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Reed College

REED COLLEGE (visited 7/19/13)

A piece of playground equipment near the student union

A piece of playground equipment near the student union

Reed students are often described as “quirky intellectuals.” Having visited campus, I see why. The students are “serious about academics but who don’t take themselves too seriously,” says Melinda Brown, Associate Dean of Admissions (a Reed alumna from Colorado). People care about their work, are zany, and are not bound by social constraints. They’re interested in building a playful space on campus (such as by turning couches into see-saws), and they form clubs like CAVE (Carnivorous Alternatives to Vegetarian Eating). However, I was turned off the students’ pretentiousness, as were several other counselors. They’re definitely smart and quirky, both of which are great; however, everything seemed to be about showing off just how smart and quirky they were. Intellectualism is highly valued, and they don’t want to let people forget it. One of the tour guides, when we asked what he would like to change about Reed said, “Sometimes the student body is a little jaded and act too experienced in order to fit in; usually this is the freshmen but they get over it.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like a lot of them have gotten over it.

A Graffiti Board about the Honor Code.

A Graffiti Board about the Honor Code.

Within the CTCL schools, Reed is the most selective and is considered one of the most academically elite. It’s a good school for smart but bored students who are emotionally invested in their work. Professors don’t let students coast just because they got in. “We’re a teaching institution that takes students where they are and ratchets them up to where they can’t get on their own.” They’re proud of their “very low grade inflation resulting in an average GPA around a 3.0.” Students get assignments back with extensive written feedback about how to improve, and grades are rarely (if ever) written on the papers themselves. They can find out grades online, but a student said, “If you put in the work, you don’t have to keep checking your grades.” Students are required to attend 30-minute one-on-one feedback sessions about their writing during their First Year Seminar. One panelist told us that he once said to the professor, “I feel like I’ve been hit over the head with a pipe” and the professor said, “Good, then you’re doing it right.”

The students feel that this system minimizes the “How did you do?” question; students rather say “How did you answer that question?” Enrique, a Junior history major, came here because he was impressed that people at Reed were interested in knowing what others THINK. “It’s what you think about and talk about that defines the student body. They aren’t so worried about how they look or how they dress. People will challenge how you think here. People will talk about the big issues and listen to opinions.” Students are happy here; 90-91% return for sophomore year. Enrique told us that Reed does not have the druggy culture of rumor.

Reed sculptureNot surprisingly, students love the academics here. Two of the tour guides’ favorite classes were Maritime in US History and Colonial Latin American Intellectual History. All students complete a final senior thesis (two if they double major; if they only want to complete one thesis, they create one interdisciplinary major). Every department gives students a qualifying exam taken in the Junior year to make sure they have the background knowledge. Some areas will let students qualify with conditions (such as taking an additional class in a weak area). Other areas (like History) have a year-long course to teach them what they need for the thesis, plus an exam. In the biology department, more than half of the students completed research before their senior year.

This is an undergraduate campus (although they do have a tiny graduate program of about 10 people) so there are no graduate students teaching or engaged in research. The current freshmen class is split almost evenly between men and women. About a third self-identify as students of color and 14% are first-gen students. The 1400 students are almost equally split into science, humanities and arts, and social science majors. Approximately a quarter of students go into business and industry, and almost another quarter go into education. Twenty-five percent also go on to get PhDs, putting Reed as 4th in the nation for graduates getting their doctorates.

Although Reed does not give merit aid, need-based aid is strong. “When I came here, I felt like I had gone to heaven because the Financial Aid Program here is robust,” said Leslie Limper, Director of Financial Aid. Reed requires the CSS Profile, and non-custodial parents must fill it out, but there’s a waiver when the non-custodial parent is not in contact. They do expect students to work; $1500 of work-study is put onto their financial aid package. There’s also a loan expectation with $2500 for the first year, increasing by $1000 each year ($16,000 total). They are need-aware in admissions, “We need to be responsible so we can be here in 150 years. We also don’t want to gap students; we want to meet the need of those people we admit.”

The pedestrian bridge connecting the two sizes of campus.

The pedestrian bridge connecting the two sizes of campus.

The campus is split by a lake. The older side of campus houses all the academic buildings and several dorms. The stone and brick buildings shown in Reed’s recruiting pictures are on this side, but there are new buildings, as well. The Theater Building opened in August 2013 and is the second largest building on campus after the library. The atrium is open to humans and dogs (dogs are everywhere on campus!). There are practice rooms that anyone can use (the Gay Man’s Chorus of Portland practices on campus) and there’s an Open Mic every Friday at 4 in the courtyard. Old Dorm Block is the biggest residence hall on campus and is one of the older buildings. “Mid Century Dorm,” a small dorm near the front of campus, has a Mad Scientist Floor and J-Dorm (Japanese Living community).

The residential side of campus.

The residential side of campus.

A long bridge stretches over a lake which takes students to the Residential Side of campus which feels very different. Instead of large brick and stone buildings, many were smaller, wooden, and/or had an institutional dorm feel about them. Many of the freshmen are housed here. Roommates are randomly matched; the only personality question asked is “what type of music do you listen to?” There are several themed living areas such as Fantasy or Art Appreciation. The Language Houses have native speakers here on a Fulbright. Starting in sophomore year, students can live in apartments and can have dogs.

Old Dorm.

Old Dorm.

Ren Fest is the biggest event on campus. Campus is closed to the public during this 3 day festival, held between the end of classes and reading week. It starts with a huge bonfire where seniors burn their notes/drafts of their thesis and run screaming in the library (the only time they can make noise in there). Over the weekend, there are a variety of activities such as Full-Contact Chess games (they wrestle the person in the mud), a formal dance, concerts, and more. Other big campus-wide events include a week-long Arts Week and Fire on the Quad (“everyone leaves covered in wing sauce”). There plenty of weekly activities (one of the most unusual is the massages in the library) but there is no Greek Life or Varsity sports. Students are active at the club and intramural levels in sports like rugby, women’s crew, and ultimate Frisbee. Students need to take 6 quarter-long classes of some activity which can be fulfilled with classes like back-country navigation, winter camping, Latin dancing, contemplative meditation, or juggling.

