A Visit to Sweet Briar College

When the opportunity to visit three of the private colleges in Lynchburg, Virginia that boast noted riding programs and that very same opportunity happened to fall the week after a horse show so I wouldn’t be up against any training deadlines, I jumped on it.  All three schools have long been staples on the school lists I produce for students annually so the chance to really get down to the core of what makes each one unique and special was one I couldn’t afford to miss.  (Extra special thanks go out to Margaret Lyle Jones of Virginia Episcopal School for making the whole thing come together!)

The architecture at Sweet Briar has an old Virginia charm that's unmatched.
The architecture at Sweet Briar has an old Virginia charm that’s unmatched.

The first campus of the 2013 Blue Ridge Counselors’ Tour was Sweet Briar College, a noted all-women’s institution with a great history and tradition, both in and out of the saddle.  Founded in 1901 after Indiana Fletcher Williams left her entire estate to found an institution of higher learning for women, the campus originally spanned 8,000 acres; today, at 3,250 acres, the scope of the campus grounds and facilities is impressive – especially when you consider that the student body size of just under 800 women makes it quite intimate and community-oriented.

In 2004, Sweet Briar expanded its already impressive list of liberal arts majors by adding masters-level coursework for students who wish to earn a Master of Arts in either teaching or in education.  The sciences are also very strong at the college – as is the case for many women’s colleges, which often emphasize the ideal of getting more women into math and science-related career fields.  As such, the campus buildings are a wonderful mix of old traditional Virginia architecture with modern, brightly lit modifications to classroom and other facilities.  (The library is currently under renovation to adopt the media center approach that many other colleges and universities are taking, but staples like the reading room – which looks exactly as though it would fit into an episode of Dowton Abbey – will remain as they always have.)

The reading room looks like it could be in an episode of "Downton Abbey."
The reading room looks like it could be in an episode of “Downton Abbey.”

I was able to meet with a panel of three students during my visit, which is always helpful.  Each one said that they most frequent question they are asked by people who find out they attend Sweet Briar is how they deal with the issue of it being an all-women’s college – and each one was quick to say that they hardly ever remember that it’s a women’s college until someone points it out.  There are so many activities on and off campus and so many other co-educational schools within Lynchburg that only their education is all-women; their social lives haven’t suffered.

My final stop before leaving campus was – naturally! – the riding center, where director Mimi Wroten gave me a tour and we chatted about both the IHSA and the ANRC (a topic about which I have previously blogged), as Sweet Briar will host the 2014 ANRC championships on campus in the spring.  Sweet Briar College is also part of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, which hosts an intercollegiate league meet annually that is hotly contested and structured similar to ANRC competition.

Beyond the outdoor arena's confines are ACRES of open riding space!
Beyond the outdoor arena’s confines are ACRES of open riding space!

The Sweet Briar riding facilities are expansive and can easily accommodate both the 50 school horses owned by the program, as well as a handful of student boarders.  The size of the facility also includes acres of outdoor riding space for hacking and training; in fact, they have a field team that competes in hunter paces and hunter trials during the school year, so students who don’t want to restrict themselves to riding in the arena have a wide variety of opportunities available to them.  (The Sweet Briar school horses also get much-needed outdoor time, both with turnout and with lessons in the field that give them a change of scenery and footing.)

Finally, for prospective equestrian professionals, a certificate in equine studies with either a teaching and schooling emphasis or one in management, is available.  The certificate, combined with Sweet Briar’s myriad of equestrian competition opportunities and strong liberal arts academic programs, can make students thoroughly employable in the industry after graduation.

Could Sweet Briar be the right school for your college years?  Contact me and we’ll find out!

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