William & Mary (visited 1/31/19)
No doubt, W&M is an amazing school with a beautiful, historic campus and strong academics. I was disappointed that along with that, I got a strong “We don’t have to try” vibe during the visit. I was glad that the info session didn’t have a PowerPoint (and therefore more of a conversational feel) but there wasn’t much insight into the college during this time. The thing that the rep got the most excited about was the Cheese Club which was started because a student liked to buy cheese and share it with his dorm-mates.
This is the 2nd oldest college in the US (after Harvard), but they’re quick to point out that they are first in lots of other areas: oldest law school, honor code, honor society, and the oldest academic building (Wren) still in use. “It’s a tradition to take a class in there before graduation,” said the rep. With a school as old as this, there are lots of traditions. The rep highlighted a couple favorites:
- Yule Log: In mid-December, the community (including people from town) gathers in the courtyard where there are bonfires going. Everyone gets a sprig of holy, and there’s singing, hot cider, and more. Someone reads “’Twas the Night Before Finals” and the university President shares a story, as well.
Opening Convocation welcomes freshman to campus. The Provost and President give speeches, then students get ushered through Wren into the Courtyard on the other side where all other students and faculty cheer. First-years go single file and get high fives. At graduation, they basically reverse this walk and exit campus as a group.
- The Raft Debate has 4 faculty members appealing to the audience – in highly theatrical fashion – why they should be the sole survivor of shipwreck to use the raft to get off the desert island on which they’re stranded.
One of the most interesting bits of information I got was that W&M operates a joint program with St. Andrews. Students spend two years at each institution and have some flexibility in the order in which they do these. I spoke with two first-year students while waiting for the info session to start, both of whom are in the incoming class’ 27-person cohort. They are both planning on spending their first and last years at W&M with the 2 years in between at St. Andrew’s. Students have a limited number of majors from which to choose if they’re in this program (Film Studies is the most competitive; others include English, History, Econ, International Relations, and Classical Studies). In order to be accepted to the program, they had to submit an additional 2000 word essay with their W&M application. They said that there’s no special orientation other than a brunch and dinner at the beginning of the year, but they’ve been taking a class throughout the semesters that covers things like culture shock.
In terms of academics, “We’re a liberal arts institution while still being a research university,” said the rep. They take an interesting approach to the Core requirements: all students take “Coll” Classes (the College Curriculum): there are 2 First-Year Experiences classes. In the 2nd year, the classes focus on academic disciplines to provide breadth of knowledge. The 3rd year has a global focus and can be covered by study abroad. The 4th year is a capstone for the major.
The majority (70%) of students do research (but she had a hard time coming up with examples outside of the sciences when asked – psychology (the major is technically Psychological Sciences) was mentioned, which is another fairly common research area – and not surprisingly, the new Integrated Science building includes the psychology department). About 25% of those who do research are published before graduation.
As a medium sized university (6,000 undergrads, about 2/3 of whom come from Virginia – many people forget that this is a public institution!), they offer a good range of majors, including some more specialized ones that you’d expect to see at larger schools:
- Their physics department offers a standard physics track as well as Medical (or pre-med) Physics and Engineering Physics and Applied Design.
- Global Studies has several concentrations, including one in Russian/Post-Soviet
- The Business school got rave reviews. In addition to the typical areas (Global Business, Accounting, and Finance are particularly strong), they also offer Business Analytics as a major and Supply Chain Management and Management and Organizational Leadership as minors.
- Mathematical Biology
Students have the opportunity to apply for an Early Assurance entry into VCU or Eastern VA Medical School. Eligibility requirements differ between the schools, but both a 3.5 GPA from W&M and must get a minimum score on the MCAT (505 or 507) in addition to other things.
Campus is bike-friendly and easy to navigate (regardless of how you get around!). A few areas of note include “Ancient (or Historic) Campus” which has 3 of the 4 oldest campus buildings in the country. Martha Barksdale Field was created to give women a place for sports; although men were not specifically banned from this space, the stipulation she put on it was that cleats could not be worn – and since the men wore cleats to play, they had to stay off.