Help me get excited about Williams College
April 23, 2008 9:07 PM   Subscribe

Help me get excited about going to Williams College this fall. I would really appreciate any anecdotes about the college, the town, the area, anything. Bonus points if you went there or know someone who has, but I'm looking for anything.

You might be wondering why I need help getting excited about attending such a good school; basically, until the actual letters came out this month, I was pretty firm about Wesleyan University as my top choice. When I visited colleges last summer (which I asked about here), I didn't visit Williams because at that point, I wasn't even going to apply there. I actually added it onto my list at the last minute because I figured it was worth a shot, however slim my chances of actually getting in.

I didn't get my hopes up too much because I didn't think I'd get in to Williams and because I had a little bit of a bias towards Wesleyan. Turns out, Williams loves me: accepted me early, threw a large amount of money at me, etc. etc. I only applied to colleges I could see myself attending happily so it's not that I'm terribly disappointed. In fact, I'm pretty thrilled but I'm having trouble letting go of Wesleyan since it's been my first choice for a year or so.

I got in at Wesleyan, but their financial aid offer didn't come close to Williams'. It would cost me nearly $13,000 to go to Wesleyan next year compared to $4,000 for Williams, and Williams doesn't do loans. I knew going in that my college choice was eventually going to come down to the money, but I need some help breaking up with Wesleyan and settling down with Williams :).

My main problem is that I haven't been to Williams or know anyone who has. I visited Wesleyan, so I can really see myself there. Not so for Williams. I would really be helped by some glowing recs for the school and the town.

A few specific questions, finally: Academically, I'm not bothered. Both schools have programs I find really interesting (I'm probably going to major in History). Feel free to weigh in in that area as well, though.
I'm kind of a nerd; will Williams have a nerdy population I can hang out with?
Is it all prep school kids?
People seem to play a lot of sports at Williams; will sedentary me feel out of place and, you know, fat and lazy?
I can take or, preferably, leave winter sports. Is this going to have to change for me to feel like a part of the school?
What's the town like? I know it's small and isolated but um, how bad is it, really? I'm used to Dallas sprawl with more malls per capita than just about anywhere else; how much of a culture shock am I in for? Do they have record stores and a few cool restaurants? Thai and Indian food? FWIW, my favorite thing about Amherst was the town; how does Williamstown compare?
What kind of feel does the campus have? Is it fairly compact or spread out? What are the main gathering places? Is the library pretty?

Please, answer any or none of my questions. This whole thing feels like it's happened really fast after the months of build up, and I need some help getting my head round it all. Thank you very much for tolerating my neuroses :).

PS: If you're going to suggest I visit, sorry, but it's too late. I gotta send in my accept/decline letters by May 1st, so, yeah. No luck there.
posted by MadamM to Education (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Williams has the nerd thing covered - you'll want to meet the good people at WARP, and experience the cultural juggernaut that is Williams trivia.
posted by zamboni at 9:27 PM on April 23, 2008

Send in your accept/decline letters. Then, start giving yourself permission to change. You don't necessarily have to have the same identity in college as you did in high school. The person that applied to college has enough time to change over that summer to be a completely different person.
If they offer New Student Outdoor trips, go on one. You will instantly know people, and it will be a great leap into college.
It's another adventure. Take it for what it is, and say yes more than you say no, at least that first year.
posted by msamye at 9:38 PM on April 23, 2008

1. I see no reason why you can't visit. Williams might even spring for the ticket.

2. Williams is thought by most to be better school. You would be making the right decision on that metric regardless of the money.

3. I know a number of people who went there, and they were very fond of it. Most were not preps. All were nerds, by any conventional measure.

4. You are in for something of a culture shock as far as the weather and town size go. Frankly, you were in for a heady dose of that within that group of colleges anyway, so it's hard to see as an especially significant liability for Williams.

5. Congratulations. I expect you will be very happy there.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:55 PM on April 23, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all very much; keep it coming! That Williams wiki is brilliant, zamboni. Just browsing that has made me feel like I know the school a little better. As for visiting, Clyde Mnestra, Wiliams would have sprung for the ticket had I made plans earlier. As I have one weekend left (that's two days away) before decision week, I kinda feel like it's too late, even with Wiliams' apparent love of giving me money.
posted by MadamM at 10:05 PM on April 23, 2008

Wesleyan and Williams are both huge intellectual nerd schools (or at least they were when I went to Wesleyan 21 years ago). You are going to love it! I wish I were going!
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:08 PM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: Oh my goodness, woman. This is the best thing in the world, ever. Damn!

