The College of William & Mary

A fourth-grade field trip for many…a four-year adventure for the select few!

The College of William & Mary (also known as William & Mary, or W&M) is a public research university located in Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s the second-oldest college in America after Harvard University. The royal charter for William & Mary was issued by King William III and Queen Mary II on February 8, 1693, for a “perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and other good Arts and Sciences” to be founded in the Virginia Colony.

William & Mary is famous for its firsts:

– the first American institution with a Royal Charter.

– the nation’s first collegiate secret society (the F.H.C. Society, founded in 1750).

– the first Greek-letter fraternity (Phi Beta Kappa, founded in 1776, the oldest honor society for the liberal arts and sciences).

– the first law school in America (established in 1779 at the urging of alumnus Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia).

– the first school of higher education in the United States to install an honor code of conduct for students (also established by Thomas Jefferson in 1779).

The Sir Christopher Wren Building, a National Historic Landmark, is the oldest college building in continuous use in the United States. The Wren Building was constructed on the W&M campus between 1695 and 1700 before Williamsburg was founded, when the capital of the colony of Virginia was still located at Jamestown. Two other buildings around the Wren Building – the Brafferton (built in 1723 and originally housing the Indian School, a school of higher education for young Indian men), and the President’s House (built in 1732) – complete a triangle known as the “Ancient Campus.”

W&M has been called “the Alma Mater of a Nation” because of its close ties to America’s founding fathers. A 17-year-old George Washington received his surveyor’s license from the college. Thomas Jefferson (class of 1762) received his undergraduate education there, as did U.S. presidents James Monroe (class of 1776) and John Tyler (class of 1807). Distinguished alumni include other key figures important to the development of the nation, including U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall (class of 1780), and sixteen signers of the Declaration of Independence. George Wythe, one of the signers and a distinguished jurist, became America’s first professor of law at W&M.

After the Civil War started, enlistments in the Confederate Army depleted W&M’s student body. On May 10, 1861, the faculty voted to close the college for the duration of the conflict. The buildings were put into use as a Confederate barracks and hospital, and later as a Union hospital when those forces took over Williamsburg. Four years after the war ended, the college re-opened but had to close again in 1882 due to lack of funds. In 1888, W&M was able to permanently resume operations when the Commonwealth of Virginia passed an act to support the college as a state teacher-training institution.

Since then, the second oldest college in the nation has also become a cutting-edge research university. W&M’s prime location – close to Colonial Williamsburg, the NASA Langley Research Lab, and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility – plus its extensive on-campus facilities, libraries, museums, and special collections make W&M a national research destination.

The Center for Gifted Education at W&M was established in 1988. The Center provides services to educators, policy makers, graduate students, researchers, parents, and students to support the needs of gifted and talented individuals. W&M curriculum has been used by a number of homeschool families. This requires some revision on the part of the parent, because the units do emphasize small and large group interaction among students, but the units are definitely usable in a homeschool setting – especially the language arts and social studies units. Within the curriculum units, specific teaching models are used to strengthen students’ critical thinking skills. For more information about this curriculum, see:

Homeschoolers will appreciate the fact that W&M maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio of 11-to-1 (the second lowest among U.S. public universities), thereby providing a small college environment and fostering better student-professor interaction. The 2011 U.S. News and World Report college rankings placed W&M 5th in the nation for “Best Undergraduate Teaching.” Of all undergraduate classes at W&M, 86% contain 40 or fewer students, and 99% of all undergraduate classes are taught by professors (not teaching assistants).

W&M’s four-year, full-time undergraduate program comprises most of the institution’s enrollment. With over 40 different majors – from art to mathematics to linguistics to neuroscience – there is something for everyone. Most students graduate from W&M with a B.A. or B.S. degree in Liberal Arts & Sciences. You can also choose from programs in the schools of Business and Education, or even design your own major. The interdisciplinary majors of Global Studies, Environmental Studies, and Medieval and Renaissance Studies were originally dreamed up by students. Graduate programs include law, business, public policy, education, marine science, and American colonial history.

W&M and The University of St. Andrews, the oldest university in Scotland, have recently joined forces. Beginning in the fall of 2011, students will be able to complete two years at each institution and earn a single diploma – a Bachelor of Arts, International Honours – with the insignias of both institutions, one of the few programs of its kind in the world. W&M also offers undergraduates a dual degree program in engineering with Columbia University.

Admission to W&M is considered “most selective” according to U.S. News and World Report. Only about 35% of applicants are admitted, with 79% of enrolling students having graduated in the top tenth of their high school class and 77.6% with a high school GPA above 3.75. The average range of incoming SAT scores is 630-730 for reading, 620-710 for math, and 610-720 for writing.

Although W&M is highly selective, it is also public, offering a superior education without the sticker shock. In fact, W&M is considered one of the few “Public Ivies” in the nation, providing an Ivy League collegiate experience at a public school price. W&M ranked as the #3 “best value” among America’s public universities in the 2007 issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine. W&M’s undergraduate program ranks #4 and #6 respectively among American public universities, according to the 2010 Forbes and 2011 U.S. News & World Report rankings.

W&M is happy to accept applications from homeschool students, which are subject to the same review as students applying from a traditional high school. The admissions committee understands that each homeschool program is different, and an “official” high school transcript is not necessary. However, admissions staff will be looking for students who take challenging courses such as calculus, physics, and composition at a local community college. They also like to see students taking 4 high school years (4 college semesters) of a single foreign language. Although not required, the admission committee recommends taking SAT II subject tests to demonstrate proficiency in some of the core academic subject areas (Math, Science, English, etc.). Finally, all homeschooled students must complete the “Common Application’s Home School Supplement,” in which the parent or homeschool supervisor has to describe their homeschooling philosophy and state why homeschooling was chosen for the applicant. For more information, go to and click on Admission, then Undergraduate Admission, then Homeschool Applicants.

W&M has a number of traditions, including the Yule Log Ceremony. Right before students take off for Winter Break, the whole student body squeezes into the Wren Courtyard where festive “cressets” (wood-burning torches) warm the crowd. The students are treated to student speeches explaining international holiday traditions as well as live carols sung by the Gentlemen of the College and the William & Mary Choir. The college president dressed as Santa Claus reads a rendition of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and the Vice-President of Student Affairs reads “Twas the Night Before Finals.” Afterward, students pile into the Great Hall to toss ceremonial sprigs of holly into the Yule log fire for good luck. Then it’s hot cider and cookies for everybody. A Christmas tree on the Wren Building porch is adorned with paper doves bearing messages of peace that students have inscribed on them.

Updated: April 14, 2011 — 8:55 am

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