“Williams College? Oh, you mean The College of William & Mary?”
Uh, no. We at Williams hope you know the difference, especially if you’ve been accepted here. If you’re wondering, Virginia’s William & Mary is over 600 miles south, and is public. Williams, a private college known for its dedicated faculty, dynamic student groups, and unique programs, has been one of the top three liberal arts colleges in the nation for years.
Williams has about 2,000 students, with a portion of juniors abroad every semester. If you’re into mascots, ours is the Eph. And no, there is no such thing as an Eph – it’s the shortened name of our founder, Colonel Ephraim Williams. The physical representation of the Eph is a purple cow. Personally, I’ve never seen one. But I’d rather see than be one, as the poem goes.
At all colleges, including Williams, scholarly demands on professors are high. However, Williams profs endeavor to maximize their teaching potential. It is guaranteed that your prof will teach your class; TAs never teach and graduate students (of which there are few) only take classes. Profs are enthusiastic about meeting with students – during office hours as well as other times. It is common to see students and profs in the Snack Bar or in Cold Springs Coffee Roasters, a comfortable cafÃ© on Spring Street. Some professors actually hold office hours in Cold Springs. Be careful, though: if you’re really well liked, you could find yourself babysitting your prof’s children. Another sign of the close relationships: profs who research in the summer often invite students to help them out.
Classes at Williams are small, although introductory courses of the 101 genre can be somewhat large (as in 80, not 200). Size usually decreases after you choose your major. It can be difficult to enroll in some courses (i.e. Studio Art 100 and certain 100-level Environmental Studies classes) if you are not majoring in the subject. However, students who take initiative and talk to professors beforehand usually have no problems in enrollment.
Majors are usually fairly general; you can major in Biology, but the more specific Cellular Biology is not offered. The best departments for majors are English, Art History, History, Economics, and Biology. Weaker departments include Romance Languages and Anthropology. Smaller departments – like Philosophy and Religion – offer more personal attention because of their size. For an externally competitive school, cutthroat behavior between students is surprisingly absent; personal goals are more the focus. There is a sense that everyone’s grades are stellar, but GPAs are rarely discussed explicitly.
Involvement in sports is also widespread, and teams are generally successful. Sporting events against archrival Amherst are always packed, invariably including someone in a dorky cow outfit. Williams has been awarded the Sears Cup – which honors the best sports teams overall for a given size bracket – twice in the last three years.
Still, it is the rare student that claims the “jock” identity only. Don’t be surprised to see a sculpture by a top swimmer, or a track star in an a cappella group. The newly-built Spencer Art Building is the home for many a budding artist, and a cappella is hugely popular: there are presently nine different groups. One of Williams’ special offerings is Independent Music Project (IMP), which allows student composers to create and perform works for the community. Theater, too, can attract a good portion of the school. And just a few weeks ago, the location for the new Performing Arts Center was chosen: the popular African dance group Kusika, along with the Dance Company, will soon enjoy a new space.
The mythological purple cow symbolically links Williams to its rural surroundings: we are about as far as we can be from Boston and still be in the same state, and Vermont is 10 minutes away. This can be an asset or a disadvantage, depending on what you like.
Williams’ campus is well defined, as opposed to schools who share their sidewalks with bustling cities. The isolated location means that most students stay on campus during the weekends, which leads to a sense of common identity in the so-called “Purple Bubble.” The remoteness also encourages students to have an active role in campus activities, of which there are over 75. The Williams Outing Club (WOC), the Black Student Union (BSU), and Swing Club are among the most popular.
Also contributing to a sense of community is the newly renovated Goodrich Hall, which mixes a social space with a study area. The gourmet coffee bar helps students deal – albeit artificially – with their procrastination habits, and is open all night. Sawyer Library is open, of course, but tries to discourage procrastination by closing at 1am. The always-busy Snack Bar is a good place for a study break, especially if you’ve been holed up in the library all day. Lack of social interaction leads to insanity. And no, insane people don’t know they’re insane.
Ah yes, social interaction. The limited surroundings require you to get creative with dates – if you have any. Williams’ dating scene is debatably lacking, though it may not be an uncommon college phenomenon. Part of the problem is that the town is asleep by 11pm; only Subway and the two bars stay open until 2am. The party policy was revised recently; without invites secured by your house president, getting in can be difficult. Smaller parties are usually better, though you and your buddies will fund them.
For some students, however, the smallness of the community can become stifling. The occasional weekend away is a treat. Freshmen are not allowed to have cars on campus, but upperclassmen do. Within the last few years, inexpensive College-managed road trips have become increasingly popular.
One program that helps alleviate the sense of isolation is Winter Study, a January term that provides a change of pace between fall and spring semesters. Students choose one course from a broad array of offerings, including EMT Training, Auto Mechanics, and Journalism. Extra time is often spent enjoying winter sports like ice climbing, skiing, and sledding on dining hall trays. Upperclassmen can choose to plan off-campus independent courses; internships and research projects are popular.
Studying abroad during junior year is encouraged by both faculty and deans. The idea of intellectual and experiential curiosity fits with the liberal arts philosophy, and most students embrace the opportunity to travel and immerse themselves in a different culture. Williams also offers some original study-away opportunities. Williams-Oxford offers students the one-on-one tutorial structure of Oxford, yet still allows a study of various disciplines; Williams-Mystic is centered in Mystic, CT, where a small number of students from Williams and other colleges concentrate on marine issues.
Another interesting facet of Williams is the Junior Advisor system, which is like the Residential Advisor system, but cooler, because they don’t tell on you. First-year students live in “entries” which consist of about twenty freshmen plus two Junior Advisors. JAs are chosen through a competitive process to act as big brothers and sisters for their entry. They probably won’t beat you up like your older brother did, though.
Students appreciate that housing at Williams is an anomaly in the college world; there is no theme housing or eating club system, and students voted fraternities out of existence in the 1960s after a series of accidents in which my dad was involved, I’m sure, although he won’t admit it. The majority of students live in comfortable and clean on-campus housing; it is mostly seniors who live off-campus.
If you immediately wants to specialize, requirements in the three divisions (Languages and the Arts, Social Studies, and Science and Mathematics) may not be your bag. But for a student who values exploring a variety of disciplines, appreciates the arts and athletics, and would enjoy seeing familiar faces all over campus, Williams could be a great fit.