An Insider’s Guide to The University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas
The University of Kansas is a place where fun and education co-exist as well as any other big university. No, the campus is not on a farm, cows aren’t enrolled for classes either, and The Wizard of Oz is not the dean of students. Ironically, the city of Lawrence, location of the university is often considered the least “Kansas” of any city in the state. In a state largely known for being rigid and conservative, Lawrence is more easy-going, liberal, and eclectic, offering a multitude of avenues for someone trying to find their special place in the world. It’s just like a lot of big college towns: host to thousands of young people with a plethora of interests and ambitions, a place to party, and a place where most anyone can find their niche if they look in the right places. While by no means the cultural Mecca of the mid-west, Lawrence has enough going on to satisfy the tastes of most anyone looking for something to do. On top of this, KU offers fine education from a respected university for very reasonable tuition. I have attended KU for 4 years now, pursuing a degree in English, and have been living in Kansas since I was two years old (I’m now 25). Needless to say, I’m very familiar with the area. My accumulated insights led me to write this essay: an in-depth perspective of life at KU. This “insider’s guide” covers a wide variety of relevant topics, such as nightlife, shopping, the university itself, living (on-campus and off), things to do, and the culture. This guide has something for everyone, and after reading it you will undoubtedly gain a greater understanding of what life as a Jayhawk has to offer, its benefits and drawbacks.
The University of Kansas is situated in the middle of Lawrence upon and around Mount Oread. For students who walk to class, this means the pain in the ass of walking up a hill on your way to class, but also with this is the added charm of walking downhill after you’re done. The campus is very beautiful: large buildings of old dignity sit amongst well-kept grasses adorned with various gardens of bushes and flowers. Trees are scattered about, and one gets an overall pleasant feeling when walking through campus (given it’s not finals week!).
Lawrence has a population of about 85,000 and The University of Kansas enrolls about 25,000 students a year. The education is top-notch and very affordable. A typical student enrolled in 15 hours will spend $3,195 on tuition if they are in-state and $8,400 if they are out of state (citation). A great number of students from states such as Illinois and Minnesota attend KU because the tuition is cheaper that their respective state universities. Financial aide is typically not hard to get for those who don’t have the luxury of mom and dad’s deep pockets. In 2005, KU awarded about $180 million in financial aid and scholarships to more than 15,000 students with an average reward of about $8,500 (citation).
The buildings, facilities, and education available should be enough to satisfy anyone. There’s a renovated recreation center, with an elevated track, basketball court, racquetball court, ping-pong table and a variety of fitness machines. The two main libraries are both big enough for anyone to find a quiet place to study. However, one should be warned that Watson, the smaller library of the two, is far quieter than Anschutz, which almost doubles as a place for socialization. If you want to run into someone you meet, and look at pretty girls, go to Anschutz, but if you really want to study, I would much more highly recommend Watson. Both libraries have a lot of computers to use with Internet access. One of my slight gripes with the library though is their lack of media available to check out. In the video section, there are more tapes than DVDs, and while the selection is okay, it pales in comparison to the nearby Johnson Community College and city libraries. And if you’re looking for CDs to check out, don’t even bother. I asked a librarian why they had none and she told me “well this is more of an educational library.” Meanwhile I was checking out The Road Warrior with Mel Gibson (great flick). What would she call the libraries with a decent selection of music…un-educational libraries? Hmm. Other than that, the libraries serve their purpose well, a place to study, and occasionally learn a thing or two.
The Union is a very nice building, and has a food court, a textbook store, a bookstore, and even a bowling alley on the bottom floor. Every year the Union is host to many lecturers, from Chuck D of Public Enemy to some guy on either side of the evolution debate. In the Wescoe building in the center of campus there is also another food court. They have Chick-Fil-Et, Chinese food, Sushi, a sandwich shop, and a salad bar. The food courts combined offer enough to keep your taste buds occupied throughout the year. Try out a Crunchy Chicken Wrap, those usually get me through the day just fine.
Overall the campus is very beautiful, the facilities and buildings more than adequate, and the education received highly respected. The biggest qualm I have with the university is with the guidance counselors. They’re not particularly mean or anything, but rather apathetic and not very helpful. Where as a competent guidance counselor would be like “So you want to get this degree? Here’s what you have to do, here are the classes you can take that go towards that degree, and here’s a timetable.” With KU it’s not that easy, and usually you must be prepared with a multitude of questions to ask in order to figure out the answer to the essential question: “what do I have to do to get this degree, and how long is it going to take?”
