It would be easy to dismiss the University of Richmond as just another pretty campus in Virginia. It really is beautiful. Every one of its red-brick buildings looks like it was designed by the same architect, and situated based on a meticulously curated master plan. This is all the more impressive given that the school as it stands today is built on the site of a former amusement park, six miles outside the city of Richmond, and is the result of a union between a men’s and a women’s college sitting on either side of a picture-perfect lake. Simply stunning. Richmond just might be the highest expression of what a college should look like. What’s more, it somehow manages to appear both storied and modern at the same time, a deft mix of past, present and future. And, oh, that awe-inspiring checkerboard seal. Richmond definitely wins the contest for college logos.
Of course, it would be a huge mistake to evaluate Richmond purely on the basis of its formidable aesthetic appeal, as alluring as that is. The university is a highly selective, academically rigorous institution of higher learning, the most distinctive feature of which is its leadership in leadership: Richmond’s Jepson School was the nation’s very first leadership studies college, later followed by some 30 others. Jepson is one of the three undergraduate schools at Richmond, the other two being its School of Arts & Sciences and the Robins School of Business.
Everyone is admitted as undeclared because Richmond wants its students to explore, with the first year centering on seminars where students focus on writing, presentation, and critical thinking skills. Boundaries between the three schools are fluid, and most students pursue studies in multiple fields. Yet the Jepson School seems central to the experience, as the study of leadership naturally lends itself to blend with almost any other area of academics. Not surprisingly, many students combine their chosen major with another one in leadership.
“Experiential” does seem to be the watchword, as Richmond encourages internships and study abroad, up to and including financial incentives. Students electing to avail themselves of any of the school’s 75-plus study-abroad opportunities are given a $400 cultural stipend, earmarked to cover expenses associated with exploring their host communities outside the classroom. Those choosing to conduct research or engage in internships over summer breaks are further awarded $4,000 to enable them to pursue such interests. Some 70 percent of students get involved in research. Students deciding to settle into the business school need only complete four pre-requisite courses and maintain a 2.7 GPA.
The only thing a little bit off-kilter about Richmond is its choice of mascot: a spider. It may not be the oddest collegiate icon, but it must be the creepiest, albeit in a cool kind of way. Apparently, at one time the school’s sports teams were known as the Colts. This changed to the Spiders in 1894 because of the long, spindly arms of the team’s ace baseball pitcher. Love it or not, there’s certainly no confusing Richmond’s athletic imprimatur with that of any other school. Another quirk is the sheer size of the campus, and the grand scale of its buildings relative to the number of undergrads, which is only about 3,000. Richmond has the look and feel of a far more densely populated school. Whether this is a plus, minus, or makes no difference, is for each prospective student to decide.
What matters most is that there is an incredibly attractive university near Richmond that not only promises a first-class education but also makes an extraordinary tangible financial investment in the cultural experience and academic success of its students, and our future leaders.