Tough Decision- W&L vs SMU

Recently was so blessed and fortunate to receive generous scholarships from Southern Methodist University and Washington and Lee. Trying to make a decision right now as I love them both. I’ll most likely be a business major, but am not 100% sure as I would also consider law. SMU has really good business programs and I’m sure W&L does as well. W&L is more academically challenging but SMU is right in Dallas with a lot of great resources. However, I’m not sure if W&L has the best environment, as I’ve heard some negative experiences that POCs have had. However, I am aware that they are trying to make changes. I am a POC. . .Any advice from SMU or W&L students, graduates, or parents? I would really appreciate your insights. Thanks!


SMU parent and long time Cox mentor and employer.

Congratulations on acceptances and $$ support at two great universities. Have you been able to visit either or both? The pre-law society is a cool program at SMU with mentoring and auto acceptance to SMU Law in your pocket. Cox is fabulous.Dallas is a dynamic city with lots to offer for internships and fun. I hope you choose SMU.


Are you a BBA Scholar? If so, would be a big plus for SMU.

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I’ve been to both. My daughter is an accepted student to W&L. Congrats to you.

Both are, in reality, the egalitarian student body but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a home. I know W&L is trying to bring in minorities (Johnson Scholar) and SMU as well through their similar program. Diversity is tough for many schools because - and not to get political - these kids with the higher test scores typically come from more ‘white’ areas. Again, I use words like typically…not always…and not getting political. I can see where it can be a problem.

W&L business programs are outstanding. It is more limited environmentally in that - you nailed it - SMU is in Dallas so there will always be an escape. If you’re a hiker or outdoorsy person in general, then W&L will be great. It’s in a neat little town where most seem friendly. It’s also close to VMI so there is more than W&L inhabiting the town. The school is heavy greek but it seems like it’s a different kind of greek.

It’s only one person but on one of the student groups we sat in on, there was a POC from Tuscaloosa I believe and she was very positive on the school - but one person does not make a sample…

SMU is a better known name, btw, even though the Niche ranking is lower. You can’t compare on SMU. Both are fine choices. You’ll only know after you get there but I think SMU would give any student, not just a POC, more overall options should they get in a social bind.

Good luck.


Sorry -can’t compare on US News…one a national school vs. a LAC.

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One of my sons graduated from SMU Cox, and another son will be going to W&L. Both great schools, W&l is more selective but at least in the northeast doesn’t have a ton of name recognition from the general public. Though, now that I’m thinking about it, I *would * always have to add “in Dallas” when telling people where my oldest went to college (so, lots of northeasterners didn’t know where SMU was). Also I believe W&L’s endowment per student is higher, which may affect your experience (eg students don’t live on SMU’s campus after sophomore year).

Anyway, bottom line is, you can get a great education at either school. But their settings are completely different so it really comes down to the experience you want.


SMU provides excellent internship opportunities in a major city with many Fortune 50 companies.


@gracielouver123 I know a couple of parents whose children attended W&L. They and their children were absolutely thrilled with the education W&L provided, but it’s important to note that these were not families of color. However, both students went on to graduate school (one to Vanderbilt Law) and now have successful careers. It’s a very good academic institution, but as a POC I understand about doing your due diligence on W&L. It’s not only the low percentages of students and professors that is concerning, though that is a legitimate concern in itself.

It’s also the fact that the school kept Robert E Lee as president after the Civil War, buried him on campus, and continued to display the confederate flag and statuary until very recently. Also, if I’m not mistaken, the confederacy continues to be honored in the campus shrine to Lee and elsewhere on campus.

Here is an article in Higher Education about the topic a couple of years ago: Washington and Lee faces unusual challenges in confronting its history

W&L has made many statements over the past couple of years emphasizing its efforts to continue to try to distance itself from its history of honoring the confederacy, but it definitely has a few steps yet to go. However, it is a great academic reputation, so maybe that is enough to overcome any doubts you may have. Sometimes, it’s difficult for institutions with a strong identity of revering the confederacy to completely shed their past. You may want to read about the very recent events at Sewanee University of the South, another school with deep ties to the confederacy.

SMU is also a very good university. SMU’s business school is very respected, especially in its region of the country.

In the end, you have two very good academic options. I don’t think there’s a bad academic choice between the two.

