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Southern Virginia University

Southern Virginia University (visited 11/3/16)

svu-flowersSVU is a Latter-day Saints school; they are not owned by the church but have adopted their honor code, and 90% of their students are Mormons. “We get no money from the church which means we can do things our way,” said the Director of Admissions. Students do not need to attend any church services, but they do need to pledge to live by LDS values such as not using alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and not engaging in pre-marital sex. “This is an environment of clean living; it’s a safe faith-based environment.”


The original resort hotel which is now on the Registry of Historic Landmarks

“We’re not going to have a lot of the bling or flash that you might be used to,” the Admissions Director told us. This began as a finishing school for girls in 1867. The current property was built up as a hotel resort but turned over before it ever operated as one, becoming Southern Seminary (still all female) and kind of a partner school to W&L and VMI (both all male). The main building is beautiful and fancy; the barn/stables for the resort has been turned into the athletic center. In the 1990s, financial problems caused the school change its name to Southern Virginia College and go coed, but was still about to close when a businessman in Richmond bailed them out in 1996. He felt that there needed to be another option on the East coast for an Honor Code based environment.

svu-3With 800 students, the school is still small; they would love to grow and be more diverse. Geographic diversity is already big. Half the students come from Virginia and surrounding states, but there were more out-of-state plates than I’ve seen at any other school. Not surprisingly, several were from Utah. In terms of religion, “We don’t care what religion people are, but all applicants do have to sign off on the Honor Code.” LDS members will have a bishop sign the statement as well stating that the students will be willing and able to abide by this; non-members have another adult do this. “People here don’t necessarily know who is and who isn’t a member of the Mormon Church because they’re all good kids.”


Lots of kids were outside playing sports in their free time. 

The sports-culture is huge here, and about 50% of students are on a varsity team. The Director of Admissions is a former football player for Oklahoma (which he mentioned a lot). Although we never got to talk to any students directly (the tour was given by the Director and there was no student panel), we saw a lot of kids around, and many of them were introduced briefly, and almost all were on a sports team. The university has 20 teams which was an enrollment-based decision; they’re 4 years into the NCAA experience, playing in the NJAC for football and CAC (Capital Athletic Conference) for others. There are two new grass fields and an artificial turf field. They have a strength/conditioning coach for each sport and 4 athletic trainers. “It’s not about winning championships. It’s about being engaged.”

svu-chairsI did get to talk to a student for about a minute when I split off from the group quickly; she loves the opportunities here. “I came here from Idaho without ever seeing the school. I’m an RA and play sports.”

Beyond sports, a lot of students participate in music. They offer scholarships, and students can submit videos to be considered for these. They also have a dance studio.

svu-1“This is a small liberal arts education without the normal cost.” Almost everyone is out in 4 years if not 3.5. They get one of the highest student engagement rates in the country. There are scholarships for returning students like the Nice Scholarships (just be nice!) or Cowboy/Cowgirl Ethics Award. Students can get a mission scholarship; this can be granted for Peace Corps service; it doesn’t have to be religious.


One of the dorms taken from up the hill where the new dorms are located.

Academic offerings are standard for a small liberal arts school. The Education program – Music, Elementary, and Spanish – in done in conjunction with Washington & Lee.


The dining hall

Dorms are single-sex (and apparently there are no kitchens in the male dorms). Many students are housed up a hill on the side of campus where some new dorms were recently constructed. The dining hall is very small with limited food options; food is served on movable heating carts reminiscent of Chinese buffets. The couple kids I asked said that the food “was good.”


Skidmore College

Skidmore College (visited 7/28/15)

~Skidmore sign

Molecules that Matter

Molecules that Matter

Skidmore is fascinating. They have gigantic “Molecules That Matter” (ie, prozac, penicillin, caffeine) hanging in their science center. A student and a professor are selected every semester to give a TedTalk on campus. They offer six-week research programs each summer. Their theater, fine arts, and music programs are strong and well-resourced, including a 5-year-old music building and heaps of studio and practice space. Cool things are happening here, and it’s paying off with a 92% retention rate.

The new music building

The new music building

In 2007, I had the pleasure of working at a camp that was housed at Skidmore. I got to know parts of it very well, but I had never taken the campus tour or attended an info session. It was great to be back on campus 8 years later to see changes that had been made and learn more about the academics.

One end of the dining hall (food stations are in the middle)

One end of the dining hall (food stations are in the middle)

I remember being immensely impressed with the dining hall both in terms of the quality of the food and the layout. There are a number of stations: international (think sushi and Thai curry), pasta (the pesto is to die for), pizza, vegetarian, grill, and more. It’s a spacious, nicely set-up area that doesn’t look like you’re in a high school cafeteria. In addition to the main dining hall, they have The Spa (a grill-like area) that stays open to 2am, and a Starbucks is opening on campus this year.

