Profile: Longwood University (VA)
Longwood University will look good on paper for many parents shopping for a small or mid-sized college. It’s public, but focused on undergraduates. They represent 4,000 of the university’s 4,500 students. Ninety percent of the students come from Virginia. I had the opportunity to attend a counselor’s visit this week, and collected a few photos for a Pinterest page.
Longwood is located within one of the most competitive buyers markets for college students in the country. Virginia is home to at least four other undergraduate-focused public colleges with undergraduate enrollments similar in size: Christopher Newport University and the University of Mary Washington as well as two public Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Virginia State and Norfolk State. The first two are cross-shopped with Longwood. Both are more accessible to larger cities, and neither play varsity scholarship sports. Longwood does.
A member of the Big South Conference and the Mid America Conference for women’s field hockey, Longwood competes in 14 varsity scholarship sports. The women’s softball program is one of the best on the country with three recent conference titles. As a Division II school Longwood won three national championships and five runner-up finishes in women’s golf. Women are the majority of the varsity athletes on Longwood’s campus. They compete in eight of the 14 sports.
Athletics help to bond the school and community, as so do campus-based college traditions. Farmville, home to the university since it’s founding, is a small town with 8,100 residents, not including the students. The campus and community are in the geographic center of Virginia. The town and campus are about an hour from Lynchburg, 90 minutes from Richmond, two hours from Roanoke and nearly three hours from Norfolk. While all students can have cars the social life at Longwood is more likely to be campus and community-based.
Campus and community blend together, and are more likely to do so for the future. The university would like to support a population of 6,000 students within the next five years. At present, Longwood is able to house two-thirds of its students, and the accommodations are quite nice. Unlike many colleges of this size, it can accommodate over a third of them in university-owned or university-affiliated on campus apartments. Thirty percent of the students are involved in Greek life. But aside from dedicated rooms in an upperclass residence hall for sorority members, neither fraternities nor sororities have their own houses. For those who might be cross shopping and wondering about Greek life, Longwood is at the midpoint between Mary Washington, which has no recognized Greek social organizations, and Christopher Newport, where they engage over half of the undergrads.
The academic departments that need to rely on government agencies, schools, businesses and hospitals have been able to find local partners for clinical assignments, internships, classroom projects and student teaching. But there are not as many of them as one might find near a college in a larger city. The university also offers Brock Experiences, short off-campus courses for credit where students receive direct exposure to multiple sides of a complex issue such as border security or water quality.
Longwood is not exceptionally selective. Eighty-nine percent of the students who applied to join last year’s freshman class were accepted. The university uses a rolling admissions process for all academic programs, excluding Nursing and the Honors College. Most applicants receive a decision within four weeks after all materials-grades, test scores and an essay (for Nursing students) are submitted. Just over ten percent of recent classes chose Longwood for the Honors College, though the number will be smaller next year. Incoming honors students needed a weighted GPA over 3.5, a 1200+ or a 26+ ACT. Entering Nursing students have had similar numbers, or better. But the average SAT for the class that arrived in 2018 was a 1070, the average ACT composite was a 21. Forty percent of the most recent freshmen class are first-generation college students.
While the university practices holistic admissions—this admissions team is more likely to look for reasons to accept rather than deny—standardized test scores are required. But aside from the more selective programs such as Nursing or Speech Pathology, a B student who has completed a college prep program with mathematics through pre-calculus should get in. It helps to be prepared in reading and math. Unlike peer schools in other states, Virginia public colleges may not offer remedial coursework for no credit.
Longwood has a reasonable sticker price as well as generous merit-based aid for non residents. The university estimates a total cost of attendance of just over $25,000 for Virginia residents, and approximately $41,000 for non-residents. A New Jersey or Pennsylvania resident who is considering an in-state public college might find Longwood to be a lower-cost option with a merit award. Students who qualify for the Honors College could qualify for more money, and the awards are stackable. Tuition is “banded” to encourage students to carry between 15 and 18 credits per semester at the same price, and help them to graduate on time.
This school offers an impressive number of majors and minors for its size. With few graduate students on campus, undergraduate students have more opportunities to work with faculty than they would at a much larger public university such James Madison, Old Dominion or Virginia Commonwealth. Longwood reports a student-faculty ratio of 14 to 1, and 70 percent of the faculty teach full-time.
What impressed me most about Longwood was the willingness to fine tune academic programs as well as the student success model. Longwood retained 77 percent of its freshmen who arrived last year. But as the school worked towards improving its student success model, it consistently graduated over half of its freshmen classes on time. There appears to be more willingness to identify areas where academic instruction or services are not working than I see at most other public colleges. This might involve reworking parts of a class where students are struggling, or providing small scholarships to help students pay for materials or travel.
Working with a faculty or staff success coaches and peer mentors, Longwood students are organized into groups of 15 to receive advising coaching around common concerns such as time management and preparation for classes and exams. The Civitae Core Curriculum, required of all students, emphasizes critical thinking skills and focuses on the meaning of citizenship.
While Longwood would like to grow its non-resident enrollment, the school has limited brand recognition outside of Virginia. Among the 20,300 alumni registered in LinkedIn.com, over 11,300 were based in or around the state’s largest cities. Another 4,000 are from Washington DC and its suburbs. The further an alumnus may be likely to go from Virginia, the harder it will be to maintain and make connections with their alma mater.
Longwood does more to help its students succeed than most public colleges of its size and endowment (only $55 million) typically do. I found much to like about the school, the students, faculty and staff that I met on campus. But I also felt that any prospective student should not commit to Longwood without visiting at least twice, the first time for an introduction, the second time for an accepted students event. While Longwood might be similar in size to at least four other public schools in Virginia, their communities and campus cultures are going to be different.
Report Card: Longwood University
- Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rate: B+/B+
- Freshman Retention: C+
- Costs: A
- Curriculum: A
- Community: B+
- Comforts: A
- Connections: B+ (Richmond and Washington DC)/C (elsewhere)
Looking for “hidden gems” like Longwood? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 609-406-0062.
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