Thursday, December 25, 2014

"So You Don't Have To": A Visit to the University of Richmond


As promised, I will use this space to share my experiences visiting colleges with you. Hopefully you will find these notes useful. If you like the schools I discuss you should do everything you can to visit on your own, but this will tide you over until you are able to.

In mid-December I visited the University of Richmond, in the capital city of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The University has become an increasingly popular option among students at my school, and colleagues who had been to the campus couldn't say enough about it. During my visit I attended an information session and took a tour and I came away extremely impressed.  The University of Richmond combines a campus so beautiful that it looks like a movie set with a wealth of opportunities for students to experience. I look forward to recommending the University of Richmond to my college counselees.


University of Richmond At A Glance

Size:
About 3,000 undergraduates (approximately 52% women/ 48% men). There are an additional 1,100 or so graduate students.
Programs of Study:
Over 60  majors. Undergraduate degrees offered are Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science. Multiple Master's degrees are also awarded along with Juris Doctor degree from the law school.
Sports:
NCAA Division I; 16 varsity teams (9 women's, 7 men's); over 30 club and intramural sports.
Campus Life:
350-acre campus on the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia. 14 non-residential fraternities and sororities.
Costs & Aid:
Tuition, room & board and fees total just about $57,470 (tuition is around $46,680). Parents need to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as well as the CSS PROFILE. The average need-based financial aid award is $42,000.
Deadlines:
The Early Decision I deadline is November 15, and the ED II and Regular Decision deadlines are January 15.
Tests:
SAT or ACT. Mid 50% of SAT are 1340-1410 (CR+M) and 30-33 for the ACT. SAT Subject Tests are not required.


©2014 Courtney Lewis
The University of Richmond, or "UR" as they like to call themselves, is located on the west side of Richmond, Virginia. Richmond is a small to medium sized city of less than 250,000 people (about 1,300,000 in the metro area) but it is the capital city of Virginia, and as such it offers many amenities typically found in larger cities, from effective public transportation, to multiple museums and ample opportunities for public and private sector internships. The university was founded in 1830, but moved to its current location in 1914. At that time a women's college, Westhampton College was founded alongside the men-only Richmond College. While the two institutions merged into the University of Richmond years ago, they still maintain a very unique "coordinate system"; under this scheme, the campus contains both colleges; women and men have their own deans, student governments, honor councils and residences. While UR is thoroughly co-ed with a nearly equal balance between men and women, this could still be a good option for someone interested in "semi single sex" education. 

The expansive campus is one of the most gorgeous I've ever seen. It spans 350 acres, but it is walkable end-to-end in 15 minutes. All of the buildings are air-conditioned against the Virginia humidity. Though its buildings have been built over the last century they have a great deal of architectural cohesion; additionally, they seem to have spared no expense to make the structures beautiful inside and out. The lake in the middle of the campus is lovely, and considering how mild the weather was in December, I am sure that students enjoy it nearly year round.


courtesy of the www.richmond.edu

UR was the beneficiary of one of the largest higher education donations in American history when alumni and local philanthropist E. Claiborne Robins gave $50 million in 1969 (over $300 million in contemporary dollars). Robins ran the pharmaceutical company A.H. Robins, former maker of Robitussin and ChapStick. I was told that to this day, a small portion of ChapStick sales goes to the University, and that the infirmary dispenses the products to students. The gift has grown through wise investment to an endowment of $2.1 billion, the 34th largest in America, which doubtless helps provide for the world-class amenities available to UR students. 

I visited on the first day of Winter break and consequently our tour was not able to include some elements that are usually featured on such visits, most notably the gym and the dorms. While I wasn't able to see the residences, I was told that nearly 90% of students live on campus for all four years, which indicates that they must be pretty nice. The university has 14 fraternities and sororities, but they are non-residential; in addition to this UR eschews freshmen-only residences, so students get to live with a representative cross section of their peers from day one. I have always approved of this myself; my first year in college I lived on a floor with older students, wound up in a band with a bunch of fourth-years and made many friends outside my age group.  It was quite rewarding for me, and I am sure that Richmond students have similar results. 

©2014 Courtney Lewis
UR has 17 NCAA Division I teams and 30 club sports, including ice hockey, badminton and quidditch. Several varsity teams play in Robins Stadium, a newly built multisport palace located next to the admissions office. As you can see from the picture, Richmond is proud to be the only team in the country called the Spiders, and the arachnid logo is omnipresent--web designs are even built into the steel railings around the stadium. I really mean it when I say that they are serious about being called the Spiders--one of their supplemental essays on the Common App is an open ended one, asking students to "please tell us something about spiders". That said, I am rather an arachnophobe, and I was not scared walking around campus, so you should be okay too.

