Spotlight: Virginia Public Colleges and Universities

Rebecca Kenney Earlier this month, I visited eight colleges and universities in the state of Virginia. There are many appealing schools in this warmer state and a surprising number of public ones. A few have a low price tag even for out-of-state students.
The College of William and Mary, Virginia

College of William and Mary, Virginia

Did you know that the second oldest college in the nation, The College of William and Mary, is also a public school? William and Mary is located in historic Williamsburg, which is about an hour from Richmond (Virginia’s capitol) and 2.5 hours from Washington D.C. It has the feel of a classic New England, liberal arts college. Its 6000 undergraduates are passionate about learning and getting involved. About 35% of the students hail from outside Virginia. The William and Mary Tribe play Division I sports in the Colonial Athletic Association. Famous alumni include NFL Pittsburgh Steelers coach, Mike Tomlin, and Jon Stewart, previously of The Daily Show, who played soccer there. Thomas Jefferson is the most famous graduate and traditions are paramount given the school’s rich history. William and Mary offers a joint program with the historic University of St. Andrews in Scotland and students complete two of their four years on each campus. Top students are invited to be Monroe Scholars and receive a research stipend, special housing and opportunities. James Madison University (JMU) is located in Harrisonburg in the heart of the picturesque Shenandoah Valley. Although there are 18,000 undergraduates, the campus has the feel of a much smaller college. Thirty percent of the students come from out of state. During an event I attended, current students described JMU as a “happy place” and emphasized that faculty care about them, fellow students are engaged and invested, and that advising programs are strong. The Honors Program (which plans to evolve into an Honors College by next year) offers additional faculty mentorship, smaller class sizes, special housing, research and study abroad opportunities and 1:1 faculty support for a Senior Honors Project that spans three semesters. JMU offers both a traditional liberal arts college curriculum along with pre-professional programs in areas such as nursing, education, sports and recreation management, hospitality, kinesiology and engineering. JMU students are spirited and support their Division I teams, especially football. The JMU Marching Band has been recognized as one of the best in college football. Finally, the Shenandoah Valley is home to several ski resorts that draw students during the winter months. Cost of attendance for out-of-state students is approximately $35,000. An up and coming college is Christopher Newport University located in Newport News, an ocean-side town just a few miles from the largest naval station in the world. CNU’s campus boasts green, well-kept quads that are surrounded by colonial-style brick buildings. The focus is on its 5000 undergraduates and the students I met report feeling known and cared for by faculty and administrators alike. It is a friendly campus where students get involved in multiple ways. CNU is the 3rd most selective public university in Virginia just after University of Virginia and William and Mary. The out-of-state population is expected to reach about 15% in the next year or two and the cost for those students before aid is about $32,000. The 20+-year president, Paul Trible, is a retired US Senator who has enhanced the campus by securing both public and private funding. The President’s Leadership Program is offered to 400 freshmen each year. They graduate with a minor in leadership, take a special seminar each semester, engage in local service and complete a capstone project senior year. CNU is a liberal arts college offering traditional majors as well as a school of business, computer and electrical engineering and a social work degree. Athletes compete in Division III sports and are known for their very strong sailing team. Thomas Jefferson founded The University of Virginia in 1819. It is located in Charlottesville not far from Jefferson’s home at Monticello. There are just over 15,000 undergraduates. Like William and Mary, UVA is proud of its many traditions. Upper class students clamor to live in historic student residences located in Jefferson’s original buildings that line the Lawn, the epicenter of the University. The rooms are reserved for actively engaged seniors and past residents include NBA all-star Patrick Ewing and the beloved TV personality, Katie Couric. Athletes compete in ACC, Division I sports. Last year, the men won the NCAA championships in three sports: soccer, tennis and baseball. The Cavalier fans actively support their teams and are proud of their football tradition fondly referred to as “guys in ties and girls in pearls.” However, a wide range of students thrive at UVA. In addition to Arts and Sciences, UVA offers degrees in engineering, architecture, nursing and education. Those interested in The McIntire School of Commerce apply as sophomores and about 60% are admitted. Its graduates are successful with the school reporting that 100% of recent graduating classes are working or in graduate school. UVA admits 33.3% of its students from out of state. UVA offers merit scholarships including the highly selective Jefferson Scholars, that covers four-year cost of attendance with internships, research and study abroad opportunities included. There are other strong public and certainly private colleges in Virginia. If you are looking for a warmer climate but not too far away, access to Washington DC for internships, and, at some of the universities, the possibility of a slightly reduced price tag, these schools are worth a visit.

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