Episode 53: Colleges in New York State–Part III

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn.

Recently, we have brought our virtual tour back home—here to New York State. We have looked at public four-year colleges and at nationally known private universities.

Virtual tour of private colleges in New York State on NYCollegeChat podcast Episode 53

This week, we are going to continue our examination of private options in New York. Let us say again, that the private institutions we will be discussing in this episode will be only a sample of the more than 100 private colleges and universities in New York. So, you out-of-staters, here is your chance to move outside your geographic comfort zone and to take a look at the many options New York offers. Today, we will check out some relatively small liberal arts institutions and then some higher education institutions with a special academic focus.

As we are now saying for a final time as we bring our virtual tour to a close, no college has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our own choices.

1. Liberal Arts Institutions

Let’s shine our spotlight on seven smallish liberal arts institutions, four upstate and three downstate, but north of New York City. Let’s start upstate, with Colgate University in Hamilton, Hamilton College in Clinton, and Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. These upstate small towns are lovely—especially beautiful in the fall and before the snow comes. In many ways, they are perfect college locations—especially great for students who want that gracious and idyllic ivy-covered campus with handsome buildings in a safe and slightly isolated environment. Saratoga Springs, just north of Albany, is a particularly appealing town. You might know it as home to the famous racetrack and summer home to the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra and, way back, to lots of wealthy New Yorkers. Our fourth upstate choice is Union College in Schenectady, which gives students an attractive campus, but in more of an urban setting.

Let’s begin with Colgate University—not a liberal arts “college,” but rather a small liberal arts university, which was founded in 1819 and today enrolls almost 2,900 undergraduates only. Both the students, who are drawn internationally, and the faculty members are about 25 percent multicultural. As befits a small liberal arts institution, Colgate has an enviable 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Colgate’s undergraduates study in 54 majors, which come from a strong and broad liberal arts Core Curriculum. Students are required to take four courses in their first two years: Legacies of the Ancient World, Challenges of Modernity, Communities and Identities, and Scientific Perspectives on the World. Students are also required to take one course with a Global Engagements designation and six more courses from three liberal arts and sciences areas. Colgate offers more than 180 student organizations and 25 varsity sports teams.

Admitted students this fall had an average high school GPA of 3.8 and a combined SAT critical reading and math score of 1405. About 85 percent ranked in the top tenth of their high school graduating class. Interestingly, about 55 percent came from public high schools, while about 45 percent came from private high schools. Tuition and fees at Colgate run about $50,000 per year—quite high, to be sure, but like many other private institutions we have seen.

Hamilton College has a fascinating origin, and you all know that I love college histories. So here it is:

Hamilton College had its beginnings in a plan of education drawn up by Samuel Kirkland, missionary to the Oneida Indians. The heart of the plan was a school for the children of the Oneidas and of the white settlers, who were then streaming into central New York from New England in search of new lands and opportunities in the wake of the American Revolution.

In 1793 the missionary presented his proposal to President George Washington in Philadelphia, who “expressed approbation,” and to Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who consented to be a trustee of the new school, to which he also lent his name. The Hamilton-Oneida Academy was chartered soon thereafter. On July 1, 1794, in colorful ceremonies attended by a delegation of Oneida Indians, the cornerstone was laid by Baron von Steuben, inspector general of the Continental Army and “drillmaster” of Washington’s troops during the War for Independence.

The academy remained in existence for nearly 20 years. It faltered, almost failed, and never came to serve Samuel Kirkland’s original purpose, which was to help the Oneidas adapt to a life in settled communities. In fact, few Oneidas came to attend the school, and its students were primarily the children of local white settlers. Yet the academy remained the missionary’s one enduring accomplishment when, a few years after his death, it was transformed into Hamilton College.

The new institution of higher learning was chartered [by the State of New York] in 1812. (quoted from the website)

Starting out as a men’s college, Hamilton became fully coeducational in 1978. Today, it enrolls about 1,850 undergraduates only, split close to 50-50 between men and women. Just over 25 percent are U.S. students of color or international students. About 60 percent of students came from public high schools, while about 40 percent came from private high schools. Like Colgate, Hamilton has a desirable 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio. About 30 percent of classes have nine or fewer students—which seems really impressive, if small classes are something that your child would enjoy and thrive in.

