Lauren Chamberlain ’24 and Pearl Sikora ’24 take a break from studies on Main Hall Green in September. Hammocks on the green is a long Lawrence tradition. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

Everyone’s college experience is different. We’re all charting our own path, finding our own niche, figuring out what we can see ourselves doing for the rest of our lives. My four years at Lawrence University will vary dramatically from yours, and there’s no shortage of opportunities to explore our interests, whatever they may be.

But as unique as we all are, some parts of college life are practically universal. Whether it’s a walk down memory lane or a glimpse of what’s to come, here are 17 quintessential college experiences that unite us.

1. Embrace First-Year Studies

To Plato or not to Plato: First-Year Studies always brings conversation.

Get to know First-Year Studies a little better.

Let’s be honest, there’s no way I could start a Lawrence listicle of iconic college experiences with anything other than First-Year Studies, the introductory, multidisciplinary course which every Lawrentian takes during their first year. While several other colleges have their own version of First-Year Studies, I don’t know of any others that are able to unite a student body quite as much as ours.

Whether you’re a first-year student, a senior or an alumnus, you know you can always find a connection in the form of First-Year Studies. Controversial opinion: Plato’s Republic should be removed from the curriculum, but Angels in America and Native Guard taught me more about art and justice than any philosopher ever could. And this decades-old debate among Lawrentians is all part of the fun! Whether you’re pro-Plato or anti-Plato, you’ll always have this shared bond with the Lawrence community, and you can be sure that by the end of Winter Term, you’ll be a better writer and thinker than you were at the start.

2. Explore the local community

Jones Park is a short walk from campus.

Get to know trails and parks near campus.

To be honest, I really dropped the ball on this one during my first year. I’ve memorized the walk down College Avenue from Main Hall to Walgreens, but my knowledge of Appleton essentially stops there. While the restaurants and shops along that mile-long stretch definitely hit the spot (I’m always craving Katsu-Ya’s Red Dragon roll), I’m only scratching the surface of what the Fox Cities have to offer. You can be sure that I’ll be spending the rest of my college career making up for lost time and exploring Appleton as far as my feet (or Uber) can carry me.

3. Join or start a student organization

Members of the Sustainable Lawrence University Garden (SLUG) put in some work.

Let Lawrence students tell you about student orgs.

What better way to make new friends and converse with like-minded individuals than by joining a student organization? United under a shared purpose, you have a guaranteed opportunity to explore your passion with classmates who care just as much as you do. And if none of Lawrence’s 114 existing student organizations feel just right, you can always take the initiative and start your own! Any takers for a YA Lit book club?

4. Live the dorm life

Ormsby Hall is among the residence halls housing students on the Lawrence campus.

The lovely ladies of Sage Hall fourth floor were my first friends on campus, and now, they’re some of my best friends in the world. There’s something special about the bond that comes from living in close quarters that can’t quite be replicated in any other setting.

Where can I even begin with this one? I have so many treasured memories of dorm life: playing pool in the lounge, knocking on my neighbor’s door every night for Commons dinner dates, buying marshmallows and cereal from the Corner Store to make the world’s densest Rice Krispies treats. And, of course, I’ll never forget the many Saturday nights that started as dance parties and turned into a dozen people crammed in a dorm room, sharing our childhood memories and deepest insecurities until the sun began to rise.

5. Find volunteer work

Volunteer opportunities abound at Lawrence.

One of the first things I did when I started college was look for volunteer opportunities, and luckily for me, GivePulse and the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change made that easy. The Wednesday nights I spend tutoring Appleton Area School District students through the VITAL program have been among the most rewarding times of my college career, as I contribute to the community, develop new skills and get to know some pretty great kiddos. And with Lawrence’s six diverse volunteer communities, every student is sure to find the volunteer program that inspires them to give back.

6. Enjoy life outside of class

Snow angels, anyone? Enjoying winter’s first snow is always a thing.

If college was just about the academics, I have a feeling the retention rate would be a lot lower. It’s also about that classic college student lifestyle, swiping into the Commons for meals, hammocking with friends on Main Hall Green, enjoying winter’s first snowfall, and, most importantly, participating in student life events. From annual events like Winter Carnival and LUAroo to the smaller scale events that pop up every week (caricatures, anyone?), student life events are the best way to keep yourself connected to the campus community. Plus, they almost guarantee free food, which I’m certainly not going to pass up.

7. Choose a major

Did you know you now can major in creative writing at Lawrence?

Some people come to Lawrence knowing exactly what they’re majoring in, and then there are those of us who maybe tend to be indecisive (I call it multi-interested) and push off declaring a major until well into sophomore year—and that’s OK! Lawrence doesn’t require a major declaration right away, giving you time to explore. Choosing your major impacts your entire college experience, and you want to make sure you’ve had a taste of everything before you make the (flexible) commitment. But when you come to the conclusion for yourself (and you can finally stop marking that awful “undecided” box on every form), it’s a moment of pure pride and an exciting look into your future.

8. Play intramural sports

Intramurals are open to all students. Athletic ability is optional.

OK, hear me out on this one—I couldn’t find my high school’s swimming pool or football field until my junior year, and even I’ve participated in intramural sports at Lawrence. If you’re actually an athlete, show off your skills in an official capacity on one of Lawrence’s 22 fantastic sports teams. Or if you, like me, faked sick to get out of gym class, there’s no shortage of lower intensity, recreational sports that any Lawrentian can try. Test your coordination on the broomball rink or join me on Main Hall Green for a friendly game of ultimate frisbee!