© 2013

Alma College

Alma College (visited 11/19/19)

Alma is the place to go if:

  • Alma signYou want to learn (or already know) how to play the bagpipes! Or perhaps you just want to hear the Highland Band, the kilted marching band, or hear bagpipers before football games. Can you tell they’re proud of their Scottish theme?
  • You want to join the “winning-est MUN team” (Alma was in a jeopardy question for this!)
  • You’re looking for an incredibly diverse and accepting campus: this has been voted the most LGBTQ+-friendly campus in the state, the college is the most racially diverse it has ever been (“and we’re only getting better”), and inclusive of people of any or no faith.
  • Alma MUN house

    The MUN house

    You’d like to join or watch the National Champion Percussion Ensemble or the nationally ranked (1st or 2nd depending on the year) Cheer & Stunt team (“It’s very acrobatic/gymnastics based”) that competes mostly against DII teams.

  • You’d like a campus with “massive Sumo squirrels that are friendly, calm, and well-fed.”
  • You’re looking for an intense but highly supportive academic and social environment.

Alma chapelIt seems like Alma would be a hard sell for people coming from a distance – but it should NOT scare people away! “We’re sort of the northernmost Liberal Arts college in the state. There’s a stereotype that most students are from the UP, but they’re not. Many come from the suburbs of Detroit. For others, this is a big town.” For those coming from a distance, shuttles run to airports at breaks. Many students fly into Detroit (2 hours away) because it’s a hub and cheaper, but Grand Rapids (1.5 hours) is an option. They’re also good about getting people to other places as needed; for example, they’ll take students to Lansing for the GRE when they don’t have a car.

Alma lounge 1

Highland Java

Students mostly come from Michigan, but they pull from all over: “Most students come here for A Thing – football, MUN, the Highland Band,” said the rep. “They end up falling in love and stick around. We’re like the mafia, but not scary! Once you’re in, you’re in for life!” The Assistant Provost agreed: “I grew up in the Midwest and did everything I could to get out of it. They were looking for a person to come in for a year. I haven’t left.” That was 6 years ago!

Alma dorm 1

One of the dorms

Campus is highly residential; 90% live on campus (and must live here all 4 years unless living within 20 miles with family) and the students aren’t bored. When we visited, students were everywhere – studying, socializing, staffing tables for clubs, walking around campus. The small town is also safe and accessible with things to do (movies, stores, cafes, restaurants). They are Rail Trails for those who want to walk, run, or bike. Students said that there was plenty to do off campus when they wanted it, but usually were so busy with classes, athletics, performing arts, and clubs that they forgot they were in a smaller town. There’s even a PickleBall team; the tour guide is playing in the intramural finals for that.

Alma donuts!“The community is about encouraging and building people up. We go to events and support each other. We want everyone to have opportunities.” They even host an annual Silent Party; people are giving headphones for music – or can choose not to listen to anything – to acknowledge that some people have auditory sensitivities and need a quiet place but still want to be with other people.

Alma Sci Tech buildingAcademically, “it’s intense. No one is going to say it’s easy,” said a student. Alma runs on a 4-4-1 schedule, different from the big public institutions. Students take 4 4-credit courses in the first 2 terms and 1 in Spring Term that runs from the end of April through Memorial Day. Everyone is required to complete 2 spring terms. Graduation is in April so seniors can be in the job market early (although they can stay if they want). Many spring courses involve travel. Also, they grade differently: instead of pluses or minuses, grades are A, AB, B, BC, etc.

Alma Remus

Remus hanging out in the greenhouse

Classes, of course, are small. The tour guide’s largest class had 34 students; the largest she’s in this year has 21. There’s quite a bit of innovation in the classrooms. For example, they’ve partnered with Google to link up/partner classes between colleges in real time. “A friend of my mine took one of these and loved it,” said the tour guide. They have a planetarium which is used in and out of classes. All students can borrow film equipment for class projects or just for fun. They have a giant tortoise named Remus who lives in the science courtyard in good weather and the greenhouse over the winter.

Fine and Performing Arts are huge here:

  • Alma Scot muralsStaying true to their Highland/Scottish “heritage”/theme, they offer Highland Arts, including Highland Dance and Piping & Drumming. They offer a Scottish Arts Scholarship for students coming in with a high level of skill in these areas.
  • There are a lot of music classes offered; students do not have to be in the major to take advantage of these. They’ll bring in teachers for any instrument a student wants to learn. I asked where they’d find a bassoon instructor in small-town Michigan; the tour guide laughed and said, “They contract with music teachers in public schools or anywhere else they can find them.” She’s learning to play the bagpipes (which are a big deal here).
  • Alma mini concert

    a lobby set up for a recital

    Students give lobby recitals on a regular basis.

  • There are multiple choral groups to join. The Select Choir goes to Scotland and Ireland every other year
  • Their Kilted Marching Band is competitive to get into and people come to games as much to see them as the athletics.
  • They have a Midi Lab to record their own music.
  • They offer majors in Music Composition, Dance, Musical Theater, and more.
  • Community members join the orchestra.

Alma Heritage Center 2They’re moving away from the cafeteria-style Gen Ed and towards a more scaffolded, integrated experience. Everyone’s required to take a FYS class and English 101, but they’re piloting a new program that combines these into one full-year course. Students cannot test out of a foreign language – but if they test into a higher level, it’ll also count for a humanities course. They’re creating new interdisciplinary majors including:

Other things to note about their academics include:

  • Alma Heritage Center 2They have Applied Physics/pre-engineering but no engineering majors.
  • Nursing: students still take a liberal arts core in addition to their major. The school has a great relationship with the local hospital.
  • The sciences are incredibly strong, including Public Health, biochem, and biotechnology. This is one of undergrad schools in the state to have a cadaver lab (they get 10 a year from the Michigan grad school).
  • The Psych dept focuses on research, including Neuroscience,
  • The Entrepreneurs in Action business class runs Highland Java, a popular coffee spot on campus.

