this one with them when they graduate.
While there was a downside to the system (if profs know everyone has a laptop, they're not the least bit shy about making you tote it to class), it really upped the on-campus computing efficiency. Any program you needed for a class was already loaded on the laptop, and since everyone on campus was operating one of only two types of machines, tech support could diagnose problems and fix them really quickly.
4. Free Theater Tickets
Nothing irks actors and theater owners quite so much as playing to an empty house, so if tickets are moving slowly, why not fill the seats with college students? NYU's Ticket Central can wrangle Broadway and Off-Broadway tickets for up to 75% off their face values, but sometimes, the school can get lucky students into theaters for free to help fill otherwise thin crowds. Ticket Central also boasts that it can get students into Knicks games for as little as $12 and into Mets games for just $3. Of course, the way those teams have played in the last year or so, that offer might scare off more prospective students than it entices.
5. Personalized Birthday Cakes
College birthdays are often all sorts of debauched fun, but at least in my experience, they were often sorely lacking in quality cake. Sure, sometimes you'd get a pan full of Betty Crocker-ed good intentions cooked in a dorm oven, which are precisely calibrated to burn cakes' edges while leaving the center liquid, but it was rare to see a real birthday cake. Ohio University's dining services can fix that, though, by allowing students' parents to join the Birthday Club. For $18, parents can make sure their kid gets a personalize birthday cake and all of the plates, napkins, and forks they'll need to share it with their friends. [Note: The cake pictured above is not the work of Ohio University's dining services. It's from Cake Wrecks, with this caption: "Here we have a beautifully done blue horse. Unfortunately, it was supposed to be a blue house."]
6. Cheap Golf
College students who want to golf on a tight budget often have to resign themselves to finding the rattiest municipal course they can find and hoping they survive the ordeal. Students at Stanford, though, have access to the Stanford Golf Course, a legendary course that's hosted such greats as Tom Watson and Tiger Woods since it opened in 1930. Only students, alumni, faculty, and their guests can enjoy the course's picturesque views of San Francisco, and for guests the price is pretty steep, up to $110 a round. Students, though, get a great deal on greens fees; they can get in a full round for just $25.
What unique perks did your school offer?