campus encounters

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Archive for the tag “Fine Arts major”

Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Commonwealth University (visited 3/13/17)


One of the dorms; much of campus sits on streets like this

Students looking for an urban campus with lots of diversity, school spirit, and big sports will do well here. However, they need to be willing to advocate for themselves.

This is a state school with 24,000 undergrads, 37% of whom are male and 89% coming from in-state. Gen Ed classes run 150-200 students in lecture halls, but the upper level major classes average 27 students. “It’s the students’ job to take advantage of the opportunities.” Classes are varied, as you’d expect from a school this size. A couple favorite classes were Cultural Text and Context about Egypt and Women in Global Politics.

VCU ped walkway

The pedestrian walkway part of central campus

Campus sits in the middle of Richmond with almost no “central campus” in the traditional sense. However, location means there’s plenty to do, and students have opportunities to connect to the community, get internships, and apply what they’ve learned. The James River is minutes away from campus with hiking and other activities. Richmond itself is centrally located, only 1.5 hours to Virginia Beach and a little more than 2 hours to DC.


One of the older buildings on campus

VCU is a relatively new institution, starting in 1968 when 2 colleges merged. The main campus sits on the site of one school; all the medical programs (including graduate schools) are on the other one a couple miles away. The do offer a Guaranteed Admissions Program for some honors students into several of the graduate health programs as long as they meet the minimum requirements. This is not binding so it’s ok if they change their mind. Applications for this have a hard November 15 deadline; students need a 1330 SAT or 29 ACT and a 3.5 unweighted GPA. Beyond that, they should have done something to stand out such as shadowing or volunteering.

Engineering and the Arts are big here:

  • Engineering has offerings in Biomedical, Chemical and Life Science, Electrical and Computer, and Mechanical and Nuclear.
  • VCU arts 1

    One of the art studios

    The Arts Department includes both visual ad performing arts.

    • Visual arts are very much studio-based. “It allows us to establish ourselves and experiment,” said a junior painting/printmaking major from Kansas. “I wanted to go somewhere where I had the resources of an entire university.” He loves the program and is very happy with his decision to come to VCU, but said the downfall is that they don’t get any help in establishing a design portfolio. “We’re on our own to figure that out.” There also aren’t really any internships easily available or at least advertised. “I looked online; I think this major is the only one with nothing listed for internship opportunities,” he told me.
    • Unusual offerings include Kinetic Imaging and Craft and Material Studies.
VCU plaza

The plaza outside the main dining commons (to the left). The library is the glass building on the right.

Humanities and Sciences, of course, is the biggest school. A few unusual offerings are Military Science and Leadership, Statistical Sciences and Operations Research, Kinesiology, and Forensic Science.

The smallest majors/schools are Social Work (35 freshman) and Life Sciences with 51 freshmen (this includes Bioinformatics, Envi Sci, and Integrative Life Sciences; biology and other sciences are in the Arts and Sciences division).

Students really like the diversity on campus. “Campus shows off the spectrum of people there. I’ve made friends from all over,” said one of the tour guides (we had 3).


An LLC building

There are plenty of living opportunities such as LLCs and Global Living. There is no residency requirement, but 74% of freshmen do live on campus. Food gets good reviews from the students: “There’s so much food! They keep adding new options every year.” The dining hall sometimes runs what they call ‘Upper Cuts’ which serves “really, really great food!” according to one of the tour guides. It requires a second swipe on the meal plan. Restaurant Row, on one of the main streets running through campus, takes Rams Bucks. For students living off campus, it’s easy to find apartments and houses to rent near campus.

VCU dormAdmissions is rolling, and it takes about 4-6 weeks to get a decision after application is complete. They recommend that students include their SSN on the app to facilitate the link to FAFSA. This streamlines, the process, reduces mistakes, and allows them to get the package to students earlier. Students applying by Jan 15 will get an answer by April 1 at the latest. Test scores are optional for students with a 3.3 GPA at the time of application BUT are required for merit scholarships, the Honors College, Engineering majors, and for homeschooled applicants. If you want to get considered for automatic-consideration scholarships – apply by 11/15!!!

VCU stu cntrThe Honors College will look at writing on standardized tests; regular admissions does not. Priority deadline for freshman Honors Program is 2/1. The Guaranteed Admissions program falls under the honors college: if you’re admitted to GA, you’re admitted to HC, but not vice versa! The application for GA is on the Honors College website and is completely separate from the Common App.