Alma artworkStarting after the sophomore winter term, students can apply for a $2500 Venture Grant for use in spring term or summer internships. Students can also partner with NY Arts or different organizations in DC, Chicago, and Philly for a semester (housed with other college students through agreements with other universities) and transfer in 16 credits. There’s also the Posey Fund for about 40 students per year – our tour guide went to India for 7 weeks over the summer.

Alma rockThe minimum admissions scores are 960 SAT/18 ACT. They take a weighted GPA but only take what the school gives them; for admissions, it’s not as big a deal, but the scholarships depend heavily on the GPA, so high school counselors should convert this and email the admissions reps. GPAs of 3.4GPA or higher are eligible for Scholar Summit which means up to $4000 more. There are also several competitive scholarships for art, STEM, faith leadership, etc.

We asked people what they thought Alma did really well:

  • We support individual students in helping them along the path they choose. It’s so rare to come to a campus where they’re all focused on student success. It’s a piece of core identity.
  • We hold ourselves to high expectations. If people have negative experiences, there’s a team that jumps on that.
  • We’re the perfect place for the student who doesn’t want to have to decide. There are very few things that you can’t do both of (like marching band and football team).

Historically, retention has been around 80%. The Provost’s goal is to get students linked in to a group earlier. The 4-year graduation rate is about 60% “which is higher than you’d think given the retention rate,” said the provost. “We hear that often from counselors that this is the school of choice for students coming from diverse backgrounds.” About 35% of students are fully Pell-Eligible and 30% are First-Gen students. They have a strong track record of being successful with retaining and graduating these populations.

© 2019

Providence College

Providence College (visited 9/12/17) (Scroll down for my 2nd visit on 5/1/19)

Providence 5I appreciated that the admission reps and other people presenting information to the visiting counselors made efforts to help differentiate Providence from other solid, similarly-sized liberal arts schools. According to them, their 4 pillars make PC different:

  • Human Flourishing: learn to take of yourself now so you’re able to do it later!
  • Cultural Agility: help to see through your lens AND how to learn from those people around you. “Erase the fear. Help include people who might feel different or alienated.”
  • Contemplation and communication: “We do this in the Dominican tradition. We want people to be intentional about contemplation. Take the time to do it. Share that with others.”
  • Integrated learning: “learning is important, but it’s not all you do. How do you put everything together – the internship, the extra-curriculars – to build yourself and get where you want to be?

Providence outdoor seatingA large part – really, the cornerstone – of their core curriculum is Western Civ. This is a 4 semester, team-taught, interdisciplinary course of study pulling together Theology, Lit, History, Philosophy, “really, the entirety of western civilization.” Students take this every semester of their first 2 years. The first 3 semesters cover ancient, medieval, and modern times; in the 4th semester, students complete a colloquium to “bring knowledge into a contemporary topic.” They can choose classes such as Our Monsters, Ourselves (how do we define monsters?), Ethical Practices in Business, Sustainability and Profits, etc. This is a huge part of PC’s culture and community and is almost a rite of passage: students will sport T-shirts saying things like “Done with Civ.”

Providence quad 2This is a Roman Catholic institution, and 50 priests live on campus. This dictates much of what happens around campus from class work to student services. There are options in some aspects of how religion plays out on campus. For example, teachers could opt into having a crucifix in the classrooms but most did not. “Religion is not heavy-handed here” but it’s clearly around and available. Students must take 2 religion and 2 philosophy classes, one of which must be ethics-based, but Mass or chapel is not required. “It’s is more of a social event,” said one of the tour guides. “We have a post-mass bash.” Catholic policy does dictate other things: “We’re a Catholic school, and our Health Center follows Catholic guidelines. I’m not sure you want me to be more specific … students aren’t always happy about this, but there are referrals for outside things as needed.”

Providence hockey

Practice time for the hockey team!

Although diversity and inclusion are, on paper anyway, part of the Dominican tradition, people we talked agreed that the college was not as diverse as they’d like but it’s gotten a lot better in recent years. “It’s the #1 strategic goal. We’re 18% non-white. We’d like to get to 25%.” The LGBTQ community is “not a closeted presence” and seems to be well supported. “Our students are overwhelmingly involved in service, athletics, etc. That’s a major characteristic.” They’ve put a lot of money into athletic facilities: all of them are new within the last 10 years (most within 5). PC has been ranked as the #1 school for intramural involvement. This is also a big hockey school.

Providence business int

Interior of the Business Dept

Academic programs worth noting include:

  • Arts and Sciences: every person takes classes in this school regardless of major.
  • Providence 8Professional Studies is the smallest school and consists of Applied Programs such as Education (Secondary and Elementary/Special), Health Policy Management (one of the fastest growing majors), and Social Work.
    • The BSW is so strong that students can often start their MSW with advanced standing. “We’re the liberal arts in service to others.” This school gives them flexibility to pursue things like pre-med, MPH, hospital admin, etc.
  • Business: Students become proficient in writing, oral communication, civic engagement, and diversity. They offer 4 majors in a new building (opened in January 2017).
    • First-year advising workshops are offered every other week for the first semester covering career education, study abroad, the curriculum, etc. They bring in alumni and faculty to talk about what they do with the majors.
    • The Finance lab has 12 Bloomberg Terminals. They’re pushing for more people to get certified on these

Providence 1Admissions is test-optional: “It doesn’t drive the process. Almost 40% of applicants didn’t submit them last year,” said an admissions rep. “It will not affect merit awards” (given to about ¼ of the students). They recalculate transcripts based on a 4.0 unweighted scale looking only at academic subjects. Last year was the first time admissions didn’t pull students from the waitlist, and in fact, they’ve been slightly overenrolled. 31% came from the ED pool which they’d like to max out at 35%. “We’re talking about the people we want to bring to our community, be part of our family. They want to be here because they love the place!”

© 2017

Providence College (5/1/19)

“I’m so content. I’m where I’m supposed to be,” said our tour guide who was amazing. It’s hard to find one who is so forthcoming about the benefits as well as any potential drawbacks. She recognizes that this isn’t the place for everyone – but it’s really right for a lot of people!

