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Lawrence University

Lawrence University (visited 4/17/15)

~Lawrence backpack“Lawrence takes the weirdest, quirkiest, most awkward people and puts them all in one place. Go with it,” said one student.

~Lawrence SLUG and river

The “SLUG”

I loved Lawrence. Students were open, straight-forward, and interested in lots of things – and therefore were interesting people. Students sat with us at breakfast and provided great information that didn’t come up in the more formal presentations. One student was active with the Sustainable Life Undergrad Garden (“SLUG”); another rowed on the crew team. A third told us that he wasn’t sure he wanted to come to Lawrence. “What convinced me was the conversations in the cafe. People are smart, and that doesn’t end in the classroom. They want deep, meaningful conversations and want to know what others think.”

~Lawrence underpassPeople are extremely open and accepting here. This is a great place for LGBTQ students or who just want be themselves without judgment. Interestingly, though, religion isn’t talked about much. Students talk about just about everything else: politics, race, sexuality. The yearly Campus Climate survey data supports that students of faith sometimes feel left out; the administration is aware that this is an area of growth. However, there are student-run religious groups and a Religious Studies major so there’s a space for these discussions to happen.

~Lawrence chapel ext 2Lawrence is a College That Changes Lives. I asked the student panelists how it has changed their lives:

  • It forced me to learn how to deal with people I don’t necessarily agree with. I can manage difficult relationships. That’s a good skill. It’s shaped me to be prepared for the world as it is.
  • I’m from a tiny town and fortunate to be here. I’m engaging with diversity, going to eye-opening speakers, taking part of great conversations.
  • The opportunities – there are so many ways we can engage with each other.
  • The conversations are different. My friends at big schools don’t talk late into the night about big-picture, real-world problems trying to figure things out. It’s life changing.
  • Lawrence’s mantra is teaching you how to think differently. I used to roll my eyes, but I’ve looked back on papers, and I thought, ‘Wow, I was WAY less smart!’ I’m a better thinker now.
  • I was a leader in high school in terms of being able to do things I was told to do, but here, I’m a leader in terms of pursuing my own interests.
  • There’s so much passion here. It’s why there are so many groups and so many individual studies. We want to learn things and bring other people along for the ride.

~Lawrence ampitheaterOne counselor asked, “What frustrates you?”

  • Sometimes the people. It’s a small school. Usually that’s great, but sometimes we push each other’s buttons.
  • There’s so much on campus and people get stretched thin.
  • High and low is the size of the school. Now it feels a little too small. I wish I could have lived in an apartment and had a bit of independence.
  • The bugs . . . but we aren’t supposed to mention them!
  • The winter but Lawrence handles it well.

Someone asked, “What surprised you?”

  • How many smart people there are.
  • The talent. You’re always finding out new things. There’s a girl in my house who yodels. How cool is that?! Next thing you know, there’s someone there with a fiddle.
  • The Academic and Social Honor Codes. People take them so seriously.
  • The campus has a fully functioning cinema including free popcorn.
~Lawrence acad lounge

Student lounge overlooking the Fox River

~Lawrence quad 1Campus is a manageable size with the Fox River running along one side (although much of the sports complex is on the opposite side of the river, hockey being the only exception; the rink 4 miles away). The Club Sailing and Crew teams practice on the river, and the on-campus gym has an erg loft for rowers. They have 22 DIII sports and Club fencing that competes on DI level (against Notre Dame, Ohio State, Northwestern, etc). About 25% of students participate in sports. Basketball, soccer, hockey, and volleyball draw the most fans.

Students hanging out outside a dorm

Students hanging out outside a dorm

~Lawrence Gaming House

Gaming House

Housing is mostly clustered together, and except for one upperclassman-only dorm, has a mix of majors, years, etc. They have 2 floors of Gender-Neutral housing, substance-free housing, and group houses. Groups such as Gaming, Swing Dancing, and Multicultural clubs, must be in existence for 3 or more years before applying for a house. Clubs are generally highly active, and there’s more to do on campus than time to do it in. Favorite traditions include the 50 Hours of Trivia and Stealing the Rock.

