Southwestern University is one of the Colleges That Change Lives – a 175-year old, small, liberal arts college about a half hour north of Austin, Texas. From the moment you step on campus, you feel immediately that your life will be changed if you spend time here.
Dr. Edward Burger arrived in 2013 and has embraced the University’s mission wholeheartedly. A calculus professor who created a widely-used video series on how to teach math at all levels, Burger claims to know all of Southwestern’s 1,500 students. His enthusiasm for educating students using the philosophy of paideia, exploring and connecting diverse topics in an interdisciplinary way, is evident when you meet him – he believes this is truly the mission of a liberal arts college. “At Southwestern everyone is engaged, everyone brings something to the table,” Burger says, and he invites students to have dinner at his home on a regular basis, selecting a topic of discussion and ensuring each of them participates.
Not surprisingly, Southwestern students can create/design their own major, combining disparate fields if they want; they can also graduate with a paideia distinction, which indicates extensive interdisciplinary work. Students collaborate frequently with professors on research, publishing and presenting at national conferences (which looks great on grad school applications). Civic engagement and social justice are part of the curriculum. The small size means “faculty find different ways of tapping into student strengths,” said one professor. There is a school of fine arts; the English major has a film track that focuses more on the literary/critical side than on production. All students must do a fine arts performance before graduating. A list of all majors is here.
Southwestern has a 2-year residency requirement and no restrictions on students having their cars on campus; 85% of students remain on campus after their sophomore year. The football team was brought back just a few years ago, and now students cheer on their Pirates at swim meets, as well as lacrosse, soccer and baseball games. School spirit is high as the community is close-knit.
As for how you should judge the return on your investment in your child’s education, Dr. Burger put it this way: “Find the perfect fit, where the student can flourish and become their very best selves. They will become more engaged in life’s journey.” It’s hard to argue with that!
Georgetown, Texas is about 30 minutes north of Austin, and many of the 55,000 residents who live here commute to the state capital for work. Southwestern leverages the benefits of having a large university and large city close by for internships and cultural activities while still maintaining the intimate college town feel.
I honestly loved my visit to Southwestern University; it struck me as a place where students really can have a life-changing experience. You might have to tell people where Georgetown, Texas is, but if you are looking for a small liberal arts school where students are truly engaged, 175-year old Southwestern could be the match for you! Frequently we read catalogs and websites, or attend info sessions about liberal arts colleges and subsequently cannot tell them apart. Paideia is really what sets Southwestern apart.
My freshman tour guide Melanie talks about how with about 1,500 students, Southwestern was just a bit smaller than her high school.