Virtual Impressions: Rhodes College (TN)
Rhodes College was a logical next stop on my virtual journey after visiting Sewanee,The University of the South. Often cross-shopped against each other, these schools also have the longest running football rivalry in the Southeast. Like Sewanee, Rhodes College has a campus that might remind you of Oxford or Hogwarts. But unlike those mountaintop schools, Rhodes is in a residential and cultural neighborhood of a major city. I collected photos of Rhodes College on Pinterest for you, The school also has an impressive collection of videos on YouTube.
Located in Memphis, Tennessee, Rhodes has just over 2,000 undergraduates, and very few grad students. It is also one of the Colleges That Change Lives. Rhodes got an ‘A’ when I wrote about those schools in 2016. I should probably update that article. But I believe that Rhodes College would still grade out to an ‘A’ in the update. Rhodes graduates over 75 percent of a freshman class; in some years the rate topped 80 percent. The college has also retained over 90 percent of each freshman class for the past five years.
If you want a liberal arts education in a city, there are few choices besides Rhodes. Honors colleges at larger schools such as the University of Minnesota, UT-Austin and the University of Washington come close. But they are still part of very large universities. Campus life might be intimidating for some college-bound students. Interested in an urban women’s college? Barnard and Meredith (NC) are the best examples. Agnes Scott and Bryn Mawr (PA) come close. Other options that are co-ed: Macalester (MN), Occidental (CA) and Reed (OR) are more selective than Rhodes. Goucher (MD) and Birmingham-Southern (AL) are less selective.
Last cycle Rhodes accepted 45 percent of the students who wanted to join the current freshman class. The average GPA for the class was a 3.7. The middle 50 percent of the class scored between 1250 and 1400 on the SAT. Those who took the ACT scored 27 and 32. Pre-COVID-19 the admissions office took demonstrated interest quite seriously, expecting prospective students to visit in person, distance permitting. Rhodes offers Early Action and two deadlines for Early Decision. Last cycle, Rhodes accepted two-thirds of the students who applied Early Decision. They represented 28 percent of the class. One interesting point I heard from an online student panel: Rhodes students travel an average of 450 miles to get to campus. Less than 30 percent come from Tennessee.
Starting this fall, Rhodes is going test optional, and will remain so for the next two years. The decision is certainly welcomed by many juniors who cannot take the ACT or SAT during the spring and summer. It will certainly make them feel less apprehensive about applying to Rhodes during their senior year. It’s likely that more will apply, and more will be denied. One tip: Rhodes considers essays and recommendations to be important in the admissions process. You must write well, and your choice of references should be taken seriously. This will also be true for many other test-optional liberal arts colleges, including Sewanee.
Selective liberal arts colleges expect excellence across the disciplines in high school. At the same time, they do not force prospective students into a major from the first day on campus. Rhodes has a Foundations requirement. Students are required to choose one of two signature three-course sequences: The Search for Values in the Light of Western History and Religion or Life: Then and Now. Rhodes offers a selection of majors typical of a liberal arts college, plus Biomathematics, Health Equity and Political Economy. Business majors can stick around to earn a Masters in Accounting. Liberal arts majors who want to become teachers can stay to earn a Masters in Urban Education.
Unlike many liberal arts colleges, Rhodes offers BA and BS degrees. BS degrees are granted in Biology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Biomathematics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Environmental Science, Mathematics, Neuroscience, and Physics. Math/Science students can double major outside of the sciences. AP or IB credits can cover up to 32 credits towards a degree. There’s also less competition for internships and volunteer opportunities in Memphis than you would find in cities like Atlanta or Philadelphia. Ninety-nine percent of graduates from the Class of 2018 had at least one community-engaged service or research project, internship, or fellowship.
More than 13,000 Rhodes alumni are registered in linkedin.com. About a fifth are based in or around Memphis. Over 700 are in or around Nashville; about the same number are in the Atlanta area. But there are also more than 600 based in Washington DC and more than 500 around New York City. Rhodes takes a pragmatic approach to helping their students find internships and jobs. The college has over 100 partners who hire interns.
Practically every Rhodes student lives on campus. About half are involved in Greek life. But neither fraternities nor sororities have their own houses, only meeting spaces. Outside of chapter meetings, their events are open to all students. Given Rhodes’ access to arts, entertainment and dining off campus, there’s no reason to join, if you don’t want to. I have never been to Memphis. Admittedly I don’t know the city outside of Elvis Presley, the civil rights movement, pro basketball, and Federal Express. But Rhodes students will tell you that there is more to do in Memphis than they could ever do in four years. Ask them lots of questions in real time and virtual chats, especially about food.
With all of its pluses, the Rhodes College experience is more affordable than many other selective liberal arts colleges. Next year the college will charge less than $63,000 for tuition and fees, room and board. This past year, the average need-based scholarship exceeded half of the total cost of attendance. Over a third of the freshmen received merit scholarships; on average these covered over half tuition and fees. Less than half of the students who graduated this spring took out student loans. Their debts averaged just over $26,000, less than the maximum that they could have borrowed through the Federal Student Loan program.
From a virtual distance I was quite impressed by Rhodes College. I like the idea of being part of a small college community within a major city. There were times when I wanted to be immersed in campus life when I was in college, and times when I wanted to get away. If you like what I like, and prefer a small college, check out Rhodes as soon as you can visit.
Listen to my talk, What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!
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