Campus Visit Debriefing: Furman University

I visited Furman University, a private, coeducational, liberal arts university in Greenville, South Carolina, on Friday, September 25, 2015. While in Greenville, I attended a prospective student information session; went on a small group tour of the central campus; sat in on a student panel held in the admissions office; met one-on-one with Allyson Brown, the admissions counselor whose territory includes Augusta, Georgia; and spent some time in downtown Greenville.

Furman University | Greenville (Travelers Rest?), South Carolina

Fun Fact

In 2013, Travelers Rest annexed the Furman campus into its city limits, but the mailing address for campus remains Greenville. Greenville is the city Furman itself plays up in its information sessions.

The Numbers

Furman offers small class sizes and a mostly-undergraduate campus. There are around 2,800 undergrads and 160 grad students. The population is overwhelmingly caucasian (about 80%) and has a 58/42 female/male split. Academically, Furman is a liberal arts school at its heart, requiring a core curriculum of all of its students. Average classes are 19 students, and the maximum class size is 32 students. Classes are all taught by faculty, not graduate students. Some other important numbers are Furman's 90% freshman retention rate (high!), 84% four-year graduation rate (high!), and 96% graduate school or workforce placement rate (high!). If Furman is a good fit for you, it's a wise investment.

Life at Furman

The campus is quite safe, which is to be expected of a suburban, idyllic campus setting.  Furman employs the ubiquitous "blue light" system and also had a write-up in the student paper about a recent implementation of the RAVE Emergency Alert system, which was activated when a shooting suspect was on the loose near campus. The system was effective in communicating the danger to the Furman community and suggesting two additional safety measures for those who needed them: Safe Ride (which is what it sounds like and is also a common feature on many campuses) and LiveSafe, an app that “is like having a blue light pole in your pocket,” according to Furman's Chief of Police. The last big news prior to the shooting suspect was a wild bear that was roaming campus. In sum, no real safety worries at Furman!

Furman also has several NCAA Division I sports teams, which play in the Southern Conference with schools like The Citadel, Wofford, and VMI. Some teams are quite good, and many students come out for lacrosse and soccer games. Tailgating at football games is an activity several students pointed to as a great chance to feel the close-knit Furman community. About 70% of students also participate in intramural sports, which is a big social outlet on campus.

Speaking of social outlets, Furman is heavily Greek, with 31% of men and 54% of women participating in the Greek system.  Furman does practice delayed, January recruitment, giving freshmen time to form social connections outside of the Greek system and generally adjust to life at college and away from home. Some students mention that fraternity parties are relatively quiet and that sororities are definitely a key feature for women's social lives.

Furman is a residential campus, requiring students to live on campus all four years. As such, there is no traditional "Greek Row" at Furman. Sophomore housing includes dedicated halls for Greek pledges to live together, and upperclassman Greek members will often try to reserve a block of apartments together, creating ad hoc Greek housing on campus. The housing in general is well-maintained, and there are some nicer apartment options for upperclassmen. The Greenbelt Community, a set of "eco cabins" for which students can apply, offers the chance for students to try their hands at sustainable living.

What makes Furman, Furman?

Furman Advantage

The Furman Advantage program grants up to $3,000 per student per summer for off-campus internships. Students receiving a Furman Advantage fellowship are required to complete some extra assignments and follow-up activities, but that's a small price to pay for what students receive.  If students are pursuing things that interest them, they likely won't mind doing a bit of extra reporting and reflection on their experiences.

Furman is quite proud of its internship and research numbers; even about 70% of majors require a research component. On average, 75% of students participate in research and/or internships. One student discussed using Furman Advantage to fund her research on Classics and technology. While she did most of her work in Greenville, Furman Advantage allowed her to spend a few weeks in Germany working in-person with the experts in this field. Without Furman Advantage, she wouldn't have been able to participate in this international component.

Cultural Life Programs

Over the course of a student's four years at Furman, he is required to attend at least 32 Cultural Life Programs (CLPs).  CLPs encourage learning beyond the classroom.  Some sample CLPs include the following: HAIR, the musical; "Beethoven and Star Wars," Furman Symphony Orchestra; speech by a Holocaust survivor.

Most students implied that completing the CLP requirement was not a hardship, although it is not unheard of for seniors to be scrambling to attend events in the spring.  Some events, such as Convocation, may have CLP status simply to ensure that there is some attendance.

