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Sterling College

STERLING COLLEGE (visited 4/13/14)

~Sterling bldg 2

Main Street

If you didn’t know better, you’d pass by this college campus thinking it might have been a glorified summer camp or simply more pretty white wooden buildings lining the small main street of Craftsbury, population 1,300 (“we’re supposed to get cell service in about 6 months!”). They’re an hour from Burlington, 2.5 hours from Montreal, and 3 hours from Boston.



Sterling is one of the most unusual colleges I’ve ever visited; with only 120 students, this is 1 of 7 federally designated Work Colleges (others include Warren Wilson and Berea). They’re looking to grow to 150 students in the next 2 years. They do have an 85% acceptance rate which reflects the self-selecting population of the applicant pool. Cross-over colleges include College of the Atlantic, Green Mountain College, Warren Wilson, Evergreen State, and Prescott. Sterling is test optional; things like Work Ethic counts for much more than scores. Tim, the Director of Admission, said that the students here work harder than he did at Williams. We were all impressed that he was one of the two people taking us out on tour; dressed in corduroys and boots, he was tramping through the mud with the rest of us, clearly excited to be showing off all that the school has to offer.

~Sterling draft horse sign~Sterling where food comes fromThey do their best to accommodate special academic interests but the baseline educational experience is Ecological Stewardship. Tim called Sterling, “Boot Camp for Stewards.” It’s a vibrant community with an ethic of land use. Majors include Sustainable Agriculture and Sustainable Production (and in fact, 20% of the food used in the dining hall is grown on campus); Ecology (students work for the National Parks, Land Trust, Game and Wildlife), and Education (grads go on to work at the Farm School and other similar things). They have several minors, including Draft Horse Management and Climate Justice. The buildings are small, older, wooden buildings, many of which are being fitted for solar power while keeping the traditional feel to the buildings; you won’t find new modern LEED certified buildings here. They’re also working to transform everything to not use fossil fuels.



~Sterling dorm cat and lounge

Dorm lounge complete with resident cat

We talked to several students who came to Sterling from across the country: OR, NY, MA, PA, and NJ. Twenty percent of the students come from Vermont, 50% come from New England and New York, and 8% are international. The students said that they came because of the small community, the unique programs, and the opportunity to merge hands-on and intellectual work. One student was surprised that it’s so academic here. Many of the students are non-traditional students (although the average age is only 21), and several transfer or come back for a second degree. One woman on the panel was 29 and had already been working as an architect. She here because she was “blown away” by the ecology lens.

One of the students made the bread we ate at lunch!

One of the students made the bread we ate at lunch!

Students are expected to have an axe (not kidding!). All freshmen need to complete “Bounder” which is based on the Outward Bound Education. This fall class ends with a 4-day, 30-mile trek back to campus without tents or stoves. They’re taken out to the woods and dropped off with the group. “In December, you can get any kind of weather.” The kids said that it’s a really difficult experience – they’re glad they did it, but hope they never have to do it again! Over their time at Sterling, they can get certified in Wilderness First Responder, as well. A student at lunch said, “I learned so much about anatomy and physiology, and it only cost about $100 rather than $1000 if I did it somewhere else”.

Message boards like this are all over campus

Message boards like this are all over campus

All students must complete a one semester internship; before that, they do a “Work Search” class; afterwards, they do a reflection. A veteran on campus is about to gradate with an experience in Horse Therapy because of his internship; he plans on continuing this work with other veterans after graduation. There are 4 draft horses on campus which are used for everything from working the farm to pulling the carts with maple sap to the maple syrup hut. The campus farm is extensive, with all sorts of animals (currently, they have steers being raised on an old tennis court which the school acquired when they took over a resort that went bankrupt) as well as food. They’re building a new chicken building that looks like a little cabin.

© 2014

Paul Smith’s College

Paul Smith’s College (visited 7/15/15)

Want to go somewhere where you can minor in Maple Syrup (they run a Certified Organic operation) . . . or maybe Craft Beer where you can learn the science behind it and how to market it?

How about a place where you can kayak to a rock outcropping in the lake to do your homework . . . and still get wifi?

Maybe joining a Woodsmen’s Team is more your style? (And yes, women can participate. Check out this YouTube video!)

If so – check this place out!!

