On the Road with Betsy Woolf: Williams College

The Berkshires are a cultural haven. If I hadn’t already known that on my recent return trip to Williams College in Williamstown, MA, then my experience would have reminded me. I saw three plays in two days, plus an afternoon spent at the Clark visiting its world-class collection and beautiful and serene grounds. I could have done more but I ran out of time.

One of the nice things about Williams College is its location: Decidedly rural but rich in other ways. Three phenomenal arts museums close by – The Clark, Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) down the road in North Adams, and the college’s own Williams College Museum of Art. Even on a pouring rain day, Williams impresses. Yes, it is known for art history but there is so much more: a memorial forest for environmental research and recreation, purple mountain majesties of ski mountains in the distance, a new science center expansion underway, experiential classes as well as programs at Mystic Seaport and in Manhattan, tutorial classes of two students modeled after the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, programs for students to study at the University of Oxford in England, college-sponsored opportunities for students to dine with a professor of choice, an Entry system in which 20 or so freshmen live together under the mentorship of two junior advisors (JAs), and music everywhere.

About music: approximately 25% of Williams students engage in extracurricular musical endeavors, theater included – and most of those students are not music or theater majors. About science: Forty percent of students study the sciences. Forty percent of students also double major. My tour guide, a rising senior interested in history, global studies and neuroscience, was carrying two double majors and two concentrations (similar to minors but interdisciplinary), and found it pretty easy to fit them into her curriculum. About athletics: 36% are varsity athletes and many more engage in non-varsity athletics. About the outdoors: The outing club is big but there is plenty to do even if a student isn’t into outdoor pursuits or sports, like Story Time, a Sunday night tradition in which members of the Williams community gather to tell their stories and share cookies. Or Stressbusters on Wednesdays, a time to enjoy massages and more baked goodies. (Always welcome on a campus where students are not competitive but where academics are rigorous.)

About campus life: Just about everybody lives on campus all four years, and those who don’t, live in Williamstown itself, virtually in the middle of campus, near the new bookstore and some pretty tasty restaurants!

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