Greenville

See my "fun fact" above about how Greenville isn't really Furman's city! But who knew Greenville is such a gem? Here's the video the admissions office shared:

The downtown has apparently seen quite a lot of revitalization over the past several years.  I spent some time on Main Street, visiting The Chocolate Moose (delicious cupcake place with good coffee, too) and Anthropologie (yes, girls, there's an Anthro in Greenville). Although it was rainy, there were still a fair number of people about. Downtown offers many local restaurants, shops, and cafes. There is apparently also a park-like aspect to downtown somewhere, but, because it was rainy, I didn't get the chance to explore outside at length. Greenville, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offers students access to plenty of outdoor activities, with several hiking trails locally. The beach is also a day trip away.

Getting to Greenville from Furman's campus is another story, however.  As a trade off for its idyllic setting, Furman is removed from the city.  It was about a 10 to 15 minute drive in Friday traffic to get downtown, and then I had to find parking. Luckily, students are allowed to have cars. There is also a Furman shuttle that gets students downtown, although I can't imagine being restricted to a shuttle schedule would sit well with many students. The Swamp Rabbit Trail (no, I did not make up that name) runs through campus, and this trail connects Furman to Travelers Rest on one end and Greenville on the other end.  In theory, students could bicycle downtown via this trail.

Getting to Furman & Paying for Furman

Admissions

Furman accepts the Common Application with no writing supplement. In order of importance, these are the admissions criteria:

  • Academic rigor and high school GPA
  • Essay
  • Activities and awards/honors
  • SAT or ACT with Writing, if submitted - Furman is a test-optional school
  • Recommendation(s) - one counselor recommendation is required; teacher/other recommendations are accepted
  • Demonstrated interest

Not mentioned in the information session is that Furman loves its legacy students and is also need-aware.  When pressed, Ms. Brown, the admissions counselor I spoke with, implied that a legacy student might carry more weight than a full-pay student, all things being equal.  But, Furman is expensive (see below), so a full-pay student who is a borderline candidate may get a bump in admissions considerations.

Also of note is that, according to the Common Data Set from 2014-2015, Furman's acceptance rates were as follows:

  • Early Decision: 87.9% (16.0% of the incoming class filled)
  • Early Action: no data
  • Regular Decision: 68.1% (84.0% of the incoming class filled)

Borderline students who feel comfortable with the binding nature of Early Decision would do well to consider that admissions route, but stronger candidates are likely okay to apply Regular Decision if they are iffy about the binding feature.

Here is some accepted student info, again based on the Common Data Set, 2014-2015 (Note: 60% of accepted students submitted SAT scores; 53% submitted ACT scores):

  • Median SAT scores:
  • CR - 560-670
  • M - 570-670
  • W - 560-660
  • Median ACT composite scores: 25-30
  • 38% of incoming freshmen in top 10% of graduating class; 72% in the top 25%
  • Average GPA (unweighted): 3.6-3.8

Finally, I'll re-emphasize demonstrated interest: Furman wants badly for prospective students to visit and show it some love. The school has a great deal of pride in its campus. In my interview with Ms. Brown, she reiterated this point. High school students who are on campus for any reason (visiting a friend, sporting events, official tours) should check in with Admissions if possible.

Financial Aid

Eighty-six percent of Furman students receive some form of financial aid. With total cost of attendance at $61,272, the average financial aid package is $36,743. Again, recall that admissions is need-aware. Upon graduation, average indebtedness is $25,903. Furman offers several scholarships. Those interested in scholarships must complete separate applications.

Why hesitate?

My biggest concern about Furman is that its supportive environment might cross into more crutch-like handholding, giving students sometimes unnecessary training wheels for situations where other schools would expect a higher level of student independence. One example follows:

Forty-nine percent of students "study away," either domestically or internationally.  Of these students, 85% study via Furman faculty-led courses or programs. My student tour guide mentioned how scared (maybe too strong a word, but it's what she used) she would be to study internationally with a non-Furman program. While the school has programs in at least 30 countries, I can't help but be bothered a bit by this approach to study abroad. Going on non-Furman programs requires more independence and research, and students have the chance to find programs with experts in their fields. Those experts might not be at Furman. While it's nice that Furman has such a supportive study away office, my impression is that these students don't have to take as much ownership of this process as do students at other colleges and universities.

I realize that there's a student for every college, and some students will be pushed at Furman, even in this supportive environment. The above example is just one place where I think Furman does a bit too much coddling and creates a Furman bubble.

Bottom Line

Furman offers students a liberal arts college experience while blending in the feel of a university. Most students appreciate the beauty of the campus, the involved and social student body, and the attentive professors. Furman takes care of its students in many ways, urging them to succeed and make Furman proud!