This is a Dominican university with 45 Friars living on campus. Many of them teach, particularly theology, philosophy, or the required Civ core classes. Mass/chapel attendance isn’t required, but many students will attend one of those offered on campus. “Last Chance Mass is offered at 10pm on Sundays, and it’s usually standing-room only.”

The Business school is the only one that students must apply directly to get into, however students can minor in one of the subjects without applying to the program. The Business School is big on teamwork, building much of their teaching on “The Power of We” and experiential learning. Students all attend a First Year Advising Workshop taught by their advisor. This program brings in alumni, faculty, and others to give students a broad and deep understanding of what business is. They offer a fast-track program for those wanting to go into elite firms/Wall Street. They’re also very much about building students’ cultural agility. Students can study abroad, including short-term faculty-led abroad for 10ish days. Last year, trips went to Japan and Australia. “It wasn’t hard to go to Sydney in January,” said one student. International Business majors must intern abroad.

Education majors can also go abroad to Puerto Rico, Ecuador, and Italy without worrying about losing credits or time towards graduation.

Admissions is test-optional, and 36% of applicants do not submit scores. About 1/3 of the incoming classes are admitted under Early Decision. The admissions office recalculates GPAs to an unweighted one. Last year, only 21% of students got merit scholarships. “Less merit means more need-based aid – which means more access for students. We’re putting our resources into meeting as much demonstrated need as possible.”

© 2019

 

Emmanuel College

Emmanuel College (visited 9/12/17)

Emmanuel quad

The quad with the skyline of Boston in the background

“This is a small school, but there’s something for everyone.” As part of the Colleges of the Fenway, Emmanuel students have access to 5 other schools, and its campus is located right in between Wheelock and Simmons. “It feels a lot bigger because of the consortium,” said the tour guide. “Students from other schools are walking through campus because we’re right in the middle of things.” As part of the consortium, students can take classes (including travel courses!) and even complete full minors at another school. Intramurals are held against teams from other COF schools; students have access to libraries, some clubs and activities, and some dining halls although “We have the best food on the Fenway! It’s a 12,” said one of the tour guides. The other one agreed: “A lot of it is organic, and meals are made fresh right in front of us.”

Emmanuel chapel

The Chapel

This is a Catholic institution with 40% of the students self-identifying as Catholic, but “the Catholicism isn’t heavy-handed,” said one of the students. Mass is never required, but students do need to take 2 religion classes as part of their distribution requirements. With so many choices to fulfill this including “What is Religion?” and “Women in Religion,” there’s something for everyone. There are several priests and nuns still involved on campus, including the President (a nun) and several teachers (“Father John is cool!”).

Emmanuel lounge and quadThe Sisters founded the school as a women’s college in 1919. They went coed in 2001 and are still 73% female, but have tripled their overall population since going coed. Part of this also comes from a deal made with Merck Pharmaceuticals made about the same time as when they went coed – the college leased space to the company for a research lab which makes Emmanuel the only college in the country with a pharmaceutical lab.

Emmanuel 1Campus is attractive and easy to navigate (it is small and can’t grow because of its location in Boston). Housing is guaranteed all 4 years. 88% of first-year students live on campus with 70% staying on all 4 years. “This is not a suitcase school.” Students get involved in a great of service on and beyond campus. Saints Giving Back is a popular club; one of their big projects is providing meals for families with kids in the hospital.

Emmanuel tables“Students are just nice here. This is a door-holding school” While students seem to think that there’s room for some growth in diversity, they also say that “there’s lots of open dialogue.” Students are willing to engage in dialogue with each other and come out in droves to the speakers brought to college (Shawn King recently came).

Classes are capped at 35 but average 21. One tour guide’s largest class was 30 in Freshman Writing. His smallest was 13 in a higher-level psych class. Although on the surface, their majors seem fairly standard and straightforward, they offer a great deal of interesting concentrations within those majors:

© 2017

Wagner College

Wagner College (visited 3/24/17)

Wagner 1The students who thrive here are those who are curious and who want a theory-to-practice experience, said one of the professors. The claim to fame for this college is that they’re the residential liberal arts institution of New York City.

The Wagner Plan is their 3-level general education requirement in which students related theoretical lenses outside the classroom. This is broadly construed ranging from work in the local community to trips to museums, mosques, or other cultural sites.

  • All first-year students enroll in one of 19-21 First-Year Programs co-taught by 2 professors. They both teach 1 content-specific class; the 3rd is a team-taught, reflective, writing-intensive class to connect content to experience. Recent combinations included Philosophy/Psych, Spanish/Business, and Ways of Thinking/Sociology. “From a faculty perspective, it’s fun. We get creative and it teaches us about another discipline.”
  • Wagner main 1

    The iconic main building. If it looks familiar, it’s because School of Rock and an episode of The Sopranos were shot here.

    The intermediate class can be taken as early as 2nd semester freshman year, but usually is done in sophomore year. Two professors often teach discipline-specific classes (with some team-teaching) with common assignments to connect them; there isn’t a 3rd class.

  • The last is a Capstone/Senior Reflective Tutorial. Departments have leeway in how they define this; they’re best know how to prepare the students for the next level. Some will do summer research; sometimes it’s internships or a thesis.
Wagner anchor and dorm

The anchor with an upperclassman dorm in the background

“Lots of social dialogues happen here,” said one student panelist. Like many campuses, there’s an item that gets painted. “We’re pretty politically involved. The anchor got painted for Black Lives Matter with body outlines on the ground, for Pride week, etc.” Students agreed that there were a lot of very progressive students. Another student on the panel said, “We’re passionate about anything about our living situation and our food. The changes made since freshman year have been amazing.” They now have a Gender-Neutral floor. “We argued for it. Really, under the traditional rules, I [a male] could live with my boyfriend. It would be “safer” if I lived with a girl!”

