HAMILTON COLLEGE (visited 7/24/15)
“I would like students to know that if you aren’t sure who you are or what you want to do, this is the perfect place for you! There’s so much to try, and it doesn’t matter if you switch in and out of things. The friends you made will still be there for you,” said the tour guide, one of the best I’ve ever had. If she’s any indication of the students at Hamilton, this is a warm, wonderful, embracing place to live and learn. This is a selective school, accepting approximately 25% of applicants; they’re definitely looking for students who are going to be open to trying a lot of things and getting involved in their own education.
Hamilton has an open curriculum to allow students to explore areas of interest. “I got to study a lot of areas I never would have had time to study otherwise like Africana Studies,” said the guide. However, they do have several general requirements that they have to fulfill such as 3 PE classes, 3 writing intensive classes, and 1 quantitative analysis class. “They’re easy to fulfill, and they don’t have to be done in any particular field. I’m not a math person, so my quantitative class was filled by taking Sociological theory.” The writing intensive classes are “hard to avoid. I’ve taken 3 in a semester sometimes.” The school also places a big emphasis on communications fulfilled in a large part by their focus on writing across the curriculum. They’re also one of only a couple schools to have an Oral Communications Lab to help students with presentations.
Econ and math are two most popular majors which is unusual at a small liberal arts school. They also have several majors that you don’t normally find at a school of this size, including Geoarchaeology, Chemical Physics, World Politics, and Middle East and Islamic World Studies. Research is popular, as it is at a lot of schools now. About 100 students stay on campus over the summer to research. Many are in the sciences, but not all. “My roommate is co-writing a paper on Faulkner that’s going to get published.” The arts are also big here. They opened a new art center this year; it’s a huge, beautiful building with lots of natural light and plenty of studio space (seniors get their own space). The art museum is across the street and has revolving exhibits.
Campus is 100% residential. “We’re building a new dorm to take care of that ‘last little bit’,” said the admissions rep. Suites can be coed because the bedrooms themselves are singles. Dorms are clean and comfortable. We went into a freshman quad that had a bedroom, a bathroom, and a large common room. There are also very large doubles.
Dining hall food is very good. “They make a great baked mac and cheese!” There are several eating options. The main dining hall has everything you need, including allergy free areas, vegan and vegetarian, etc. The smaller café puts more emphasis on vegan and vegetarian options, and another place has more of the hamburger pizza types of foods. At midnight, this flips to breakfast, so showing up at midnight for pancakes or waffles is a popular thing to do.
The town of Clinton is fairly small, but there are stores and restaurants. The school provides shuttles around town, and the college is only about 45 minutes from Syracuse. There are busses to NYC and to the Syracuse airport and Amtrak station at breaks. Generally kids aren’t looking to leave campus all that often. Hamilton is regularly bringing big-name speakers like Hillary Clinton, Aretha Franklin, John Stewart, and Derek Jetter to campus. Greek life isn’t that big but “it’s there if you want it.” Greek housing is no longer provided so there’s no residential separation anymore, and all parties must be open to everyone on campus. Athletic life is relatively popular, but again, “it’s there if you want to participate, but no one cares if you don’t want to.” The gym is integrated right into campus, housed in a large stone building that blends in with all the other buildings. “I had a hard time finding it at first because it doesn’t look anything like one should look like!” said the tour guide. They even have an ice rink right on campus! They also have a 3-story rock-climbing wall (taller than most college walls), and students can get belay-certified in an afternoon. There are outdoor trips every weekend into the Adirondacks such as kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, etc.
The majority of students will study off-campus at some point during their undergraduate time. They have 4 Hamilton-run study abroad options (India, China, Spain, and France) and 4 domestic study-away programs including one in the Adirondacks where students live in a cabin and both take classes and do an internship in the Park.
Hamilton, which had been a men’s college, merged with Kirkland college (a women’s college) which was only open for 10 years and was located right across the street. As part of a collaborative project between a Hamilton student (a physics major) and a Kirkland student (Art major), there’s now a stone and metal sculpture in the student center. It’s chained down now, but before it was, there was a way to stand on the ring and by swinging back and forth, get the ring to “ride up” the other cords. Supposedly people got it up to the second floor.
You might hear students using the terminology of “Dark Side” or “Light Side” when referring to parts of campus. “Sometimes my friends think we’ve been sucked into Star Wars or we’re making value judgments or something. We aren’t,” said the tour guide. These names came about because of the architecture more than anything else. The Dark Side is the original Hamilton part of campus (darker brick, etc); the Light Side generally refers to the Kirkland area. “There also seems to be a bit of 2 sides of a personality. The Dark Side seems to be a bit more strict academics; the Light Side is a bit looser, more artistic. The great thing at Hamilton is that you don’t have to choose.”