9. Cheer on classmates at athletic events

Women’s hockey became the 22nd varsity sport at Lawrence this year.

If I didn’t convince you with that last one, this is a great alternative for my fellow bench-warmers. As a native of the lower Midwest, I went to my very first hockey game last winter to cheer on the Vikings, and I’ve got to say, nothing quite instills school spirit like praying it won’t be your guys who get pushed into the wall. I’m happy on the sidelines, thank you very much!

10. Study abroad

London in January 2020.

My 61-year-old father still talks about his college study abroad experience, and my mom says her biggest college regret is not making time to study abroad, so I’m starting to get the feeling that this is the type of experience that stays with you all your life. I, like every other 20-something, don’t want to make the same mistakes as my mother.

Since financial aid travels with you (plus additional scholarships) and major requirements can be fulfilled with any number of Lawrence’s affiliated off-campus programs, many of the traditional barriers to study abroad have been mitigated at Lawrence. At this point, it’s mostly just a matter of planning ahead to fit it in your schedule! Whether you want to follow the path of many fellow Lawrentians and study at the London Centre or you want to find a program that’s uniquely you, it’s never too early to seek some guidance from the Off-Campus Programs office.

11. Get to know faculty

Senior banquet is just one of the cherished traditions that allow students to interact with faculty outside of class.

When my CORE leaders told me that part of the Lawrence experience was personal student-professor relationships, I was a little skeptical, but I’ve been proved wrong 10 times over. As you start to specialize and narrow your field of interest, Lawrence faculty members are there for you every step of the way as both teachers and guides. Whether it’s a studio pizza night at your professor’s house or an impromptu discussion sparked by guest speakers, you have ample chances to get to know your professors outside of the classroom. Plus, it also makes it a whole lot easier to forgive and forget when the Geoscience faculty steals the last table at Bowl 91.

12. Attend concerts and performances

Richard III was presented in Winter Term 2020.

Everyone knows that the Conservatory is pretty amazing, and no Lawrentian’s college experience is complete without attending a few incredible concerts and performances. In addition to supporting classmates in choir, band, and orchestra concerts (not to mention musicals, operas, and plays), Lawrence brings in a variety of professional musicians each year to perform in the World Music, New Music, Dance, Jazz and Artist series. I can’t say that I ever expected to see a Balinese Gamelan and dance performance, but I can say that it has undoubtedly enriched my college experience.

13. Be a student worker

Student employment opportunities are plentiful across campus.

Trust me on this one—I spend 15 to 20 hours each week working for my three on-campus jobs, and I wouldn’t change it if I could. It’s the perfect baby step into the job market as you gain real-world work experience, develop technical and professional skills, and start to fill up some of that dreaded white space on your resume. (Of course, it’s also the best way to ensure you’ll be able to afford that weekly coffee from Seth’s.)

14. Learn from impressive speakers

Masha Gessen delivered a convocation address in January 2020.

You know when your friend is talking about something that they really care about, and their passion is so infectious that you can just listen to them go on for hours? That’s like every speaker that comes to Lawrence, except this time they’re an expert in their field and they came prepared. From convocations to cultural competency lectures, from course-specific guest speakers to talented alumni, attending these speaking events is the best way to dive into the deep end of any given subject.

15. Get an internship

Stephany Pichola ’21 landed a remote internship last summer with The Commons, a Milwaukee nonprofit initiative.

Students talk about internship experiencesand students tap into experiential learning funds.

Welcome to the real world! No college experience is complete without this first taste of postgraduate personal and career life. Sure, you might be underpaid and overworked (though employers are thankfully starting to treat their interns a whole lot better), but you’re learning more about your future job prospects than you could in any classroom, while also gaining professional contacts and starting to build a life for yourself as an independent young member of the workforce. And if you want to make sure you find that perfect internship, where you spend your time getting paid for valuable, stimulating work instead of coffee runs, the Career Center is always available to help you find the right job and apply for any supplemental funding.

16. Take a class that has nothing to do with your major

Taking a class outside your area of study is among the joys of Lawrence.

So, at this point you’ve declared your major, and it’s all about squeezing those graduation requirements into your schedule. Maybe in your first couple of years, you spent some time exploring different disciplines, trying to figure out that one true passion—after all, academic exploration is a core principle of the liberal arts! But now, term after term of classes in the same area of study start to pile up.

The good news is, the opportunity to try something new doesn’t end as you get deeper into your major. In fact, it’s the perfect time to give yourself a little break, and sign up for a course because you want to take it, not because you have to take it. I love my government and anthropology classes (after all, there’s a reason I declared the major!), but I, for one, can’t wait for the term when I finally manage to fit a dance class into my schedule.

17. Bring it all together with Senior Experience

The Senior Experience can involve research, collaboration, writing, technology, and more, all designed to show what you’ve learned in your course of study.

I couldn’t have ended this story with anything other than the Chandler Senior Experience. It’s the culmination of our academic careers. Tailored to your personal interests and expertise, Senior Experience is an exhibition of all that you have become as a scholar, encompassing hours and hours of independent and collaborative work, many late nights, and probably a few too many scoops of ice cream from the Cafe—but in the end, you will have become a better and more accomplished student, expert, and person. Four years of learning and living the college experience all leads up to this, and there’s no way you can leave Lawrence without an empowering and well-deserved sense of pride.

Alex Freeman ’23 is a student writer in the Communications office.