Hamilton students pursue studies in 51 fields, based on a broad liberal arts and sciences curriculum that each student works out with his or her advisor. There are a few requirements—such as at least three writing-intensive courses—but there seems to be quite a bit of freedom in operationalizing the spirit of a liberal arts education.

All students live on campus in 27 residence halls, and many are likely kept busy on 29 varsity sports teams (given the size of the enrollment and the number of teams).

Like Colgate, about 85 percent of admitted students at Hamilton this fall ranked in the top tenth of their high school graduating class. They posted a trio of SAT subtest scores in the low 700s. Tuition and fees at Hamilton run about $49,500 per year—unfortunately, right in the private college ballpark.

Turning to Skidmore College, we have an institution that was started by Lucy Skidmore Scribner in 1903 as the Young Women’s Industrial Club, which, according to its constitution (as quoted on Skidmore’s website), “promoted ‘the cultivation of such knowledge and arts as may promote (members’) well-being, physical, mental, spiritual, and ability to become self-supporting.’ To this end, the Club offered courses in typewriting, bookkeeping, sewing and dressmaking, physical education, music and folk dancing.” And the website makes the following really good point:

Today we may snicker at the courses in sewing, shirtwaist making and millinery, but these were among the few fields in which women could manage businesses, and those courses were embedded in a broader context of creative expression and aesthetic appreciation. (quoted from the website)

In 1911, the institution was chartered as Skidmore School of Arts, a secondary school, and became Skidmore College in 1922. It became coeducational in 1971.

Today, Skidmore enrolls about 2,600 students, virtually all undergraduates (Skidmore appears to be closing its one master’s degree program).   Just over 20 percent of students are U.S. students of color, and about 10 percent are international students. Skidmore undergraduates are studying in more than 40 bachelor’s degree liberal arts and sciences majors, plus pre-professional studies in business, education, social work, and health and exercise sciences. Many students graduate with a double major. All of the arts—both for majors and non-majors—are also prominent on Skidmore’s campus.

Skidmore students enjoy the same appealing student-to-faculty ratio as the other colleges we have been talking about. They participate in 100 student organizations and 19 varsity sports teams.

Entering freshmen post average SAT subtest scores in the low to mid-600s, and about 45 percent were in the top tenth of their high school graduating class. Tuition and fees at Skidmore run about $49,000 per year—just like every place else.

Before we leave upstate, let’s turn the clock way back to 1795 when Union College became the first college chartered by the New York State Board of Regents. According to the website, “The name Union reflected the founders’ desire to create a welcoming, unified academic community open to all the diverse religious and national groups in the region.” That spirit did not, evidently, apply to women, who were not admitted until 1970. Union had the first unified campus plan, done by French architect Joseph Ramée in 1813. In the center of the grounds lies the distinctive round Nott Memorial building.

Union is proud of its history of re-conceiving the liberal arts:

When the classics were considered the only acceptable field of study, we introduced a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis on history, modern languages, science and mathematics. We were the first liberal arts college in the nation to offer engineering.(quoted from the website)

Like other colleges of its kind, Union has its Common Curriculum, which is required of students and gives students fundamental understandings and skills in a range of liberal arts disciplines, in fields that cross disciplines, and in thinking and research. Union students can then choose from about 45 majors (including about 20 interdisciplinary studies majors) or can create their own interdepartmental major.

Currently, Union enrolls about 2,200 undergraduates (no graduate students), with slightly more male than female students. That is about a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. It draws from 37 states and 29 countries—so not quite as far ranging as some other colleges we have looked at. Freshmen last year posted an average high school GPA of about a 3.4, and about 70 percent were in the top tenth of their high school graduating class. This year’s freshmen posted average SAT subtest scores in the mid- to high 600s (with scores higher in math than in critical reading and writing). However, submitting college admission test scores is optional for most students at Union (unless applicants have been homeschooled or are applying to some special programs). The website advises that applicants submit their scores if they are at or above the average scores of applicants, which the website provides. About two-thirds of applicants do submit scores.