In addition to the concerns you may have as a POC, I’m sure you’ll also consider whether you prefer W&L’s rural location or SMU’s campus in a large city, W&L’s small enrollment or SMU’s larger enrollment, and many other differences between the two.


@gracielouver123 You received great information in the posts above so I will just add how my D researched her concerns about W&L’s reputation as very conservative and lacking in diversity.

My D is not a POC so I cannot and will not speak to that experience. I will say that she is left-leaning politically, started the social justice club at her high school (private school in a southern city… diverse in religious and sexual-orientation but not much racial diversity), is very interested in disparities in healthcare access (she’s on a premed track) and has ECs to support that, and overall speaks out about the need for better inclusivity and diversity in society and listens to and supports her friends who are POC. All of that and she is deciding between W&L and one other school.

She is a Johnson Scholar at W&L so that is a huge consideration now that she is admitted, but she never would have applied in the first place if she did not think she could be happy there. She did a lot of research on W&L’s history and efforts to increase diversity on campus. She also requested zoom calls with current students (POC, LGBTQ, non-Christian, etc.) and POC faculty. Her takeaway was that while there is much improvement to be made and at times there may be frustrations, there is support from the administration level down. And if she decides to go to W&L, she plans to be involved in efforts to improve campus diversity.

Perhaps you should request a call with a current student/faculty of color? Feel free to send me a PM if you would like the contacts my D spoke to. Congratulations and best of luck in finding your college home. You can’t go wrong with whichever you choose.

ETA: I also have talked to current parents and shared PMs with parents on CC to address my concerns on fit for my D. The parents have been very generous with sharing detailed information. Politically it sounds like the student body is more centrist and it is not a problem to be left of center.


W&L students appear to have been appealing for substantial, newsworthy change at their school literally days before this CC topic was posted:


The “Lee” association is a problem because it lifts the historical ties to the secessionists, their mythology, and their willingness to break the country in order to keep some of us in bondage… but how to change such a name? Wouldn’t Boomer (or even Gen-Xer) alumni revolt?
It’d likely have to change its name to “Washington&…” (famous alumnus?), and the process would take a long time.
The article does point to a college community that is changing and is no longer attached to the confederacy.


In doing my research on the school, I found this podcast by a W&L professor interesting:


Thanks !

In getting the link to the above podcast, I found another I’m currently listening to which I’d recommend. It is hosted by a W&L alum of Nigerian descent, and she interviews other alums about their experiences at W&L. The name of the podcast is “The Questioning Everything” podcast, and the episode is “Can Washington and Lee University Move On from its Controversial Name?”

In listening to that, I learned of this organization:

One thing the questioning podcast talks about is the culture shock of going to a very southern school (one woman mentions wearing makeup every day). I would say that SMU shares some of those traits . . . and if I had girls instead of boys I am not sure I’d want them going to either school. While boys can be attuned to clothing brands etc as a rule they are not as particular as girls and the pressure on them is much, much less.


Fortunately, I was selected as a BBA Scholar and have read a little bit about what it entails. From your personal experiences, what are the perks of being a BBA Scholar?

Thank you for your kind words. I visited SMU a few years back, but have never visited W&L. You are 100% right about the environment at SMU as there are many opportunities right in Dallas.

BBA Scholar offers a lot of opportunities. Direct admit to Cox is big plus the individual attention you’ll receive. Don’t underestimate the value of being in programs like this. They only offer it to 100 kids per year. They want you to attend and succeed.

S20 was awarded BBA Scholar plus other honors and scholarships. Unfortunately Covid hit and we couldn’t visit. He’s not a POC but had similar concerns about acceptance. I think he would’ve been fine. It’s 2021 and most campuses have diversity. That said, we pulled a parents choice and took it off the list because it was too far…nobody knew much about Covid at that point. He ended up at Georgia Tech and is doing well.

You have some excellent opportunities on the table. I can’t speak to POC issues at at either school but you have some opportunities that anyone would envy. Make the most of it. Good luck.


Thank you for your encouragement and very helpful advice. I really appreciate it. Personally, which business programs between SMU and W&L do you think are better? I’ve heard amazing things both about Cox and the programs at W&L.

I am really excited to have the opportunity as a direct admit. Thank you for your insight and advice. I am in a very favorable position and am looking forward to taking advantage of it!

I think both are fine - you need to find your right fit.