Around 25 percent of students enrolled at Lawrence in any given year are music majors, but many more, drawn here by the musically rich environment, take classes in the conservatory and participate in the various choirs and ensembles, from the Appletones a capella group to the Electronic Music Club.
"Sometimes there's a bassoon group playing at dinner," says Oumou Cisse, a sophomore studying anthropology. "We have a lot of students who are wonderful musicians who also happen to be anthropology majors and geology majors," says Ken Anselment, dean of admissions and financial aid.
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Lawrentians who can't choose between music performance and international studies don't have to. The university offers a five-year program through which they can earn dual degrees from both the College of Liberal Arts and the conservatory. Roughly half of Lawrence's music majors choose this route, says Brian Pertl, dean of the conservatory.
Athletes are right at home here, too. Some 25 percent of Lawrence undergrads are involved in athletics; the school fields 22 varsity teams in sports from baseball and hockey to swimming and diving that compete at the Division III level.
Many others participate in club sports. But the common stereotypes of jocks, frat kids and band geeks do not apply here, Cisse says of the school's social circles. "Everyone is pretty much everywhere."
That intermingling can be attributed in part to the school's compact size. It takes roughly 15 minutes to traverse campus, where pretty much everyone lives, studies and socializes.
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The close quarters allow students and faculty to develop relationships outside of the classroom, but can also make it difficult for anyone to simply blend in or be anonymous.
"I'm sure sometimes it's a pain," says Tim Spurgin, an associate professor of English. "But students talk about being in the Lawrence bubble with a smile on their face."
Appleton itself is not a stereotypical small college town; the city of 72,000, the hometown of Harry Houdini, boasts a vibrant arts scene that draws big name music acts and Broadway productions. Residence halls host regular house dinners and a handful of fraternities and sororities take care of the on-campus night life.
Lawrence's new student union features a movie theater that shows films at midnight every Friday, complete with free popcorn and slushies. The student union also houses a grocery market and an expansive cafeteria where students feel comfortable enough to leave their coats, backpacks and laptops unattended on the stairs while they dine.
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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.