Union offers students 100-plus student organizations, 20 fraternities and sororities, and 26 or so varsity sports teams. All first-year students and some upperclassmen live in Minerva Houses, which are all-purpose academic and social self-governed residences. Union charges a comprehensive fee (including tuition, room, and board) of about $62,000 per year (for three 10-week trimesters), with about $51,000 of that making up the tuition and fees we have been quoting for other colleges in our episodes.

Let’s turn now to the three colleges downstate: Vassar College in Poughkeepsie and Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, both originally women’s colleges, and Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson.

Vassar College, founded in 1861, is located about 75 miles north of New York City in the beautiful Hudson Valley, which we spoke about in an earlier episode as the location of the State University of New York at New Paltz. It chose to become coeducational in 1969, after deciding not to merge with Yale University.

Vassar’s approximately 2,400 undergraduates—about 65 percent of whom come from public high schools—are about 35 percent students of color and about 10 percent international students. They choose from a broad range of about 50 liberal arts and sciences majors. Interestingly, Vassar has a longstanding commitment to teaching from original source materials, including a rare book collection, manuscripts, and the personal papers of noted scholars and writers. It also has a longstanding commitment to art; it was the first college to have a museum, which actually is older than New York City’s world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art.

About 98 percent of students live on campus, taking part in over 100 student organizations and 23 varsity sports teams. About 70 percent of faculty also live on or near the campus, with one or two faculty families living in each residence hall. So there are ways for students to develop relationships with faculty members—in addition to the very low 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Vassar requires either the SAT plus two SAT Subject Tests (in different subjects) or the ACT plus the writing exam. This fall’s freshmen had average SAT subtest scores in the low 700s and an A– (unweighted) high school GPA. About 70 percent of them graduated in the top tenth of their high school class. Tuition and fees run about $51,000 a year.

Founded in 1860, Bard College is located on the Hudson River about 90 miles north of New York City—yet another college in our lovely Hudson River Valley. Some people know Bard for its slightly wild-looking Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry. Bard also is noted for its strong commitment to Early College high school programs, running high schools in New York and other states, which enroll almost 1,000 students.

Today, Bard serves about 2,000 undergraduates and about 200 graduate students. About 25 percent are international students. The undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 10:1, with courses taught by full faculty members. Bard also offers 15 graduate degree programs at U.S. and international locations, including at the main campus.

“The Love of Learning,” a piece by Bard President Leon Botstein that can be found on the website, addresses the question of what college is for and what kinds of learning and teaching are important for colleges to preserve. You really should go read it because I cannot possibly do it justice. One of my favorite paragraphs is this:

No department wants to become a “service department” without its own majors, relegated to teaching skills and materials to students who are primarily interested in other subjects. It does not seem sufficiently dignified for the purpose of an English department, for example, to educate a literate physician. This is unfortunate. Academic departments often function as if they were merchants in a bazaar, hustling undergraduates to become majors. Administrations, in turn, measure success by counting heads in terms of enrollments that derive from majors: the more majors, the more successful the department. This pattern even spills down to the college applicant, who is asked a ridiculous question: What would you like to major in? (quoted from the website)

In the interest of providing a truly liberal arts curriculum, Bard has a common curriculum for first-year students, an elaborate set of distribution requirements (I say this with obvious approval), and the intriguing idea of Moderation—a process whereby three professors judge a student’s two specific thoughtful written papers before deciding whether the student can move up from the Lower College to the Upper College after two years of study. Undergraduates at Bard can earn a bachelor’s degree in one of 35 fields.

In addition to its innovative curriculum, Bard offers its students about 100 student organizations and 18 varsity sports teams. Bard’s new freshmen come from 34 states and 20 foreign countries—about half from the New England and Mid-Atlantic states. Their average SAT critical reading and math scores were in the low to mid-600s, and about 50 percent graduated in the top tenth of their high school class. Tuition and fees are about $50,000 per year.

Founded in 1926 (the latest of this group we have looked at), Sarah Lawrence College today enrolls about 1,350 undergraduate students and about 350 graduate students. The undergraduates are about 70 percent female and 25 percent students of color. Sarah Lawrence, which began as Sarah Lawrence College for Women and was named for the wife of its benefactor, first admitted men under the G.I. Bill in 1946 and became fully coeducational in 1968.