Greek Life attracts 20% of students. Three students spoke about Greek life. One got a scholarship from the frat he ended up joining; at the dinner for scholarship recipients, he was blown away by how much it wasn’t about the social aspect but more about philanthropy and helping each other with school. The 2nd person said, “Each one is different and provides a different sort of support system.” The 3rd wasn’t even thinking about joining a frat when he came to college. “I didn’t think it was for me but all my friends were joining. It’s inclusive. Events are open to all of campus.” Rush is delayed to winter term so students have the fall to establish themselves.

~Lawrence sci bldg

Side of the science building

Classes range from 40 (Biological Anthro) and 60 (Intro to Biology) to 2 (Independent Study) and 8 (Sr. Experience and Statistics). Students call professors by their first names. Favorite Classes include:

  • Topics in Middle East and India Through Ethnomusicology
  • Geology
  • Intro to Drawing: “I draw like a 5 year old, but that’s ok at Lawrence!”
  • Computer Science: “So hard and so good!”
  • Gender in Cinema: “We watched Clueless and Top Gun. We queered up that movie so bad! We talked for 2 hours about the relationships in that movie.”
  • Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion – uses HP to learn about Medieval Witchcraft
  • Defining Frenchness

Notable majors include: Linguistics, Neuroscience, Cognitive Science, Biomedical Ethics, Chinese, and Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

~Lawrence Con building

Conservatory with a food truck – makes for easy lunches between rehearsals

Lawrence has an excellent music conservatory. Classes in “The Con” are open to all students regardless of major. Productions are inclusive and mostly based on ability: if you can do it, you can get in. We asked if there was a divide between the Con and other students; most agreed that if there was any divide at all, it was between the Conservatory and Athletics. In an effort to keep that at bay, they hold “Flip-flop Weekend” when those 2 groups go to the other one’s activities.

There’s only one application regardless of whether a student applies to the Conservatory or not. Con students apply ONLY regular decision and go through the audition process then without a pre-screening. If a student can’t attend an on-campus or one of the 12 regional auditions, they can send in a video. They’ll get the decision for admission to Lawrence and the Conservatory at the same time. If a student applies for a dual-degree program, they’ll still be looked at academically for the university if they aren’t eligible for the Con.

Appleton is a great small college town; town-gown relations are good. The airport is 10 minutes away making it easy for the international students and others who need to fly to and from school to get there and back home.

(c) 2015

Tufts University

TUFTS UNIVERSITY (visited 4/10/14)

~Tufts student and skyline

Boston skyline from Tuft’s campus

Tufts’s traditional campus, located in Medford, Mass, has an open, well-used with brick buildings that are attractive and well-maintained. Several areas overlook the Boston skyline. This is a residential community with most people living on campus.

~Tufts quad and studentsWith 5000 undergrads (making them a bit of an outlier in the NESCAC conference with arguably the strongest DIII conference in the country), they can keep classes small with an average of 15-18 students. Even in the bigger Intro classes, professors go out of their way to make it personable. One professor tells the class that if he doesn’t learn their names by the end of the first week, he buys pizza for the whole class. The school also gives students incentives for getting to know their professors; for example, if they bring a professor to the Tower Café, both drink for free. Some professors hold office hours there just to get the coffee.

~Tufts quad 2Interdisciplinary work is valued at Tufts. The Experimental College has some of the more unique programs. Usually, these are taught by Juniors and Seniors who propose a class to the Board based on what they’re interested in (Lobstering or Deconstructing Rap, for example). EC classes are graded as P/F so it won’t affect GPA. Some professors, often one in the trade or from another university, will also teach these classes. One of them used to be the GM of the Boston Celtics and he teaches a class about the legal issues of owning/running a professional sports franchise. The admissions rep doing the info session majored in Community Health in which he combined biology, math, and politics. Don’t even get him started on Greek Yogurt, which he say is horrible for the environment! Yes, we asked why: for 4 ounces of milk used, only 1 ounce ends up as yogurt. The other 3 ounces is poison whey (not to us but to the environment). They’re doing work with enzymes to break this down so it won’t be harmful anymore.

