We are continuing our series on looking at colleges outside your comfort zone by starting a virtual tour of public colleges and universities in the Southeast region.
In our last two episodes, we started our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. to try to stretch your thinking about colleges that might be attractive to your child. As you recall, we started with five states in the Great Lakes region. As we said then, we are looking at four-year colleges only, reasoning that students headed to a public two-year college are highly likely to go to one in their home state and are not, therefore, looking to leave their own geographic region—at least not right away.
Again, we want to make it clear that there is no statistical basis for the colleges we are going to spotlight in this episode. No college has asked us to choose it, and no college has paid us anything to choose it. These are entirely our own choices.
To be sure, some of the colleges we are spotlighting will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity. But, because each student’s profile of grades and test scores and extracurricular activities and outside-of-school experiences is his or her own unique package, it will be up to you to look at your child’s high school record to see which colleges might be most appropriate.
Two general notes: First, when we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable as reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment, but one that is good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child—roughly, small, medium, or really huge.
1. The Southeast Region
As we said, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering four to 12 states. Today, we are going to start to look at the states that make up the Bureau’s Southeast region, which has 12 states. Because we thought that would be a lot of states to investigate as a group, we have divided the Bureau’s Southeast region into the Southern Southeast region and the Northern Southeast region. We will start with the six states in what we call the Southern Southeast region: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
For those of you who are listening in our home state of New York or up into the New England states or across the country in the Pacific Northwest, I am going to guess that most of you do not consider almost any colleges in these states for your child, with a rare exception. We would like to see whether we might change your mind about that.
2. Flagship Public State Universities
Let’s start with the flagship public state universities in these six states. Each state has one, though some are better known nationally than others. They are all good schools, and I would argue that at least a couple of them are great schools. While these universities have smaller branch campuses in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is most respected and most widely recognized both in the state and outside the state.
Some of these flagship campuses attract students from far away states more often than others. For some, an application from a student in New York is not so commonplace; in those cases, a New York student with decent, but not spectacular, high school grades and college admission test scores might have a real chance of being accepted. As we have said before, colleges like to have geographic diversity in the student body.
And remember what we said in Episode 27 about flagship campuses: They are the place to be, if you graduated from high school in that state. Why? Because they are relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, super-competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for high school classmates. So, these flagship campuses draw a large portion of the best high school students in the state, which understandably drives up the average high school GPA of entering freshmen.
So, what are these flagship campuses in the Southern Southeast region? They are the University of Mississippi in Oxford (commonly known as Ole Miss), University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, University of Florida in Gainesville, University of Georgia in Athens, University of South Carolina in Columbia, and in Baton Rouge. These universities are located in different kinds of settings—from picturesque small college towns to small cities to state capitals—but they have a lot in common, like enviable warm weather.
These flagship campuses have a lot of students. The typical number of undergraduates at these campuses is around 25,000, but with closer to 33,000 at Florida and only about half that many at Ole Miss. The total undergraduate, graduate, and professional student enrollment tops out at Florida with almost 50,000 students. All of these campuses are going to feel big to incoming freshmen. Partly because of the small-town charm of Oxford, Ole Miss might feel the least intimidating.
The history of racial integration of the student bodies of some of these schools is part of our national memory and the personal memories of those of us who were alive in the early 1960s. We remember the 1962 enrollment of James Meredith, the first African-American student at Ole Miss. But something that I did not know was that the University of South Carolina had first admitted African-American students in 1873, thus becoming the only Southern public university to admit African-American students during the nation’s period of Reconstruction after the Civil War. Then the University closed for financial reasons in 1877. When conservative leaders re-opened it a few years later, it opened as an all-white institution.
And while we are talking about “firsts,” I also recently learned that the University of Georgia was established by the General Assembly of Georgia in 1785, making it the first state-supported public higher education institution in these United States. That’s quite a legacy.
These flagship universities have from 12 to 17 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—from liberal arts and sciences to every kind of career-related field you can imagine. Here are some of the more unusual ones: LSU has a School of the Coast and Environment; South Carolina has a College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management; Georgia has the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources; and Ole Miss has the Patterson School of Accountancy. Overall, these universities offer from about 70 to 140 undergraduate majors—which should be plenty to choose from.
Like other big universities, each one has hundreds of student clubs and organizations and about 15 to 20 men’s and women’s varsity sports teams (plus club sports and intramurals). They are all part of the Southeastern Conference, and they treat their sports and sports rivalries seriously (can you say Crimson Tide?). Attending sports events are a part of college life at these universities—as are fraternities and sororities for many students.
Each of these six flagship universities is well enough known to attract students from many states and foreign countries, but the most of the undergraduate students attending these campuses are home grown. For some of the universities, that could mean that a solid application from outside of the state would be viewed favorably, and your child could likely get a great education at a cost lower than a private school in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, as we said in an earlier episode, these six flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S., and there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university.
All of these flagship universities have proud alumni and alumnae, many still living in the state and sharing a network of friends who are also alums—and returning to the campus on weekends to see the big football game. In fact, since 1851, 25 governors of Georgia graduated from the University of Georgia. So, I guess it is turning out a quality product.