© 2017

Paier College of Art

Paier College of Art (visited 10/12/16)


One of the art displays

Paier (pronounced like the fruit “pear”) is a very small art college located in New Haven. It only offers 5 majors, all housed in about 3 buildings. This allows students to get highly specialized education and an amazing hands-on preparation for a career in the arts or an arts-related field. They offer Fine Art, Graphic Design, Interior Design, Photography, and Illustration. Students in most majors take a common foundation studying color, drawing, and composition. The idea is that they need to draw on a range of skills as they move forward.


The library

“It’s small here, but we’re like family.” There are usually fewer than 150 students at any given time (about 2/3 of whom are women). The classes are small and they get a lot of individual attention. Students should interview as part of their portfolio review during admissions. Their process means that close to 90% of freshman return for sophomore year. They want to be there. It doesn’t hurt that tuition is a bargain.


Interior Design drawings

Students usually get individual studio space, and often work in town on art shows. There are plenty of art galleries in town for students to intern with or do research. There are no sport, and almost no on-campus activities or clubs (student government and the yearbook seem to be exceptions to this).


Photo lab

This is very much a regional school, mostly because there is no campus housing. However, there are some apartments nearby that cater to students, and the school will assist in helping students find housing. Students from outside the area looking for intensive art instruction would be served as well – or better – at another institution.

© 2016

New Hampshire Institute of Art

New Hampshire Institute of Art (visited 10/17/16)


The main building on campus

This is a small niche school, right for the very focused student who knows what he/she wants to do and wants individual attention. “Going to art school is about following your passion. It’s about a lifestyle,” said an admission rep. As with many Institutes of Art, they’re hidden kind of in plain sight. “We’ve been around for 118 years and no one knows about us. We’re aiming to change that,” said the President.



A city mural painted by NHIA students

NHIA knows what they’re doing, and they do it very well. One of its distinguishing factors is its location right in the city of Manchester (incidentally, the first planned and one of first electrified cities). The college is small, filled with people who are makers and want to contribute and make an impact on their community. The students bring service, much of it art-oriented, to the city itself; they clean parks, paint murals, and partner with the Manchester school district to bring art to the schools. They also intern in the city and beyond.



The jewelry making studio

The five studio-based majors offer an optional 1-year MAT program; the BFA in Creative Writing does not yet have an MAT option. Almost 1/3 of the students are enrolled as Illustration majors with almost another ¼ each in Fine Arts and Photography. Ceramics, design, creative writing, and the interdisciplinary program pull 10% or less of the population. All students get a MacBook loaded with InDesign, PhotoShop, Adobe, etc with the idea that the more skills they have, the more employable they are.



The Printmaking studio

Regardless of major, all students take a common Foundation class that crosses disciplines. Students are presented with common topics, prompts, and questions; for example, they might look at the Holocaust, and they’ll work towards solutions and presentations through their particular lens. The interdisciplinary start allows for growth and collaboration which is so important in the art world. They’re prepared for jobs, and they’re graduating with less debt than students at many other A&D schools. “We aren’t spending money on rock climbing walls. We’re spending it on things that matter to art students,” said the president.



One of the kilns being rebuilt by ceramics students: they learn all the skills needed to be successful after graduation.

Students develop a professional practice while here; this is the only art institute that requires 3 semesters of business, and many students take advertising classes as electives. “They think about what’s in front of us and what’s ahead. I love the way the college interacts with the city. There’s networking and internships. It’s us as artists, and allows us to tailor what we’re doing to make a life and future.” The Dean of Admissions said, “More and more employers want ‘Creatives’ because things are changing so fast, they want new ideas.” They’re marketable.



A working lounge in the Creative Writing building

My group spent an hour talking with one of the Creative Writing professors. Students “do everything here: play writing, memoirs, poetry, novels, short stories, non-fiction. Whatever they want to be, they’re going to do it well and rigorously.” There’s even a minor in Graphic Novel; they complete 2 Foundation courses (fiction and illustration), 1 trans-media class (how they work today in digital world), and 2 semesters in graphic novel.


With about 30 students in the Creative Writing program (they would like to grow this), students get intensive practice and personal feedback. They bring in professional, published writers every month to read their work, talk about the business side, run workshops, and even meet 1-on-1 with kids to give feedback. The Writing From the Senses class was happening while we were in the building; they had a drummer in (sound); other days, they bring in a chocolatier (taste), perfume (smell), etc to get kids to really delve into sensory descriptions.

