Anthropology, sociology, creative writing and international studies are among the most popular majors at Beloit College, a tiny liberal arts college founded nearly 170 years ago by Yale University graduates.
The campus, which measures barely half a mile across, is home to some 1,300 students, two museums, a theater and state-of-the-art science complex and 20 Native American effigy mounds dating back to A.D. 400. Such mounds, which often resemble animals, may have served religious purposes or as burial sites.
The school culture values academic challenge but not at all costs. "It's not a competitive environment that breaks you down," says Jessica Vogel, a junior majoring in religious studies. "It's a competitive environment that builds you up."
Students are given ownership of their academic path, and taking the scenic route is encouraged. About 25 percent double major, and students can create a customized major to fit their interests if one doesn't already exist.
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"It's not cool to have a direct route," says Olga Ogurtsova, an associate professor of Russian.
Still, as is true at many schools paying more attention to career prep, Beloit students are prodded to think about the application of what they are studying.
A bachelor's in Russian is sufficient if you want to be a professor of Russian language or literature, Ogurtsova says, but otherwise a second major – such as chemistry, international relations or economics – is encouraged to give students an edge in the job market later.
As part of the emphasis on the "liberal arts in practice," students are required to either volunteer or intern.
Or those who want to design their own research or entrepreneurial project can apply for a Venture grant; past winners have studied the stigma of AIDS in Jamaica, worked on environmental conservation projects in Brazil and Nepal and helped film a 200-mile run on the Appalachian Trail.
While study abroad is encouraged for everyone, including biologists and computer science majors, you don't need to travel to experience other cultures; Beloit hosts undergrads from roughly 40 countries.
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"The guy who lives to the right of me is from Ghana, the guy who lives to the left of me is from Alabama. The guy across the hall is from Bangladesh," says Thomas Szamocki, a junior from Green Bay.
Almost everybody lives on campus, in a residence hall or theme house – the French, geology or peace and justice houses, among others – or one of six fraternity and sorority houses.
"We literally have everything here we could need," says Karla Figueroa, a recent graduate. Greek life, intramurals and art and theater performances dominate the social scene.
When the weather warms up, students hit the nearby running trails, play some impromptu ultimate Frisbee, check out the farmer's market downtown and sprawl on the mounds to read a book or take a nap.
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This story is excerpted from the U.S. News "Best Colleges 2014" guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.