Edmit Hidden Gems: Southern Methodist University, Dallas

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SMU recently invested $90 million to boost affordability and financial aid offerings.


“If people just look at the name, they have an impression of a small Bible college, which is certainly not the case,” says Wes Waggoner, associate vice president for enrollment at Southern Methodist University (SMU). “Ambition and access are the two words I often use to sum up the culture and drive of the student body here.”


SMU, an Edmit Hidden Gem college, is a major research institution and liberal arts university located in Dallas. According to Waggoner, the student body (just under 12,000) represents all 50 states and approximately 90 foreign countries.


Studying at SMU


“Students that really thrive here have really defined ambition, know what they want to do, and they’re looking for the access to the tools and the people and the networks that will help them get there,” says Waggoner. “They are very success-driven and we find some of our students define success in monetary terms, but some will define success in a social impact kind of way.”


Of course, college is a time of experimentation and change--and many undergraduate students may have ambition, but don’t necessarily know exactly what they want to major in for their four-year degree. Not a problem, assures Waggoner. When it comes to choosing a major, “there’s lots of experimentation. You can move around,” he says. “What we actually find is [some] students come in with two or three ideas, but they’re not sure which one [they should major in], or a lot of our really talented students come in with two or three ideas and they want to do it all. They don’t want to make a choice. So you can do more than one area.”


SMU’s seven schools of study encourage cross-pollination and collaboration. “We’ve got students who do a professional program in dance and engineering at the same time. They’ll combine business and human rights, business and education, business and the arts. We’ve got an arts management program that goes back and forth between the business school and the school of the arts,” says Waggoner.


“College students today have more than one interest, and we need to foster that,” he adds. “Making connections between those different areas of study helps them in the job market, helps them in their life, makes their life more interesting and more fulfilling, and we want to promote that.”


SMU Affordability


The average net price for the 2016-17 year at SMU is $32,580--but most students can expect to get help paying for college, and to graduate with manageable student loan debt.


“One of the things I’m pretty proud of is our average debt of our students is lower than most universities, certainly in Texas,” says Waggoner. “This past year, for example, we invested just over $90 million of our own institutional fund toward affordability and financial aid for undergraduate students.”


“Our philosophy is that we try to make it as easy as possible to be considered for scholarships because we want the most talented students possible,” he continues. “We funnel most of our scholarship money into the general academic scholarships that we have for undergraduate students. You don’t have to apply separately for them, you’re automatically considered, and that’s the vast majority. About 60 percent of our incoming class every year will qualify for some academic scholarships.” To maintain eligibility, students with academic scholarships need to keep a 3.0 GPA while enrolled at SMU.


SMU’s graduation rate is around 78 percent, and according to Waggoner, the average student loan debt for SMU graduates with federal loans is typically around $20,000. “It may sound daunting to some students who are still in high school, but in the reality it’s less than most car loans,” he says.


SMU Career Prep


In a recent Gallup survey, career services stood out as a top indicator of overall student satisfaction and strong outcomes, and SMU’s Hegi Family Career Center has robust offerings for both enrolled students and alumni, as well as employers. One standout? The Mustang Connections program, where SMU students can visit Dallas-area companies to learn more about company culture, shadow current employees, and network for future opportunities.


Approximately 80 percent of SMU students “have a solid plan when they graduate,” says Waggoner, and again cites the relationships with Dallas employers as a major benefit. “We are the leading university in north Texas, with a metropolitan area that on an economic basis is just growing like crazy.”

Waggoner also points to College Scorecard data showing SMU’s strong outcomes for underprivileged students. “Students who enter from lower socioeconomic bands saw the highest jumps in their socioeconomic status,” he says. “The growth and benefits for that student, who comes and commits to an SMU education and takes advantage of that access, that culture--it really pays off for them when they graduate.”


Photo by Ian Aberle on Flickr.


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