Lees-McRae offers mountain views, pet-friendly campus

Vanessa Infanzon

Photo courtesy of Lees-McRae

Facts and stats:

Lees-McRae College, which opened in 1900, is a 460-acre campus located in the town of Banner Elk. It sits between Boone and Beech Mountain. The campus has the distinction of being the “highest campus” east of the Mississippi River at an elevation of almost 4000 feet.

Lees-McRae is a private, nonprofit school with a Presbyterian affiliation. The cost per year for a traditional student is about $37,000, which includes residential housing, fees and tuition.

Each year, 65 percent to 69 percent of applications are accepted. The average freshman SAT score is 1000.

More than 30 academic programs are offered on campus. Nearly 40 percent of the students are in a science program, such as biology or wildlife biology, or health sciences like nursing and health and wellness.

This fall, the college expects a class of 370 to begin classes, including new freshmen and international, transfer and non-traditional students. About 990 students are enrolled overall. 

What’s new on campus:

Last year, a $2.5 million construction project turned the Dotti M. Shelton Learning Commons into the “intellectual hub” for faculty and students. Blaine Hansen, the school’s vice president for strategic planning and effectiveness, said the library is one of the most sought-after locations on campus.

The Exchange Bookstore was recently updated, and an Einstein Bros. Bagels shop was added as a dining option for students.

The Williams Physical Education Center and swimming complex were also renovated in the Fred I. Dickerson Athletic Complex.

What’s life like on campus?

Lees-McRae is a residential campus with few commuters. Students have the option to live in residence halls, apartments, suites and even houses.

There are 21 athletic teams, including new men’s and women’s swim teams. The Bobcats are NCAA Division II in the Carolina Conference. Homecoming is focused around soccer, and the weekend’s events include tailgating, tent parties and a lot of alumni gathering.

Britney Carswell, 20, is a rising senior in the criminal justice program at Lees-McRae. She is active in several student clubs and serves as a resident director in the female freshmen residence halls, a presidential ambassador and an orientation leader.

“Campus Life and Engagement offer different events,” Carswell said. “We went to the Panthers game. We’re doing river tubing next weekend. We’ve done ice skating and snow-tubing.”

Carswell said students attend annual events like Casino Night, Christmas Party, Super Bowl Party and movie nights. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the hiking and biking trails and rock climbing options right on campus.

What do students like best?

Lees-McRae’s size makes it feel like home to students. “They like how small and close-knit everything is,” Carswell said. “Most of the students would tell you that the faculty and staff make you feel like your family. They try to take care of you here.”

Fun traditions:

Mountain Day is a long-standing tradition at the college. In the fall, the president of the college rings the bell, which signals that classes are cancelled and all students should meet at the bell tower.

“It’s supposed to be a big surprise for everyone on campus,” Carswell said. “We all hike over to Wildcat Lake and we tie dye T-shirts, eat lunch, kayak and swim.”

In the spring, Mountain Day of Service is a time for students to participate in community service projects. “Classes are cancelled because the entire community works on service projects,” Hansen said. “Some are here on campus, and other students may go to the Humane Society or work with Habitat for Humanity.”

Photo courtesy of Lees-McRae

What do students like least?

Carswell said if students want to shop at a big box store, they’ll have to drive 20-25 minutes to Boone to do it. Hansen agreed that students do have to “drive off mountain” to get to a Walmart.

Best advice from current students:

“Follow your heart,” Carswell said. A faculty member gave her the same advice about choosing a major when Carswell was concerned about disappointing her family if she changed her career path. She decided to take the advice and changed her major from nursing to criminal justice.

What surprises people most about Lees-McRae: 

“There (are) animals here!” Carswell said. The campus is pet friendly – this means students can bring their cat or dog to campus after an application process. This year, three residence halls will allow pets. Some faculty even allow students to bring their pet to class.

Photo courtesy of Lees-McRae

Lees-McRae is also the only college in the country with a wildlife rehabilitation center.

“For us it serves as a learning laboratory,” Hansen said. “Our biology and wildlife biology students work in the labs and classrooms, and the rehab center. We care and nurture for more than 1,500 animals per year, many of which are released back into the wild.”

Photo courtesy of Lees-McRae


Vanessa Infanzon is a freelance writer based in Charlotte. In her former life, she worked in Student Life at Davidson College, UNC Charlotte and Queens University of Charlotte. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @morethanVMI