Wagner city

The view of Manhattan from one of the dorms

The tour guides agreed that this is not a quiet campus. About 85% of all students live on campus: “Moving off campus is an option, but they’re still looking at NYC rents. It’s not the Upper East Side, but it’s still steep.” Greek Life only pulls in 16% of students so people are involved in lots of other things. “There maybe aren’t as many organized events as other campuses, but the flip side of that is there’s the city. You get college discounts everywhere, but here, you get discounts in NYC. We can see Broadway shows for $30.” Shuttles leave campus on the :10 and :40 to take students to the ferry. “You go for the first time during Orientation. It takes away the stress.” There are things to do near campus, as well, but “we’re on a hill. Most students don’t like having to hike back up it!” The city buses are not free but are easily accessible, and there are shuttles to the mall, the movies, etc.

All theater and sporting events (DI!) are free, but students say that school spirit isn’t too high. Football doesn’t draw crowds, but basketball does. (As a side note, the Women’s Water Polo team has the highest GPA of any polo team in the country). They use the Staten Island minor league stadium for their home baseball games.

We asked the student panelists what they would like to change:

  • Wagner dorm 2

    Harborview Dorm, one of the older dorms on campus (but with great views!)

    Update living situations. The towers were built in 1963 and haven’t been renovated.

  • The Science department has lots of potential, but it costs money. The faculty put time into getting grants to help bring students into research. Lab space is sufficient, but not huge.
  • Food is mediocre. It fluctuates. “But at least I didn’t get the Freshman 15.”
  • “Some of the codes are grandfathered in because buildings are so old. Our theater is in a gym. They’ve done a bunch, but acoustically it’s still a gym. Dance studios don’t have spring floors.”
Wagner dorms 4

More dorms

Academics are overall strong; they look to hire teachers, not researchers: “That’s fantastic if you brought in a million dollar grant or published a paper, but if you can’t teach, we don’t want you!” This isn’t to say that there isn’t research, because there is, but learning is put first and foremost. Research is easy and not hugely competitive. “You just need to be proactive. If you’re a science major, you have to have a research experience in junior year, and even psych majors have 2 experimental classes. It’s very easy to go to professors and get involved.”

Wagner 4Unusual programs include Biopsychology, Microbiology, and Behavioral Economics. Strong programs include:

  • Education: Students get at least 25 hours of experience in every Edu class.
  • Theater: “It’s competitive, but we have fun and are friendly.” They receive 500 apps for 32 spots. Admissions first clears students and invite approximately 275 to audition. About half audition in person (they try to tie this in with the spring show) and another 50 or so send in a video audition. The department puts on 4 productions a year and get a lot of community support.
  • Nursing: This is not direct entry; students complete the pre-reqs and take the T6 (basic skills – everyone takes this) As long as they pass, they’re in the program. Nursing students can do research. One did a project looking at whole/non-processed foods in Bodegas and helped provide incentives to put this type up front.
  • The Art, Art History, and Film Department is strong and active with trips and internships (Met, Morgan Library, Neue Galerie, Marvel Comics, Rachel Ray Show, Downtown Community TV, Tibetan Museum of Art, Staten Island Museum). Students are successful studio artists, grad school, entrepreneurs (including publishing), education management in museums, fashion designer
    • Film and Media Studies offers 3 tracks (civically engaged, artistic production, criticism) as well as a dual track in Art and Education.
      • They’re looking at Public Art and bringing in the social engagement.
      • Several interdisciplinary classes like “Illustration, Sleep, and Dreams (w/ psych), Connecting Families through Documentary Film (w/ Philosophy), Food and Fasting in the Old and New World (Art History/Anthro), Cities and perversities (Art History/French)
    • Wagner statueThe Chemistry Department is ACS certified (only 30% of schools get this). Gen Chem maxes out at 28 students taught by senior level professors. “Fabulous things come out of lunchroom conversations. I’m changing the world in the way that’s valued by the liberal arts community. We send a couple students per year, many women, off to become PhDs.”
    • Wagner has 1 of 3 planetariums in the city! (“It’s part of why I came here, and I haven’t even gone to it yet!” said a tour guide).
    • Physician Assistant: They invite 90 students to interview (they usually get about 200 applications) and can take 40. This 5-year program includes 3 study abroad experiences: a week in London (psych and some clinical work in a hospital, and they can go back and do psych rotation for 4 weeks); Guatamala in the 4th year (they complete clinical care in local mountain towns); and Belize in the 5th “It’s an unbelievably collaborative group and team-oriented in the classes. Older students mentor younger ones.” Tuition is a little higher for PA, but includes all study abroad trips and some of the summer costs. They complete 2 full years of clinical work (1 of 2 in the country to do this).
    • The Expanding Your Horizons program allows for short term travel abroad, usually linked to a class.

Wagner picnic areaWe asked the student panel about their favorite classes:

  • “The Education class part of my freshman LC. We talked about the law behind Special Ed. We did community service, and I was partnered with an amazing girl! I got to see a different perspective when we worked on daily living skills. It was fascinating to have those conversations.”
  • International Filmmaker: “We learned about the impact people have had. We got an inside look on European and other films.”
  • Musical Theater Performance. “The teacher was a Tony Award Winner. I have 2 teachers who are currently on Broadway. The pianist we work with plays for Hamilton sometimes!”

Students were surprised by:

  • How much professors wanted to reach out. “I studied abroad. I was home for 5 days and got a phone call wanting to know if I was back and if I wanted to get coffee.”
  • The community of people. I felt really welcomed. Even football people came up and talked. It was very different from high school.
  • I was in a philosophy class freshman year with people with diversity of views. I started out thinking “How could you think like that?” I was in a bubble from my little Catholic school but I saw other bubbles and why people believe what they believe.

© 2017

Bennett College

Bennett College (visited 3/15/17)

Bennett chapel

The chapel sits on the far end of the quad

Interestingly, this small women’s college began as a coed institution. Started in 1873 in a church basement, it was later moved to the current site when several freed slaves bought the property, but retained its affiliation with the Methodist church. About 50 years later, it was changed to single-sex. It’s in a fairly residential area of Greensboro, not far from downtown. A city bus stops on campus making the area highly accessible for the students.

