Every spring, graduating seniors at Southwestern University ascend a spiral staircase in the university's Cullen Building to the uppermost level, which offers sweeping views of the wooded, 700-acre campus in Georgetown. Along the way, students sign their names on the walls, alongside signatures that date to the early 1900s. The limestone building is so iconic that film and television crews often shoot it when they need a picturesque college scene.
Affiliated with the Methodist Church, Southwestern is a small liberal arts college with just 1,370 undergraduates, located about 25 miles north of Austin. The acceptance rate was 65 percent in 2011. Tuition and fees for 2012-13 will run about $34,400, with room and board about $10,200.
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Students can choose from roughly 40 majors, the most popular of which are biology, psychology, communication, and business. The Sarofim School of Fine Arts, which offers students individual studio space as well as a large gallery, is a rare stand-alone art school at a liberal arts college.
Southwestern also has a special six-semester program called Paideia, roughly translated as the "sum total of one's educational experiences." In Paideia, groups of 10 students from different majors meet biweekly with a professor, sophomore through senior years, to discuss readings and current events. The goal is to help them make connections between "their work in all their classes and outside of class," says David Gaines, the program's director.
The students must also participate in a study abroad program or an "intercultural experience," work with a professor on a research initiative, and join in a civic engagement project. Though currently optional, Paideia will be required for all Southwestern students by fall 2014.
It's "as close as you can get to a pure liberal arts experience," says senior Brady Kent of Albuquerque, N.M., a political science major who studied in Mexico and Granada, Spain, and mentored a Georgetown high school student as part of the program.
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In general, students say their ability to get to know their professors is a strong plus for the school, which has an 11-to-1 student-faculty ratio. Whether sharing a meal of breakfast burritos with a class or working alongside students in a community garden, the professors continually show that they are "devoted to students," says Sarah Puffer, a junior from Kingwood, Texas.
The Pirates field teams in some 18 Division III sports, but Houston native Zach Sewill, a 2012 grad, laments the lack of other perks. There's no student center and few weekend activities.
Still, he notes of Southwestern's 96 registered clubs and groups: "There's a ton of organizations on campus that pretty much cover everything from political science to community outreach." So most students can find outlets for their interests.
Brooke Blomquist, class of 2012, a psychology major from Plano, Texas, does bemoan the "boy-girl ratio" (more than 60 percent female university-wide). However, she welcomes the news that the school will restart its Division III football team in the fall of 2013 after a 60-odd-year hiatus. That, she hopes, will help even out the numbers.
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