Nestled in downtown Columbia, the University of South Carolina is a vibrant part of the culture of the capital city. As more than 25,000 undergraduate students prepare to start the 2019/20 school year, they bring a energy to the city each August.
For the second year in a row, Columbia was ranked third on livability.com's list of “10 Best College Towns.”
Of course many USC alumni and students think that ranking’s too low.
USC has long list of accolades that it could use to convince folks it is one of the best college campuses in the country. Points on that list include:
● The University South Carolina is the No. 25 flagship university in the U.S. News rankings (2019 U.S. News rankings of College Board designated flagships)
● All kinds of props for The Darla Moore School of Business, like being the No. 1 undergraduate international business program (U.S. News & World Report, 2019)
● The South Carolina Honors College is ranked the best public university honors college in the nation based on honors college factors by the guidebook, “A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs.”
● The USC School of Law was named as one of the nation's top 10 law schools for turning out the most influential judges, according to a new study from Ravel Law, a legal research and analytics company (2017).
But ask students and alumni why they think USC is one of the best campuses in the world, and those and the other dozens of accolades like them aren’t what they list.
We asked those students and alumni to tell us why they think USC is the best, and they told us.
The Horseshoe, with its history and sense of tradition is a popular favorite. Even as it teems with activity - students studying, playing music, talking, napping, throwing frisbees, juggling and hurrying to classes - it seems to exude a sense of tranquility among it’s brick pathways meandering below it’s majestic trees.
There are many stories associated with the Horseshoe: Engagement stories, history stories and even ghost stories.
USC was established in 1801, and the Horseshoe is the U-shaped formation of the original campus. For centuries the buildings have stood through war, fire and riots. The Horseshoe has hosting guests such as President William Howard Taft and Pope John Paul II and ESPN’s College Gameday. It’s been the backdrop for many wedding and graduation photos.
"The Horseshoe area of USC is where my grandfather resided as a student preparing for medical school in the 1880s,” says Becky Brabham Wooten, ’73. “The beauty of the Horseshoe consoled my homesick father when he was a student there in the 1930s. My husband felt God’s call into the ministry walking through the Carolina Horseshoe one evening when he was a freshman in 1970.
“I celebrated joining a sorority, singing songs with my new sisterhood on the Horseshoe when Dr. Thomas Jones was (USC) President . My son attended the Honors College on the Horseshoe in the late 1990s preparing to be a chemical engineer. My daughter’s graduation from the USC Law School was held on the Horseshoe. This holy ground has connected four generations of our family with sacred memories. We cherish this spot on earth as we each remember our days there with loyal devotion.”
It’s a special place for many alumni. Tom Helms lost his job to downsizing when he was 50 years old. He had a son in college and two daughters who were seniors in high school at the time.
“One of the first things I could think to do was to drive down to Columbia and walk the campus,” Helms says. “The beauty of the Horseshoe, the memories of classes in the BA building, the energy of the students led to the realization that over time we all have our trials. The university has and everyone that’s been associated with that wonderful university has.
“I drove home with a sense of being one with all the history that USC has helped shape. A real feeling of completeness. That day on campus was better for me than the day I was graduated. All turned out well.”
Here is what other students and alumni have to say about USC’s historic Horseshoe:
* The Horseshoe, filled with so much American history and prestige, is like something out of a picture book; it’s absolutely beautiful. - Molly Stanton Hall, ’12, ’15 J.D.
* I’m like every other student and loved sitting on the horseshoe in between classes or to study! It’s so beautiful and is mind blowing to sit on a part of campus that holds so much South Carolina history.” - Camille Doloughty, ‘19
● There’s something about Carolina that just feels like home – the gorgeous architecture and landscaping, rich campus history, and palpable school spirit make campus a place you want to be. I love those cooler fall or spring days when students are playing frisbee, walking their dogs, or simply relaxing on the Horseshoe.” — Jennifer Mandelbaum, PhD student in public health
● Throughout the changing seasons of the year and all the beauty it brings to our campus, The Horseshoe represented to me a mysterious, yet quiet reminder of all the memories and legacies of those that walked the paths before me. Forever to thee USC. - Dennis Dempsey, ’93
Part of the appeal of USC is it’s location in downtown Columbia. The Horseshoe is a few steps away from the South Carolina State House, which sits in the middle of Main Street.
But at the same time, the campus is isolated from the businesses of the capital city. And even though the campus can be considered sprawling, it also it’s own place.
“The UofSC campus hosts an urban scenery and inviting atmosphere that allows people to feel at home,” says Sedric Warren, ’12. “As someone from Columbia, I still felt like I was away even though I was home.”