A student came into the room as we were speaking to the professor. We asked him to sum up his experience: “I love writing here. Suggestions are relevant and it’s never boring. I’ve been stretched. I love Radical Revisions – you think on so many planes and in so many dimensions. It’s uncomfortable and challenging and great.”

All students in the major take Intro to Fiction, Intro to Poetry, either Memoir or Creative Non-Fiction, and a reading course, “not in the way they’re used to in High School. They’re looking to see how the author put it together.” Advanced workshops are required, and electives are varied, ranging from humor satire, writing the apocalypse, graphic novel, podcasts and audio narratives, and cinefiction (borrowing from film techniques). All students in the major have to be an editor on the journal: they have to create a website, put out a print version in the spring, curate it, and justify their decisions to include or not.

For parents who might be worried about their children majoring in creative writing, “tell them that employers are always looking for strong writers,” said a professor. They get professional writing preparation, and students often intern at magazines, blogs, and one is at Cambridge Writer’s Project. Most students go into editing, blogging, etc. Many will publish shorter works; “book deals don’t just happen.” Students who are go-getters who take advantage of everything at school have no trouble getting jobs. They go to events, take initiative, start radio shows, etc.


The converted bank vault

Of the 500 or so undergraduate students, most live on campus. Almost 40% of students come from outside NH (13% of which are from outside New England, including some international students). There are lots of clubs and other activities. The monthly “Slam Free or Die” poetry slam gets high reviews.


In terms of admissions, “Think of the application as introducing yourself to us. Talk about community involvement. Show off artwork. We’re looking for people with some technical expertise, but more importantly those who have ideas and want to share them.” Creative Writing applicants should submit something that shows their thought process and voice, in whatever form that comes in. Students are encouraged to go to a National Portfolio Day. They also suggest a summer program: “Do a deep dive into making art 24/7 to see what it’s really like.”

© 2016

Skidmore College

Skidmore College (visited 7/28/15)

~Skidmore sign

Molecules that Matter

Molecules that Matter

Skidmore is fascinating. They have gigantic “Molecules That Matter” (ie, prozac, penicillin, caffeine) hanging in their science center. A student and a professor are selected every semester to give a TedTalk on campus. They offer six-week research programs each summer. Their theater, fine arts, and music programs are strong and well-resourced, including a 5-year-old music building and heaps of studio and practice space. Cool things are happening here, and it’s paying off with a 92% retention rate.

The new music building

The new music building

In 2007, I had the pleasure of working at a camp that was housed at Skidmore. I got to know parts of it very well, but I had never taken the campus tour or attended an info session. It was great to be back on campus 8 years later to see changes that had been made and learn more about the academics.

One end of the dining hall (food stations are in the middle)

One end of the dining hall (food stations are in the middle)

I remember being immensely impressed with the dining hall both in terms of the quality of the food and the layout. There are a number of stations: international (think sushi and Thai curry), pasta (the pesto is to die for), pizza, vegetarian, grill, and more. It’s a spacious, nicely set-up area that doesn’t look like you’re in a high school cafeteria. In addition to the main dining hall, they have The Spa (a grill-like area) that stays open to 2am, and a Starbucks is opening on campus this year.

Art museum with roof-top access

Art museum with roof-top access

This is a busy campus; most students (90%) stay here on weekends so they don’t miss things. With over 100 clubs organizing events and active theater, dance, and music departments, there’s’ always something going on. There are several comedy groups (Sketch, improv, etc) and shows happen all the time. Athletics are popular, both in terms of people participating and being supported by fans. Both men’s and women’s basketball teams are really popular, and their equestrians have won most championships for the last 15 years or so years. Club men’s hockey, ultimate Frisbee, and quidditch (“We beat Harvard. No big deal,” said the tour guide) also draw a lot of people.

Quad with the dining hall on the far end.

Quad with the dining hall on the far end.

Campus is diverse in many different ways and has been ranked #9 for “Happiest Campus.” “There’s a lot of positive energy here,” said one student. They are deliberate about helping students find communities and getting them connected to other people: orientation, Freshmen Seminar, being in dorms with upperclassmen, etc. They even offer pre-orientation programs like one in the Adirondacks involving yoga under the stars, hiking, kayaking, etc. “You come back as best friends.”