~Paul Smiths lakefrontAll told, this is one of the more unique schools I’ve visited (think Sterling College in Vermont but bigger and more focused on forestry rather than a working farm). Paul Smith’s tagline is “The College of the Adirondacks – and it truly is. They’re sitting right in the middle of the state park on the edge of a lake. The college owns most of the land around three public-access lakes for a total of 14,200 acres plus the Visitors Interpretive Center up the road. The UN has named the area a Biosphere Reserve.

Paul Smiths canoe storage

Kayak and canoe racks

Although the college sits in the middle of almost nowhere (the 1,000 students at PS doubles the local population during the school year), students aren’t isolated – although if you love being in nature, you’ll be in heaven here. The school runs multiple shuttles from Friday to Sunday to Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, and beyond. Also, students can bring up to 3 vehicles to campus – for example, a car, a 4-wheeler, and a kayak; the school provides plenty of space to store all these things.

Additionally, students can bring “up to 2 weapons for hunting,” said the rep. “The first thing they do when they arrive on campus is check in with Security and lock these up in the armory. The last thing they do before leaving campus is stop at Security and check them out. We always know it’s the first day of deer season because at least half the students are missing from classes.”

~Paul Smiths logs

Logs that the Woodsmen’s team practices on

Athletic offerings reflect various student interests. They have 7 DIII varsity sports (soccer, basketball, volleyball, cross-country, rugby, and skiing): “Rubgy is very popular!” There are many, many intramurals, club sports, and recreational activities including Skiing/ Snowboarding, fly-fishing, whitewater kayaking, rock climbing, snowshoe softball, inner-tube water polo, duathlons, scuba diving, bowling, and an emergency wilderness response team. They even have a draft horse team! They flood the tennis courts in the winter so students can ice skate. The saline swimming pool is used for recreation and training for water sports – and there’s a fake burling log that the Woodman’s team uses to practice.

~Paul Smiths dorm 3

One of the dorm options

~Paul Smiths honors dorm

Blum house

Dorm options are varied including a yurt where students can live for a semester! Overlook is one of the newest buildings on campus; the suites/apartments here have 4 single rooms, 2 baths, and a common area. Blum House is directly next to the lake; students need to apply to live here and must have a 3.0+ GPA, no disciplinary problems, and agree to substance-free living. Freshmen are housed in one of 2 dorms, and transfers are housed together. “They’re in a different place in life; it makes sense to let them bond.”

~Paul Smiths dining hall 2

Dining Hall

Students really like the food at the dining hall. The director plans all sorts of great activities such as Late Night Open Mic and Night at the Oscars (formal wear encouraged). There’s a pub for the 21+ students. The bookstore sells a lot more than books since they recognize that it’s hard for students to get what they need locally. They carry the culinary and other specialized stuff that students might need, there’s a notary on staff, etc.

Academically, Paul Smith’s is split into two divisions: the School of Natural Resource Management and Ecology and the School of Commercial, Applied, and Liberal Arts. There’s a Dean for both divisions with open door policies. “We’re very casual here.” There’s only 1 lecture hall on campus. Intro to Bio tends to be the biggest class: “I think we had 167 students once,” said the rep.

In the NRM/E school, some cool majors include:

  • Arboriculture and Landscape Management
  • Surveying Technology
  • Forest Technology
    • Forestry students help manage the school’s forest through timber sales, looking ecologically to see about infestations, what’s helping and hurting.
  • Parks, Rec, and Facilities Management
  • Ecological Restoration: they look at what’s impacting ecology and how to change it. Students have access to the Adirondack Water Institute where they do Shoreline restoration and look for invasive species. Students can get scuba certified.

Many students work for the Adirondack Park Agency during their time at college, and there’s 94% placement rate after graduation (not just for APA) but doing everything from research and advocacy to law and communications.

~Paul Smiths culinaryIn the CALA school, students can study:

  • Hotel, Resort, and Tourism Management
  • Food Service and Beverage Management
  • Rec, Adventure Ed, and Leisure Management
  • Baking/Pastry or Culinary Arts
    • There are 6 professional kitchens and 1 baking lab.

There are two on-campus restaurants and a bakery, all staffed by students. The St. Regis is a farm to fork café. Students do rotations in the back and front of house. The second is The Palm at Paul Smith’s which is based on The Palm in New York City which is co-owned by an alum who wanted to give students hands-on experience. Both are open to the public for lunch, dinner, and/or cocktail hour.

Alumni tend to be committed to the school. They come back so often that the school maintains a campground just for them. Although they do have some favorite traditions such as Smitty Fest, “There aren’t traditions here so much as there’s a way of life,” said the rep.