Art museum with roof-top access

Art museum with roof-top access

This is a busy campus; most students (90%) stay here on weekends so they don’t miss things. With over 100 clubs organizing events and active theater, dance, and music departments, there’s’ always something going on. There are several comedy groups (Sketch, improv, etc) and shows happen all the time. Athletics are popular, both in terms of people participating and being supported by fans. Both men’s and women’s basketball teams are really popular, and their equestrians have won most championships for the last 15 years or so years. Club men’s hockey, ultimate Frisbee, and quidditch (“We beat Harvard. No big deal,” said the tour guide) also draw a lot of people.

Quad with the dining hall on the far end.

Quad with the dining hall on the far end.

Campus is diverse in many different ways and has been ranked #9 for “Happiest Campus.” “There’s a lot of positive energy here,” said one student. They are deliberate about helping students find communities and getting them connected to other people: orientation, Freshmen Seminar, being in dorms with upperclassmen, etc. They even offer pre-orientation programs like one in the Adirondacks involving yoga under the stars, hiking, kayaking, etc. “You come back as best friends.”

~Skidmore 1There are several campus traditions that students brought up:

  • BeatlemoreSkidmania: For 3 nights, participants make and perform their own arrangements of Beatles songs. A cappella groups, professors, and others get in on the action.
  • Wafflefest happens right before finals week. The dining hall goes all-out with breakfast food for dinner.
  • Fun Day: This happens during first week in spring that it’s “mildly nice.” They bring in bands and DJs, rock climbing walls, food, etc.
  • In the middle of winter, they’ll have a night with fireworks, hot chocolate, and a bonfire.
  • Right before winter break, students can paint the windows of the student center.

~Skidmore 3The info session was one of the more informative that I’ve attended. Rather than having the standard rep talk, this was run by two students and an admissions rep. The students provided first-hand information about their experiences, the academics, and extra-curriculars.

Academic buildings

Academic buildings

They started out by highlighting areas that they believe makes them distinctive:

  • They have 64 majors; this is a lot for a school of this size (2400 undergrads). 80% of students start as undecided; business, English, studio art, government, biology, and psychology turn out to be the most popular.
  • Students can combine fields into a Self-Designed Major: “It only has to make sense to you,” said the rep. Students here tend to be interested in a lot, and they don’t want to limit their explorations. Everything is open to everyone. “It’s also super easy to double major. You can find that a lot of the requirements double-count because many of the distribution requirements can also count as a major requirement.” They have people double-majoring in math and music, science and dance, etc.
  • Freshman Seminar is the cornerstone of people’s experiences. Everyone takes one 1st semester and gets housed in the same dorm as their classmates. There are about 50 choices; incoming freshmen rank top 10 choices. Professors teach classes of their own creation; the only directive they were given was to “find something you’re passionate about.” A few examples are American Theater and Commerce (Students saw Pippin on Broadway and talked about economic, social, historical, and racial perspectives. “I learned how to write well in that,” said a student) and Human Dilemmas. There are actually about 12 different sections of this based on professor’s interests so the theme differs from section to section; however, they came together to get lectures on the different areas (bio, econ, philosophy, etc).

~Skidmore acad bldg 2Study abroad is huge: “There are only about 10 countries where are students haven’t gone in the last several years,” said the rep. They have partnerships such as theater in Moscow or London and science research in Norway. Travel Courses have gone to places like Bali, Cuba, all over Europe. It’s a good way to explore a country and get abroad without losing time at Skidmore. “Some people really love it here and don’t want to leave,” said a student.

Classes are small – only 1% of classes will have 50+ students; 95% have less than 30. Intro to biology, intro to psych, and intro to exercise science tend to be the big ones. My tour guide’s smallest classes had 4 (Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy) and 10 (Spanish Lit).

This year they received about 9000 apps for a class of 690. They have 2 Early Decision rounds (11/15 and 1/15) but no Early Action. ED acceptances filled about 40% of the class. They’ll superscore both SAT and ACT. There are only two merit scholarships categories that they offer:

  • Filene Scholarship for music: applicants send in a DVD. The Music Department will call back about 30 for on-campus auditions for 4 finalists and 4 alternates.
  • Porter Scholarship for science: students interested in this must submit an extra essay. They tend to give 5-7 scholarships a year.

Although there are no other academic scholarships, they will meet full demonstrated financial need.

(c) 2015

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