Sweet Briar statue

A statue of an angel memorializing Daisy Williams, daughter of Sweet Briar College founder Indiana Fletcher Williams, sits on campus as a memorial. The college was founded, via Williams’ will, as a perpetual memorial in remembrance of Daisy.

In an effort to help prospective students physically step onto Virginia private school campuses, the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia has held its annual Virginia Private College Week since the mid-1990s.

This year, the event is July 22 through 27.

Sabena Moretz, director of Government Relations & Member Services for the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia, said the program motivates people to make time in their busy schedules to visit colleges before they apply.

“It also encourages students and their parents to take a look at schools that they may not have otherwise considered and helps private colleges have a chance to debunk myths about their cost, which sometimes serves as a barrier for students to apply,” she said.

In 2018, Virginia private schools recorded more than 2,000 visits during the week, Moretz said.

Presentations will highlight the availability of the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant of $3,400 per year, which all full-time Virginia students receive if they attend a private college, as well as financial aid and scholarships that make private colleges competitive for most families, Moretz said.

“We hope that students are enlightened by the many opportunities that abound within private colleges and are motivated to apply and ultimately enroll,” she said.

During the week, every school offers a presentation in the morning and afternoon, as well as a walking tour of the campus and question and answer sessions.

Sharon Walters-Bower, director of admissions at University of Lynchburg, said the goal for the whole initiative is to make families aware of how many private schools there are in the state and that they are affordable and competitive with public institutions.

“When we can get families on our campuses, it sells itself,” she said. “Nothing replaces a campus visit. You can look at pictures on the website but until you visit, it’s hard to know what it feels like. Each campus has its own personality, same with the city or town. The student needs to know what the community is like and if it will fit their personality.”

UL keeps a roster of all students who visit during the week, and as students apply and are admitted, the admissions department can look back to see whether they visited during the special week.

“We can track them and see what they do next,” Walters-Bower said. “It works and sometimes it’s the only visit they will make.”

She said the mindset private colleges cost more remains prevalent.

“We work hard to get the word out as much as possible that we have scholarships to students that make the net cost similar to a public institution,” she said.

In Amherst County at Sweet Briar College, Gloria Simon, senior admissions counselor, said the all-women’s school records the numbers of visitors who come through to see the school during the week and follows up with them.

She said one prospective student from Baltimore visited the school and never had been that far south. She now is entering her second year at Sweet Briar College.

She said many young women use the week to visit Sweet Briar as well as University of Lynchburg and Randolph College within the span of two days.

“It helps take away the stigma of private colleges being not only unaffordable but unattainable,” Simon said. “When you visit you learn the professors know the students, you met them and it’s a chance to see what it feels like. We want our young women to come to campus during the week and see what it has to offer. You come and you find out this is a college where we’re pushing young women to do their best.”

Wes Fugate, interim vice president for enrollment management at Randolph College, said he refers to private schools as “schools of access” because they are able to give out both merit- and need-based aid to make private education more affordable.

“In many cases, that education will be more affordable than competitors in the public realm,” he said. “Getting students to visit our campuses, learn about the benefits of being at a small private institution like Randolph … it’s an investment that family might make and will benefit them in so many ways.”

He said it is crucial to families to understand the college’s sticker price is not necessarily what they could end up paying.

While it costs about $55,000 per year to educate a student at Randolph, Fugate said thanks to the generosity of alumni and alumnae, education is so much more affordable.

“Prospective students don’t necessarily know what they want until they’ve sampled all that is available and many people discover a personalized education rather than being just another number is better for them,” he said. “Being able to lead an organization or play in a Division III athletic team is fulfilling for them and they may not get that opportunity at a larger institution.”

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Rachael Smith covers local businesses and nonprofits. Reach her at (434) 385-5482.

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