Students can be a part of Columbia, or not.
“We have one of those campuses nestled in the heart of a capital city, but what makes ours so special is the quaint, small town feel you get once you’re walking through it,” says Molly Stanton Hall, ’12 and ’15 J.D. “You would never see it just driving through Columbia, it’s private and quiet, not like the bustling city people seem to think it is.”
It’s like the best of both worlds.
Watching the Gamecocks play in NCAA competition is a favorite part of many students’ days on campus - and one alumni often continue for years after.
The football team’s emergence onto the field at Williams-Brice Stadium has been called one of the best college football entrances on many lists. USC is also known for students bouncing to “Sandstorm” at football games, and basketball games as well.
“‘Sandstorm’ at every game brings everyone together,” says Olivia Hooker, ‘19. “No matter what the score ends up being it’s always fun to experience that with classmates.”
While watching sports, looking for ghosts on the Horseshoe and walking downtown for dinner are fun parts of being on USC’s campus, faculty, students and alumni also recognize outstanding academic programs (many which have been recognized on that list of accolades) is a big part of USC’s appeal.
* There is a commitment to both quality education and quality research, not just one or the other.” - Jan M. Eberth
director, rural and minority health research center,
associate professor of epidemiology
* I love Carolina because of the high quality research, scholarship, and service that takes place throughout the state because of UofSC.” - Chelsea Richard, MSPH ’15, PhD student
* UofSC has the best international business school in the southeast which makes going out of state for college worth it. - Jackie Yuan, ’20
While the Horseshoe has that historic beauty and charm, other parts of campus are also appealing with new buildings blended in with the historic.
* As a student and now as a faculty member and administrator, it is a pleasure to walk from one building to the next across campus, taking in the pristine landscaping and general enthusiasm among those I encounter.” – Heather Brandt, Class of ’99, ’03 associate dean in the graduate school and professor of public health
* The campus of Carolina is the best because it captures the beauty and essence of South Carolina from the amazing colors of fall to the flowers of spring. It blends the history of the university with its promising future.” – Dominique Sawyer, Black Alumni Council Class of ’09, ’12 Ed.S
There are many other parts of USC’s campus that make it one of the best for its students, alumni and faculty members. Here are a few of those:
● Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center with an outdoor pool, an indoor pool, basketball courts, a climbing wall, an indoor track, squash court, sand volleyball courts, strength and conditioning equipment and more
● Greek Village with 20 facilities and houses approximately 700 students, and has some of the premier fraternity and sorority houses in the country.
● Koger Center for the Arts, which hosts Broadway shows such as “Wicked” and other performances
● Russell House, where students can watch movies, gather for study sessions, play pool in the Golden Spur Game Room, attend dances, shop or eat.
There are favorite spots to study in the Thomas Cooper Library; exhibits at the McKissick Museum or at the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collection Library. There are favorite professors, dorm memories, intramural games and more.
And for some? It’s all about the people they encounter at USC. Here are some more reasons why folks think USC is the best campus:
* UofSC seemed to be the best option for me because there are unlimited resources for students here on campus. I visit the Student Success Center for tutoring any time I need extra help in a class. They also offer financial literacy sessions for students to create a responsible budget. - Ayana Scriven, ’20
* UofSC is a community of professors and students that feel like home despite being many miles away from it. It’s a place where opportunities are around every corner! Being a part of a pre-med fraternity has given me friends that have turned into family and people that I can count on for a lifetime. - Natalie Hazzard, Class of 2022
* UofSC gives students the chance to grow and develop as leaders. There are so many student organizations to join and ways to become more connected to the South Carolina community. - Audra Knight, ’21
* UofSC is a large university with many programs, groups, options and networking opportunities for any student, graduate or member of the Carolina community to find an individual niche; a place to call home. We are competitive, respected and our athletics, ranked colleges, tenured professors and successful alumni have made us a force to be reckoned with!” – Eureka Robertson, ’88, ’94 MSW
* We have approximately two thousand military-affiliated students on campus, who are supported by a dedicated team and university family who are committed to serving those who serve. - Jared Evans,’12, ’18 MBA
* There are so many reasons to attend there, but perhaps the best one is that you will make memories and forge friendships that will make you smile for the rest of your lives. - Ben Turner ‘89
* For as long as I can remember, I've had a love affair with the University of South Carolina. It was always my destination of choice, and when I started my college career, it was everything I had hoped it would be. It truly is a family atmosphere. I take great pride, as an alumnus, in my university. - Tyler Weed '07.
Lezlie Patterson, special to GoColumbia