James Madison University

Written by Beth Cassie

jmu wilson hall

James Madison University, located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, is another of Virginia’s outstanding public universities. The 720 acres campus is divided in two by Interstate 81. West Campus is the older, more traditionally beautiful side of campus with bluestone buildings surrounding a grassy quad.

East Campus is home to many newer, environmentally friendly buildings. Students travel from one side of campus to another via shuttle bus, bicycle or on foot.

We started our tour at the Skyline area of East Campus, home to many of the newer science buildings. The most impressive example of the Commonwealth’s continued investment in higher education is the Bioscience building that opened in 2012. This vertically stacked building was designed with collaboration in mind.

It’s light and bright with faculty offices and meeting spaces adjacent to classrooms and labs. Labs were designed for a maximum of 24 students and the high-tech equipment available was impressive. Biology is big at JMU with approximately 1,000 biology majors. Research presentation posters fill the hallways and the building was bustling with students in classes and working together in small groups. Post-graduate plans for students in the sciences are divided 1/3 graduate school, 1/3 work, and 1/3 medicine. There are many female role models in the sciences at JMU.

Launched in 2008, JMU’s fairly new engineering program is small and distinctive. The program, designed for 50 students per year, offers a general engineering degree focused on sustainable design. Practical application is the hallmark of the program that culminates with a 2-year capstone project.

Students typically apply to the major after second semester sophomore year. Freshmen can indicate an interest in engineering and be assigned an engineering advisor to ensure that they take the appropriate courses freshman and sophomore years.

Other practical, skill-based science programs of note include: Applied Geographic Information Science, Intelligence Analysis, Integrated Science and Technology and Computer Information Systems.

Pre-professional programs in business, heath sciences (including nursing), and education are among the most popular majors on campus. Nursing has the most restrictive admissions policy. Formerly an all-women’s Teachers College, JMU continues to offer strong teacher education programs.

Student to faculty ratio is low (16:1) and there’s a strong liberal arts component to even the most pre-professional programs. Teaching is focused on the 18,000 undergraduates, who represent 93% of the students at JMU.

JMU recently opened the new Student Success Center on West Campus that consolidates all of the necessary student services on campus. Registrar, financial aid office, health services, tutoring centers, writing center, IT center, study rooms, specialty dining options, mini grocery store, and ample hang-out space makes this the central hub of activity.


The Students

Of the 18,000 undergraduates, 70% are Virginians, 60% are female, and 15% are involved in Greek life. The student body is fairly homogeneous. The university is encouraging more students to participate in study abroad programs, hoping to increase participation from 25 to 30%.

Campus Life

It’s an 8-minute walk to downtown with Harrisonburg with restaurants, bars, comedy shows and plentiful off-campus student apartments. (On-campus housing is only guaranteed freshman year.) Buses run throughout campus and the surrounding neighborhoods. Students can scan the schedule on their phones. Princeton Review ranks JMU food #2 in the nation. DI sports draw big, enthusiastic, purple-clad fans. There’s an on-campus movie theater and lots of campus activities that offer an alternative to drinking.


JMU has its own application process and offers both Early Action and Regular Decision options. In order of importance, Admissions considers curriculum, grades in core classes, test scores, and then if considered admissible, optional essay, recommendation and activities. As and Bs in an above average curriculum and SATs for the mid 50% of 1180-1270, ACTs of 26-28.

Students with strong grades in a strong curriculum may be admitted with lower test scores. JMU does not track demonstrated interest. Admission is to the university, not to a particular major or program. However, dance, theater and music require an audition and art requires a portfolio. Students are automatically considered for some merit scholarships, others require a separate application. Approximately 7.5% of freshmen receive merit money.


Academic programs are more practical than theoretical; professors are accessible and focused on undergraduates; students are friendly and outgoing. JMU is a good fit for the student looking for a more pre-professional, well-rounded college experience.

James Madison University

800 S. Main Street

Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807

(540) 568-6211


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