Until I started watching Fixer Upper, the Waco-based HGTV show starring Baylor alums Chip and Joanna Gaines, I’d never considered visiting Waco for any length of time, except as a midway meal stop between Austin and Dallas. But as a result of the show’s popularity, Waco has now been rated a top travel destination by TripAdvisor. All this attention on its famous alums has generated tons of free marketing for Baylor, the world’s largest Baptist University that offers small class sizes (average undergraduate class size is 27). This year, 34 percent of Baylor students came from out of state, with California sending the highest number of students.
On my recent visit to Baylor, the first thing I notice is its beautifully manicured, resort-like campus, something Cheyenne, my group’s tour guide (and junior business major from Frisco, TX) mentions as we walk by rows of flowers lining the main green.
“When I was on my tour my dad embarrassed me by asking the tour guide if the Baylor tuition was so high [compared to public universities] because of the landscaping costs,” she says. “But actually an alum writes a check directly to the landscaping company – it’s not something tuition pays for.”
If the new business building and football stadium are any indication, Baylor has other wealthy alums happy to give back to their beloved alma mater. The recently opened Paul L. Foster Campus for Business Innovation, for example, is the nicest university building I’ve ever seen. It feels like a cross between an Apple store and a Scandinavian airport. Its open design is meant to encourage collaboration. Unique majors such as S3 (Sports, Strategy and Sales) and Professional Selling are just some of the innovative programs that draw students to Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business.
Driving by Baylor, you can’t miss the shiny new football stadium, which is a huge draw for students, and one of the first ways freshmen bond at “Line Camp,” where you get a Jersey with your name on it (to wear to games for the rest of your years on campus) and you run across the football field with the rest of your class to form a human tunnel for the football team to run through. Line Camp is a big deal – the admissions rep I met with, who graduated last year, had his jersey from Line Camp framed and hung on his office wall. There is no lack of school pride at Baylor!
While football is huge at Baylor, and basketball is also popular for student spectators, other lesser-known sports have also put Baylor (and Waco) on the map. For example, Baylor’s acrobatics and tumbling team just won its fourth consecutive national title.
Although not all students at Baylor are Baptist (apparently 35% of students are), Baylor does have a Christian “feel.” Students I talked to on my visit were all Baptist and all mentioned how important their faith was to them. But although attending Chapel is required for two semesters, according to an accommodation specialist in the Office of Access and Learning Accommodations (OALA), there is talk of having an alternative chapel in campus living and learning areas for those who are not Christian. And all the students I talked to said that nobody “forced” Christianity on anyone and required religion classes were more like just educational history classes on the Bible rather than having a focus on trying to influence your religion. Mostly, the students say that the campus feels friendly and supportive, l and students tend to be polite, always holding doors open for others, even if they have to wait a bit for the student behind them to get there.
Popular programs at Baylor include Business, Engineering, Nursing, Communications, and Education. Many students are pre-med. Baylor’s Theater program is nationally ranked.
As for studying at Baylor, it seems quite intense for some students. A pre-med Baylor junior was on my tour with her high school aged sister and when I asked her if she had ever attended the Dr. Pepper Float Happy Hour on Tuesdays (where apparently you get to mingle with other students and professors while drinking Dr. Pepper floats), she said, “No, I’m one of those students who study 24/7. I never go to anything.”
Students like her seem to prefer Moody Library’s silent Red Zone, as opposed to the Yellow or Green zones, which are more lenient about noise levels. But our chatty tour guide says she’s not cut out for the Red Zone and she warns her friends against studying there.
“I do not recommend the red zone,” Cheyenne says, laughing. “I went in there once and someone texted the library police on me and I got kicked out. I think I had just laughed at a Tweet! You have to know your zone.”