© 2015

Arcadia University

Arcadia University (visited 2/26/19)

Arcadia 1This is a hidden gem that I wish more people knew about. This is the school that will take care of its students, provide tools to succeed, and give them a chance to develop their voices and their passions.

My tour guide is from Nevada and transferred from UN Las Vegas. That’s a huge switch, so I asked how she found Arcadia. She said that she was really unhappy at UNLV and told her sister (who lives in the area) that she was dropping out of school; her sister told her that “No way is that happening!” and took her on college tours in Eastern PA. As soon as she got to Arcadia, she knew. She’s now a senior and couldn’t be happier that she ended up here.

Arcadia global business“UNLV was easy, and I was expecting to fly through classes here, but I got a C on my first paper. I was devastated. I had never gotten a C in my life! I almost dropped out. But my professors pulled me in to work on my writing. I learned how to pull apart an argument and present it. I may not write that way all the time, but it made me a better writer overall and I’m so much more confident now.” All students have to write a Senior Thesis (“the bio majors start in Junior year because it’s so difficult.”). She wrote hers on class ranking and discrimination in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Arcadia library and flags

The library

The tour guide’s favorite class was Education and Inequality; “I took it because I’m interested in the subject even though it’s not in my major.” The campus itself seems to be incredibly inclusive. “There’s a lot of activism here,” she told me. When I talked with the rep after the tour, she told me, “We have a strong LGBTQ community on campus. The new president is very much social-justice oriented.”

Arcadia castle 1


Arcadia is perhaps best known for its global perspective. Flags hang all over campus “representing countries where our students or faculty are from or places students have studied.” Students must take a language at least through the 102 level; they offer about 8 languages, including ASL. They rank as #1 for number of students going abroad. Wording is important here: not everyone goes abroad, and some go more than once. (Compare this to Goucher in MD which requires EVERY student to study abroad; they just have a smaller student population!). However, this does not minimize Arcadia’s commitment to global perspectives, getting students out of their comfort zones, etc. Not surprisingly, they offer a Certificate in Peace Corps Prep.


Arcadia pondThey offer a First Year Study Abroad Experience (FYSAE) in London and Sterling. Students are identified as candidates in the admission process and offered a spot. Sterling is capped at 15 students; London has more flexibility because it’s run by Arcadia. They are implementing a new Second Year program (SYSAE) in 6 locations but with more stipulations on which majors are eligible (some examples: bio, education, and nursing can’t go). Students interested in SYSAE interview as part of the application. “It’s just another layer to make sure they’re ready for it,” said the rep.

Arcadia quad stu and castle

The main quad with the Castle to the left and new Student Center to the right.

They offer traditional semester and year-long programs, “but for students who want to try out travel or aren’t sure they’re ready, there are spring travel classes,” my tour guide told me. Spring Preview classes are open to any student in their first year at Arcadia (freshman or transfer) and costs $595 (cheaper for students in the Honors College) regardless of location: this covers airfare, the hotel, most meals, and any scheduled group activities. My tour guide went to London on one of these and then did a semester abroad in her Junior year.


Gray Towers Castle (a National Historic Landmark) which had been their home. (Fun fact: Creed 2 was filmed in this building). The 3rd floor of the Castle is a dorm – for first-year students! “In keeping with the way the owners set up the house – with his side and her side – the males are housed on one side and females on the other.” Males are in quads; females have rooms ranging from 2-7! The tour guide was quick to point out that the room with 7 is huge, and she showed me a room on the first floor of equivalent size.


The Arts Department is housed in two buildings, one of which is older than the Castle. The Power House (it had actually powered the Castle) has traditional/2D (painting, etc); the other houses 3D (ceramics, etc). Students can earn either a BFA or BA in Art or Theater. The largest auditorium (400 seats) is an annex to the building; my tour guide loves the theater program. “I go to every production. They do such a good job!” They now offer a musical theater concentration. They have extensive offerings in the Arts including Pre-Art Therapy, Arts Entrepreneurship and Curatorial Studies, and Scientific Illustration.

Arcadia stack house 2

One of the Arts Buildings with the theater annex to the right.

I didn’t realize that Arcadia had such strong graduate PT and PA programs (PT is ranked #2 in Pennsylvania). They pair with UPenn to run a clinic on Arcadia’s campus. Undergrads are “almost assured entrance” into the program; they offer both a 3+3 and 4+3 Pre-PT/DPT. They have also paired with Drexel Law School to offer either an Accelerated 3+3 BA/JD or an Assured Admission 4+3. Entrance is extremely competitive to these: Students must have a minimum of a 1330 SAT or 28 ACT and 3.5GPA and graduation in the top 10% of the class (if the high school ranks).

