Tucked into the far northwest corner of Massachusetts with the Berkshire Mountains providing a picturesque backdrop, Williams College is one of the premier colleges in the country. Ranked the top national liberal arts college by US News, it edges out its rival Amherst College for that honor. Located in Williamstown, the college was founded in 1793, making it the second oldest college in Massachusetts. A men’s college for almost 180 years, Williams began to admit women in 1970.
As visitors enter Williamstown on Main Street (Route 2) and cross over North Street, the campus opens up before them on either side of the road. Williams is in many ways the quintessential New England college campus and is especially beautiful on fall afternoons when the leaves have begun to turn. The campus architecture seamlessly mixes the old, such as West College built in 1790 and now used as a dormitory, with new buildings like the ’62 Center for Theatre & Dance and the soon-to-be-completed Stetson-Sawyer Building.
Academically, Williams has maintained its commitment to the liberal arts and currently offers 35 different majors across the humanities, the natural sciences and the social sciences. Although there are no required courses, students must take three courses each in arts and humanities, social science, and science and mathematics. Additionally, every Williams student can expect to take two writing-intensive classes and a class designed to increase their ability to think quantitatively. In place of minors, Williams instead offers concentrations, groups of courses around a single topic that cross departments and disciplines. As an example, a concentration in cognitive science might include offerings from psychology, computer science, math and philosophy.
One aspect of its academic program that Williams is justifiably proud of is the tutorial. It is said that before he became president of the United States, alumnus James A. Garfield said of his favorite professor and 19th-century Williams College president, “The ideal college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.” Williams embraces this important relationship between student and teacher through its tutorial program in which two students are paired with a professor in a semester-long collaboration. The tutorial meets once a week for an hour and the two students take turns presenting an essay, laboratory experiment, a piece of art or an in-depth exploration into a particular topic. The other student serves to offer critique and the students debate their ideas with the faculty member often watching quietly in the background, interjecting when necessary to guide the student discussion. Meant to sharpen critical thinking skills and improve students’ ability to defend their ideas, the tutorials now number between 60 and 70 per year and about half of Williams students take advantage of this opportunity during their four years in Williamstown.
First-year students are introduced to Williams via a unique system known as guided entry. Incoming students are divided into groups of 20 to 30 to live together in a section of one of the six freshman dorms along with a pair of Junior Advisors (known as JAs). The entry gives students a ready-made group of friends with whom they share a number of common experiences early on in their time at Williams. According to one JA, “The entry is a great place to feel comfortable and make your home at Williams so that you can branch out and join other things.”
Outside the classroom, the isolation of Williamstown means that students often need to create their own fun. For those who treasure the outdoors, there is an abundance of nearby locations to ski, hike, bike and backpack. That Williams attracts the type of student who wants to take advantage of these opportunities is evidenced by the fact that the Williams Outing Club is the largest student organization on campus, boasting over 750 members. One of Williams many traditions is Mountain Day, always one of the first three Fridays in October. Which day it will be is kept secret until an email is sent by the college president cancelling classes and the church bells on campus begin to toll at 8 a.m. signaling students to make their way to the top of Mt. Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, where hot cider and donuts await.
For those who appreciate the arts, the Clark Art Institute is within walking distance of campus and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) is also nearby. Another highlight for devotees of the arts is the Williamstown Theater Festival, housed in the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance.
Williams students are also rabid about their sports teams, and get particularly excited for any contest against arch-rival Amherst or fellow “Little Three” member Wesleyan. The “Ephs” (the school’s nickname comes from Ephraim Williams, whose bequest helped found the college) compete in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) and annually are among the leading contenders for the Division III Director’s Cup, given to the college whose teams have the most athletic success.
For those students looking to escape the small-town atmosphere, the closest city is Albany, New York, about an hour’s drive to the west. Boston is three hours east and New York City about the same distance south.
On their application page, Williams sums up the type of student they are looking for (while also pointing out that fewer than one in five applicants will be accepted): “We’re not just looking for top scores and impressive accolades. We want creative thinkers, diverse perspectives, and people who’ll bring as much to the community as they’ll gain from it.”
Williams College offers Early Decision and Regular Decision (but not Early Action) admissions plans. Applicants are required to submit scores from either the SAT or the ACT with Writing. In addition, students are required to take two SAT Subject Tests. The mid-50% ranges for the most recent freshman class are:
SAT Reading: 670 – 780
SAT Math: 660 – 780
SAT Writing: 680 – 740
ACT: 30 – 34
Total Applicants: 7,068
By the Numbers:
Women: Men 52:48
Student:Faculty Ratio: 7:1
Average Class Size: 16
Students Receiving Financial Aid: 53%
Average Financial Aid Award: $44,508
For more information on Williams College, visit the school’s web site at www.williams.edu