Williamstown, in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts, is home to elite Williams College. The quintessential small liberal arts college boasts a stunningly beautiful residential campus, surrounded by the Berkshire Mountains. The sunny October day of my visit provided postcard images at every turn (you can scroll through my photos at the bottom of this page).
Williams College has a coed population of 2200 students. Approximately 40% of the students are varsity athletes. This, in combination with Williams’ small size and rigorous academic standards, makes Williams highly selective in its admissions.
Gifted with rich resources, Williams is need blind and meets every admitted student’s demonstrated financial need. Financial aid travels with students as they study abroad and every student who receives any amount of financial aid pays nothing for books.
In the middle of nature, Williams is admittedly remote from the advantages of an urban environment. So, Williams makes a special effort to bring “everything” to campus. At Williams, events are “free or 3,” meaning that every event is either free or costs only $3. On the day of my visit, the campus was anticipating a performance of the NYC ballet – the cost of the tickets – only $3.
As a liberal arts college, Williams has a range of academic distribution requirements. Students need to take three courses in three areas (languages and the arts, social studies, and science and mathematics) in addition to fulfilling their major requirements. The flexible curriculum makes it easy for students to have more than one major and study abroad, which 50% of students do. A unique feature of Williams’ curriculum is its tutorial system. Students may elect to register for these courses which consist of intense study of a specific topic with another student and a professor. Yes, the “class” has only two students! Over 60 tutorials are offered each semester and students may take more than one during their time at Williams and even in any given semester. Another notable academic experience is Williams’ winter study. All students are required to engage in a winter educational experience during the month of January. One way to think about Williams is that it offers a 4-1-4 program, with four courses in the fall and spring semesters and one in between. The January education experiences have an academic basis, but with a “twist.” Examples are courses on animal tracking, glass blowing, comedy writing and travel courses such as wine tasting in France or examining religious practices in India. Williams also offers rich research opportunities for its undergraduate students. The academic environment at Williams is one of collaboration, not competition, and Williams supports its students in the form of 2 tutors for each course and a robust academic resource center.
One other distinct feature of Williams is its system of freshmen housing. Students are housed in “entries” consisting of about 25 students and two upper class students (JAs) who create a family-like community.
Athletically, Williams competes in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), an NCAA Division III athletic conference, consisting of eleven highly selective liberal arts colleges and universities located in New England and New York. Williams’ athletes are known as the Ephs, after Williams’ founder Ephraim Williams, and also purple cows. Outside of athletics and academics, Williams offers multiple opportunities to interact with faculty, including free coffee and dinners. There is also Mountain Day – a Friday in the fall on which classes are unexpectedly cancelled and the campus erupts in festivities and activities including performances and hikes in the nearby mountains.
Students who choose Williams should prepare to revel in its surrounding natural beauty, engage deeply with its talented faculty and learn from their diverse, bright peers.
Jennifer visited Williams College in fall, 2016. You can scroll through her photos below!