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3 Ways This Virginia University Became One Of The Fastest-Growing Colleges In The Nation

SHARE 3 Ways This Virginia University Became One Of The Fastest-Growing Colleges In The Nation

College and university enrollments are declining nationwide—especially among small private colleges. Yet somehow, Southern Virginia University has increased its enrollment by more than 80 percent over the last ten years, with more than half its student population hailing from western states, including Utah, Idaho, Arizona, California, and Washington.

Why are more and more students traveling an average of 1,300 miles from home—five times further than a typical college student—to attend this private, residential school in rural Virginia? Here are the top three self-reported reasons students love SVU:

1. SVU is aligned with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Founded in 1996 by a group of pioneering Latter-day Saints, SVU is the only East Coast college aligned with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its principles and values. SVU’s unique mission to gather, lift, and launch “faithful Latter-day Saints and like-minded students” draws students from all 50 states who want a spiritually safe college experience surrounded by roommates, friends, professors, coaches, and mentors who build their faith—instead of tearing it down.

  • 9-in-10 SVU students are members of the Church.
  • Students, faculty, and staff live by a shared, principle-based Code of Conduct.
  • The University hosts weekly Christ-centered forums and devotionals for the campus community.

SVU is also home to the largest daytime Institute of Religion in the Eastern U.S. and a vibrant, active Young Single Adult Stake—the first YSA stake organized outside of Utah or Idaho. This unique offering makes the idyllic campus an attractive sanctuary of faith for young Latter-day Saints, especially future and returned missionaries—a demographic which comprise nearly half of the student body.


2. SVU features small classes and one-on-one support from world-class professors.

The average class size at Southern Virginia University is just 15 students with world-class professors leading interactive discussions that foster deep learning and understanding. In other words, SVU students receive a graduate-school-style education at an undergraduate price and demonstrate high levels of engagement, participation, and collaboration both inside and outside the classroom. 

Unlike faculty at most research-focused universities, SVU faculty prioritize teaching and student learning over personal research and grants. Each student is assigned a personal faculty advisor, and overall, students report above-average relationships with professors including meaningful individual attention. Direct access to full-time faculty leads to:

  • More face time and individual attention for students
  • More personalized letters of recommendation for future employers or graduate programs
  • More meaningful, long-lasting relationships between students and professors

3. SVU provides more opportunities for meaningful co- and extra-curricular activities.

Engagement and participation extends well beyond the classroom. Nearly every SVU student is involved in a major co- or extra-curricular activity—including seven vocal and instrumental ensembles, four annual theatrical productions, dozens of clubs and associations, and 27 competitive teams on the only NCAA Division III program for Latter-day Saints.

Since 2020, SVU Athletics has racked up:

  • 15 Conference Championships
  • 4 Coaches of the Year
  • 17 All-American Awards
  • 51 All-Conference Awards

SVU’s commitment to performance and participation inside and outside of the classroom creates an immersive college experience for students that leads to better academic outcomes, higher levels of student engagement, and better social and emotional well-being. These meaningful co- and extra-curricular programs attract students from all over the country so they can continue to pursue the passions they developed in high school.

The Results

Typically, elite colleges and universities are distinguished by low acceptance rates, but Southern Virginia University measures its success by the value added to each student. SVU proudly boasts an unusually high acceptance rate—roughly 99%—admitting high-performing students, those who need extra support, and everyone in between.


The results are astonishing. 

SVU ranks better than 93% of U.S. colleges and universities for freshmen-to-senior academic improvement. And with small classes, direct access to dedicated faculty, and a wide range of opportunities to participate, students leave SVU with a stacked resume. In fact, more than 90% of SVU graduates who apply are admitted to medical school, law school, or graduate business programs. With outcomes like these, perhaps SVU’s growth isn’t all that surprising after all.

To plan a campus visit, start an application, or simply learn more, visit svu.edu.

Southern Virginia University is a non-profit institution that is not affiliated with, endorsed, or sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a private, self-reliant, residential university aligned with The Church and its principles and values. Southern Virginia University’s mission is to gather faithful Latter-day Saints and like-minded students, lift them in intellect, character, and spirituality, and launch them into successful lives and careers.

1. Liam Knox, “Leveling Off at the Bottom.” Inside Higher Ed, May 24, 2023. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/admissions/traditional-age/2023/05/24/leveling-bottom

2. College and university enrollments declined rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Southern Virginia University’s full-time enrollment increased during this time.

3. *Based on data conducted by Niche, “Top 25 Colleges with Students Farthest from Home”