Popping the SU Bubble: How Other Schools See SU

SU’s Snowglobe - Courtesy Michael Morgan

By Remy Robertson

For those students who lived in the Austin area before coming to college, Southwestern University was more than likely a college option that they had heard of for years. For the others who came from the Dallas-Ft. Worth metropolis, Houston, or just rural Texas, Southwestern University did not have the depth of reputation that it had for Austin residents. But now that we’re all here, realizing the great academics and the great faculty SU possesses, we beg to ask the question: what is SU’s reputation, and why isn’t it more popular?

It is easy to recognize that Southwestern has many prestige characteristics. Southwestern University is a forerunner in its features, such as its 10 to 1 student-to-teacher ratio, its esteemed career services, and its generous financial aid.  The Princeton Review has consistently placed the university as one of the “Best 368 Schools in North America,” and has been recently noted as the 2nd best university in the state of Texas, just behind Rice University. A website called StudentsReview.com has many compliments to Southwestern, including a student remarking that Southwestern is definitely “not the place to be if you truly want to be a number and disappear with the masses.” Additionally, another excerpt stated that “If you want a place that teachers will pay attention to you come here. If you want to party, go to UT.” Behind certain qualities like the unique Living-Learning Communities, as well as the Paideia program, studying abroad, and Capstone, students fully comprehend that Southwestern is a diamond in the rough. Those who have attended or who are attending understand that SU presents something that cannot be translated to a statistic nor sold in The Princeton Review or StudentsReview.com.

Many critics do not give Southwestern such high credentials. A website called TheU.com ranks Southwestern with “C+” professors, and an “above average” cost for an “average reputation.” Also, the website remarks that acceptance is “easy,” and only demands a “moderate workload.” Of the 29 students that StudentsReview.com interviewed, only 20 (79%) said that they would return to SU if given the choice. One student explained that she wished she had attended “other great universities like Rice or some east coast schools, for the prestige factor.” She extended, noting that “SU is a well-known school in the region, but now that I live in New England, it doesn’t carry as much weight.” Of the 1,916 students that applied to Southwestern last year, 67% were admitted; of those who were admitted, only 29% attended. Only 19% enroll from those that applied to SU. This shows that Southwestern, despite its #2 rank in Texas, is not most student’s first-choice college. So what is it about Southwestern’s reputation that causes very few students to attend?

To answer this question, I contacted guidance counselors from all over the state with a questionnaire about Southwestern. Counselors from outside the Austin area responded that SU is rarely known to their students. In contrast, those that are within 100 miles of the university remarked that SU is “very prevalent” in their students’ minds. Clearly Southwestern’s reputation is geographically determined. In the academic arena, no counselor ranked Southwestern with equal academics to Rice University. The counselors did respond that Southwestern is equally (or more so) academic to the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and Trinity University. When compared to New England ivy schools, some responses ranked SU with Brandeis and Wake Forest, yet none placed SU with Duke, Columbia, or Tufts University. Academically, Southwestern seems to have a very prestigious reputation, despite the remarks of TheU.com. Schools with over 2,000 students seem to have less than 5 students attend SU each year. One school had 47 students admitted to SU in a span of 2 years, with only 8 attending.

From what the counselors have provided, Southwestern University seems to be very academically challenging and intellectually stimulating. It is true that Southwestern staff seem to give great attention to their students, and that universities with 50,000 students like UT do not provide such interaction. Perhaps students look past the academic challenge of universities. Southwestern does not have a football team, something very key to Texans social life. Southwestern is gratefully on the outskirts of never-ending-buzz of Austin, since the nice town of Georgetown does not provide any real nightlife for students. Additionally, Southwestern may not have such an exploding reputation since it does not have many famous alumni. SU’s noted alumni include John Tower, a Texan Senator, Pete Sessions, a Congressman, as well as Mike Timlin, a professional baseball player. Much larger universities have many more noted alumni, such as Jack Kerouac at Columbia or Michael Dell from the University of Texas, which may play a key interest in promoting a school’s reputation to prospective students. Aside from mere reputation, Southwestern costs much more than any school other than Rice or Trinity. Scholarships are very present, but the over $30,000 price tag scares lots of students to alternative universities. Nobody wants debt, except maybe those that attend SU.

Southwestern University has a respected reputation in many fields, but there are many reasons as to why Southwestern is not more popular than it is. First, the small alumni group does not promote the school as much as other universities. Second, Georgetown is not the party scene that others college towns offer, respectively. Third, one must have deep pockets! Academically, however, the responses from the high school guidance counselors showed that the academics are top notch, and are sometimes to the level of New England ivy league universities.

All of the students here realize that they gain some hefty advantages in coming to Southwestern. As for the school’s reputation, I would assume that it’s directly correlated with the small campus and small attendance, though that is why we love SU, isn’t it? Don’t we love the 20 person class debates and the parties where everyone knows each other? The ability to wave “hi” to most of the people walking around campus? You bet we do. If you don’t, go somewhere bigger. You can disappear there.

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