Road Trip: Clarkson University

Businesslike approach

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This article was originally published in the America's Best Colleges 2008 edition.

The journey north to Clarkson University involves winding, two-lane roads around or through Adirondack State Park and ends in the small town of Potsdam, N.Y., just 45 minutes from Canada. The entrance to the rural college is suitably woodsy. "A lot of times it's like a small high school in that you see the same people every day," says Kyle McNulty, a senior chemistry major.

Clarkson has an upstate New York feel in more ways than one: Only 25 percent of students are from out of state. Most are used to the weather, but it can make quite an impression on a student from elsewhere. "I first came to visit in the middle of a snowstorm," says Christopher Schreiner, a senior from Maynard, Mass. "It took about 10 hours to get here." The plus side: rinkside seats at Clarkson's only Division 1 sport. "You definitely have to go to Cheel Arena for a hockey game," says junior Christopher McQuinn. The arena has 3,000 seats-one for each member of the student body

Clarkson is business oriented. It likes to brag that 1 out of 12 alumni is a president, CEO, vice president, or owner of a company, and that starting salaries for recent graduates average $46,000-plus. Clarkson's president, Anthony Collins, sees a virtue in this: "Virtually every degree we offer—all of them are very employable degrees." But the entrepreneurial spirit fosters a sense of collaboration rather than combativeness. "Other colleges are really competitive, and the students are kind of more cutthroat," says freshman Mallyssa Ditch. "At Clarkson, it is a learning community, and everyone works together to get good grades."

The trade-off is that some students find the curriculum almost too career focused. "Clarkson is more of a tech school. We don't have a lot of more liberal arts classes," says Ditch, a chemical engineering major. But she has found a workable solution: "It's really easy to cross register at SUNY-Potsdam if there's a class you want to take," she says. Indeed, Potsdam is truly a college town, with four campuses within a 10-mile radius; St. Lawrence University is in the nearby town of Canton, and so is another SUNY branch. This comes in handy when you realize that men outnumber women at Clarkson 3 to 1. "This year in physics lab, I was the only girl," says Ditch. McQuinn, the junior, says his fraternity frequently plans mixers and other events with sororities from the other colleges.

Some students have come up with innovative ways to entertain themselves. Wes Craven's box-office hit A Nightmare on Elm Street began as a film project by Clarkson University students (yes, there's an Elm Street a couple of blocks from campus) while Craven was a humanities instructor at Clarkson.