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Bard College

BARD COLLEGE (visited 7/25/13)

Bard old bldng

Bard path

Paths

It took me most of the way through the tour to realize how to describe parts of the campus: a large chunk of it feels like a summer camp with paths winding through the woods. This is a huge wooded campus along the Hudson (and there are paths along the river, too) housing approximately 2000 undergrads (16% of whom are international). The school used to be all male and attached to Columbia (a bit like Barnard is today). When it went coed in the 1930s, Columbia severed ties with it.

The local bus stopping along the edge of campus

The local bus stopping along the edge of campus

Bard students 2Both the tour guide and the admissions officer talked about the structure of the curriculum making Bard unique. The admissions rep told us, “No one does it like we do. There’s a structure but with some flexibility. As an individual, you can shape your four years with guidance.” Students only have nine distribution requirements to complete covering five major disciplines, and many of these are taken care of during freshman year. 300-level classes are capped at 12 students, allowing them to actively engage in their learning. Students don’t just declare a Program (what they call majors) here; their first year is spent taking electives and a First Year Seminar. This gives them the freedom and flexibility to explore a range of classes they may not have been exposed to before. All freshmen get a Peer Counselor to help mentor them along in the process. As sophomores, can start delving into a Program that they’re interested in, but still don’t declare. During the year, they prepare to declare the program by doing the following: writing an essay on their academic past, writing an essay on their academic future, and putting together a portfolio of academic papers or artwork in their proposed Program (or they can plan a performance if their proposed field is performance-based). These will be judged by a panel of three professors who will decide whether to grant them access to the program. Most students are allowed in. A “No” rarely happens, usually if a student hasn’t finished their prelim requirements or isn’t doing well. This process makes students look at their skill sets and what they really want so that they’re thoughtful about their majors. Our tour guide, a rising senior from the Albany area, said it’s an exciting time: sophomores can bounce ideas around with peers, and “they all go through it together.” She created her major which looks at Education through psychology and sociology.

Bard sci cntrOne of Bard’s unique programs is their Freshmen Writing Program. First-year students come to campus three weeks early for intensive reading and writing workshops. Students get a big binder of readings that are used during the session (although not all teachers use all of them, and they’re not all used in the same way). This experience is graded pass/fail, and students must pass to matriculate for the fall semester. This program is about 30 years old; 3 years ago, Bard started a three-week January intersession Intensive Science requirement since they felt that science literacy was as important as anything else. This is required for graduation; most people complete it as freshmen but exceptions are made.

Bard science 1

The inside of the science building

A Physics professor stopped to talk to the tour group when we were in the science building (where the labs look out over the woods – fitting for the sciences). He loves that sciences are handled at Bard; they’re leaning towards interdisciplinary work which is the reality of work in the sciences now. The Science Department holds weekly “Pizza on the Pod” (the 2nd floor balcony-type area over the “lecture halls” which are not much bigger than a regular classroom, but are round and jut into the hallways); during this time, there’s tutoring, discussions on topics of interest, and other events. They have a 3-2 engineering program with Columba, Dartmouth, and WashU, a 3-2 in Forestry (although this isn’t a popular program yet), and a 3-2 in Environmental Policy in which they do 3 years studying either social or natural science and then do 2 years studying policy for their Masters.

Bard dorm 1Bard arts 1The campus culture values the arts, and they claim to be the first college in the country to value the arts as equal to academics. The Art buildings have tons of well-lit studio space and has art displayed all over the walls. They have a world-class photography department, sculpting, and other options (but no ceramics, because that’s considered “pre-professional” – don’t ask me how – and they are anti-pre-professional programs). Their graduate program in photography is one of the best in the country. The performing arts section of campus is located kind of across the main road, maybe half a mile away. Students can take classes down there, but most things happen on the main campus.

Bard dorms 1

The “Toasters”

There are 40 dorms of different styles and sizes scattered around campus. There’s a cluster of dorms (located in the middle of what looks like an orchard) called “toasters” because of how they look. Stuck in the midst of these is one 9-person dorm with 3 triple rooms. One of the older dorms, “Stone Row,” is an old brick building that looks more like a traditional dorm. The “Root Cellar” is located the basement; this is known for the punk rock groups that play there. It also houses a huge ‘zine collection. On the other end of the basement of this dorm is the Learning Commons which acts as the tutorial center for campus. Students can take 4 credit classes in writing or math through the LC if they’re struggling in those areas. There are more dorms on North Campus which is a 10-15 minute walk to the academic buildings. Mostly the dorms are coed, and 85% of students live on campus all 4 years. There is no Greek Life on campus, which encourages a broader base of fun across groups.