Arcadia old wellTheir new Student Center (which is geo-thermically heated/cooled as well as having light sensors and other green initiatives) opened in 2011 and has a lot of comfortable spaces for students. One of the large lounges was almost full when we walked through. All the student engagement offices are there. She was very happy with the number of things to do on campus: a couple favorite events were Laser Tag (spring) and Carnival (fall). Night Madness and Midnight Bingo – held at least once a month – “are huge here! They give away amazing prizes!” Weekends are fun. “You don’t see students much in the daytime – because you realize that they’re sleeping all morning – but they come out at night!”

If anything, the tour guide would love to see renovations in the dorms. There were several dorm clusters where 2 or 3 dorms are linked; the buildings we walked through looked like typical dorms, but the rooms were more spacious than many I’ve seen. In some dorms, the beds can’t be fully bunked because of the height of the ceilings (lower than some but didn’t feel claustrophobic), but students can add risers. Food is pretty good here, but the dining hall is kind of small for 2300 undergrads. They do have a cool program for the use of to-go containers (they don’t provide things that can be thrown out). Students can buy a reusable container for $5. They can bring it back after using it to get cleaned; they’re given a token/coin that they can then turn in for a clean container when they need it to go again.

© 2019

Yale University

Yale University (visited 10/12/16)
yale-fountainYale, of course, is physically impressive as an institution. Their distinction – and maybe the big claim to fame beyond the reputation – is their Residential College System. Beyond that, I could not find any way to differentiate their academics from many other institutions (even though they tried to say they were different because of small classes, dedicated professors, and even some Nobel Laureates. There are lots of schools that with the very same things). In response to a direct question from a family, the senior giving the info session, even after waxing poetic about how special Yale and the students were, couldn’t actually characterize the students here or what perhaps made them or the institution different from others. She simply said, “Well, all colleges aren’t for everyone. I guess you’ll have to visit and see if you get that vibe.”

yale-6Yale College is technically the undergraduate portion of Yale University with 5300 undergrads (there are 11,000 students total); “we’re a liberal arts college within a research university,” so students have access to all the resources of the other colleges. Education here is “student-centered and student-driven. We sit in the middle of the spectrum between Core requirements and an Open Curriculum.” Students must complete distribution requirements in 6 areas, but they simply have to take 2 classes within each distribution from a list of several hundred options.

yale-doorwayYale issues credits differently from many schools; most classes are worth 1 credit (Labs = .5 and languages = 1.5). Students need 36 credits to graduate including 12 in the major and 12 distribution credits. This allows for flexibility for exploring, a double major, study abroad, etc. The directors of undergraduate studies will look at AP or IB credits and will place students in appropriate levels; students can take a placement exam if they want to try to place out of a class.

yale-sculptureBeing Yale, there are certainly a ton of options for majors, many of which are unusual, such as Ethnicity, Race, and Migration; Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry; History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health; and Ethics, Politics, and Economics. Students who don’t find what they’re interested in can create own major such as recent students studying Socio-Linguistics or Sports History. There are no minors but plenty of concentrations in majors.


Sterling Library

Students get a 2-week shopping period for classes. All freshmen have 3 advisors to help choose and figure out schedules: the Dean of Residential College, a Freshman College Advisor (a senior within the college who run study breaks, orientation, etc), and a Freshman Advisor. Seventy percent of classes have fewer than 20 students; 30% have fewer than 10. Most classes are taught by faculty, not adjuncts; language classes taught by native speakers tend to be the exception. They have an unusually low student-to-faculty ratio (6:1 over, but 2:1 in engineering and 3:1 in science).


In the quad of one of the Colleges

The Residential College System (which, although rare, is not exclusive to Yale) is a housing affiliation that determines where and with whom students live. Students are sorted randomly but “it’s an organized random. They will go back in to check to make sure that they didn’t put the whole hockey team in one place.” Freshmen room together in suites in Old College (the oldest quad on campus) in buildings or halls according to their College affiliation, and then will move to the physical college as sophomores. The Colleges have their own library, dining hall, laundry, fitness center, and a Buttery for late night food: “It’s cheap, student run, and great for jobs,” said the tour guide. Each has something unique such as a pottery or dance studio, a printing press, or half-basketball court; students from other colleges have access to these.