Sarah Lawrence offers a unique undergraduate curriculum approach. For example, this is what the website says about its signature seminar-conference courses:

At Sarah Lawrence, 90 percent of classes are small, round-table seminars—all taught directly by faculty.

Every semester, for each of your seminar classes, you will complete conference work: an in-depth, individual project developed in collaboration with faculty during bi-weekly, one-on-one meetings. Each conference project is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your subject mastery by creating original work that builds upon the course in ways that you—and only you—can imagine.

Your conference work may be an academic research paper, a piece of creative writing, a staged reading,
 a scientific inquiry, or fieldwork. Conference work at Sarah Lawrence reflects your passions, interests, and aspirations, so projects take many forms and directions. (quoted from the website)

Students work with their don, or faculty advisor, from the beginning of their four years to create a course of study unique to them. Students major in one or more than one of almost 50 disciplines and take courses in three of four broad liberal arts and sciences areas of study. Student assessment includes an evaluation of critical abilities, detailed narrative evaluations, and traditional letter grades. Sarah Lawrence fields 16 varsity sports teams, known as the Gryphons (that is, part eagle, part lion, for those of you who don’t know).

Sarah Lawrence is also a test-optional college, with about 60 percent of students submitting college admission test scores. The average high school GPA of this fall’s freshmen is about a 3.6. Tuition and fees come in at about $51,000 per year.

2. Institutions with a Special Academic Focus

As we seem to have done fairly often in our virtual tour, let’s look at both arts and technology institutions.

Starting in New York City, let’s take a quick look first at a famous institution devoted to the arts: The Julliard School, located at Lincoln Center in Manhattan. Juilliard started as a music academy in 1905, then added a Dance Division in 1951, and finally added a Drama Division (for training both actors and playwrights) in 1968. We won’t say much about Juilliard, because you have to be impossibly talented to get in; but, if you have an impossibly talented child in music, dance, or drama, then you should certainly take a look. For example, the Actor Training Program accepts only 8 to 10 undergraduates and 8 to 10 graduate students each year; these students then move through a required four-year acting curriculum together as a group.

Interestingly, even though Juilliard awards its bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and in music (offering 14 different music majors), it requires its students to take at least 24 credits in the liberal arts, all taught in small seminar classes:

Juilliard actively promotes a liberal arts education that provides the humanistic, ethical, social, critical, and aesthetic background essential to personal development and professional excellence. Studies in literature, philosophy, history, social sciences, arts, and languages, foster in students a deeper understanding of themselves and the complex world in which they live. . . . Through their work in the Liberal Arts, students refine skills in reading, writing, speaking, and critical thinking, learning to communicate with greater clarity and effectiveness. This program equips them to become active, well-informed citizens; develops their awareness of the social and humanistic dimensions of professional work; and lays the basis for a fulfilling cultural and intellectual life. (quoted from the website)

Juilliard does not require college admission test scores (except for homeschooled students), but does require auditions, of course. Tuition runs about $40,000 per year, and room and board costs at Juilliard are about $15,000 to $18,000 per year. These are certainly high, but actually not so high as other top-tier New York City institutions.

Let’s also look at Pratt Institute, which is located in Brooklyn and is a bit more realistic option, though this time mainly for artistically talented students. Founded in 1887, today Pratt serves about 3,000 undergraduates (about 70 percent female and about 70 percent from outside New York State) and 1,500 graduate students, drawn internationally.

Undergraduates can pursue degrees in architecture, construction management, fine arts, photography, digital arts, graphic design, industrial design, fashion design, interior design, but also film, writing, the history of art and design, and more. The student-to-faculty ratio is 10:1.

First-year students take two Survey of Art courses, two English courses, and the Foundation Core, which is, according to the website, “a series of studio experiences that deal with the analysis of problems in perception, conception, and imagination. The studio work encompasses both 2- and 3-D forms in their optical, technical, and symbolic natures. In addition, students receive an introduction to 4-D time arts through the use of computers and other media. At one point, students may deal with specifically designed structural problems and at another point may examine these problems from expressive, social, and historical perspectives. Through this process, individual imagination, skill, ambition, and preferences are examined.” That sounds both impressive and difficult.