~Tufts bridgeAnother example of interdisciplinary work includes the two 5-year dual degree programs that Tufts students can earn either with the New England Conservatory or the Museum of Fine Arts. Students spend half their time at each institution and will earn both n BA and a BFA at the end. Students do need to be accepted to both institutions. The rep said, “A lot of electives get cut out if you choose to do this: you still have to fulfill a major and do the distribution requirements for both degrees.”

~Tufts chapel 3When applying to Tufts, students choose to apply Arts & Sciences OR Engineering but it’s possible to transfer from one to the other once they’re enrolled. The engineering students’ classes are a little more tracked with 38 required credits in the major and at least 6 classes in the Humanities, but they are exempt from the language requirement. A&S students take ten core distribution requirements including 6 semesters of Language and Culture if they don’t have a strong language background.

During the admissions process, they look at 3 things in depth:

1) Numbers (GPA, test scores)

  1. Students must submit the SAT and 2 subject tests OR the ACT with writing. They even superscore the ACT. Students applying to the engineering department should submit Math 2 and Physics or Chem subject tests.
  2. 80% of the 17,000 applicants were qualified to do the work; 50% were “overly qualified. However, they have a 20% acceptance rate. They narrow down the qualified applicants by looking at the 2 sections other than numbers.

2) Extra-curricular profile

3) Applicant’s voice (the essay and the recommendations).

  1. Why Tufts? Don’t make it about Boston. Boston has 54 universities!
  2. Let Your Light Speak: Make it about you! College apps are different from other essay – you can start with “I think” or “I believe.” They want to know who you are, where you stand, what you’ve done, what you want to do.
  3. They give students the option to send a YouTube video or a link to artwork.
  4. What makes you happy? Pick one or two things and explain why; don’t just give a list.

~Tufts arch and bldgThe students I spoke to on campus were friendly and wanted to brag about their school. I asked them what they were surprised about when they got on campus. One said, “the willingness of students to get into discussions with others. There’s so much to learn here, and people want to know more. A couple weeks ago, there was a big presentation about Palestine, and it was full.” I asked if he felt that issues were balance here and if they heard multiple sides to issues – like in this case, were there both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine sides? “Absolutely. People are still talking about it, and they’re willing to learn about the other side of the issue.”

~Tufts acad bldg 2The other student said he loved that there was so much going on both on and off campus. “We’re close enough to downtown to take advantage of the city, but we don’t have to do there to have fun. The activities board also runs trips to destinations further away. They actually own a lodge in NH, and students can take trips up there for $5 which covers all costs: transportation, lodging, etc. Once they’re there, they can hike, kayak, climb Mount Washington, etc. Trips aren’t even limited to the US – several students took a mountain-climbing trip to Kyrgyzstan; they got to name the mountain because they were the first to summit it.

© 2014

Rhode Island School of Design

~RISD patio and skylineRhode Island School of Design (visited 3/21/14 — Click HERE for my 2nd visit on 5/2/19)

Providence is a beautiful, hilly, historic city with unique events with plenty of options for recreation; there are lots of street performers, vendors, Gallery Nights, and more including Waterfire (started by a RISD alum), an annual event on the river running near campus. With five colleges, Providence is a college town (and has been named as the #3 Best City for Foodies).

~RISD house

A Hill House

RISD is a highly residential campus. Freshmen and sophomores must live on campus, and 70% of all students live in university housing. Freshmen are housed in a centrally located quad: the four buildings are completely connected, including underground passageways. Most rooms are doubles with occasional triples in the mix. 15 West are the student apartments located above the library and a café. The university also owns Hill Houses, old houses with loft ceilings and great views that have been renovated into dorm rooms and shared spaces. Met is the main dining hall (located in the Freshman Quad) where the Admissions Rep, a RISD alum, said that “they actually use spices. I pay money to eat there.” However, if they get tired of the campus food, there are plenty of other places in Providence to eat.

