Visit to Franklin & Marshall, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
F& M is located in Lancaster town around 3 hours drive from DC – the college campus is astounding – red brick buildings on a green sprawling campus, beautiful trees, aesthetic architecture. FM has a reasonably diverse student community. There seemed to be quite a few Indian kids from Mumbai and Delhi although I didn’t meet any.
The description of the academic experience from one of the profs who held the info session was very interesting – a personalized and intense learning yet creative experience designed to make the student want to learn and go deeper into a topic – he gave examples of how ‘chocolate’ could be the topic and could be handled by different professors in subjects ranging from psychology to economics to international trade to law etc – why people like it, how it is manufactured, how cocoa is procured from countries in Africa, are fair trade practices applicable etc.. The academic experience seemed very intimate and individualized. Classrooms we peeped into seemed small groups with a close experience with a prof. Around 51 majors are offered but the topics were engaging and facilities to enhance the learning experience were super like live Sensex projections on screens etc. There is a two year foundation course before you declare your major. Language learning for three semesters is compulsory.
Another distinguishing factor of a small liberal arts school is that profs know each of their students really well and are aware who comes to class, who is behind, who needs help – they ensure that the student gets the support they need. I witnessed some interactions between students and professors - they were intimate and close bonds, almost like being in a boarding school where the entire campus is your extended home with most students and professors known to you. Apparently, alumni and advisors also help students with internships placements and other learning experiences, job advice etc. Mentoring from prefects is also very much part of the system.
Global summer programs sounded very interesting and FM has tie ups with colleges in Paris, London, Cape Town and in collaboration – almost 50% students study abroad for a semester either alone or in a group.
When you join you are assigned a house to which you belong for the entire time you are in college. Houses have their own buildings, common rooms, prefects, budgets and are in a sense what you are affiliated to. For sports teams, tryouts and recruitments are possible mid-term. The sports facilities were great here too – lot of indoor stuff although soccer had both outdoor fields and an option to play indoor as well. Supposed to be a very popular sport on campus – it’s a NCAA Div III college.
Housing/ residence halls were very spacious and well designed. 2 students sharing a room. In the senior years, some students opt to move out close to the campus. Dining are seemed very chilled out with many many options of eating – food seemed available all the time – while we were walking around at 1130 am, students were eating (not sure if it was breakfast or lunch!) but I believe they close only for an hour in a day. Some other great facilities we saw on campus were an IT Centre for innovation and learning; a building where a whole bunch of creative activities. Clubs were in action etc. The environment on campus was very relaxed and peaceful – students seemed to be chilled out hanging out in the college café and reading or chatting with a prof. Reminded me a lot of doon.
Lancaster is a small town – hard to compare with any place we know – The town is interesting with small cafes, shops, museums etc. Students hang out in cafes and bars near the campus – there are only few of these but students seemed quite content. The other neighboring town is Harrisburg which is a bit bigger and has a larger airport and several hotels, malls etc.it has a quaint culture – in fact nearby areas are known as ‘Amish’ or people who are living by choice in an old world of the 1800s with horse drawn carriages, hats and other cultural habits. Other neighboring cities include NY and Philly. Students seemed to say that they visit these cities once a month or two – there’s an Amtrak station right next to FM which connects by train to these cities. On weekends, students said there was a lot happening on campus – either a concert nearby or a party or salsa evening and they didn’t feel the need to go too far other than the cafes and bars near campus in Lancaster.
There was no doubt in my mind that the quality and intimacy of the education experience would be way superior to a large university – if one is content living on a nice, relaxed, fun campus and not too concerned about being away from a large city, then the outcome of this learning experience could be very rich over a 4 year period and could lead to close bonds with peers.
Pros: intimate learning experience and close bonds with peers and professors
Cons: location and weather