Bard reading room

Bard’s Reading Room

Admissions looks for eclectic, intellectual students. Bard students tend to be fairly liberal, engaged in community (the campus and the world at large), and interested in what’s going on around them. This is one of the few schools with a Human Rights Program, speaking to the interests of the students. The college also runs several international locations, including one on Berlin that they just took over. Students here are broad-thinking and curious about the world, so these locations are well used. Admissions interviews are not required, but are available if students are interested. Bonnie Marcus, the admissions direction who spoke to the group of visiting students provided this warning: “For the interview, do your homework! Don’t show up excepting to be entertained. Show me that you know SOMETHING about the school. Be ready to have a conversation.” I appreciate that she was so vocal against the US News and World Report rankings: “It’s smoke and mirrors! We’re a wonderful place. Are we wonderful for you? That’s your part of the process.”

Farmer's Market outside the Commons

Farmer’s Market outside the Commons

Bard Commons

Commons

I asked our tour guide to talk about a tradition she would miss after graduation. There was none she could name as one she liked or would miss. “My friends and my classes are the most important to me. Learning is why we’re here.” She also didn’t think they were in the middle of nowhere, even though the campus IS Annadale-on-Hudson: the town consists of “the campus and a few random houses,” and the town’s post office is on campus. There is nothing in walking distance of campus. However, she said that students are hardly stuck. There are shuttles into the two local towns (which are small and a few miles away) and a Duchess County bus stops right outside campus and will take them into Poughkeepsie and Rhinecliff where they can get MetroNorth (into NYC) or Amtrak, respectively. Students can use the school-owned zip cars, and anyone can have a car on campus. “This is one of the few colleges without a parking problem.” She said that they can definitely get to places they want to go. “Besides, we should be separated a bit so we can concentrate on our studies.” An office on campus helps students find service projects, alternative spring breaks, and internships. Students do projects like a theater program with foster children in town, writing workshops in New Orleans, and working with the Palestinian Youth Initiative. On campus, they utilize programs and the fun provided on campus (including the real movie theater in the Union which can be reserved by students, but also is used for campus-wide events including movie or tv marathons).

© 2013

Bard Early College at Simon’s Rock

Bard Early College at Simon’s Rock (visited 8/11/14)

Simon's Rock town

Great Barrington

~Simon's Rock bridgeLike “Big Bard” (aka Bard Annandale), Bard College at Simon’s Rock looks a bit like a camp. It’s in an idyllic setting on the outskirts of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a “destination town” in the Berkshires

After checking in for the counselor event, a student walked me to the dorms. Andre, a sophomore from Seattle majoring in Psych and Cross-Cultural Studies, started here after his sophomore year in high school, a “normal time for students to come,” he said. He, like everyone else, dropped out of high school to attend; they will not get a high school diploma along the way. We asked an admissions rep later if they saw any problems with students not receiving a diploma. He said there were rarely problems but did show up on occasion, particularly in two areas: if students ever wants to take any enrichment programs at a community college, or if they transfer and want to play a DIII sport.

~Simon's Rock dino skull 1

Dino Skull replica in the Science Building

At Simon’s Rock, students find the rigor, support, and independence that they don’t find anywhere else. “No one has to go to college early. People who are here are really delighted to be here!” Students are “kindred spirits.” They aren’t all geniuses, but they are curious and are looking for an academic program. People don’t come here if they don’t want to dig in, to ask questions. “This is an Early College. It’s not College Lite,” said one of the Creative Writing professors. The classes are as rigorous as any other place.

~Simon's Rock dorms

Upperclassmen dorms

The admissions office, like the rest of the college, works to make sure that students are treated as a whole person. Decisions are made on a rolling basis (they will accept a small number to start in January), and they are test optional because most students just don’t have test scores yet. However, at TOEFL is required for students whose first language is not English and who have not been in an English-Instruction school for the two years prior to enrolling. They require a score of 100, but will take students in the 80-99 range if they are willing to take an extra year to complete the AA.

The application requires both an interview and a parental supplement. “If the parent isn’t comfortable with this, it isn’t going to happen.” The reps work hard to develop a good relationship with the family. The school prefers that students interview in person (“Anything can look good on in a shiny brochure; we want them to see the school and students in action.”). About 80% of students come to campus for this, but they recognize that not all the students can, so they do skype interviews as well. They want to make sure that applicants will be able to fit into the community. They will counsel students out if it’s not a fit. Their admit rate is in the 80% range and yield is about 70%. “It’s a very self-selecting population.” About 5% of students leave after first year; some transfer to a 4-year school or finish the AA at a community college. Very rarely do they go back to high school.