When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City a couple of weeks ago, we had a good conversation with Anastasia Sailer, the University of South Carolina’s Regional Admissions Representative for New York, who did a quick audio pitch for NYCollegeChat. Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.
3. Other Public State Universities
In these six Southern Southeast states, there are also other public universities—not branches of the flagship campus, but other universities in their own right, some of which are as well known as the flagship campus.
Like the state of Michigan, which we talked about in Episode 27, with the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, both Mississippi and Florida have very substantial second well-known public institutions: Mississippi State University in Starkville and Florida State University in the state capital of Tallahassee. Each has about the same number of undergraduate students as its state’s flagship university: Mississippi State with about 16,000 undergraduates and Florida State with about twice that many. Each offers a broad array of colleges and undergraduate majors: Mississippi State with eight colleges and about 65 undergraduate majors and Florida State with 16 colleges and about 85 undergraduate majors. Each is a good choice for lots and lots of students.
Interestingly, the state of Florida also has a newer public university (established in 1963) that has grown to be larger than both of Florida’s historic public universities. That newer one is the University of Central Florida (UCF), with its main campus located in Orlando plus a double handful of regional campuses in the central part of the state. According to UCF’s website, UCF is the second largest university in the U.S., with a total of about 61,000 students, about 52,000 of them undergraduates. UCF has 12 undergraduate and graduate colleges and offers about 90 undergraduate majors. The most unusual of those colleges is the College of Optics and Photonics, which is the science and technology of light—that is, lasers, LEDs, LCDs, optical fibers, and imaging systems for applications in industry and medicine.
South Carolina and Alabama both have nationally recognized public universities (perhaps especially during football season) that I bet many people think are private, given their nonpublic-sounding names: Clemson University in South Carolina and Auburn University in Alabama.
Clemson was founded on the estate of Congressman and two-time U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, who passed it on to his daughter and son-in-law Thomas Clemson, our country’s first Secretary of Agriculture. Clemson Agricultural College, originally an all-male military school, opened in 1893. Today, Clemson is a coeducational university with a broad array of eight schools and colleges, including, of course, the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences. The University serves about 16,000 undergraduates and 4,000 graduate students—mostly, from South Carolina, but with several hundred each from states as far away as New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York.
Let’s look at Auburn, which started as an all-male private liberal arts college back in 1859 and now is home to a full slate of 13 undergraduate, graduate, and professional colleges and schools and a total of about 26,000 students (about 21,000 of them undergraduates). With 15 varsity sports, Auburn is another proud member of the Southeastern Conference. While most students come from Alabama and, next most often, from nearby Georgia and Florida, Auburn draws from states across the U.S. Fewer than 100 come from New York, however, so Auburn might be interested in a good applicant from our home state.
One more word about public schools in South Carolina: The College of Charleston, located in what some people believe is the prettiest city in the South, serves a somewhat smaller student body of about 10,000 undergraduates and just 1,000 graduate students, including some New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. Undergraduates have a choice of 59 majors in seven schools, focused mostly on the liberal arts and sciences (plus business and education). And a note about the College’s history: Founded in 1770, the College of Charleston is the oldest higher education institution south of Virginia and the 13th oldest in the U.S. Its founders included three signers of the Declaration of Independence and three framers of the Constitution. It was both a private college and a city-supported college before it became part of the state’s public system in 1970.
There is one last public institution to spotlight today, and that is Georgia Institute of Technology (commonly known as Georgia Tech), located in Atlanta. A top-ranked public university by anyone’s standards, Georgia Tech provides a “focused, technologically based education” (taken from the website) for about 14,000 undergraduates and 7,000 graduate students. It offers degrees in six colleges (Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Sciences, Business, and Liberal Arts), with “more than 100 centers focused on interdisciplinary research that consistently contribute vital research and innovation to American government, industry, and business” (taken from the website). Your child is going to need excellent high school grades and college admission test scores to get into Georgia Tech. To help balance out its academically rigorous reputation, Georgia Tech also has 39 fraternities and 16 sororities on campus and 17 men’s and women’s athletic teams. John Heisman, remembered for the Heisman Trophy that bears his name, became Georgia Tech’s first full-time football coach in 1903 (interestingly, he had previously coached at both Auburn and Clemson).
As we said earlier, all of these public universities (and there are even more in these states than those we mentioned here) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. So, consider looking at public universities beyond just the flagship university, for the special programs or the appealing locations or the sense of history and tradition that they offer.
Listen to the podcast to find out about…
- The disparity between high school grades and college admission test scores for students at some flagship public state universities
- Weather conditions that you might want to alert your child to in these states
- Writing a college application essay especially for a college outside your geographic region
Check out these higher education institutions and programs we mention…
Outside of New York State
- Auburn University (Alabama)
- Clemson University (South Carolina)
- College of Charleston (South Carolina)
- Florida State University
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- Louisiana State University, including the School of the Coast and Environment
- Michigan State University
- Mississippi State University
- National Association for College Admission Counseling
- Southeastern Conference
- University of Alabama
- University of Central Florida, including the College of Optics and Photonics
- University of Florida
- University of Georgia, including the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources
- University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
- University of Mississippi (Old Miss), including the Patterson School of Accountancy
- University of South Carolina, including the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management
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