Pratt fields 10 varsity sports teams—though, as we have said for some other great institutions, I don’t think you go to Pratt for the athletics.

Incoming freshmen bring average SAT subtest scores in the very high 500s and an average high school GPA of about a 3.6. All majors, except construction management, require a visual or writing portfolio as part of the application process. Tuition and fees run about $45,000 per year.

Moving upstate now, let’s take a look at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy (which is close to Albany).

RPI, founded in 1824, claims to be the oldest technological research university in the U.S. It offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees and comprises five schools: Engineering; Science; Architecture; Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; and the Lally School of Management. RPI also offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Information Technology and Web Science. Perhaps the most surprising majors of the 38 undergraduate majors that RPI offers are in psychology and philosophy—both through the Cognitive Science Department (which is devoted to “the scientific study of the mind, brain, and intelligence”). RPI also encourages interdisciplinary study across departments and schools.

RPI’s key research topics are biotechnology and the life sciences; energy and the environment; computational science and engineering; nanotechnology and advanced materials; and media, arts, science, and technology. Its mission, as stated when it was founded, is in “the application of science to the common purposes of life” (quoted from the website).

Today, RPI enrolls about 5,500 undergraduates (about 70 percent male) and almost 1,500 graduate students. Larger than the other institutions we have talked about in this episode, its student-to-faculty ratio is 15:1. RPI also fields 23 varsity sports teams.

I first learned about RPI’s president some years ago when we were doing a project for RPI, and I have to tell you that Shirley Ann Jackson is an impressive person. Here is a bit of her profile from the website:

A theoretical physicist, Dr. Jackson has had a distinguished career that includes senior leadership positions in academia, government, industry, and research. She holds an S.B. in Physics, and a Ph.D. in Theoretical Elementary Particle Physics–both from MIT. She is the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate from MIT—in any field—and has been a trailblazer throughout her career, including as the first African-American woman to lead a top-ranked research university. (quoted from the website)

Last year’s freshman class posted average SAT subtest scores at just about 700, with an average high school GPA of almost a 3.8. About 70 percent finished in the top tenth of their high school graduating class. Tuition and fees run about $49,500.

By the way, you might also want to check out the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), if you have a child interested in technical fields of study.

3. Winding Up New York State and Our Virtual Tour

It might be hard for us to leave New York State, but I feel we must. There are plenty of other higher education institutions we have not discussed, any one of which might be right for your child. I could name Clarkson University, St. Lawrence University, Pace University, Manhattan College, Molloy College, Ithaca College, St. John’s University, Yeshiva University, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and more. It’s just as the song says, “I love New York.”

It is even harder for us to end our virtual tour. We have learned a lot about a lot of colleges—some we had known quite well, and some we had not known at all. We hope you learned just as much and that what you learned will prove useful to your child’s search for the perfect college for him or her.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • What about our colleagues at The American University in Paris? We are hoping for a safe recovery for all of you.
  • What about Molloy College?
  • What about Manhattan College?

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In New York State

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Episode 38: Colleges in the Southwest Region—Part II

In last week’s episode, we continued our virtual tour of colleges by looking at the four states of the Southwest region: Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. We talked about public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. Today, we will continue our tour of the Southwest states by focusing on private higher education institutions.

Virtual audio tour of private colleges and universities in the Southwest Region on the NYCollegeChat podcast. Episode and show notes available at http://usacollegechat.org/38We are going to check out several national universities, which really draw students internationally, as well as a few small liberal arts institutions. Almost all of them happen to be located in Texas. We feel that these are the private institutions in the Southwest that are most likely to attract out-of-state students.

As we say in every one of these episodes, we want to make it clear that no college has asked us or paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

1. Private Universities

Let’s start with a relatively small, academically prestigious university—that is, Rice University, located in Houston, our nation’s fourth-largest city, but situated on a beautiful tree-lined campus in a residential neighborhood that makes you feel like you could not possibly be just minutes from downtown. Established by businessman William Marsh Rice in 1891, the William Marsh Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science, and Art first held classes in 1912. According to the charter, students went to Rice tuition free (until 1966).