UR prides itself on being a "suburban campus with an urban feel" that "doesn't know our own size"; based on what I saw, they definitely punch above their weight--the casual observer would be excused in thinking that the university had at least twice as many students as they do. Richmond maintains a center in the heart of the city called "UR Downtown" that is a short shuttle drive away and makes it easier for students to take advantage of urban resources. The university seems to combine the best of a big university with a smaller college--classes average 16 students, and the largest lecture hall on campus has a maximum occupancy of 47. Students seem to like this: I was told that Richmond was ranked the 7th happiest campus in the nation, and that a remarkable 94% of students return for a second year. Based on other benchmarks, I bet they stay happy. Richmond wants their students to have the financial flexibility to be able to travel, do internships and otherwise engage with the larger world, and to that end they have just announced "the Richmond Guarantee" which will provide up to $4,000 per student to subsidize an off campus learning activity. Finally, of the class of 2013, 96% of graduates were "employed, engaged or enrolled" in a position that let them use their degrees within six months of commencement.

©2014 Courtney Lewis 
Students who are interested in applying to the University of Richmond can use the Common Application. UR is very selective, admitting only about 30% of applicants. They promise an "holistic review", and I was told that the student's transcript is looked at very closely. They are looking for students who have earned A, A- and B+ grades in a rigorous curriculum. UR looks to see that students have challenged themselves to the best degree that they were able based on the context of the school's overall curriculum; in other words, a student who attends a school without AP classes won't be penalized for not taking those courses, but if she attends a school with a dozen AP options, she should have taken several. UR requires standardized tests, and their mid-50% scores (1320-1410 for SAT and 30-33 for ACT) are pretty high. They look closely at the SAT writing section, as well as the written parts of the Common App (including the spiders part) to make sure that all incoming students can express themselves well. The Early Decision I deadline is November 15 and the EDII and Regular Decision deadlines are January 15. Students seeking to be a "Richmond Scholar" (beneficiaries of 45 full tuition scholarships) must apply by December 1.

All UR students start their careers in the College of Arts and Sciences; students don't declare a major until sophomore year. I was told that the top four majors are psychology, biology, international studies, and business administration; the business students have a "trading floor" to work with, and are actually given a portion of the University endowment to invest every year. 59% of students study abroad in their career which is a pretty good rate. Richmond makes sure that students are reimbursed for "cultural activities" (museums, lessons, etc.) while studying out of the country; my tour guide spent several months in New Zealand and was reimbursed for taking the Lord of the Rings tour. Undergraduates who study classes related to the law can use the law school and its library, which can be a big help for research projects. I was told that students form close relationships with their professors; our tour guide related that when she was studying in the business building a professor came to check on her, because she hadn't moved for so long! At UR all courses are taught by faculty members; there are no teaching assistants. The university is very proud of its School of Leadership Studies, which they say has been a model for similar programs at other colleges across the country in the last two decades. It is an interdisciplinary program that draws from multiple perspectives to help frame what makes a leader, rather than specifically training students to assume a leadership role (though doubtless many eventually do). Students apply in their second year if they want to major in Leadership Studies.

©2014 Courtney Lewis
The Boatwright Library (named after a longtime college president) is a lovely building that has many modern features. It makes a good balance between offering students collaborative and individual study spaces with plenty of available technology and nearby support from librarians (with welcomingly decorated offices). It is open 24 hours every day and like many buildings on campus features a café space. The library devotes a large amount of space on the main floor to collaborative learning. Whiteboards abound for groups of students to work together; students were asked what they most wanted to see during the recent renovations, and this is what they asked for. The library has over 500,000 volumes; there is also a music library and a law library (located in the law building). Also, for history students drawn to Richmond by Revolutionary War or Civil War history, the Library of Virginia is nearby and is another great source of research material for students; when I was there they had a museum quality exhibit on the slave trade in Richmond that gave me many ideas to use in my history classes.

I really enjoyed my visit to the University of Richmond.  It is quite diverse, drawing students from 47 states and 70 countries; in fact the other people on my tour came from Connecticut and China. While I didn't get to see the dorms or the gym, I still felt that I received tons of useful information; my tour was led by a senior from Virginia named Pooja, who was one of the best tour guides I've ever had and she covered a lot of ground. Pooja's love of the University was abundant and obvious throughout our hour long walk around campus; she kept saying how much she would miss it when she graduated, and it is easy to see why. The University of Richmond seems to be the perfect combination of small college feel and big university features. I had never visited a college so far south, but it was quite accessible from northeastern Pennsylvania (a six hour drive) and is on the Acela (high speed rail) line from Amtrak making it quite easy to take the train to Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Having visited I can understand why it is so popular, and I will definitely be recommending it to more of my students in the future. 

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