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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

Bennington College

Bennington College, Bennington, VT (visited 4/17/14)

~Bennington Art building Bennington College, with its enrollment of 500 students, is housed on a sprawling campus with eclectic architecture – a bit like their students! Academics are strong and individualized. The open curriculum means that there are no core requirements, and students create their own majors that almost always end up being interdisciplinary. Therefore, the students must be curious, independent, willing to be challenged beyond their comfort zone, and able to connect many interests.

~Bennington student studying 2There are two core components of the Bennington Academic Experience:

1) Plan. “It’s a little foreign and scary to families,” said the Director of Admission. The process recognizes the students’ curiosity and capacity to learn beyond what they think is possible. This lets them figure out what they need, how they learn best, and more. They can push boundaries and take any class they want.

  1. The first year is all about the excitement of education. They meet regularly with the advisor, sometimes as a group, or meeting for lunch, or after class. In the first year, the advisor is one of their teachers who will push them to be analytical about why they chose certain classes and verbalize what they’re interested in. They’re pushed to think about whether there is an essential question or theme among all of them.
  2. In the sophomore year, students meet with a committee of 3 or 4 teachers who will make sure that the student has a liberal arts education. They’ll plan out classes based on the student’s interests. Students declare an area of study (a major) during this year.
  3. During junior and senior years, students complete the plan and work on a final senior project. Our tour guide’s senior project was writing a graphic novel. Ideally, she would like to work for DC Comics.

2) Fieldwork Term (FWT): This is a yearly, 7-week internship/mentorship/fieldwork/ something educational outside of the classroom. This must be completed every year, and has to be different every year. They can get grants for this; they have to write a budget and a proposal. Scholarships are also available for internships with a global impact ($250-$2000 depending on what they’re doing).

~Bennington outdoor class 2Students get narrative evaluations in classes, but can opt for grades if they want them. This can be done on a class-by-class basis, or they get grades for every class. Sometimes they want reassurance that grad schools will take them seriously. However, Bennington is in the top 40 of schools sending students on to get PhDs. Academics are clearly strong.

I was less impressed with the students than I thought I’d be. It was a beautiful day, but very few students were out; those who were out didn’t greet each other as they crossed campus, but the students I spoke to seemed friendly enough. One of the other counselors had heard that students there were cool and a bit stand-offish, and what we saw seemed to back that up. We asked our tour guide about her impressions and if she would agree with that. She said, “some of the kids are pretentious, but it’s drilled out of you.” There’s definitely an aura of affectation here.

~Bennington picnicThe graduation rate (67%) isn’t great, and they spend a long time talking about that. They’re interested in graduating the students – if this is the right place for them! This is a test-optional school; just over one-third of students submitted test scores. The average GPA is 3.56, ACT 29, SAT 1295. The total cost hovers just over $63,000/year (making them one of the most expensive schools out there), but 90% of students get financial aid. The average loan debt at graduation is $24,000. The Director of Admissions said, “There is some value in taking on some debt. It’s an investment. It’s not a car; it won’t depreciate.”

~Bennington welding studio

Welding Studio

Art Studio

Art Studio

They have an amazing arts complex with extensive, open labs for ceramics, sculpture, and more. They have 4 black box theaters and an extensive prop shop. Students complete labs in lighting, costumes, props, and more. There’s usually 1 faculty-run production which is directed by a professor; almost all the rest are run by students. One of the facts they like to share is that they’re the first college to have included the arts (visual and performing) into the liberal arts curriculum/ college. They offer animation classes, and one called “Nature and Artifice” which deals with a lot of architectural issues. Not surprisingly, over 40% of their students major in something relating to the visual or performing arts.

~Bennington dorm

One of the Houses

Almost all students live on campus (easy to do with the small enrollment). Dorms are called Houses, and many are Themed. The one we saw had a large lounge, a working fireplace, and a drum set and piano. Freshmen and Sophomores usually get doubles; Juniors and Seniors almost always live in singles.

There is no Greek life on campus, nor are there varsity sports, but plenty of club sport opportunities, including fencing and archery.

Although there are very few students majoring in the physical sciences, there are some interesting things going on there, as well. For example, there’s an Octopus Lab because the professor thought that “their brains are cooler” (according to our tour guide).

© 2014

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