Today, Rice enrolls about 4,000 undergraduates and just over 2,500 graduate and professional students, for a total of just about 6,500 students. Rice is on everyone’s list of top 20 or so U.S. universities and has an acceptance rate of about 15 percent. Incoming freshmen have average SAT scores well over 700 on each subtest. In 2014, about half of the freshmen from the U.S. were from Texas and half were not.

Rice is serious about its academics and boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 6:1—a shockingly low ratio and the lowest we have seen in our tour or are likely to see anywhere. This means, of course, that students have incredible access to faculty in class and a real chance of having meaningful interactions with faculty members. Undergraduate students study in 50 majors across six schools: music, architecture, social sciences, humanities, engineering, and natural sciences. Rice also has a graduate school of business, among other graduate programs.

Undergraduates at Rice are randomly assigned to one of 11 residential colleges—each with its own dining hall, public rooms, dorm rooms, and competitive website. About 75 percent of undergraduates live in their residential college throughout their time at the University. Each residential college has a faculty master, who lives in an adjacent house and encourages a rich intellectual and cultural life and a plan for self-governance at the residential college. Rice offers its students over 200 student organizations and seven men’s and seven women’s Rice Owls sports teams (as well as club sports and intramurals). The baseball team has earned 19 consecutive conference titles, and the football team has gone to bowl games in four of the last eight years.

At $42,000 in tuition and fees annually, Rice is certainly not cheap—but neither is any other world-class private university.

Moving north from Houston, we come to Baylor University in Waco. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas and first opened in Independence, Texas, Baylor is an “unambiguously Christian” institution—and, specifically, a Baptist institution—though it welcomes students of all faiths (including students with no faith at all) from more than 85 countries. The mean SAT score (for the Math and Critical Reading subtests) of entering freshman in 2014 was 1231, so a pair of scores in, let’s say, the mid-600s might get a student into Baylor, especially a student from a faraway state.

Baylor offers its almost 14,000 undergraduate students about 140 bachelor’s degree programs, housed in eight colleges and schools—arts and sciences, social work, engineering and computer science, business, nursing, health and human sciences, education, and music. The University, which enrolls another approximately 2,500 graduate and professional students, also has a graduate theological seminary and a law school, among other graduate programs.

Students can participate in 260 student organizations, including a slew of fraternities and sororities, and Baylor is the home of the first college chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The University fields 19 varsity sports teams and has won 50 Big 12 Conference titles. You will get an idea of the level of school spirit (believe me, it is high) by watching the virtual campus tours on the Baylor website—and you will also see how really lovely the campus is.

At $41,000 in tuition and fees annually, Baylor’s costs are about like Rice’s—again, not cheap. Even so, I feel as though Baylor might be one of those universities that bears a close look from good students in other parts of the country. While Baylor does have intriguing programs for top-notch students—like its combined eight-year bachelor’s degree/M.D. in cooperation with highly respected Baylor College of Medicine—the University also seems to be in reach for good, if not perfect, students.

Let’s move about 100 miles north of Waco to Dallas to take a look at Southern Methodist University (SMU), located in the residential neighborhood of University Park, minutes from downtown Dallas. Technically an urban university, SMU’s campus seems more suburban in style, and it is one of the prettiest campuses ever—gorgeous red brick buildings with white trim, some placed around a huge quadrangle, anchored at one end by the Meadows Museum, which houses one of the most impressive collections of Spanish art outside of Spain and which has an interesting partnership with Madrid’s famous Museo del Prado. Founded in 1911 by what is now The United Methodist Church and opened in 1915, SMU does not operate as a faith-based institution today.

SMU enrolls about 6,500 undergraduate students and almost 5,000 graduate and professional students. About half of its students come from outside the State of Texas, including from almost 100 foreign countries, and about 25 percent are minority students. The average SAT score (for the Math and Critical Reading subtests) of entering freshman in 2014 was 1308, and that score has increased significantly over the past decade.

SMU offers 104 bachelor’s degree programs across five colleges and schools: humanities and sciences, business, engineering, education and human development, and the excellent Meadows School of the Arts, with especially good music, dance, and theater programs. Along with many other graduate programs, SMU also has a school of theology and a law school, where pro bono legal work is a graduation requirement.

