Dr. Robert Alexander of Millsaps College Answers Five Questions

Millsaps College, a private liberal arts school, located in Jackson, Mississippi, was founded in 1890 when Civil War veteran and businessman Major Reuben Millsaps made a personal gift of $50,000 -- matched by contributions from Mississippi Methodists -- toward the establishment of "a Christian college within the borders of our state."

Set on 100 acres in the heart of Mississippi's capital, today Millsaps is home to 910 undergraduate students, who come from 26 states and 23 countries. Named as both a College That Changes Lives and a Fiske Guide "best buy" school, the college has a faculty-student ratio of 1 to 9 and an average class size of 14.

Though its original affiliation was religious, the curriculum is secular. The school offers 32 majors, as well as some unique academic programs. Students in the Faith & Work Initiative explore their personal and professional futures as they relate to ethics, values, faith and the common good through seminars, courses and internships. The Heritage Program is an interdisciplinary humanities program for freshmen designed to provide a broad spectrum of the Western world. The Ford Teaching Fellowship is designed for students interested in teaching at the college level. And Millsaps Writing Across the Disciplines is recognized as a premier writing program under which writing is taught continuously through the curriculum from English to biology and even accounting.

When students aren't in the classroom, they can participate in 80 clubs and organizations, including the martial arts club Boxers Rebellion, the show choir Major Melodies, the Pathfinders who assist admissions in recruiting students, Fencing Club, Swim Club, the student newspaper Purple and White, or the Millsaps Players. There are also four sororities and six fraternities on campus.  

The Millsaps Majors are members of NCAA Division III in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, with nine men’s varsity teams, including baseball, basketball, cross-country, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer, track, and tennis and nine women’s varsity teams such as basketball, cross-country, golf, lacrosse, soccer, softball, track, tennis, and volleyball. In addition, there are over 25 intramural sports with league and tournament play in flag football, basketball, indoor soccer, volleyball, softball, ultimate Frisbee, ping pong, dodge ball, and even wiffleball.

Prominent alumni include television host Johnny Carson, author Ellen Gilchrist, journalist Kevin Sessums, jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson, civil rights activist Florence Mars and quantum chemist Rodney Bartlett.

Please join Dr. Robert Alexander, Vice President for Enrollment and Communications, to learn more about what kind of student thrives at Millsaps College, advice on your college search and his favorite thing about the Jackson, Mississippi, campus.

What kind of student does well at Millsaps College? How would you describe the student body?  What would you most want an applicant to the school to know?

Millsaps students are genuinely thoughtful people, interested in learning, not only in getting good grades.  Our students come to Millsaps to develop great habits of mind, and to explore their world in close partnership with their faculty mentors, and reach their fullest potential.  In the application process, we first aim to assess whether a student will be academically successful, and then whether they will add to our intellectual community on campus.  We also strive to enroll students who will complement the diversity of Millsaps’ student body, in every sense of the word.         

What is your best common sense advice about the application process for students -- and parents?

Too many students and parents perceive the college application process to be adversarial, when in fact, most colleges are looking for every possible reason to admit a student.  Admission committees want to find students who will be a good fit at their school, and in fact, most students would probably be very successful at most colleges.  Of course, laws of supply and demand come into play, and the most selective colleges need to make distinctions between applicants so they don’t enroll too many students in a given year.

The big take-away for families: there’s not necessarily one best-fit school, so if you’re not admitted to what you thought was your first-choice, college, several others would love to have you as a student, and you’ll probably end up equally happy.

Parents: do your best to allow your students to manage their college search independently.  Most parents I speak with say things went smoothly because they stepped back and trusted the student to manage the applications, and then came to them when advice was needed.  Parents beam with pride when they see their students demonstrate maturity during their college search, knowing their children have absorbed the values instilled over their adolescence.

You have worked in admissions at Tulane University, University of the Pacific and now at Millsaps, a small liberal arts college. What are the advantages of a small liberal arts colleges? What kind of student would not be well served by a small liberal arts school? Overall, what advice do you have for students about size when creating their college lists?

 The first rule for considering college options should be the ancient Greek aphorism Know thyself.  Many students would flourish with the personal attention they’d receive at a college like Millsaps, but think they need a bigger university with tens of thousands of students.  Students should reflect on their learning preferences, and consider whether they’re suited to introductory courses with hundreds of classmates and how those might impact their academic success.  Big universities may have prolific faculty members who garner prestige for the institution but rarely interact with undergraduates.  At Millsaps, the average class size is 14, so students receive personal attention from every one of our professors, who will push and support each student to maximize their potential.  Professors really become mentors at smaller colleges, and help propel students into top graduate programs, great jobs, and fulfilling lives.

Considering your experience at schools around the country, what advice do you have for students who may be contemplating locating to a new region for college?

 Students should first ensure that the college has all the support systems they need, e.g. wellness-related offerings like allergy shots, or can connect them to off-campus services in close proximity.  Many schools are located in remote locations, so campuses can function as self-contained cities.  Millsaps has the added benefit of its location in the capital city of Jackson, and all of the connections students enjoy around town.  Parents and students should also consider their commute, the ease with which they can travel back and forth between school and home during the semester and at breaks.

What are the college admission-related issues that you have been thinking about lately? What keeps you up at night?

I worry about college access and the balance between the quantity of students educated in America and the quality of the education they’re receiving.  How can we in higher education constrain costs and simultaneously ensure high quality learning, particularly as technological change accelerates innovation in classrooms and online?  How will students, parents, and employers assess the quality of various degrees, when college transcripts don’t accurately quantify every aspect of student learning?

 What is your favorite thing about Millsaps?

 Our students are my favorite thing about Millsaps.  They are passionate about the transformational nature of their experience at the college.  Recently, we hosted a town hall meeting for students, and they stayed for hours talking with us about the value of the education they’re receiving.  They know what a great choice they made for college, and they know Millsaps has prepared them for and propelled them toward their next steps in their careers and their lives.




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