~Simon's Rock study lounge

Study area in an academic building.

An academic building

An academic building

About 50% of students transfer after the AA. “Big Bard” gets the highest number of transfers, but students go to lots of different places, including many of the “big name” schools. Simon’s Rock has quite a few articulated agreements, including a 3-2 with Columbia and Dartmouth (“When our students go to Columbia, their GPA goes up,” said one of the reps), a 3-1 with Vermont Law (students get a BA from Bard and a BA in Environmental Policy and Legal Studies from Vermont), Munich School of Business, the University of Manchester (Creative Writing), and more. However, students have all the resources of Bard at their disposal, and juniors and seniors can take the shuttle over to take classes there as they wish. All students end up with both Bard and Simon’s Rock degrees.

Transitioning can be a bit rough, but students have a lot of support. They meet at least once a week with their advisor, they meet with residential staff, etc. Freshmen are allowed to drop classes as late as the November of their first semester. All students are given narratives in addition to grades; students sign releases so that these are sent to parents as well, and the staff is in close contact with the family, especially the first year. “It’s the best of a college with best of a prep school.”

~Simon's Rock acad bldgStudents must have a primary and secondary concentration (or they can double major). Creative Writing, PoliSci, the natural sciences, and Psych are particularly strong. Only 10 classes have more than 25 students – and those barely go over that number (“they may have 27 or 28,” said the rep). Most classes have fewer than 15 students. There are 3 core classes that all students take, and everyone completes a senior thesis. Jody, our tour guide (a senior Math/Comp Sci double major from MD) said that his largest classes had about 15; his upper level classes were all around 3-6 students. He showed us the lecture lab in the science building that holds the biggest classes, and even that was fairly small. “We use it a lot more for things like Super Bowl parties and other fun things when we want a big screen.”

Simon’s Rock is a dry campus since all students are underage. Like most places, though, if people want alcohol or drugs, they can get them. However, the students said that usage is low, and alums have reported that they ran into far less peer pressure about drugs and alcohol than in their high schools.

During the student panel, these were some of the questions asked:

Why did you choose to come here??

  • I was taking really hard classes, not trying very hard, and getting As. I just went to school because I had to but wasn’t passionate about it. SR turned that upside down.
  • I was stuck in the HS track and studying things because that’s what was expected. Here I can choose.
  • I’ve been passionate about music, and if I had stayed, my exposure would have been band class once a week.
  • I was under-performing and there wasn’t any system of support. Coming here is an opportunity to get more out of academics and get support. There’s more expectation for my future. I’m excited about graduate school.
  • I was having a lot of trouble in school socially and academically. Classes weren’t hard, but I had trouble working in the bigger classes. I was originally going to come after my freshman year but wanted to try IP and AP classes first – but they still felt like HS classes and weren’t working.”

What’s been your biggest academic or social challenge?

  • Going into freshman seminar. We read 4 books and were told to write a paper — without a prompt. In HS, they ask a question and you answer it. Here, you don’t and it tore down my world! It took awhile to work through that.
  • I came after 9th grade so I was a little younger. As excited as I was to have the freedom, I wasn’t used to being away from home and not having the overarching supervision of parents.
  • Dealing with people in HS was like a business relationship. I showed up, said hi, and never saw them again. At first, I was always in my room, went to bed at 9, and now I seek out common areas.

I want to thank SR for ___ :

  • Teaching me how to be part of a community. I’m on a first-name basis with faculty, students can participate in student government, be active in how the community is developed. I’m living here and sharing this space. I’ve learned how I can contribute.
  • Exposing me to issues that are larger than myself. I came from a small white town, and we never talked about sexism or racism, or any of these larger things.
  • Allow me to explore my passions and find out who I am. I thought I was going to be an architect, and then a computer science until I took a class for 3 weeks and found out I hated it. I loved my psych class, though, and in my second semester, I enrolled in 3 psych classes and love it!

Describe a meaningful academic experience:

  • I took a theoretical math class and had to do a final paper. I could combine the math and computer science stuff that I loved. I did research for weeks ahead of time. I ended up getting a B+. Before, I would have been upset at getting a low grade for so much effort, but now I’m proud that I produced something that was so intrinsically meaningful for me.
  • The first was my study abroad in China. The other was more recent: One of my professors sought me out after a concert to see what I thought because he wanted to put me into his review. They genuinely care about our opinions.

