Bridgewater College (VA) Visit

<p>Brief back-story. Bridgewater College was probably the most pleasant surprise so far of the campuses that my son and I have visited. To be honest, I didn’t know much about BC except for the official line from their literature and website. It’s not discussed much on the forums, it’s not one of the CTCL or Princeton Review colleges. I had included it on this trip mainly because it was on the route and it had some of the things that my son had identified as important to him (and they’re somewhat eccentric). I had originally planned to do Elon-Lynchburg-Roanoke-McDaniel. Roanoke got dropped (don’t really know why, it just happened) and I desperately added Bridgewater for the above reasons and because I didn’t feel like driving from Lynchburg to McDaniel in one day. As it turns out, due to a conflict we had to drop McDaniel this time around as well, but I still decided to take a look at Bridgewater. So there you have my pretty lukewarm approach to BC. </p>

<p>Well. We ended up having an outstanding visit and to make a long story short, son is now taking a much harder look at the academic offerings of BC to see if they are a fit. From the visit, BC is a strong geographic, social and campus feel fit. Go figure. </p>

<p>We drove to Bridgewater from a rather lukewarm visit at Lynchburg College. We were a little early so drove around the area. Bridgewater town is a very nice small town just south of Harrisonburg (home of James Madison University). Not sure of the history, but it appeared to me that the town grew up around the college. There were your typical grocery stores, convenience stores, little shops, a few restaurants, some bars, etc. Also a surprising number of housing developments popping up – I thing this is becoming a bedroom community for the south Harrisonburg population. In sum, all of the necessities were nearby the college, within walking distance. Harrisonburg is less than 10 minutes away where there is much more shopping, restaurants, theatres, etc. </p>

<p>From the moment we parked we were overwhelmed with friendliness and real enthusiasm. Lots of hellos and smiles, and the admissions staff engaged in real conversations, not just “hey glad to see you sign here the presentation is down the hall”. The presentation itself was a little different. No video or PowerPoint. The admissions director gave about a 30-minute talk on the nuts and bolts. Some highlights:</p>

<p>• Founded in 1880 by the Church of the Brethren, to which is still maintains ties, but the school is very non-sectarian. </p>

<p>• 25% out of state, a ratio that they are very actively working on raising. With the ratio that low, I would assume that there is some “suitcase school” possibilities, but the student tour guide was very adamant that wasn’t the case. I’d recommend a weekend visit when school is in session to check it out. </p>

<p>• 60-40 F/M ratio. Not much comment on this, I don’t know if they are actively seeking to bring in more men. </p>

<p>• Guaranteed scholarships based on GPA/SAT. Seemed pretty generous. As an example, 3.5/1700 would net $11,650 per year. Comprehensive fee is $29,250. There are also scholarships to encourage diversity (ethnic and geographic) – students from DE, FL, MD, NJ, NY, PA or WV get a $2500 grant. Homeschoolers get $2000 and Private School grads get $2000. </p>

<p>• With only a few exceptions for local/older/married students, all students are required to live on campus all four years. </p>

<p>• 4-1-4 System. The “1” is when a lot of students go abroad or take one of the more offbeat or creative classes. </p>

<p>• There is a convocation requirement – students must attend 7 “convos” per semester. These consist of lectures, independent movies, and other events. </p>

<p>• It was a bad day to be asked about air conditioned dorms. 95 degrees outside, and the guy had to admit that only one male and one female dorm was air-conditioned. </p>

<p>The admissions director then turned the floor over to a professor who gave sort of a “liberal arts core” pep talk. Sounds corny, but she was very engaging. In the course of discussing how wonderful and important the liberal arts was, she more specifically talked about BC’s liberal arts core, known as their Gen Ed requirements – generally consists of courses taken from various disciplines, including science, fine arts, religion, philosophy, business, and social science. She also discussed the PDP system – Personal Development Portfolio. A required class every year that starts out as Freshman orientation, moves on to a reflection about the benefits of a liberal arts education, then on to an integration of the various academic and non-academic activities during college, and finishes with a formal report in which students document and reflect on their four years of growth. </p>

<p>Then there was a panel discussion with the professor and a current student. Some of the highlights:</p>

<p>• No Greek system, so the social life is generally run by the student activities board. The student was very enthusiastic about the types of entertainment they have on campus – movies, hypnotists, bands, parties, eating contests, etc. There are always organized activities on Friday and Saturday nights, usually involving free food. There’s no student activities fee or per-event fee. Everything is included in the comprehensive fee. </p>

<p>• A lot of cooperative learning going on, particularly in upper level courses. Study groups consisting of the whole class, etc. No problem calling professors on their cell phones, dinners with professors are common. Both the professor and the student spoke highly of the writing lab and the organized tutoring program. Writing was particularly stressed – you will know how to write a good paper on a tight deadline before you graduate. </p>

<p>• Class size averages 20, the Gen Ed classes can hit 40 or 50 in the first couple of years. No teaching assistants. </p>

<p>Then it was on to the tour. It was extremely hot but still a good tour. </p>

<p>• Overall, campus was very pretty. Somewhat flat even though it was in the hill country. Lots of trees and grass, colonial architecture. Somewhat spread out for a school of its size. </p>

<p>• Hit the McKinney Science and Math Center, their newest building. Very nice, good labs, lots of open space. The orientation had been in one of the older academic buildings. It was clean and well maintained despite the age, but I can see how they will need to spend some money on renovation soon. By the way, the campus is not completely Wi-Fi but they hope to be there in the next few years. </p>

<p>• There is one main dining hall and a few other snack places for informal meals and quick bites. The dining hall was large and somewhat institutional, but it did have a large salad bar and a number of other options at various stations (including vegetarian).</p>

<p>• The fitness center was fairly good sized for the size of the school. Athletics are very big – Division III ODAC Conference, and a powerhouse in many sports, including football. The training building for the athletes was separate from the student fitness center, so it was easier for students to use the equipment. 85% participate in intramurals, and there are a number of club sports. Equestrian team is big, and if you want to bring your horse the school has a stable.</p>

<p>• Library was serviceable but somewhat small. A lot of workstations and stacks, but could have been more open. </p>

<p>• Bridgewater is a dry campus (and remember, almost everybody has to live on campus). Our guide told us that she wasn’t going to say there was no drinking, but with the on-campus living requirement AND the lack of a Greek system it was less prevalent. On the other hand, the Princeton Review online says that that dry campus is sort of a joke. Not sure what to believe here. </p>

<p>All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised and son will be looking at Bridgewater much more closely. On reflection, it seems like Elon’s Division III little brother. Less selective but similar in a lot of ways: architecture, campus layout, based in a small town with a big city nearby, athletics are popular, and they have the same school colors. Of course, Bridgewater is Greek free and Elon has a good-sized Greek population.</p>

<p>Nice report. I believe that Bridgewater is a major Division III football power.</p>