In a single day, I spent 4 hours on each of these two campuses. No two institutions could be more different, despite their geographical proximity. Apples and Oranges. Mutt and Jeff. Oliver and Stanley.
I wrote more about Austin College here. I really liked the place. And I liked SMU for very different reasons. The campus is gorgeous. The president of the college told our group that part of his philosophy is that â€œlife is too short to wake up to an ugly campus.â€ The place oozes Dallas upper-crust gentility. The Georgian buildings are built to impress, the lawns are sweeping, and the landscaping is impeccable. The campus is a tranquil oasis of green surrounded by urban Dallas.
SMU, with its 6200 undergraduates and 6000 graduate students, has some interesting academic programs, including a good engineering program that is very hands-on and experiential. And the Meadows school of the arts is outstandingâ€”though incredibly difficult to get into. The communications programs (located within the Meadows school) is also terrific (and competitive). SMU is not nearly as big as the large state schools, like the University of Texas and Texas A&M, but it has many of the same academic resources and research orientation. The facilities are truly astounding.
And in this regard, Austin College cannot hold a candle to the resources of SMU. Itâ€™s small, modest, and friendly. SMU is impressive. Magisterial, even.
So whatâ€™s my point?
Donâ€™t judge a book by its cover.
In todayâ€™s educational marketplace, the highest demand is for schools that look like country clubs and that provide amenities to keep the students entertained and pampered. Universities large and small are investing in climbing walls, stadiums, and Olympic swimming poolsâ€”because they help to sell the educational product. But sometimes all the glitz does not cover up the fact that smaller, superficially shabbier places may offer a better educational experience.
Of course, this depends on the individual student. Some students want and need the superior resources that larger and more affluent universities can provide. Others, however, would rather be in smaller classes taught by professors who are singularly dedicated to an undergraduate education.
SMU is a fantastic place for some students. Austin is also an outstanding institution. But if all we considered was the architecture, the landscaping, and amenities, weâ€™d be blinded to the gem of Sherman, Texas, and other schools like it that provide an outstanding educational experience.
So which do you prefer? Apples? Oranges? Whichever place initially attracts you, itâ€™s important to look beyond the surface and explore the factors that will help you decide whether an institution is truly a good fit for you.
Montgomery Educational Consulting