© 2014

California Lutheran University

CALIFORNIA LUTHERAN UNIVERSITY (visited 1/17/14)

Cal Lutheran 3Cal Lutheran’s spacious campus is home to just under 3000 undergraduates in Thousand Oaks. They are affiliated with the ELCA Lutheran Church: in terms of spectrum of churches, they’re very open in all that that suggests. They attract students of many faiths including a lot of Jewish students, and there’s a Rabbinical student who leads Shabbat services. There are no required chapel services or religion classes (at least in the theological sense). People in the area know that CLU is open to various people whether it be religiously, politically, or anything else (for example, there are lots of openly gay folks, even in the ministry).

Cal Lutheran 4

The cafe

“We tend to attract nice kids,” said an admissions reps. Students who have good organic intellectual curiosity will thrive here because of the 1-on-1 relationships and the opportunities they get bombarded with. Most students complete two internships during their time here. For the kids who want to dig in and experience things, it’s great, but they don’t have to be the smartest kid in the class to thrive. “This is not going to be a giant school experience; it won’t be a conservative religious experience. It’s a dry campus, so for kids who aren’t interested in the uber-party scene, this will work. But it is a very big social atmosphere; students are gregarious and open.”

Cal Lutheran Management bldg

Management Building

Admitted students average a 3.7 GPA and 25 ACT or 1150 SAT (CR&M). Students applying to CLU tend to overlap with UCLA (CLU lost the most kids to them last year), LMU, and UCSB. CLU will superscore both exams, and students can appeal for a higher scholarship with higher test scores after admittance. Students must apply Early Action to compete for the Presidential Scholarship. Students must be invited to come to campus to compete for this scholarship: decisions are based on an interview, a written response to a lecture, and more. Another great scholarship opportunity is the CLU Match Guarantee. If an applicant has also gotten accepted to UCLA, UCSB, UCB, UCSD, or UCD, they will match the in-state price (even if they’re out of state!!).

Cal Lutheran quadLearning here is experience-based, and students are guaranteed to graduate in four years if they meet the program guidelines (including meeting regularly with their advisor, declare a major on time, etc). Classes average around 20 students, and professors are interested in providing more than just theory and book learning. The university attracts professors who want to teach and who tend to stay for a long time. Core Classes include: literature, art (1 lecture-based, 1 participatory), philosophy/religion (historically, not theologically based), science, foreign language (students can test out but rarely do; a 4 or 5 on an AP would satisfy this requirement), and 2 social sciences. The writing requirement is often fulfilled during the senior capstone.

Cal Lutheran Acad bldg 2Business, education (Deaf and HH credentials are also offered), exercise science, and psych are some of the most popular majors. The Exercise Science major gets high accolades; most of those students continue on to PT graduate programs, but they can also be a coach or trainer without grad school. Game Design is gaining traction. They offer a TV/Film Production minor, and students get fabulous internships, especially in Burbank. There are specific pre-med, pre-vet, and pre-dental advising programs; the advisor, a chem professor, came from Berkeley. Under this program, the students get the right prep without the super competitive culture that they may find in other schools, and they’re still successful in getting into medical/vet schools (3 years ago they had a 100% acceptance rate).

Cal Lutheran food truck

One of the campus food trucks

CLU is a big fish in a small DIII pond. Football and volleyball teams have both won national championships, and in the fall, football can dominate the weekends. Kids get the best of both worlds: learning in smaller classes without sacrificing the “big-sports college experience.” Some students say that CLU is more homogenous than they’d like, but this is changing rapidly. Currently, approximately 25% students are from out-of-state, and they’re attracting international students as well. Students aren’t always thrilled with the feeling of “suburbia” around campus, but they’re certainly not cut off from things to do off immediately campus or from downtown LA.

Cal Luthern 1

One of the upperclassmen housing areas

underclassman dorms

underclassman dorms

Students rave about the dorms, most of which have been built in the last 10-15 years. Housing is guaranteed all four years if students want it, but only freshmen are required to live on campus (waived if they live at home within 30 miles). About 2/3 of sophomores stay on campus; after that, it drops a little more, but not significantly. Juniors and seniors are housed in apartments with pools, a bbq area, and volleyball court. CLU is committed to making on-campus housing affordable and attractive, mostly because off-campus housing is pricey, and they want to continue building community. Because more students are living on campus, they need a bigger central space for students. A new dining commons is being built and will open in the summer of 2014. Until now, there hasn’t been a great central meeting spot for students that’s the center for social activities, studying, and eating. The new building will have rooftop seating and dining. They deliberately made the decision not to bring in outside venders (except Starbucks!).

© 2014

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