Once a well-hidden gem tucked away in leafy, suburban Philadelphia, Haverford College is breaking out of obscurity and into the forefront of the country’s top liberal arts colleges. And why not? Haverford embodies what most people associate with college: an arboreal campus dotted with historic stone halls, professors and students chatting away on the steps after class, people reading or throwing a Frisbee on the main green. But there are many things about the school that go beyond that, that break the mold and make it a unique place. An Honor Code brings trust and respect to the campus community both in the classroom and at Saturday night parties. Only 1,100 students means that even intro courses average fifteen or fewer students, giving you close contact with a challenging and accomplished faculty. And the school has the top collegiate varsity cricket team in the nation (also the only one). It’s no wonder Haverford is no longer a secret.
The college covers 204 acres about ten miles from Center City Philadelphia; however, you could easily be convinced that you were in the middle of nowhere. Shrouded by a wall of trees on all sides, the campus consists of rolling fields with buildings concentrated around a square in the middle. The campus itself is an arboretum. Founded in 1833 by members of the Society of Friends, the college was intended for Quaker men, but soon thereafter opened its doors to all comers (except women, who were admitted in 1980). The Quaker tradition is strong but not overbearing in typical Quaker fashion. Meetings are held weekly for those who choose to attend, and aspects such as consensus decision-making and the Honor Code are direct results of the Quaker background. Liberal arts is the important thing to remember when talking about academics.
The institution is truly committed to the idea, meaning that physics majors cannot hole themselves up in lab for four years, just as philosophy majors will end up stepping into the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center more than once or twice during their college career. A few basic requirements, such as a year of foreign language, freshman writing, and a social justice class, are designed to ensure this, but don’t prove to be restrictive. That’s not to say students will do well only in Trivial Pursuit; the past few classes have produced prize-winning physicists and published economists, among others. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves right away—the work is rigorous to say the least. The thirty-page reading assignment that you were shocked to get in high school will seem like a night off.
Of course it’s not all work and no play. The school offers a broad range of activities for such a small college. More than three quarters of the student body plays sports at either the varsity, club, or intramural level. Students can choose from more than 100 clubs and groups ranging from theater to the Zymurgy Club (beer-making). There is also the highest per capita number of a cappella groups in the nation, making for a lot of harmony on campus. The surrounding towns offer the usual fare of movie theaters, restaurants, book stores, and twenty-four-hour Wawa convenience stores, which come in very handy when you want a hoagie at 2:30 A.M. Downtown Philadelphia is a fifteen-minute ride away on the local train; Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr can be reached through regular van and bus service.
The Honor Code
Underlying life at the school is the Honor Code, one that goes beyond not copying off your neighbor’s exam book. All incoming students have to sign the Code, pledging to live by the academic and social responsibilities it assigns to all students and faculty. What this translates to is take-home tests, and unproctored, self-scheduled final exams that can make the stress-induced angst of finals week a bit easier to take. The more blurry and controversial side of the Code is its social expectations. The basic premise is that all students must treat each other with respect and work out their differences through dialogue. Enforcing such a vague idea can be difficult. The social Honor Code has been a big topic of discussion the past few years at Plenary, the town-meeting style biannual gathering. The Code is a work in progress, constantly being changed and remolded by students who propose amendments and then plead their case at Plenary. All resolutions are put to a vote, and if passed, become part of the Code. If what you are looking for is academic excellence combined with a strong sense of community, then look no further. A strong emphasis on the liberal arts and the trust and respect implicit in the Honor Code teach students not only how to be a complete intellectual package, but also how to be humane and thoughtful in their social interactions.
And let’s not forget education—HC offers one of the best around. Top-notch professors challenge the limits of their students, and classes are intimate academic experiences only a small college can offer. Students work hard, but in return are given the best available resources, the opportunity for independent work, and a thorough education. The school will forever remain committed to the liberal arts, choosing to produce intelligent, capable people rather than those trained to occupy a niche.
I never really appreciated the effect that Haverford had upon me until I graduated. Comparing myself now to who I was when I arrived as a freshman is like looking at two different people. When I was a student, I never took the time to step back and realize what a fantastic experience I was having; I was more concerned with my work, my social life, the here-and-now. It wasn’t until I left the comfort zone of college and joined the “real world” that I began to realize what Haverford had done for me. Not only was my brain crammed with more information than I knew what to do with, but I also had picked up a lot of valuable tools. I could write, express myself, carry on an intelligent conversation, and think critically. I found myself more aware of the world around me and how I could affect it. The Honor Code had opened my eyes not only to larger-scale social issues, but also to my interactions with people on an everyday basis. I would say the best thing Haverford did for me was to make me a complete person.
Each year the college sends its graduates out into the world, and in the fall, welcomes another batch of freshmen. While the faces are constantly changing, the college remains the same, and so do the values and education it imparts to its students. Trust, respect, and excellence will forever be the cornerstones of the Haverford experience.