This is a tiny school with less than 500 undergraduate students, about half of whom come from outside North Carolina. The students who thrive here “want a small community, are looking for networks, and want to stay in contact with profs,” said the rep. Students who leave are ones who find the pace of life too slow here. Their mascot is the “Bennett Belle” and that really speaks to who they are. “Students have a manner of moving here, a way of carrying themselves.”

Bennett 2

Quad with a volleyball net

“There are always things to do. We’re small. We need people who will step up and get things done, form clubs, whatever,” said the rep. She said that students love the sisterhood here. It’s inclusive. “Students need to pool together. They need to make things happen. Students can’t be onlookers here. I’ve seen some students who have expected things to happen for them – work, entertainment – but they’re the ones who need to step up.”

Bennett new bldg

New Global Studies building

If it gets too small or they need a class not offered on Bennett’s campus, students are welcome to take advantage of the consortium in the Greensboro area. The Heat bus runs loops to all the campuses in the area, and many Bennett students got to A&T or even Elon.

Psychology, biology, and journalism/media are their most popular majors. They have a new Global Studies building.

Traditions include:

  • Initial Convocation: students sign the registry and become official Bennett students. They wear all white for the ceremony.
  • Big/Little Sisters
  • Senior Day: seniors get their superlatives.
  • Graduation when they’re allowed to walk through the gates; these open only at certain times of the year.
  • Convocations are held for an hour on Thursdays. They bring in a range of people from authors to political figures. Oprah, Danny Glover, and Maya Angelou have all come.
Bennett 3

Another building on the quad

For admissions, they’re looking for at least a 2.4 GPA but they have an Emerging Scholars program for students falling below that; students in ES come to campus over the summer to complete 6 credits in math and science. They’re also “test flexible” – they do want scores but have no minimum number that they’re looking for.

Bennett is struggling a bit financially, and they do have a low graduation rate (a little under 50% within 6 years), but at just under $27,000 for tuition, room, and board, this is a great deal. Shy, unsure students will blossom and find a place here. “It’s not for everyone, but if someone needs some care and pushing, this is the place.”

© 2017

Bluefield College

Bluefield College (visited 11/4/16)

bluefield-chapel-1This is a very small, very “Christ-centered school.” They’re associated with the Southern Baptists, and they make no secret that they bring Christian values into everything they do. There is a complete integration of faith and learning. People seem to come here specifically for that reason.

Several faculty said that they were so glad that they could openly talk about their faith and Christ in the classroom. One faculty member said, “We have the freedom to be openly Christian here. You hear about crazy turns at public school. We can pray in class and share our opinions in class. It’s refreshing to have open discussions. I don’t have to think about it much. We can talk to students about faith.” Another professor in the biology department said, “We bring both perspectives into our discussion. Students learn about evolution, but we’ll also bring Scripture in and have a discussion about what they think different passages might teach us, or how we can interpret them within the bounds of sciences. Can these coexist?”

bluefield-walkwayThis is a mission- and faith-based institution “but open to everyone.” However, we didn’t talk to anyone who was not seeking this specific environment; people who didn’t want a constant discussion of Christ/Scripture (or at least willing to put up with it) will not do well here. There are 2 required classes: 1st is “Biblical Perspectives” (a foundation class); the 2nd class is the student’s choice. Students must attend 15 Chapels (religious; Wednesday) and convocations (academic) per semester. One person said that the 15 could be any combination, but another said that at least 10 had to be Chapel services.

The students’ favorite things about Bluefield are:

  • bluefield-walkway-2Everyone is so open to new ideas. People are willing to make things happen.
  • How easy it is to make friendships even with faculty.
  • Faculty work with you to help make sure you’re doing what you’re doing.
  • It’s a place where Christ can work with and through us.
  • The first month of school, the faculty stood around the perimeter and prayed over the students. “I’ve never heard someone say, “If you aren’t sure, pray about it” in a classroom setting before.”
  • There’s always something going on around town, including a Lemonade Festival.

bluefield-quadWe visited on a Friday morning when the 179 first-year students were in their weekly Common Core lecture. Throughout the semester, they hear 15 lectures from professors across the curriculum, getting exposed to the breadth of liberal arts, and even the business department. They take a common course for the first 3 years; Bluefield is 1 of 3 colleges in VA to get an A rating for their core curriculum placing them in the top 2.3% of all colleges.

bluefield-grills

The grilling area near the new dorms

Freshman year Core is “Invitation to Inquiry.” The speaker on the day we visited was an expert in Appalachian poetry, talking about Speaking about Creativity and Spoken Word. Sophomore core is “Character Formation;” 3rd year is “Civics and Global Response” (students are paired with community services to help out).

Bluefield became a 4-year school in 1975. They grew to 540 students this year and hope to add more. The male population is currently higher (56%) because they added football a few years ago. They’re 36% racially diverse and have 59 international students.

bluefield-tennis-and-apts

Tennis courts with the new dorms in the background

Surprisingly, given the tiny population, they’re DI athletics in the NAIA, explaining why they draw so many athletes (69% play a varsity sport). Athletes can’t superscore their standardized test scores: the NAIA looks at single score (940 or 18) and 2.0 GPA. Teams often have competitions to see who has the highest GPA.

Other applicants can have test scores superscored. Bluefield uses only their application (no Common App) and it’s free. They talked a lot about both open-door access and making tuition affordable. Their Pathways program help students within a 50-60 miles by cutting tuition by 50% (about 75 students take advantage of this). A significant number have PELL grants. Students can earn up to $12,000 in academic scholarships and unlimited athletic scholarships. The Economist ranked Bluefield #44 for overall value (cost, scholarships, salary upon graduation, etc). They also offer Fine Arts, graphic design, music, and theater scholarships.

Some favorite classes are:

  • bluefield-art-studio

    The art studio

    Character formation: “I didn’t know what to expect. I learned a lot about myself and why I am the way I am and do what I do.”