My biggest recommendation to anyone going to KU or any university is this, and I can’t stress it enough: figure out what you want to do, and if you don’t have it figured out, take your core classes (English, History, Western Civ, foreign language, etc.) first. Don’t take acting like I did just because I thought it sounded fun; take it because it fulfills a requirement and will help you graduate college. If you take classes just because they sound fun, you’ll find that you wasted time and money, and your five-year plan might turn into an eight-year plan.
Living and Housing
I imagine that dorm life at KU is similar to most colleges: packed with wide-eyed youngsters just out of high school, excited and eager to be free of parental rule. Needless to say, life in a dorm can be a lot of fun. Because everyone is in the same boat together, new friendships are inevitable. Dorm life is fun, goofy, fresh, and exciting. If you are interested to experience dorm life in its full glory, I recommend McCollum or Oliver. For richer people, there’s Naismith Hall, which offers nicer rooms, an outdoor pool, amongst other amenities. For girls who don’t want to be in co-ed dorms, there’s Corbin and GSP. Every dorm has nearby access to a food court, which are decent, but don’t be surprised if you get sick of the food by the end of the year. There’s only so much variety they can offer for thousands of college kids. The Jayhawk Towers are campus apartments, which offer the luxury of having your own kitchen area and bathroom, but are typically harder to move into for they are mainly for athletes and non-traditional students.
But what if you’re not an 18 year old who just had his first beer? What if you don’t like wondering when the next fire alarm is going to be pulled? Then off-campus living is definitely for you! Lawrence has a multitude of apartment complexes filled with fellow college students. Amongst the popular ones are High Pointe, The Legends, and Jefferson Commons (where I’ve partied many times.) Complexes such as these have pools, gaming rooms, and the usual amenities that come with living at a complex. These places also have buses that run to campus, so you don’t have to worry about taking your car.
If you aren’t interested in living at a complex, for they often are expensive and offer little room, then I would highly suggest the “student ghetto.” It’s affectionately referred to it as this because of the old houses that inhabit the area, not because of crime or poverty. The area is around Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio Street, and offers the perfect location between downtown and the campus. I have lived in this area for two years now and I love being able to walk to class, as well as not having to worry about driving drunk when I’m out drinking.
One word of advice: most landlords are scum, so watch out. Some are better than others, but don’t depend on them to be very responsive to your requests unless you hassle them, which should not be necessary but is often needed to get stuff repaired. Remember, it is their job to upkeep the property, so never feel “bad” for asking them to do something that is necessary (like fixing the air conditioning, or replacing the busted dish washer).
I suppose I’ll cut to the chase after taking care of the basics. You want to know, “can I get my party on?” Well, you’re in college, of course you can! For the sake of convenience I’ll divide the bar scene into “pop bars” and “indie bars.” As far as house parties go, they’re going on all the time, and one can usually find out about them by asking around or going onto Facebook and looking them up. I’ve been to many a keggar, and have hosted a couple of my own. A lot of them happen in the aforementioned “student ghetto,” and on big party nights like Halloween, one should be able to find something just by walking around the area. Now on to the bar scene…
Are you the type who wants to be around the “pretty people”? Do you cringe during intellectual conversations when you’re just trying to get your party on? Then these bars are for you! First it should be mentioned that using a fake id in Lawrence is done all the time, by everybody, and if you have one that looks remotely like yourself, then you shouldn’t have a problem getting in. On to the bars…For dancing Lawrence has a multitude of options available. Abe and Jake’s is by far the biggest bar in Lawrence, sporting the biggest dance floor. Brother’s is a great place to go for this as well, and has many drink specials on the weekend. There are also places away from downtown such as Liquid and Club Axis, but they’re a little trashier. The rest of the cliquish bars in Lawrence are as follows: The Wheel, The Hawk, Quentin’s, Jet Lag, and The Ranch. If you’re looking to pick up freshman girls, these are typically the places to go. While these bars are filled with good looking guys and girls, a lot of them are usually shallow and narrow minded. I’ve gotten lucky a couple times, but it was only because I was lucky. The girls are very stand-offish and you kind of have to be Greek for them to even talk to you. Sad but true.