~Skidmore 1There are several campus traditions that students brought up:

  • BeatlemoreSkidmania: For 3 nights, participants make and perform their own arrangements of Beatles songs. A cappella groups, professors, and others get in on the action.
  • Wafflefest happens right before finals week. The dining hall goes all-out with breakfast food for dinner.
  • Fun Day: This happens during first week in spring that it’s “mildly nice.” They bring in bands and DJs, rock climbing walls, food, etc.
  • In the middle of winter, they’ll have a night with fireworks, hot chocolate, and a bonfire.
  • Right before winter break, students can paint the windows of the student center.

~Skidmore 3The info session was one of the more informative that I’ve attended. Rather than having the standard rep talk, this was run by two students and an admissions rep. The students provided first-hand information about their experiences, the academics, and extra-curriculars.

Academic buildings

Academic buildings

They started out by highlighting areas that they believe makes them distinctive:

  • They have 64 majors; this is a lot for a school of this size (2400 undergrads). 80% of students start as undecided; business, English, studio art, government, biology, and psychology turn out to be the most popular.
  • Students can combine fields into a Self-Designed Major: “It only has to make sense to you,” said the rep. Students here tend to be interested in a lot, and they don’t want to limit their explorations. Everything is open to everyone. “It’s also super easy to double major. You can find that a lot of the requirements double-count because many of the distribution requirements can also count as a major requirement.” They have people double-majoring in math and music, science and dance, etc.
  • Freshman Seminar is the cornerstone of people’s experiences. Everyone takes one 1st semester and gets housed in the same dorm as their classmates. There are about 50 choices; incoming freshmen rank top 10 choices. Professors teach classes of their own creation; the only directive they were given was to “find something you’re passionate about.” A few examples are American Theater and Commerce (Students saw Pippin on Broadway and talked about economic, social, historical, and racial perspectives. “I learned how to write well in that,” said a student) and Human Dilemmas. There are actually about 12 different sections of this based on professor’s interests so the theme differs from section to section; however, they came together to get lectures on the different areas (bio, econ, philosophy, etc).

~Skidmore acad bldg 2Study abroad is huge: “There are only about 10 countries where are students haven’t gone in the last several years,” said the rep. They have partnerships such as theater in Moscow or London and science research in Norway. Travel Courses have gone to places like Bali, Cuba, all over Europe. It’s a good way to explore a country and get abroad without losing time at Skidmore. “Some people really love it here and don’t want to leave,” said a student.

Classes are small – only 1% of classes will have 50+ students; 95% have less than 30. Intro to biology, intro to psych, and intro to exercise science tend to be the big ones. My tour guide’s smallest classes had 4 (Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy) and 10 (Spanish Lit).

This year they received about 9000 apps for a class of 690. They have 2 Early Decision rounds (11/15 and 1/15) but no Early Action. ED acceptances filled about 40% of the class. They’ll superscore both SAT and ACT. There are only two merit scholarships categories that they offer:

  • Filene Scholarship for music: applicants send in a DVD. The Music Department will call back about 30 for on-campus auditions for 4 finalists and 4 alternates.
  • Porter Scholarship for science: students interested in this must submit an extra essay. They tend to give 5-7 scholarships a year.

Although there are no other academic scholarships, they will meet full demonstrated financial need.

(c) 2015

Hamilton College

HAMILTON COLLEGE (visited 7/24/15)

Canons, which (legend has it) were smuggled somehow out of Cuba a long time ago

Canons, which (legend has it) were smuggled somehow out of Cuba a long time ago

“I would like students to know that if you aren’t sure who you are or what you want to do, this is the perfect place for you! There’s so much to try, and it doesn’t matter if you switch in and out of things. The friends you made will still be there for you,” said the tour guide, one of the best I’ve ever had. If she’s any indication of the students at Hamilton, this is a warm, wonderful, embracing place to live and learn. This is a selective school, accepting approximately 25% of applicants; they’re definitely looking for students who are going to be open to trying a lot of things and getting involved in their own education.

