Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA (visited 1/25/12)
Occasionally, I find a college that makes me want a “do-over.” This is one of them. The campus has a quintessential college feel to it: quads, lots of brick buildings, statues of the college namesakes. It’s absolutely gorgeous! There is a lot of flexibility in academic programs and an expectation that students will “step up to the plate” and take charge of their learning. Students tend to be creative, curious, outgoing, engaged, and socially-minded.
There are two main quads on campus – the academic and the residential. The residential halls are long, 3-4 story buildings that line the residential quad. The admissions rep, a graduate of the college, describes them as “Harry Potteresque.” The dorms house all levels of students; first-years get placed into houses, a bit by luck-of-the-draw, and they generally stay in the same dorm all 4 years. It is possible to switch residence halls in future years, but apparently this is not common. First-year-seminar cohorts are placed into a dorm together so the class that incoming students sign up for will help determine where they live. Each dorm has a large common room, and classes are sometimes held there. Dons and Prefects live in each building, and each house also has a House Government so there are a lot of leadership opportunities (these opps are definitely available in other parts of campus, too). 98% of students live on campus. It really is a community. People I saw around campus were engaged with their studies and with each other – they were not isolating themselves in order to do well in classes. They seemed to be taking full advantage of the things going on around campus.
On the main street, there are many houses which hold different programs on campus. I got to tour the Hillel House and the Writing House. Both were being widely used, even around 5pm. A writing seminar wrapped up just before I went into the building; walking by it earlier, I could see the students in the front room sitting on couches and comfortable chairs, actively engaging in discussion.
Classes are all small; there is no hiding in the back of a classroom and passively getting an education here. In addition to being able to major in writing (within the English department, students choose either the literature or writing track), there are other fairly unusual majors for a schools this size (about 2,400 students): there are several majors in non-European languages (Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian), Astronomy, Judaic Studies (there is a high percentage of Jewish students on campus), Scientific and Philosophical Studies of the Mind (combining things like psych, philosophy, biology, and computer science), and a combined Theater, Music, and Dance department. Their Performing Arts center is fairly new, and within that major, students can design a program that interests them. If someone wants to major in theater tech, it can be done.