The BYU Experience
Brigham Young University
BYU is a co-educational institution founded January 3, 1875 by Brigham Young. The campus encompasses 536 acres and is located at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains in Provo, 45 miles south of Salt Lake City. There are nearly 30,000 students from all 50 states and over 130 foreign countries. The University is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Learn much more about the University by visiting BYU's home page.
A Religiously Affiliated University
What does it mean for the University to be sponsored by the LDS Church?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) takes its sponsorship of Brigham Young University very seriously, as reflected in support and environment. About 70% of the cost of running the University comes from the church, making tuition unusually affordable, especially as compared to other private universities with a well-maintained physical plant, up-to-date technology, and high levels of support. Similarly, ongoing and extensive capital improvements are funded primarily by church members. Browse through University web pages and printed material and you will quickly learn that the University works hard at fulfilling its mission to develop the whole person within a Christian environment. This is reflected in many aspects of University life, from the Honor Code and annual endorsement by each student's ecclesiastical leader to prayer before University events to required courses in religion for undergraduates. Numerous student congregations are available for worship services on- and off-campus, and many University policies are based on mainstream religious principles. In many respects, BYU exists to provide an environment where students will feel their religious ideals are supported and encouraged, and the undergraduate educational program is integrated with such ideals.
Does this differ from other church-sponsored universities?
For many years religious groups were a major source for support of higher education. In general there has been a steady decline in that involvement over the last century. At present, the involvement of religious sponsors varies widely, making comparison difficult. In general, BYU would probably be regarded as a university in which the sponsor plays a more visible role than most. Expect to see a student body and faculty openly committed to serving God, lifting others, and developing self. But also recognize that this is a mainstream university--we try to be creative, cutting-edge, and sometimes controversial in our curriculum, but each discipline teaches the principles central to that discipline and verified by science and history. BYU graduates in all fields of study are competitive with graduates from peer institutions.
Impact of Religion on Students
How does this affect graduate students?
The LDS Church hopes that all students at BYU will take advantage of religious opportunities, but recognizes that many students, especially those in graduate programs, are not affiliated with the LDS Church and have little interest in some opportunities. Therefore, the University makes no demands on graduate students regarding religious involvement beyond the ecclesiastical endorsement and behavioral standards. For example, graduate students can enroll in religion classes, but are not required to do so and usually do not. For graduate students, then, the primary impact is quite modest beyond being in a squeaky clean environment (don't expect beer in the student union or an on-campus NC-17 movie fest).
What if I am not a member of your church?
Church membership is not required. Indeed, we seek diversity in our student body, including religious orientation, within the limitation of not detracting from the goal of maintaining BYU's general atmosphere. Consequently, admission to the graduate programs is without regard to religious affiliation. Further, there is nothing in our training program that would distinguish anyone based on such beliefs. The most prominent distinguishing features of the University environment emphasize principles mainstream to most faiths, Christian and non-Christian, and held by most moral people who subscribe to no particular faith (including, for example, honesty, service, and fidelity in relationships). In keeping with this, our graduate students are typically quite diverse. Commitment to the principles of most any other faith would probably enhance one's comfort here unless differences in doctrine or practice offend you.
What if I am not even religious?
We gather no information on the religious involvement or commitment of non-LDS applicants (beyond affiliation, if any). Therefore, such information does not enter into our admission decisions. Similarly, ours is intentionally a mainstream training program. We teach mainstream principles widely held by clinical psychologists. All aspects of our curriculum could be found in the best clinical programs across the country. We teach respect and understanding for clients' beliefs and tolerate a full range of student beliefs, but we don't teach religion. Faculty endorse and model high ideals, but we believe these (e.g., ethical behavior, service to others) are generally shared by students and certainly not offensive. Indeed, we believe they enhance the quality of the student experience here, promoting a climate of integrity and respect. That leaves a final question, easily answered: Would a non-religious person be comfortable here? Two points seem relevant. First, you wouldn't fit if you think of religion in general or LDS beliefs in particular with disdain or hostility (if so, you probably wouldn't be considering BYU anyway). There are too many people here who hold their religion dear for a person with negative views of us to remain comfortable for long. Second, if after looking at the behavioral standards, you would be comfortable with them and with like-minded people, you would be comfortable here.
Who should apply?
