Thursday, July 16, 2009

Colgate University

Hamilton, New York
Monday, March 23, 2009 (my birthday!)

My experience at Colgate began in the lovely New England town of Hamilton, New York. Driving through the rural Finger Lakes region of New York state, I began to appreciate the heritage of the area- even the somewhat unkempt rural townhouses seemed to have a story to tell. As we drove into the initially quaint and past-its-prime village of Hamilton, I was at first somewhat dismayed but after the initial outskirts, the town got really lovely. Hundred year old colonial style houses in perfect upkeep graced the sides of the main two streets of the town. Doctors offices, mom and pop florists, bakeries, and law offices handily nestled in amongst the lovely houses, creating a really positive cultural environment. Flower pots and village banners hung from the ornate iron lampposts that dotted the tidy sidewalks. Old churches with heavy oaken doors, copper topped colonial style steeples, and fancy stone facades topped off the New England feel of the town.

Turning onto Broad Street, the Universities namesake domain, I noticed the Greek life and themed houses before I saw the school itself. The Greek Life at Colgate is very large and the school is well known for its party scene. As my tour guide explained, since the school owns all of the fraternities and sororities and coordinates the parties and activities themselves, the social setting is very inclusive and welcoming to all of the students on the campus, not just those in the fraternity or sorority. Likewise, in such a small town, the administration knows how to keep the students happy with plenty of social activities and parties on the weekends. The school also facilitates a “campus cruiser”, a campus shuttle which operates until three in the morning on the weekends so that students don’t have to drive after a long night of partying. The school also spends very liberally on student activities. Just a few weeks before my tour, the school set up a fully funded ceramics house off of campus that is completely free to all students.

The admissions building came off as an upper class home of the turn of the twentieth century that had been converted into a posh office space. A spacious parlor with almost ridiculously lavish d├ęcor was the space intended for the information session. As I sat down, I was immediately immersed in shallow conversation from arrogant white upper class parents and their preppy children. The greeters shook hands with all of the parents and did their privileged connections routine However, seating became limited, so we moved to Colgate’s largest lecture hall, which was relatively small with just over one hundred seats. The entire campus seemed to be recently built or refurbished, and the lecture hall was no exception. With a concentration on light woods and other bright materials, the whole facility seemed to possess an inviting glow.
The ensuing information session hosted by an associate dean of admissions was one of the better ones I have heard. The quirky yet dean possessed a sense of realism that the rest of the lofty staff seemed to lack, and it really made her stand out as a beacon of credibility in a sea of New England liberal arts colleges. She orientated her speech around setting Colgate apart from the other nearby colleges and really played upon Colgate’s advantages. Due to Colgate’s large size (about twenty eight hundred students) for a liberal arts college, it essentially offers more majors, more research opportunities, and more extensive internship and study abroad opportunities for students, including a program at the London School of Economics. The extensive major an minor list really appeals to me in particular because of how limited concentrations are at other, smaller, liberal arts schools. Colgate’s academic rigor also seemed fairly impressive. With two required classes in western civilization, the college has a loose core curriculum with a few loose distribution requirements that seem very easy to avoid. Also required are a scientific perspectives course and a freshman seminar. The professor of a student’s freshman seminar also becomes the students academic advisor. The tour guide I was with was quick to note how accessible professors are and how they all live in the Hamilton area with their families and love their jobs. All staff also have open office hours in the cafe or lounge a few times a week, making them even more approachable. It seems very difficult to slip through the cracks at Colgate.
The alumni network was also very impressive, and it became immediately clear that there was no problem lining up jobs during senior year. Also impressive were the school’s research programs, which professors complete with upperclassmen during the summers. Nearly one in five students is involved in a piece of published research work by the time they graduate, which needless to say opens up a lot of doors. In past years, financial services companies and education systems have sucked up most of the seniors before graduation, and the school’s name seems to hold a lot of weight among major corporations, possibly due to its larger size and potential relevance.

On my student lead tour, I got an overwhelming feeling that this is a school for preppy white kids with deep pockets, and this was completely supported by the fantastic facilities across the entire campus. The new science facility and library look especially impressive, both containing a mind-blowing amount of glass and metal on the inside while maintaing the campus’s classic New England grey stone theme on the outside. Every building I saw at Colgate looked very upscale and comfortable, especially the dining halls. With excellent meals programs and tons of school provided food choices at several large cafeterias as well as a few smaller cafes, students seemed to really enjoy the food choices and got plenty of great food to eat. The dorms looked equally comfortable, just as one would expect. Colgate also has a notable policy of single sex dorm facilities separated by class year.

Overall, I got a sense of a confident and sophisticated student body (despite my slightly aloof tour guide), an overwhelming majority of which is made up of wealthy New Englanders with a somewhat stuck-up aura about them. Although I feel like I would fit into such an environment, it got a little overwhelming. What really stuck with me was the rare balance between personable professors and an inviting campus environment and strong opportunities in research and internships. This rare balance along with a picturesque campus on a hill and a really great college town place Colgate among my favorite colleges of the trip, however its unusual focus on athletics was a drawback.

Colgate's admissions for last year ran an average SAT of 1340 and an ACT range of 29-32. Acceptance rates ran at 25.6% overall and 54% for Early Decision.

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