~RISD freshman quad

Freshmen Quad

The education prepares students for the professional side of being an artist – not just through career services, but through how they teach them to think and create. The academics here require a lot of problem solving and trans-disciplinary approaches. They’ve actually changed the STEM acronym to STEAM by adding “Art and Design” with the idea that ideas are useless unless they can be communicated. A lot of alums are working in STEM disciplines, collaborating with MIT students, etc. They run a full Nature lab of natural-history collections allowing students a hands-on opportunity for a variety of projects. Risk taking and creative thinking are encouraged here. Students create board games, create a solution to real world problems, etc. In Spatial Dynamics last year, students had to create “3D but functional headwear” as part of a competition, and the creations were displayed in a fashion show.

~RISD patiosBrown and RISD offer a Dual Degree; students must be admitted to both schools separately and must write an essay explaining why this program is good for them. This is a 5-year program; the first year, they live at one school and take some classes at the other; the 2nd year live at the other school at take classes at the first. After that, they alternate semesters. Right now, they have a student who is Furniture Design major at RISD and studying Music at Brown. She wants to make her own instruments.

~RISD 2

Museum

Students must declare a major by March of freshman year. The Foundation classes average 20 students; other classes average 17 students. Ceramics and Glass classes are the smallest, reflecting the size of the majors. The school offers BFA in any of the 4 year programs (apparel, ceramics, film/animation/video, furniture design, glass, graphic design, illustration, industrial design, interior architecture). The BArch degree takes 5 years. Students need to complete 42 credits in the Liberal Arts including History of Art and Visual Culture, Literary Arts and Studies, History, Philosophy, and the Social Sciences. If they want, the students can complete a concentration in Liberal Arts. Many take advantage of the cross registration option with Brown. After freshmen year, students can take whatever they want there. Languages and Environmental Sciences (especially among illustration majors) are popular options. Many students also take advantage of the Wintersession to take non-major electives, liberal arts travel courses, and internships. 72% of students do an internship; 54% did 2 or more.

~RISD mural 4Facilities are top-notch. The Museum has many more things in storage than are on display, but the curator will pull anything from storage for students to work with. The library was an old bank and redone by faculty and students and is now named as one of the “50 most amazing libraries”. Campus is compact and walkable. Although the furthest building (architecture) is only a 10 minute walk, there are shuttles around campus (nice when they don’t feel like hiking up the hill!)

Although students will be spending a lot of time on work (“You’ll spend at least as much on homework as on studio work – at least 8 hours a week,” said the tour guide), there’s active campus life beyond academics. The 70 clubs/organizations keep kids busy. They even wrote and produced “RISD The Musical” (you can check it out on YouTube). “We have sports teams, too. They’re not very good . . . except for cycling. We have a lot of hills! But we have a lot of fans. We get a little rowdy!” said the tour guide.

~RISD mural 3RISD is Common App exclusive. Applicants must upload 12-20 images of best and most recent work (done within last couple years). They also ask for 3 images from a sketchbook/journal. Separate from this are two 16×20 hard-copy Required Drawings which should be completed in 1 day, and done on paper to fold up, put in an envelope, and mailed. Drawing 1 is a Bicycle (graphic only); Drawing 2 can be 11 related images (still on 1 page), a 2-sided drawing, or a Drawing instrument. Students can also attend a National Portfolio Day; they recommend bringing a friend or family member to help stand in line since it often takes a while to get seen.

Clearly, RISD is doing something right with their education. Ninety-five percent of freshmen persist to sophomore year, and 87% graduate within 6 years. Students and alum have won 9 MacArthur Awards (kind of the Nobel Prize for artists that comes with a $500,000 award) and 50 Fulbright awards in the past 15 years.

© 2014

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