If the above doesn’t sound like your type of scene, have no fear, for Lawrence has you in mind. The Replay Lounge was recently named as the best bar in Kansas City in the June issue of Esquire magazine, and for good reason. This is a bar that I can go to by myself and still have a good time, because the people are very nice and open minded, and the bands that tour through often kick ass. There is also a great patio area in the back, what I consider to be the best patio in Lawrence. Another good place to go for touring bands is right across the street at The Jackpot. The Granada, right down the street, is a large venue that has bigger bands. One of my favorite spots to relax and have a drink for a more casual evening is Henry’s upstairs on 8th Street. It’s a nice atmosphere without being boring, and the people are usually very talkative if you have something to say. The Red Lyon isn’t so much an “indie bar” but it definitely isn’t a pop bar, and is the best place downtown to play darts, also while enjoying the free popcorn. Fatso’s and Louise’s are good places that are chill and have good drink specials. So is the Jazzhaus, except for Tuesdays when they have their $1.50 almost anything drink special. All of these bars are situated on Massachusetts Street, which is the downtown of Lawrence. What’s good about downtown is that it’s easy to bar hop. When you get bored at one place, another scene is right down the street. Whether you just want to chill, or see a band, or just get downright stupid, there’s a place for you in Lawrence. The bars close at 2am. If this is too early for you, you can always trek over to Missouri, where the bars stay open until 3. But don’t go unless you’re old enough, they’re not so lenient on fake ids like Lawrence.
My biggest tip for people going out: don’t drive drunk…ever. Not to preach or sound righteous, but sometimes people get ran over, and besides that, being entangled in the legal system is a huge pain in the ass. Take it from me, it’s not worth it. If you’re ever stuck and don’t know what to do, call “Safe Ride”, a campus sponsored program that picks up students and takes them where they need to go (they won’t take you to the bars though, so don’t ask silly). The number is 785-864-SAFE. A great thing about Safe Ride is that your tuition pays for it, and you can use it whenever you want to get a ride home, whether you’re drunk or just wanting to skip the walk home from the library. I highly recommend the service, and use it quite often.
Lawrence has the fair share of things to buy downtown. For clothing there are typical shops such as Abercrombie and Gap, as well as vintage clothing stores, which I highly recommend such as “Wild Man Vintage” on Mass. Street. You can find a lot of cool stuff there for cheap, and look fly in the process. There are many independent stores that sell various things such as incense and hippie gear. For a good place to buy a marijuana pipe, I recommend Third Planet. Love Garden and Kief’s music are excellent record stores, offering a far more sophisticated selection than Best Buy. The employees there are very knowledgeable and can shoot the bull about music all day long. For music instruments I recommend Richards. Supersonic and Mass Street Music are okay, but Supersonic doesn’t have much and the people who work at Mass Street Music are sometimes rather pompous and off-putting.
If you want to shop for clothing, I highly recommend that you take the K-10 trip to Overland Park, and visit the Oak Park mall. They’ll have everything you need. If you want to get even more luxurious and expensive, then go to the Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri. The shops there are typically more upscale and expensive. There is where you’ll find your Prada, Gucci, etc.
Culture and Etcetera
One thing to know about The University of Kansas is that 71% of the students are in-state, which probably means a majority of them are from Johnson County. This is one of the top five richest counties in America. Kids who come out of here usually operate under a sense of privilege, which means that many students at KU are very snotty and rude. It’s not that they’re bad people necessarily, it’s just that they’re superficial and narrow minded. This is why I don’t go to many of the pop bars, because the guys are rude and the girls act like they’d rather put their stiletto you know where than say hi. Maybe my perception is skewed, but it’s probably because I’ve never been a part of the Greek scene which is so predominant at KU. If you want to be in the pretty crowd, then GET IN the pretty crowd, otherwise you’ll just find yourself amongst a huge crowd of people you have nothing in common with, and a sense of alienation is multiplied by the amount of people around. If you want to be a Greek, then more power to you, have fun and do your thing. But if you’re an “indie” like me, then it’s best to not to let the snobbishness get to you, and remember that it’s not your fault that these people are ignorant.
Last but not least, The University of Kansas is known for one thing more than anything else, BASKETBALL BABY! While we only have 2 championships, we rank amongst the elite programs such as Kentucky and North Carolina in overall wins, and college basketball was actually invented right in Lawrence. The tradition runs very deep (Wilt Chamberlain played here!), and if you do only one thing during your time at KU, make sure you watch a basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse. The building is host to the ghosts of basketball gods, and to hear the “rock chalk” chant is something necessary for every student.
There you have it, that’s Lawrence in a nutshell. While my guide could have been more in-depth, I am confident that you have a better overall view of the KU experience and will be better able to find your way around. If you come here, expect years just as memorable as you’ll find anywhere else.