Mid-Atlantic Road Trip: UNC-Asheville

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You're about to spend four years of your life on a college campus; you need to make sure it feels right. So hit the road—we did! We took three typical road trips: East Coast, West Coast, and in between. By the way, college visits don't have to mean hours on the interstate. Use our Directory to locate schools near you and walk through the gates. You may find what you're looking for.

Going to a state school close to home makes sense for many students, and with 16 public colleges and universities, North Carolina has a strong state system. We looked at three possibilities: a historically black university, the state's flagship school, and a liberal arts college. Then, to sample what neighboring states had to offer, we drove north to Blacksburg, Va.

Of all the state university system's 16 campuses, UNC-Asheville is the only liberal arts college. It sits 2,000 feet up in the Blue Ridge Mountains in a town that rated a mention this year in The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World. The book's author, Eric Weiner, traced happiness to relationships with family, friends, strangers, and the environment; UNCA stresses the importance of relationships in the teaching of the liberal arts as well.

Faculty are your friends: That's the message for incoming freshmen. After moving in, students are lined up and marched through two robed lines of cheering faculty members. In the liberal arts tradition, faculty are considered the experienced students of the culture's great minds, whose purpose is to assist less experienced students.

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In upper-level courses, students are encouraged to follow their interests. David Cox, a senior from Greensboro, N.C., majoring in political science, researched Asheville's black community under the guidance of Dwight Mullen, a faculty member with a Fulbright scholarship on his résumé. Among his findings: The proportion of African-Americans in the county jail was almost double their proportion of the local population. Mullen helped Cox organize a conference where he made his report last year.

Literature and psychology are the most popular majors at UNCA, but when the faculty voted to expand a few years back, they chose to use a Kellogg Foundation grant to develop a curriculum in health and wellness. The impetus was Asheville's rep as a mecca for alternative medicine, but it was a lucky selection, too, given the attraction the Blue Ridge has developed for retirees. Majoring in health and wellness requires knowledge of anatomy, physiology, psychology, and sociology—plus issues such as poverty, says Keith Ray, who chairs the department.

Morgan Silverman, a senior who has gone on to grad school at the University of Southern California, got time from professors in 24 classes to survey students about their experiences with chronic pain. Two faculty members asked her how she wanted to use the information she had gathered; she opted to share it with university health services before trying for publication in a national journal. "You can't ask for more than to be taken seriously as a researcher if that's what you want to do," says Silverman, who came to UNCA from Boulder, Colo. Silverman applied to four small schools that offered research experience. "UNC-Asheville was the cheapest," she says. "I won't be paying back student loans for the rest of my life."

Asheville is large enough to attract big-name bands to the Orange Peel downtown and features bluegrass music at Jack of the Wood. In the works: a craft campus with studios for glass blowers, ceramics makers, woodworkers, and others.

More About UNC-Asheville

Plus factor: Passionate student body—fliers, posters everywhere

Undergrad enrollment, fall '07: 3,663
Est. annual cost, '07-'08 (tuition, fees, room and board): in state: $10,394; out of state: $21,384  

Mid-Atlantic Road Trip

  • Winston-Salem State University
  • UNC-Chapel Hill
  • UNC-Asheville
  • Virginia Tech
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