Founded in 1947 by the Basilian Fathers, University of St. Thomas (UST) is Houston’s only Catholic University. The university is named after St. Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic saint who believed “that for the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs divine help, that the intellect may be moved by God to its act.” It was founded as a liberal arts college in 1947 at Link-Lee Mansion, which was at that time the largest private residence in Houston. Today there are roughly 1,600 undergraduate students and 1,900 graduate students at UST in any given year and approximately 63% of the student body is Catholic.
The campus is located in the Neartown neighborhood, just north of the museum district and within a few miles of the Houston zoo and the downtown theatre district. The theology department is housed in Hughes House, the childhood home of Howard Hughes. The main portion of the campus is called the Academic Mall. Oddly, given the stance of the Catholic Church on such matters, the architect for the Mall was a homosexual atheist. On one end of the Mall stands the Doherty Library, while the Chapel of St. Basil stands of the other. It is named for St. Basil the Great, a monk who promoted education. The chapel is designed to make full use of daylighting so that no artificial lights are needed during the day. A renowned labyrinth graces the meditation gardens outside the chapel. Currently, the university is in the middle of an expansion that will extend the campus size to 25 city blocks.
UST offers 31 undergraduate degrees, 9 graduate degrees, and 9 pre-professional programs. The schools at UST are: School of Arts and Sciences, Cameron School of Business, School of Education, and School of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary. UST also operates a thriving group of educational centers, including Center for Business Ethics, Center for Faculty Excellent, Center for Faith & Culture, Center for International Studies, Center for Irish Studies, Center for Thomistic Studies, and Center for Undergraduate Research. (The Center for Thomistic Studies specializes in the works of the university’s namesake, St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as his commentators.)
Graduates of UST enjoy high acceptance rates in medical and dental schools. In 2011, U.S. News & World Report ranked UST as 27th among universities offering master’s degrees in the Western region. In the same year, The Princeton Review rated UST as the Best in the West. Students can count on receiving personal attention; the student faculty ratio is 11:1. and the average class size at UST is 18. The Dougherty Library contains over a quarter million resources, and is considered to be one of the finest research libraries in Houston.
UST has cooperative agreements with several larger universities to allow engineering students who earn a bachelor’s of arts on campus to go on to earn a bachelor’s of science at the University of Houston, Texas A&M University, or the University of Notre Dame. For pre-law students, UST administrates a cooperative admissions program with the South Texas College of Law.
Another collaborative program at UST is designed especially for future teachers: Students in the School of Education can work in the Gulf Regional Academy of Catholic Educators (GRACE) program to gain practical experience and develop job contacts for their career after graduation. The school’s Transition to Teaching program prepares students for the teacher certification process and offers transferable credits for graduate school programs.
For students in the arts, a collaborative program is offered by the Glassell School of Art, which has partnered up with the Houston Museum of Fine Arts to give student artists museum experience as well as teaching opportunities to artists affiliated with the museum.
Academic support, including advising, counseling, tutoring, and mentoring, is provided through the Mendenhall Achievement Center (MAC). MAC also offers a Summer Institute which allows first-year students to complete 1-2 classes with intensive support before their freshman year begins.
UST has extremely strong study abroad programs. While the national average of college and university students who study abroad is 2%, a whopping 10% of UST students travel to learn in another country for at least one semester of their time in school.
Most Popular Fields of Study
Incoming students are expected to have at least a high school grade point average (GPA) of 2.8, an ACT score of 23 or higher or an SAT score of 1070 or higher. The average SAT score of incoming students is around 1150. If the prospective student attended a high school that ranks graduates, the applicant should be in the upper 50% of his or her class.
To apply to UST, applicants must submit a completed undergraduate application (available on the school’s website), official high school transcripts that arrive in a sealed envelope directly from the school, official SAT and/or ACT scores, a modest but non-refundable application fee (this fee was $25 in 2010 but is subject to change), letters of recommendation, and a list of high school activities and awards. International students need to submit a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score of 550 or higher.
