A top-notch, East Coast, very old public university, W&M can be seen as a smaller, less famous version of the prestigious University of Virginia. As the second oldest university in the country, W&M educated many of the leading figures in America’s early history, including three Presidents and 16 signatories of the Declaration of Independence (including Thomas Jefferson, who went on to found the University of Virginia). It is still home to the nation’s oldest fraternity.
Surrounded by the meticulously if fanatically preserved 17th century town of Williamsburg, one of the oldest towns in the US and the 2nd capital of the British colony of Virginia, students must plow through the throngs of deeply reverent historical tourists that overwhelm their picture-perfect colonial brick campus. But no question – this is a beautiful if oh-so-quaint location for college students to roam freely.
Nearly 75% of students live on campus for all four years, though many of them are less than complimentary about the housing.
Students are quirky, friendly, passionate and intelligent, and not ashamed to show it. They hail from an eclectic mix of backgrounds – many are North Virginians from the DC suburbs.
Hitting The Books
A so-called “public Ivy”, W&M is academically hard-hitting, with uber-challenging courses and dedicated professors. The whole system is geared towards undergraduate achievement, with almost no courses taught by teaching assistants (i.e. they’re all taught by the actual professors). The resulting quantity of learning is very satisfying, as is engagement in the vibrant campus life which is as exciting and expansive as anywhere in America.
The College offers a joint liberal arts degree program with St Andrews (two years at each), which may appeal to UK applicants. This International Honours Bachelor of Arts offers four humanities degree options (Economics, English, History and International Relations). During the first two years, students study at each university – one year at W&M and one year at St Andrews – and then, in consultation with advisors, they decide how to allocate the final two years. Graduates of this programme receive a degree awarded jointly by both universities.
Coastal Virginia is blessed by a more temperate climate than many parts of the US, so W&M’s winters aren’t too severe. This is fortunate, because Christmas time is a big deal on campus, ever since college professors were the first to introduce the German tradition of decorating evergreen trees to America in the 1840s. Each year, the President of the university still dresses as Santa and recites the Dr Seuss classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” as part of the much loved Yule Log Ceremony.
Music is also a big part of campus life, with no fewer than 11 acapella groups and a wide range of other musical ensembles run by students. The Alma Mater, which is the unique song every major US uni sings at important college-spirit-boosting occasions, is treated with less respect at W&M, and has become something of a theme tune to be heard around campus whenever something fun or exciting happens. Comedy, dancing and sports are also popular.
Finally, W&M enjoys what some call “a culture of service” – a particularly large number of students spend their free time and holidays volunteering in various altruistic capacities both locally and further afield.
Outside Those Ivory Walls
The college and the surrounding town are more notable for their aesthetics and history than social vibe, but with lots of cool “delis” (bars), great student media opportunities, and a campus lake and amphitheatre, the attractions of the big metropolises will be hardly missed. The livelier towns of Norfolk, Va (huge military base, home of US Atlantic fleet), Richmond, Va (the capital) and Virginia Beach are accessible by car (as usual, not much in the way of public transport you’d expect in the UK).