Road Trip: "Aha!" Moments at Vanderbilt University

I toured Vanderbilt about a week ago.  I thought I knew it.  I had been there in college to visit my best high school friend and go to the Kentucky Derby.  Aha! though there was some resemblance, it’s not exactly what I remembered…big, very Southern, social, and smart.  A student explained that Vanderbilt was her “Goldilocks" school—not to big / not to small, urban but with a campus, and a balanced passion for academics and extracurriculars.

My memories of Vanderbilt as social fit well with 2017. 50% of women and 35% of men are part of Greek life.  That is a lot. Vanderbilt has a deferred joining system meaning you have a semester on campus to gain your bearings, make friends and more prudently choose where you would like to pledge.  Typically only officers live in the houses. 

Memories of smart fit well today too. There are four undergraduate colleges at Vanderbilt —Arts & Sciences, Engineering, Education & Human Development (Peabody), Music (Blair). Acceptance is to the university as a whole at an acceptance rate, per Admissions, of 10.3%. Social mixes well with smart—as captured by an ESPN Game Day commentator’s remark that [amazingly] “students studied on the lawn before the game!”  Vanderbilt is the smallest and the only private school in the SEC.

With just under 7,000 undergrads and nearly 6,000 grad students Vanderbilt is comfortably a mid-sized college.  Big is not how I would describe the student body or campus.  The campus felt small; quite urban. A “very walkable campus” according to our tour guide, academics are all “within 10 minutes of each other”. He ditched his bike after his first year. The very commercial West End Road borders one edge of campus and two neighborhoods, Hillsboro Village and Midtown, sandwich the campus. The two neighborhoods exude both a community and a cosmopolitan feel.

Vanderbilt’s gentile Southern hospitality eases transition from high school to college. All freshmen live together in the Ingram Commons—10 houses with a faculty member’s family living in each. Uniquely, each Vanderbilt freshman is assigned to a Visions group of about 18 with an upperclassman and faculty mentor.  You meet with your Visions group daily the first week on campus and then once a week for 10 weeks forming a built in community for fun and for any challenge that may arise.

But very Southern would be inaccurate today.  Visions’ student mentors consistently comment on becoming engaged with a diversity of students as a primary value of the program. After TN, most students are from IL, then NY and CA, with 7% international. Our tour guide implied that Vanderbilt’s reach beyond the South came about as a result of the broadening of the Financial Aid program about ten years ago. More importantly Admissions described the student population as 1/3rd conservative, 1/3rd liberal and 1/3rd moderate.

Consider Vanderbilt if you are looking for an academic environment balanced with extracurriculars and with the positive remnants of Southern hospitality without the narrowness a lack of diversity brings.