  • “The same. Before I took it, I said, ‘I know my character. Why do I have to form it?’ But I learned so much!”
  • Media Writing: “we spent the semester working on newspaper. I went out of my comfort zone and interviewed a lot of people around campus. I’ve made a lot of connections and learned about all sorts of stuff happening.”
  • Media and Society: “This was an ethics in media class right when the election was starting. I did research all sorts of issues.”

A professor on the panel said that she liked teaching the Serial Killer class and the Business Law class: “In that class, I bring in lots of real life stuff like wills, real estate, etc. I see the students’ eyes light up; they know they can use this.”

bluefield-greenhouse

A greenhouse on the science building

Students and staff talked a lot about principled learned and the honor code. “Transformational leadership is a vital part of who we are,” said a rep. With the Honor Code, “we hold each other to high standards,” said the tour guide (other people reiterated similar sentiments during the visit). Students agree to live lives of integrity academically and in personal lives, including no drugs, alcohol, or tobacco (on or off campus).

Two new dorms have gone up with apartments housing 4 people in 2 single and 1 double rooms. There’s a kitchen in each one, but students living here must have at least a commuter meal plan. Students must be upperclassmen in good standing and not having broken any inter-visitation rules. Coed visitation is strictly regulated including hours, doors open, “and all clothes remain on.” In the apartments, the blinds must also be up. I asked why the honor code (aka the trust, hold each other accountable, and “lives of integrity”) didn’t extend to visitation. The tour guide had no idea how to answer that, but the admissions rep tagging along on the tour said, “Well, we are a Baptist school. We don’t have to have visitation at all. We offer it but hold to the standards of the church.”

© 2016

Washington College

Washington College (visited 8/19/16)

WAC statue and stu cntr

Washington bust in front of the new (2009) Student Center

WAC (pronounced “whack”) is a beautiful, traditional-looking campus in the historic town of Chestertown along the Chester River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It is named for George Washington who not only agreed to having his name used, but he donated money to start the school and sat on what was essentially the Board of Trustees.

WAC sign and performing arts

WAC’s performing arts center

Because of this tie to Washington, they also have a connection to Mount Vernon where two of the big college traditions are held. During orientation, freshmen spend time out there where they also sign the Honor Code. Right before graduation, seniors return as a class to spend some final time together before they graduate and go their separate ways. During this time, people give toasts (including one by a Washington impersonator) and students leave via a boat to cruise up to the National Harbour. The college also throws an annual Birthday Ball on the weekend of Washington’s birthday. Dubbed “Prom 2.0,” students, faculty, and alum come together in a non-academic setting to have fun and just enjoy each other’s company. They turn the field house into a beautiful space: “It doesn’t seem possible, but they do it!” This is usually themed: in the last couple years, they’ve had Narnia and Harry Potter. This is decided by a vote of the students.

WAC’s 1500 undergraduates have access to some amazing resources, including waterfront property about a mile from main campus. This area houses the boathouse for the crew team (including a rowing tank for winter training), the sailboats, kayaks, and research vessels for Biology and Environmental Studies/Science classes.

WAC quad

The quad

They have 17 DIII sports competing in the Centennial Conference: “We’re the smarty pants conference,” said the admissions rep, also a WAC alum. The “student” in student-athlete really does come first here. If class and practice overlap, you’re going to class. Teams have an annual competition for which team has the highest GPA. “It usually flip flops between lax and rowing, but sometimes the women’s soccer team sneaks in there, too!” The Men’s Lax has a huge rivalry with Salisbury: the “war on the shore” game alternates campuses every year, and there’s always a giant campus tailgate. Baseball and soccer also draw big crowds.

WAC dorms

2 of the specialty dorms

Housing is guaranteed all 4 years, and 90% of students live on campus until graduation. The four dorms (2 all female, 2 coed) located across the street house mostly freshman and are fairly typical freshman dorms with bathrooms down the hall. There are 3 smaller dorms located in the middle campus that are Special Interest Housing: Middle is for the Arts (“This dorm puts on the BEST Halloween haunted house – not surprising with all the theater people there!” said our tour guide), East for International Studies and international students, and West is for math and science. Upperclassmen tend to get the suites located across campus. WAC has a partnership with local apartment complex where they rent out a block of apartments: WAC furnishes them, provides wifi and security, etc.

WAC Case bldgWAC is far from a suitcase school: 85-90% of students stay on campus any given weekend. “WAC students are busy. They join a lot of clubs, Greek life (4 frats, 3 sororities with rush happening in the spring), and sports teams. People stick around,” said the admissions rep. Clubs getting school funding must commit to completing community service, so they get involved in the Chestertown community as well.

WAC egg

The Egg

 

The new Student Center with the dining hall was opened in Fall 2009. The Egg, a round multi-purpose room in the middle has Open Mic nights, games, performances, etc. The first floor of the Student Center has food areas open from 11 am to 11 pm; the second floor, the more traditional all-you-can-eat, is open from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm. Our tour guide told us that students used to rush over for mozzarella sticks when they were offered; they were so popular that they started offering them a lot more! Now students get excited about the theme nights, midnight breakfasts, and Thanksgiving dinner.

Almost all majors have some sort of experiential learning component. They offer quite a few “Tourism study” classes (this makes so much more sense than calling these short-term, 2-3 week, classes “study abroad”). They also offer research trips and the traditional semester and year-long programs. South Africa, Hong Kong, and South Korea have become popular destinations.

WAC sci cntr

Part of the Science Center

Summer research is big, and lots of students stick around campus – or go to other facilities – to complete things. The Toll Fellows Program is math, sciences, psychology, and computer science majors, but there are plenty of other internships and programs for other students including the National Security Fellows Program, Maryland General Assembly Internship, Comegys Blight Fellowship (Studying vanishing islands of the Chesapeake), the Roy Ans Fellowship (Jewish American Experience), and the Frederick Douglass Fellowship.

WAC offers most of the majors you’d expect from a quality Liberal Arts college. A few unusual ones include International Literature and Culture and excellent dual degree programs:

  • Engineering: students complete 3 or 4 years at WAC and 2 at Columbia University
  • Pharmacy: students complete 3 years at WAC majoring in biology OR psychology with a minor in behavioral neuroscience, then complete 4 years at the University of Maryland.
  • Nursing: Students complete 3 years at WAC majoring in biology or psychology, then complete 2 years at either the University of Maryland or the University of Delaware.