~Hamilton 7Hamilton has an open curriculum to allow students to explore areas of interest. “I got to study a lot of areas I never would have had time to study otherwise like Africana Studies,” said the guide. However, they do have several general requirements that they have to fulfill such as 3 PE classes, 3 writing intensive classes, and 1 quantitative analysis class. “They’re easy to fulfill, and they don’t have to be done in any particular field. I’m not a math person, so my quantitative class was filled by taking Sociological theory.” The writing intensive classes are “hard to avoid. I’ve taken 3 in a semester sometimes.” The school also places a big emphasis on communications fulfilled in a large part by their focus on writing across the curriculum. They’re also one of only a couple schools to have an Oral Communications Lab to help students with presentations.

Student artwork in the new art building

Student artwork in the new art building

Econ and math are two most popular majors which is unusual at a small liberal arts school. They also have several majors that you don’t normally find at a school of this size, including Geoarchaeology, Chemical Physics, World Politics, and Middle East and Islamic World Studies. Research is popular, as it is at a lot of schools now. About 100 students stay on campus over the summer to research. Many are in the sciences, but not all. “My roommate is co-writing a paper on Faulkner that’s going to get published.” The arts are also big here. They opened a new art center this year; it’s a huge, beautiful building with lots of natural light and plenty of studio space (seniors get their own space). The art museum is across the street and has revolving exhibits.

~Hamilton 3

The quad

Campus is 100% residential. “We’re building a new dorm to take care of that ‘last little bit’,” said the admissions rep. Suites can be coed because the bedrooms themselves are singles. Dorms are clean and comfortable. We went into a freshman quad that had a bedroom, a bathroom, and a large common room. There are also very large doubles.

Dining Hall

Dining Hall

Dining hall food is very good. “They make a great baked mac and cheese!” There are several eating options. The main dining hall has everything you need, including allergy free areas, vegan and vegetarian, etc. The smaller café puts more emphasis on vegan and vegetarian options, and another place has more of the hamburger pizza types of foods. At midnight, this flips to breakfast, so showing up at midnight for pancakes or waffles is a popular thing to do.

The Library

The Library

One of the campus cafes

One of the campus cafes

The town of Clinton is fairly small, but there are stores and restaurants. The school provides shuttles around town, and the college is only about 45 minutes from Syracuse. There are busses to NYC and to the Syracuse airport and Amtrak station at breaks. Generally kids aren’t looking to leave campus all that often. Hamilton is regularly bringing big-name speakers like Hillary Clinton, Aretha Franklin, John Stewart, and Derek Jetter to campus. Greek life isn’t that big but “it’s there if you want it.” Greek housing is no longer provided so there’s no residential separation anymore, and all parties must be open to everyone on campus. Athletic life is relatively popular, but again, “it’s there if you want to participate, but no one cares if you don’t want to.” The gym is integrated right into campus, housed in a large stone building that blends in with all the other buildings. “I had a hard time finding it at first because it doesn’t look anything like one should look like!” said the tour guide. They even have an ice rink right on campus! They also have a 3-story rock-climbing wall (taller than most college walls), and students can get belay-certified in an afternoon. There are outdoor trips every weekend into the Adirondacks such as kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, etc.

~Hamilton 1The majority of students will study off-campus at some point during their undergraduate time. They have 4 Hamilton-run study abroad options (India, China, Spain, and France) and 4 domestic study-away programs including one in the Adirondacks where students live in a cabin and both take classes and do an internship in the Park.

The old Kirkland College arch

The old Kirkland College arch

The Hamilton-Kirkland joint project

The Hamilton-Kirkland joint project

Hamilton, which had been a men’s college, merged with Kirkland college (a women’s college) which was only open for 10 years and was located right across the street. As part of a collaborative project between a Hamilton student (a physics major) and a Kirkland student (Art major), there’s now a stone and metal sculpture in the student center. It’s chained down now, but before it was, there was a way to stand on the ring and by swinging back and forth, get the ring to “ride up” the other cords. Supposedly people got it up to the second floor.

An example of a "Light Side" building

An example of a “Light Side” building

You might hear students using the terminology of “Dark Side” or “Light Side” when referring to parts of campus. “Sometimes my friends think we’ve been sucked into Star Wars or we’re making value judgments or something. We aren’t,” said the tour guide. These names came about because of the architecture more than anything else. The Dark Side is the original Hamilton part of campus (darker brick, etc); the Light Side generally refers to the Kirkland area. “There also seems to be a bit of 2 sides of a personality. The Dark Side seems to be a bit more strict academics; the Light Side is a bit looser, more artistic. The great thing at Hamilton is that you don’t have to choose.”

(c) 2015

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