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College Visits: Vanderbilt and Sewanee

Vanderbilt University

Located in the heart of beautiful Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt sits directly in the heart of this vibrant, picturesque city. Founded in 1873 by Cornelius Vanderbilt, and currently sitting on approximately 320 acres of land, Vanderbilt is the home to 4 schools: The College of Arts and Science, the Blair School of Music, School of Engineering and the Peabody College of Education and Human Development. With about 6,900 undergraduate students, however, Vanderbilt is a liberal arts institution at its core. With over 65 fields of study, students have the ability to create their own majors.

Graduate programs are extensive and world renown, including a Divinity School, School of Law, School of Medicine, School of Nursing, and the Owen Graduate School of Management.

Students here are engaged in the community through internships with local schools, government and business. A vibrant campus with concerts, festivals and Division 1 athletic teams to root for, there is no lack of things to do. This is a school with rigorous academics, great athletics and a good social balance. Nashville has a great nightlife and there is much in the way of arts and culture for students to take advantage of.

Freshman retention rate is very high, around 96% and the 4 year graduation rate is around 92%. Post graduates break down as follows: 51% employed, 34% graduate school and 15% either volunteer or go into the military.

As one of the top 20 Universities in the US, grades and scores matter as well as extracurricular activities, essays and demonstrated interest. Vandy has seen a remarkable jump in submitted applications in the last few years which has increased their selectivity.


The University of the SouthAn hour and a half away south of Nashville on a small mountain top the hidden jewel of the small liberal arts colleges waits. Built in the 1857 by the Episcopal clergy, it was burnt to the ground during the Civil War, or as they say in the south, during the “War of Northern Aggression”. Rebuilt after the war using locally quarried stone, the campus reflects its English roots in its beautiful architecture. Interestingly, the Episcopal Church still owns all the land the school sits on, including faculty housing. The remote nature of Sewanee is a plus as over 90% of faculty and administration live on campus, allowing for a collaborative and approachable faculty.

Despite its remote location, opportunities abound. A brand new sciences building makes geology and environmental sciences very popular majors here, as well as economics, literature and history. Given its natural beauty, the campus is surrounded by over 26 miles of trails for hiking, biking, climbing and other activities. A new sports facility is one of the best I have seen, the equestrian facilities are beautiful, as is a private lake for swimming and picnicking. Sewanee has a strong writing program with an MFA available as well. The Greek system is alive and well here, with 80% of students participating. The Out Door Rec group is well stocked and available to all students who wish to partake in the surrounding area. There is also a very small Seminary graduate program, with about 200 graduate students.

An interesting hold-over from their English roots is the use of black academic robes. Most professor’s wear them during class and when a student reaches a certain grade point average (I can’t remember, but I think a 3.7 or higher) he/she is given a robe as a mark of distinction. Contrary to what one might think, students wear them with pride and you will see them all around campus. It is part of the unique culture of Sewanee and embraced by the faculty and students alike.

The town is small but quaint with a few small eateries and shops. Students often travel to Chattanooga and Nashville for concerts, but being in a remote area is definitely for those who appreciate the out of doors and a non-urban experience.

A rigorous and demanding school, Sewanee is the embodiment of the liberal arts tradition. Students work hard for their A’s here. Professors are approachable and eager to work with students. Sewanee is steeped in traditional academics with a southern twist!

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