When I was applying to colleges - a while ago, now - I toured them all. My favorite summer camp counselor went to Williams (artsy, nerdy, hilarious), so I already liked it. But then, the tour guides at the other schools were these kind of cookie-cutter Bright Promising Cleancut --very dull-- people. Williams' tour guide was so cool - she was a medieval history major, and very wry and witty and made great jokes that she just trusted us to get. I wanted to move into her dorm and be her friend right then.

Williams's library had very cool "monkey carrels", recessed study nooks with other study nooks elevated on top of them - kind of like bunk beds. I don't know if those are still there, I hope so.

I spent some time at Amherst as an undergrad, and let me tell you that this level of school is just awesome. They're all great, but if anything Williams will be better than Wesleyan because more people apply there and they can pick and choose their entering class. Sure, there will be plenty of prep school kids, but there will also be people who are nerdy, or really excited about some weird activity, etc. The admissions people aim for that mix. And the level of intellectualism you -- and the profs -- can just take for granted is something you won't get in very many other places on the planet. There will be some freaking sharp people there; you may have trouble adjusting if you are used to always being the smartest person in the room.

A danger of going to a place like Wesleyan is, if everyone is there because they want to be a little bit bohemianish (as was the stereotype long ago when I was looking), there's a weird social dynamic where the pressure forces people to be Really Super Bohemian, or to be I Hate Bohemians Guy, etc. If there's more of a mix of types, then you can be the bohemian type (or whatever) and just quietly do your thing without having to make a big production to set yourself apart. (I saw a dynamic sort of like this where I did go to school, and it got annoying.)

The town is small and isolated; there is no sprawl, as far as I know. It is also not like Amherst, which is a great college town largely because UMass is there, so there's a much bigger student population to support cheap restaurants and so on. If isolation drives you crazy, this is something to plan ahead for -- get active there, make friends with cars, take weekend trips etc. You will be working pretty hard too, so it's not like you will have unlimited free time to kill.

It's beautiful there, and you will be surprised by how cold it gets.

Go to Williams. You will get as good an undergraduate education as is possible, anywhere in the world, for incredibly cheap. This is an easy decision and one you should be totally stoked about. Go watch Real Genius and start thinking about the possibilities of going to school with some seriously smart people.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:48 PM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

(Also if you hate it you can transfer.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:50 PM on April 23, 2008

I visited the Berkshires for three weeks last summer; I've also spent time in the Pioneer Valley and attended colleges in Boston and Haverhill. I'm a native Angelena currently in NYC, but New England is where I feel most content.

You WILL be in for a culture shock between Texas and New England, but you'll be close to Albany for a (small) city fix and the rest of the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley for cultural events. I saw the Sara and Gerald Murphy exhibit on the Williams campus, which is walkable. There are Thai and Indian places on Spring St.

posted by brujita at 11:22 PM on April 23, 2008

Also as I recall, Dorothy Gambrell of Cat and Girl went to Williams. Way cool.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:01 AM on April 24, 2008

Williamstown, Mass is my most favorite college town ever. The area is beautiful, the town is small enough that it seems to revolve around the school (in a good way). Go visit in the summer - I suspect you'll love it.
posted by zippy at 12:08 AM on April 24, 2008

Former Eph here. Williamstown is a little smaller and more isolated than Amherst/NoHo/etc., but it's exponentially more beautiful. Do you like the mountains? The snow? Swimming in an old swimming hole in a mountain stream? Would you like it if your school, every year, had an official day off just so you can go hike up a mountain and enjoy some cider and donuts? Could you like these things? Because that's all par for the course there.

The town itself isn't really that isolated. Amherst and Northampton are only a little more than an hours drive away, so if you want to go to a show at the Iron Horse or Pearl Street, or go shopping or whatever, that's easy to do. But the town has everything you could want, including a good Thai place and Indian restaurant right on the main street, awesome delis, a couple of nicer high end places, and a bunch of more low-key restaurants too. There's a small record store (or there was when I was there), and the radio station, WCFM plays great music too. It's small, but there's no shortage of stuff to do, and you'll be pretty busy most of the time, so being bored is probably the least of your worries.

