Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rhodes College Report

Quite literally, Memphis, TN is the soul of the South. It is the rhythm and blues of this country. It is the roots of rock and roll. Memphis is a sprawling city of delicate suburbs, hardened industrial tracts, and gritty urban avenues. There is no doubt as to why such spirited and tense musical sounds have continued to emanate from this city. It is also a city of history, as it was one of the homes (and the assassination site) of Martin Luther King Jr. The city sits on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and is a simple stone’s throw away from Arkansas.  

Memphis has a feel unlike the other Southern cities I have passed through recently. It possesses an energy and sense of hospitality that is unmatched by Nashville, Raleigh, or Atlanta.  It is predominantly a black and African American city (63%). In the midst of all of this excitement is the esteemed Rhodes College, located in the center of the city- just a mere ten minutes from the bustle of downtown’s Beale Street. Unlike the city, Rhodes is predominantly white, with an 8% African American student population.

According to Newsweek, Rhodes College is the most service-minded college in the country. 85% of undergraduates involve themselves with service learning, and it is not even a requirement at the university. 65% of students end up studying abroad, and with the likes of Federal Express, Auto Zone, and St. Jude’s Hospital in the immediate area, 75% of students end up with some sort of internship. Rhodes values the traditional liberal arts approach to education, and it is clearly reflected in their foundations curriculum. The school boasts a 95% graduate school acceptance rate, no doubt attributable to a 10:1 faculty to student ratio and an average class size of 14. After all, smaller class size leads to increased student success. 

Rhodes is well known for their honor system. Each student takes an oath and swears to not steal, cheat, or lie. While on my campus tour I saw three unlocked bikes and a number of unattended laptops in the school’s library. The honor system is so respected by the students that there are rarely any infractions on campus.

Rhodes uses the common application and looks at the following six areas: transcripts, SAT/ACT scores, extra curricular activities, letters of recommendation, essays, and demonstrated interest in the school. 

Like some of the other colleges I have visited this summer, Rhodes emphasized the importance of including family responsibilities and time spent working in the extracurricular section of the application. I am told that there are two lines of space there, so students need to use that space to give the school a better sense of how exactly the students spends her/his time outside of school hours.

Merit based scholarships are available, and all applicants are automatically considered when they submit their application. There is not a separate application process. Rhodes College typically does not meet the gap between expected parental contribution and the total tuition price. However, there are instances in which the school will work with targeted populations (such as those who attend our district’s school) to ensure there is not a burden of debt. Rhodes asks for a FAFSA and a CSS (College Scholarship Service) profile. This ensures that those families who cannot provide a FAFSA will still be eligible for monetary assistance.

Rhodes, much like Emory, is for those who have proven themselves to be exemplary students. Rhodes will be especially attractive to students interested in music and music history. Al Green, Booker T and the MGs, Otis Redding, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and a number of famous gospel acts all owe a debt of gratitude to Memphis for growing their careers. Those interested in African American history, the civil right struggle, and Southern history in general will benefit from attending Rhodes. I heard some parents express concern about crime in the area, but I think this was due more to visitors not being able to accurately read the urban landscape around Rhodes, something we in the Bay Area can gauge much better.

I would like to suggest that next year Rhodes makes the list of schools that students will visit, especially because they consider demonstrated interest when reading applications. A visit to Memphis would provide both an increased range in college options and provide the opportunity for valuable and memorable lessons in history.

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