Students who do not meet the admission criteria may still be considered, especially if they can show that the classes they took in high school were especially rigorous, if they have very good references from teachers, if they can show a heavy burden of family responsibility, if they are a first generation college student, if they were especially active and took leadership roles in school-related activities in clubs, or if they have other special or unique circumstances that should be taken under advisement. Home-schooled students who do not have a high school academic record but can show evidence of learning and meaningful community activity are encouraged to apply.
The cost of attending UST falls somewhere in the middle of the range; in the 2009-2010 academic year total costs were around $28,000 for one year of undergraduate education. About 85% of incoming students receive financial aid. In addition to the normal array of governmental financial aid options available to college students, UST offers several grants and scholarships of their own, including a large scholarship specifically for Eagle Scouts. Some merit-based scholarships cover the entire cost of tuition. Some scholarships require that the recipient be a member of the Catholic Church and stay active in campus ministry. Students are automatically considered for scholarships when they are admitted. In all, students at UST receive $27 million a year in financial aid, with nearly $8 million coming directly from the school itself.
Student Financial Aid Details
Residences and Dining
UST offers two different residential halls for students. Guinan Hall has double rooms and is mostly populated by underclassmen. 37% of first year students choose to live on campus, and nearly all of them live in Guinan Hall. Young Hall consists of apartments and is mostly populated by upperclassmen and graduate students. Students must be vaccinated for meningitis at least ten days prior to moving into the residence halls.
In addition to the conventional cafeteria, the two main dining locations on campus are Quiznos in the Crooker Food Court and the Labyrinth Coffee Shop, which is combined with a convenience store and a Starbucks.
The main student newspaper is the monthly The Summa. Laurels, the literary magazine, is published biannually. A newer publication, Thoroughfare, is features-driven in the style of the New Yorker.
Every spring, UST hosts the Crawfish Boil and Zydeco Fest. Other annual traditions include a Cinco de Mayo celebration, St. Augustine’s birthday bash, a salsa contest, a Founder’s Day celebration, Oktoberfest, a family weekend, and a spring formal. One of the most quirky traditions at UST is the backwards Halloween dance, or “Neewollah”. Most students attend in costume.
Clubs and Organizations
There are over 70 clubs and organizations on the UST campus. There are groups for black, Chinese, Islamic, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Hispanic, and Taiwanese students; socially active groups such as the Environmentally Conscious Organization and Students Working Against Human Trafficking; and academic organization such as the American Chemical Society, History Society, and French Club. Campus Ministry is also a large part of student life at UST, with opportunities for youth leadership in liturgical programs, retreats, bible studies, volunteer experiences, liturgical music, and religious education.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
The athletic department at UST organizes recreational intramural sports, sports clubs, recreational trips such as rock climbing and sailing, fitness classes, and intercollegiate athletics. Intercollegiate athletics are new to UST—men’s basketball began in the academic year 2009-2010.
Famous alumni of UST include former U.S. Representative Ken Bentsen, rapper Anthony “Fat Tony” Obi, political commentator Barbara Olson, actor Sean Patrick Flannery, Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman, state congressman Henry Grover, Olympic taekwondo silver medalist Mark Lopez, pro wrestler Mark “The Undertaker” Calaway, musician Mayo Thompson of Red Crayola, and news anchor Chau Nguyen.
There are 298 faculty at UST; about half of whom are employed full time. 93% of faculty members have a terminal degree in their field.
Athletics. University of St. Thomas. Web. 18 Apr. 2011.
Fiske, Edward B. Fiske Guide to Colleges 2011. Chicago: Sourcebooks, 2010. Print.
Pope, Loren. Looking Beyond the Ivy League: Finding the College That’s Right for You. New York: Penguin. 2007. Print.
Undergraduate Admissions. University of St. Thomas. Web. 18 Apr. 2011.
University of St. Thomas at a Glance. University of St. Thomas. Web. 18 Apr. 2011.
Elisabeth Bailey is a freelance writer and editor with particular interests in academics, food,and sustainability . She is also the author of A Taste of the Maritimes: Local, Seasonal Recipes the Whole Year Round and writes regularly for Canadian Farmers’ Almanac and the National Wildlife Federation. Elisabeth and her family live and enjoy great local food in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.