Michigan College Road Trip: Kalamazoo College

Want to know what it's like to attend this school in Kalamazoo, Mich.? Read on.

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Students at Kalamazoo College, located in the 72,000-resident town of the same name, tend to refer to the school simply as "K," perhaps the only shortcut they will take in their collegiate career. Each undergraduate participates in the four-part "K-plan," which encompasses an immersion in liberal arts and sciences, learning through experience, international engagement, and a senior-year individual project.

The four-year college, whose annual total sticker price is nearly $44,000, encourages students to explore many different subjects outside the requirements of their major. In fact, only 10 other classes must be completed for graduation: a foreign language, three seminars that help hone general critical thinking and writing skills, and six physical education classes. Rudi Goddard, a junior from Birmingham, Mich., for instance, says the generous allotment of electives led her to minor in Chinese after taking a class on a whim.

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The "learning through experience" element of the K-plan is aided, in part, by Kalamazoo's Center for Career and Professional Development, which oversees internships and externships. Roughly 60 percent of students participate in one of these programs while in school. Externships typically last one to four weeks, and allow the student, usually a freshman or sophomore, to live with and shadow a K alum in a professional setting anywhere in the world; the college covers half of the student's travel costs.

Elaine Ezekiel from Ann Arbor is a junior and aspiring journalist who landed an internship at a New York City radio station. "I'm trying to get my hands dirty as soon as possible," she says. "K gives me the chance to do that."

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The school, separated from the city by railroad tracks and characterized by uniform, crisp brick structures and a brick-lined main street, is only 60 acres and is home to about 1,380 students, two thirds of whom hail from Michigan. Despite the heavy in-state representation, interaction with the surrounding area seems fairly limited.

"A lot of students don't know about the city in which they're living," laments Cooper Wilson, a 2011 graduate from Grand Rapids. He says students tend to stay wrapped in their work and campus social lives.

Roughly 85 percent of students do, however, opt to spend at least a semester studying abroad in junior year. "When students come onto campus, the question typically among freshmen isn't: Are you thinking about studying abroad?" says Eric Staab, the dean of admission and financial aid. "It's: Where are you thinking about studying abroad?"

Before graduation, students also must complete a senior individualized project, or SIP, involving independent study or months of research culminating in a report, theater performance, or exhibit. Many say the effort required is equivalent to completing a graduate-level thesis.

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Given the academic and extracurricular rigor that's demanded of students during Michigan's long winters, the school recognizes the need for a respite. Kalamazoo offers typical diversions, including an on-campus theater that screens feature films shortly after release, an art gallery that displays student work, and a first-class tennis facility.

But uniquely, the school picks a date each year, dubbed the "Day of Gracious Living," when classes are canceled and buses shuttle students to the beaches of Lake Michigan. An afternoon at the shore is a break that's eagerly awaited by nearly every student, Ezekiel says.

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