SMU fields 17 Mustang varsity teams and offers 180 student organizations, along with fraternities and sororities that count about one-third of undergraduates as members. I think it is fair to say that the social life at SMU is a real plus for students.

Interestingly, SMU has a site in another of our Southwest states, New Mexico. SMU-in-Taos offers summer credit courses in 28 buildings in a variety of subject fields, including an annual archeology field school. The site of the campus holds a pre-Civil War fort and the remains of a 13th century Native American pueblo.

SMU’s tuition and fees for an academic year are about $44,000, unfortunately high and in keeping with the cost of attending either Baylor or Rice.

2. Colleges That Change Lives

As we have said in several earlier episodes, Colleges That Change Lives is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of the book Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. There are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions. Most are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.

Three of the 44 institutions profiled are located in our Southwest region. You should read about them in the book or on the website to learn more about them. They are Austin College in Sherman, Texas; Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas; and St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Let’s focus on St. John’s for a minute because it is one of the most unique colleges we have looked at in our virtual tour. Though called St. John’s, it is not a faith-based college. To start with, it is one college with two campuses: St. John’s Annapolis in Maryland and St. John’s Santa Fe in New Mexico, both located in picturesque and charming state capitals. St. John’s was founded in Annapolis in 1696 as King William’s School and was chartered in 1784 as St. John’s College. The Santa Fe campus was established almost two centuries later in 1964. While it is not unusual, of course, for a college to have two campuses, it is unusual for a college to have two campuses almost across the entire country from each other and to have two campuses that allow students to transfer back and forth between the two. Many students do spend a year at the campus they did not start at.

But the real unique idea at St. John’s is its liberal arts curriculum, based on collaborative inquiry in small class discussions, with the professor acting as a tutor and mentor—all based on the original texts of great authors in almost every subject field. The Seminar, as St. John’s calls it, is the foundation for the curriculum, and it is described this way:

Students participate in far-reaching and free but disciplined conversations about major works of literature, philosophy, political theory, theology, history, economics, and psychology from Homer and the Greek historians, playwrights, and philosophers in the freshman year, through the Renaissance in the sophomore year and the Enlightenment in the junior year, to the contemporary world in the senior year.

Students are also required to take four years of mathematics, three years of laboratory science, two years of music (including singing in the Freshman Chorus together), and four years of a second language (two years of Ancient Greek and two years of modern French). Clearly, this is one remarkable liberal arts curriculum.

Each campus enrolls between about 450 and 475 undergraduate students (there are also a couple of graduate programs), drawn from all 50 states and about 20 foreign countries—tiny student bodies, to be sure. The student-to-faculty ratio is an enviably low 8:1—much lower than most colleges, but not actually as low as Rice’s 6:1, our all-time winner.

Students at St. John’s Santa Fe can take advantage of the hiking, skiing, and camping options in the nearby mountains and in Santa Fe National Forest, and the school’s Search and Rescue team trains students to serve the community. The campus also has the usual array of student organizations, including intramural sports. Of course, to many people, Santa Fe is a dream location, full of artists and culture and natural beauty and plenty of things to do.

Students interested in St. John’s are expected to have taken a rigorous course of study in high school and must complete a “short set of reflective essays” (quoted from the website) as part of the application procedure. SAT and ACT scores are optional, though students are encouraged to provide them.

Undergraduate tuition is, not surprisingly, quite high at about $48,500 per year. But you can see why. I believe that it is probably worth it, which is not true of some colleges charging that much.

According to the website, St. John’s “is in the top 2 percent of all colleges in the nation for alumni earning PhDs in the humanities, and in the top 4 percent for earning them in science or engineering” (quoted from the website), which seems remarkable for a tiny college with a liberal arts curriculum. You can see why this college changes lives.

Because these Colleges That Change Lives institutions are relatively small and thus are not particularly well known outside of their geographic region (for example, about 90 percent of students at Southwestern University are from Texas), it is my feeling that out-of-state students with a good high school record might have a good chance of being accepted.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Why you might like the new Houston, a great place to be
  • What is so great about Dallas
  • How appealing Santa Fe might be

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