A statue in the Old Quad

The student giving the info session and the tour guide both played up social aspect of the colleges. Every college has its own traditions such as “Running of the Trumbull” (the name of the college), snowball fights on the first snowfall, annual events when they sneak into other colleges to “steal their trinkets, then we roast a pig and smores, and watch How to Train Your Dragon.” Each college has a Dean of College and Head of College. The Dean is in charge of academics: they sign off on schedules, give passes to push back deadlines if students are sick, etc. The Head is in charge of administrative tasks, planning trips and study breaks, and the Teas where famous people come to College to talk to the students.



The Old College quad

Housing is guaranteed all four years. “Why wouldn’t you live here? It’s a castle! And it’s where your food is and the fitness center. It’s great not to have to go outside,” said the tour guide. Currently there are 12 colleges, each housing about 450 students, with plans for two more going up in the next couple years. Yale will be increasing class size by 200 for the next 4 years.



The stacks inside Beinecke Library


New Haven is “small enough to be intimate but large enough to be interesting.” The city claims the first burger, first Frisbee, and first planned city. It has theater, music, and a “world class dining scene” including a new Laotian restaurant. If that gets boring, it’s a quick train ride into NYC for $15 off-peak.



Light shining through Beinecke’s marble windows

Beinecke library is their famous Rare Books library. The marble is only 1.5 inches thick so light comes through. It’s stunning from the inside, and they have a Gutenberg Bible.



School of Music

Music is pretty big on campus with lots of a cappella groups (“Stay away from arches; it’s where they practice!”). Woolsey Jamboree, an annual a cappella concert, draws big crowds, as does the Yale Symphony Orchestra, particularly for the Halloween Movie. They film a silent movie in advance then play along. People come in costume, including the musicians. People are given candy at the door.


Food at the College dining halls is standardized (aka they all serve the same food on same days) but Commons Dining Hall, big enough for a whole class, has more choices (and there’s a separate Kosher dining hall, as well). “Chicken Tender night is a big deal!” The Freshman Christmas banquet every year is held in the Commons every year: “Bring Tupperware for leftovers”

© 2016

New England Culinary Institute

New England Culinary Institute (visited 4/15/14)

neci 5Occupying several buildings on a main street in Montpelier (the smallest state capitol in the country, and the only one without a Burger King, a McDonalds, or a Starbucks), NECI (pronounced “necky”) does amazing work training students in a variety of culinary arts, including Baking/Pastries, Culinary Arts, and Management. Both the restaurant and the bakery are open to the public: “The big difference with NECI is that there’s a customer at the other end. It makes it immediate.”

neci 7We were lucky enough to eat dinner at the restaurant, and we had time to chat with students, faculty, and admissions reps. One of the chefs we talked has a cookbook coming out called Real World Farm to Table. One of the instructors is Chinese and is providing language classes for students in the BA program. Another one (Jean-Louis) won Chopped. He sat with us at dinner and provided some great entertainment! The student at our table is a first-gen college-goer. She was the first female to do an internship with a butcher. She grew up on a farm and understands the process, but said that being at a butcher was still a big adjustment.

neci 8There are 500 students enrolled at any given time, but only half are on campus; the other half are off doing internships. Students complete several modules on campus separated by 6-month internships. They have a strong presence in Napa, New Zealand, Germany, and many the big cities around the country. Students are encouraged to stay in the country for their first internship. After that, they can go abroad.

neci 1neci 2The classes and work on campus are set up to mimic the industry, so the students are scheduled for about 55 hours a week. Another way that they distinguish themselves from other culinary institutes are that students can’t hide here. Other places may have 100 kids in a lecture and 18 in the kitchen; here, classes are capped at 20 and no more than 10 will be in the kitchen at a time. In addition to all the experience working in both the bakery and the restaurant, they get other types of great experiences: we got to see Easter Bunny Chocolate Racecars that they made. There is also the annual “Wedding Cake Challenge” when groups are given a specific task such as to coordinate the cake with something like a specific article of clothing or to tea cups. They give tastes to the public who get to vote on appearance and taste.

neci 4To expand some opportunities for students, they have looked at the Five-College Consortium and are now trying to get NECI, Sterling, Green Mountain, and Vermont Tech linked so students can do a 1-semester exchange among the colleges. They also offer Dual Enrollment for high-schoolers who can enroll online first by doing 9 weeks online and 1 weekend in residency. After that, they start on site. October is the traditional start for kids coming out of high school. Non-traditional students usually start in April or November.

© 2014

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