The decision to apply should probably mostly depend upon the training goals described in our other materials. You are immersed in a program about clinical psychology with faculty who are scientists and clinicians and who are committed to preparing you for professional work in diverse settings across the country. The environment here holds some uniqueness of which you should be aware, but for most applicants it will be of lesser importance in their decision to apply, with strengths and weakness not unlike other university environments. If you like our training model and are comfortable with the behavioral standards, please apply.
Are things really that different?
No (mostly) and yes (sometimes). The Clinical Psychology Program is like other high quality graduate programs, emphasizing mainstream fundamentals with special emphases deriving from faculty expertise, using small classes, closely supervised practicum experiences, and hands-on research activities. The entire training program could be easily adopted by clinical programs anywhere. Thus, day-to-day activities are like many programs elsewhere. This is not to say that the program is like any other; all programs have distinctive features, and that is true at BYU as well (see other materials for details). The few differences arising from the University's sponsoring church are primarily cultural in nature. For example, many people in the surrounding community are LDS, so this population is prominent in clinical populations. Most students find it helpful, therefore, to learn something about basic beliefs for the times when these come up in clinical settings.
How do classes differ?
Classes are essentially like you would find in other clinical psychology doctoral programs. Similarly, research activities, comprehensive examinations, and practicum supervision is like that found in many programs. Plenty of uniqueness exists, but it derives from faculty expertise, our extensive practicum and externship programs, clinical sites available to us, and research programs.
What is campus life like?
Most graduate students' campus lives revolve around their graduate program and interaction with fellow graduate students. Involvement in broader campus life is usually modest. However, campus life is unusually rich if one chooses to take advantage. The University has outstanding fine arts programs, and well-done performances are plentiful. Outside performers make regular appearances, although the range of genre is modest. Guest lecturers frequent campus, including persons prominent in science, business, and government. BYU's athletic teams are highly competitive, and events are affordable. There is plenty to do on campus, but remember that campus life is guided by the behavioral standards (e.g., no alcohol on campus, no coed dorms). In addition, a considerable portion of socializing on campus, at least for undergraduates, occurs within church groups in which most undergraduates participate. The vast majority of undergraduates are LDS. This, coupled with intentional efforts to create an environment in which religion is present, makes for substantial uniqueness. Barriers between religious thought and traditional academics are greatly reduced on campus. Most graduate students report that this is noticeable to them, but that it affects them very little because student life for them is dominated by immersion in graduate studies. Their primary associates are often fellow graduate students. While on campus they are most often in the Psychology buildings and in psychology-related activities.
How do non-LDS students fit in, socially and otherwise?
Often, you can fit in as much as you want. There is sufficient diversity, especially off-campus, to accommodate most interests. However, it is helpful to remember that for many LDS persons, their local church congregation provides an important social focus. Therefore, many LDS students have built-in social connections and may not make much effort beyond that. For most people, religious affiliation is not a criterion for friendship, but non-LDS persons may need to look harder for forums to engage others. As in most settings, what you like to do and what you value in friendships is important. A solution, then, that many non-LDS find useful is to participate in groups that emphasize some shared interest or value. Others find it easier to live closer to Salt Lake City, where the proportion of LDS is much lower than around Provo. Your experience in making friends and becoming socially involved will probably be similar to what you find in other settings to which you are new.
What is life in Utah like?
Utah is a fairly typical place to live and is rather similar to other states in the region. For outdoor enthusiasts, Utah has much to offer, with spectacular scenery, many wide-open areas, and distinct but not overly harsh seasons. Utah county still has a bit of a feel of rural or small town America, but with over half million inhabitants, is definitely more city-like. Around campus, it is a lot like other college towns, minus the pubs. Salt Lake City, 40 miles to the north, is a large metropolitan area of about one million people with all of the trappings. Outside of the Wasatch Front (centered around Salt Lake City with Provo to the South and Ogden to the north) population is sparse. Schools are generally good, although low on funding, with students averaging at or above national averages on most indicators. Employment rates are high, with a strong technology sector, but with so many students and spouses competing for part-time and unspecialized employment, salaries around campus are often below average. Housing costs are modest, although close to campus it is hard to find affordable housing of good quality. Large day-care facilities are hard to find, but in-home day-care is plentiful. Racial minorities are small but growing, most notably Hispanics, who now comprise about 14% of the state population (higher in urban centers). Politics tend to be conservative, and some highly conservative groups are vocal. The LDS Church is large, and its influence can be felt in popular culture, although the whole gamut of culture can be found here.