There are things to complain about (for some people). There's a bit of a party culture, but nothing out of the ordinary at a New England small college. It's a little athlete-centric compared to Amherst and Wesleyan and the other small NE colleges, which was good for me, since I was an athlete, but won't do you any harm if you're not.

All this is just window dressing. Here's the thing that matters: Williams is populated by incredible people, students, faculty, staff. My best friends today, more than 10 years after I showed up on campus are, in large part, some of the same people I met in my first couple of weeks at school. I'd trust my life to these people. The faculty are genuinely brilliant and genuinely interested in your success. Now that I'm about to finish my own Ph.D., I still visit and collaborate with many of these faculty. People there really care about each other and their success.

My time at Williams completely changed me (for the better, I think). Took me to Chile and Romania and Zambia. Opened the door to a couple of incredible opportunities for research and work that would never have been open otherwise. I still miss the campus and it's country roads and rolling hills. Not that there aren't other good schools, and not that people don't feel exactly the same way about their alma maters as I do about mine. Just to say that it really is a great place too. Like others have said, visit if you can possibly do it -- I think it will allay most of your worries and much more.

Feel free to email/MeFiMail if you have other questions or anything.
posted by dseaton at 4:46 AM on April 24, 2008

My wife and I lived in the Berkshires until last August, and used to drive from Pittsfield (which is the pits) to Williamstown regularly for good food (Thai Garden), a real bookstore (Water Street Books), and the general invigorating atmosphere of a beautiful college town. I'm pretty sure you won't regret it for a minute if you go.
posted by languagehat at 5:46 AM on April 24, 2008

I grew up two towns over from Williamstown. It is very isolated, but also very beautiful, especially in the fall. If you're into nature at all, there a lot of ponds and rivers for swimming, hiking trails and scenic drives. There's a little collegy downtown, basically one or two little streets, but they do have the cool little music store, the cool little bookstore, etc. A lot of focus on independent art, a lot of people doing their own thing. There's definitely a lot of art/theater in the area, if that is anything you're interested in (Mass MoCA, Williamstown Theater, etc.)

As a nerd, it's about as much of a safe-haven as you could get. Very serene, if you can stand being more than two hours away from any real city.

This is a video that will give you a bit of a sense of the area (focus is on Pittsfield, the nearest "city," about 20 min drive): Pittsfield
posted by lubujackson at 8:52 AM on April 24, 2008

People (cool people) I know who went to Williams lurved it. It sounds like one of those lurvable places.

And you are dead-on right about going for the better financial aid package here. It will make a huge difference to your life to get out of college without loans.

Colleges will negotiate on financial aid sometimes if you ask them what they can do to match a competing offer, so you could try that with Wesleyan just to convince yourself that you've done everything possible. But if Wesleyan doesn't have the "no loans" policy then you'll never get a better deal than you're getting at Williams. It's a pretty amazing chance, really.
posted by yarrow at 11:29 AM on April 24, 2008

Williams class of '94.

Great place that has been improving consistently since I graduated.

The no-loan financial aid system recently established is amazing. Nobody's going to beat that (I think only three other schools have that policy).

I lived in Sage, but I recommend living in the Berkshire quad for first year.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:11 PM on April 24, 2008

Andrea Barrett teaches there! Go read Ship Fever!
posted by mattbucher at 12:20 PM on April 25, 2008

Seconding Joseph Gurl's recommendation--I lived in the BBQ as a first-year (I'm a '97) and loved it. My closest friends to this day are those I lived with then. As to the culture shock, don't even sweat it. Coming from a midwestern public-school background, I was at first amazed and intimidated by the number of kids whose educations far outshone mine (I remember hearing "epistemology" in my very first class--from a student), but it's amazingly easy to get up to speed and find your own niche. Not to mention that the escalating mutual curiosity wank among you and your friends will push you in unbelievable directions.

Other people above have already heaped love on the place and its sociological diversity--but even beyond the conventional nerdity (WARP and the trivia contest), there's no shortage of fun crap to do. I managed to do radio, DJ parties, be in the improv comedy group, and still get one motherfucker of an education. I just ran into a bunch of Williams folks this week at a reading, and was amazed all over again at the greatness of the people the school attracts.

Caveat: there are a lot of thick-necked morons too. But they congregate in caves down by the river.
posted by LDL_Plackenfatz at 1:15 PM on April 25, 2008

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