The minors offered at WAC are amazing, especially for a school this size. Some of the more unusual ones include:

WAC acad bldg 2Classes usually are in the 15-30 range, but my tour guide’s classes have been as small as 7 (“Friends of mine have had them as small as 3”) and as large as 35 for an intro class. His favorite class was his Freshman writing class called “Life in 140 Characters” looking at social media.

For admissions, they’ll take either the Common App or their own institutional app. It’s free to apply because “We don’t think it money should stand in the way of applying to college,” said the admissions rep doing the presentation. On the Common App, all students can choose the WAC fee waiver.

© 2016

Messiah College

Messiah College (Visited 11/21/14)

~Messiah chairsIf you walked onto campus knowing nothing about the college (including its name), you would never guess that this was a religiously affiliated college. There are no statues, crosses, paintings – but in spirit, this is one of the most religious campuses I’ve ever visited. “If you aren’t interested in Faith, in exploring your Christian identity, you won’t be happy here. Our identity is right up front starting with our name. It doesn’t stop there,” said student panelist. Even professors sign an affirmation of Apostle’s Creed.

Stickers left on students' post office boxes

Stickers left on students’ post office boxes

The students live the school Mission: education towards maturity of intellect, character, and Christian faith in preparation for lives of service, leadership, and reconciliation of church and society. What happens when seemingly opposite ideals such as faith and intellect co-exist? One outcome is a discerning spirit. For example, in a philosophy class, they look at a problem and identify the longing for meaning. “They grapple with ideas from all angles in order to see the world’s realities in a much deeper way.”

The library

The library

They have 3 main focal points:

  • Sharpening Intellect: They prepare students to make a difference in addition to preparing for the workplace.
    • They offer over 80 majors, 11 new since 2011 including Chinese Business, Digital Media, Economic Development, Public Relations, and Musical Theater.
    • About 9% study engineering, almost 8% study nursing, and about 5% each in psych, Business Admin, Education, and Applied Health Science.
    • Several students have been awarded Rhodes, Fulbrights, etc
    • 95% graduate with a job, in grad school, or doing service like the Peace Corps.
    • I spoke with a music professor about the arts; they aren’t cranking out “starving artists.” Based on information from the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, 85% of graduates are employed professionally as artists.
  • Deepening Faith: They work towards a unity of faith, learning, and life seeing the importance of the person with an ethos for mutual respect. Everyone is honored in the community with high standards for student conduct.
  • Inspiring Action:
    • Messiah is in the Top 20 US undergrad institutions for sending students to study abroad (76%).
    • 98% participate in voluntary service. “Service has been part of the DNA of the college since its founding.” Students foster justice, empower the poor, reconcile adversaries, and care for the earth.
    • Washington Magazine ranked them 5th nationally for commitment to research and public service in 2014. Students solve real-world problems, partnering with organizations like World Vision.
    • An Experiential Learning Requirement starts in the fall of 2014. Students must complete at least 1 Internship/practicum, off-campus study, service learning, leadership development, or research project.

~Messiah waterStudents attend at least 24 Chapels a semester, 12 of which must be Common Chapel. These 45-minute events are held Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Elective Chapel, which could be sponsored by a variety of departments or groups, is held on Thursday morning. Alternative Chapels are held in the evenings. Students have things to say and this gives them a voice. The variety of options acknowledges the different ways to engage in worship and allows students to decide what works for them.

There are no church services on campus; students worship at the location of their choice in the community. Volunteers from churches pick up the students. Several students said that their favorite meal was chicken cordon bleu which is usually served for lunch after church (and of the nearby churches serves free dinner on Wednesday nights: “free food goes over well with college students!”).

~Messiah 5Messiah has 2800 undergraduates: 60/40 female to male, 39% from 38 states, 11% underrepresented populations, 3% international. They’ve developed partnerships with Malaysian churches and recently enrolled their first Chinese students. The president is engaged with students: “Friend me on Facebook!” She talked about the motto, “See Anew,” and showed a picture of stained glass. Each piece represents the students. The value system is the foil that holds the pieces together. They embrace diversity through curricular and co-curricular activities.

A music class in the new Arts Center

A music class in the new Arts Center

They did a good job selecting students for the panel, representing a spectrum of involvement in ministries, athletics, student government, Honors, study abroad, etc. The Student Body Chaplain puts together Elective Chapels and works with students to encourage outlets and initiatives students are interested in. He spent a semester in Uganda at a Christian university. The athlete had gone to a Christian high school and originally wanted to get out of the Christian School bubble but got recruited for basketball. She has worked on diversity committees here. The Engineering student has been working with pumps on latrines to assist people with disabilities.

Campus life is thriving (which is good since there’s not much in walking distance, and freshman can’t have cars unless they’re from more than 300 miles away). Sports are a big deal. Students go to all games, “even swim meets.” Messiah is ranked 3rd in country for soccer fans, and the soccer teams have won 16 national championships since 2000. There are several traditions that students spoke about:

  • Marshmallow Bowl is the game against E’town, the big rival.
  • Midnight Scream: During the 24-hour Quiet Hours around finals, all bets are off for 1 minute at midnight.
  • Duct Tape Wars: a “battle of epic proportions” is held during Spring Reading Day.
Cafe and lounge in the library

Cafe and lounge in the library

Accepted students have an average of 1127 SAT/24 ACT and a 3.7 GPA. 100 students with 1300+ SAT and in the top 10% of their class are invited to the Honors program; they interview on campus to compete for largest scholarships. 40-50 students are conditionally accepted each year; they tend to have under 1000 SAT and less than a 3.0 GPA.

87.5% of freshmen return for sophomore year; 71.6% graduate within 5 years. Students leave because they change their majors, because of the distance from home, or they want less of the Christian atmosphere. 86% of students live on campus; there is an expectation that students will uphold the ideals of student conduct which includes not drinking while school is in session.

© 2014

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

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