Sam Aikins, a political science major, started out at a small liberal arts college close to his hometown of Wilmington, Del. Within a few weeks, he realized it wasn’t right for him: It was too small and felt too much like high school. “You go to college to get challenged,” he says.

So he applied as a transfer student to several larger schools, mostly state universities in the Northeast in medium-sized cities, including UMass Lowell.

“I liked the fact that the school is growing, and it seemed like a place where you could leave your mark,” he says. “I wanted to live in a place with stuff to do and where I could see myself living for the foreseeable future.”

He got in everywhere he applied, but UMass Lowell accepted him first, inviting him to join the Honors College and offering a generous financial aid package that included a scholarship – based on his high GPA – and a work-study job. A meeting with Honors College Dean Jim Canning during a visit to campus sealed the deal.

“He’s a great guy and it’s a great school,” says Aikins, who came here as a sophomore. “I feel like UMass Lowell is bringing out the best in me. The Honors College is challenging – the coursework is harder – but the classes are smaller and I feel like I’ll be better off in the long run.”

Aikins, who is thinking about a career in law, hopes to spend a semester at The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. That program and the university’s location were also big selling points: He’d never before been to Massachusetts, but was drawn to the state’s history, beauty and quality of life. It has not disappointed.

“The view of the Merrimack River from Allen House is beautiful, and the fall foliage – everything just popped this year,” he says.

Now, when he’s not studying or working in the Honors College office, he likes to walk along the Merrimack or the city’s canals, studying the old textile mills.

“I like the old mills and the history of Lowell,” he says. “Lowell’s a beautiful city.”