I was asked to give a list of pros and cons about Sarah Lawrence, although probably nothing I can say will compare to the stunning accuracy of this post.
Keep in mind I am only a first-year about to embark on my second semester, and these are my own experiences, but these are things I have seen to be pretty consistently true and confirmed by upper classmen. (EDIT: now a second semester sophomore–still all true.)
The incomparable academics. I am sure every elite school has wonderful, challenging classes, and Sarah Lawrence is no exception. But the thing that sets us apart is the one-on-one time with professors and the development of conference projects, which I’m sure anyone who’s attended an info session has gotten an earful about. Do not underestimate it. Sarah Lawrence will simultaneously make you feel so incredibly humbled and limitlessly empowered–you will realize just how capable and intelligent you are, and just how much you do not know. I wish I had the words to express how much my mind has grown, and how excited I am to interview for new classes, and how I spend my showers thinking about everything I have learned until I scribble down pages of thoughts with pruned fingers to breathlessly inquire about during conference time. There is nothing in the world like it.
The cultural growth. For better or worse, you will be exposed to things you never really knew about. Expect to graduate knowing more about queer theory than you ever knew existed, more about drugs than you ever expected you’d do, and more about the nature of people (the good, the bad, and the ugly) than you fathomed you would get out of a small school.
The progressiveness. Pretty much whatever you are, if it is anything other than a socially conservative or prejudiced person, you are welcome here and there is a niche for you.
The city. No comment necessary. (Edit: people feel differently on the issue, but I personally prefer not being entirely submerged in the city and maintaining a small distance from it. It allows for the true college campus/small college town experience and all the gifts of urban life.)
The beautiful campus.
The talent. Of course the majority of people (like anywhere) have shitty poetry blogs and pseudo-artsy lomography collections, but there is true talent to behold at Sarah Lawrence, in every artistic field. Go to the Spoken Word collective and feel chills at a student’s original poem, go to a play in the tiny basement of Bates and feel the world expand beyond the tiny dark room with the intensity of an actor’s projection, go to Heimbold and be awed by a huge abstract painting. There is something to be said about being submerged in a creative culture that produces something real.
The writing. Any way you slice it, you will grow as a writer here.
People and academics. People excitedly talk about their conference projects at parties and people excitedly listen. At the end of the semester, people trade papers to read each others’ and comment on it. Everyone is intelligent and passionate, and everyone is curious.
The people you will see once you get over everyone else, and become friends with. They are for life. They are quietly talented, humbly brilliant, endlessly loyal, and eternally vibrant.
The culture. Just as the post I linked to said, Sarah Lawrence has a depressive culture. Often you will go to a party and everyone will be drinking, but you’ll feel something odd about it–then you’ll realize everyone’s drinking as if they’re Hemingway suffering from a war flashback, not as if they’re college students trying to have fun. Most people here define themselves by whatever struggle was in their past, rather than espousing an attitude of positive overcoming for the future. It’s in fashion here to be “damaged”. Many nights will end in people wanting to talk about deep personal shit, often when in the real world you would not be at that point in your relationship with them yet—you might struggle to be sparing with the intimate details of negative experiences. It is not an uplifting place if you don’t make it one.
Social life. Most friend groups are incestuous and get messy fast. Straight men are shared, and many suffer from Golden Penis Syndrome of entitlement and mansluttiness due to the girls they can effortlessly get on campus (some of which they wouldn’t be able to off-campus). Keep in mind, not all of the guys here are like this, there are absolutely nice and genuine men too. However, as a girl who isn’t as attracted to metrosexuality, it is a definite struggle. Also, there are few relationships, however most people “don’t do labels”. A LOT of people resort to OkCupid. There is also an alarming amount of sexual assault, considering the liberalness of the school and its small size, however the administration does an okay job at transparency and responsible handling of reported cases (and when they do not, they are generally receptive to student backlash).
The smoking. As a non-smoker of cigarettes, it really grosses me out how many people on campus smoke (a lot) and how it’s hard to go any given day without getting an accidental mouthful.
Drug and alcohol culture. Cocaine. Some people get really caught up in it and are even forced to take “sick leave”. As far as alcohol, Lawrence Hospital sees way too many students for alcohol poisoning than it should. Other than that, it is definitely easy to drink responsibly, and there is no peer pressure that I’ve experienced to drink stupid amounts. I have had plenty of straight edge friends who do just fine.
The people who aren’t your friends. There is a high level of pretentious hipsters. People do not smile when they walk past you (i.e. being “Sarah Lawrenced”). Everyone knows everyone else’s shit, because people are very gossipy.
The political correctness. It can reach ridiculous levels sometimes, and can sometimes feel like a witch hunt. Be very, very careful with your wording when you’re having any kind of political or social discussion–even though your intentions are good, your word choice is what is judged.
The gender discrepancy. Yes, it absolutely exists, and you will obviously notice more women than men. However, it is not nearly as huge of a gap as you think it will be, and becomes more or less even (or seems to) over time.
Ugliness. People here are gorgeous. The boys just walked out of GQ and the girls out of Tumblr.
Everyone’s gay. There are many LGBTQ students, and since it’s Sarah Lawrence almost everyone is pretty open and will kiss just about anyone when intoxicated. But there are DEFINITELY straight men and women to be had, but don’t trust your gaydar. Metrosexuality is everywhere.
You will know everyone because it’s so tiny. Amazingly, you won’t. You will meet new people all the time. Someone will talk about someone and you’ll say, “who?” Unfortunately, as I mentioned, gossip does fly and it is enabled by the tiny bubble of the school. Granted, you will see the person you drunkenly hooked up with across the lawn or in the Pub for the next four years. But there are still always new people to meet and new social circles to enter.
Everyone is rich. There is great socioeconomic diversity at Sarah Lawrence. There is no political diversity, and little racial diversity, but the spectrum of socioeconomic class makes for a span of perspectives. It is the most expensive college in the U.S. but also one of the most generous.
This was not my first choice school, but if I had to go back in time, it would be. I cannot imagine going any place else. It is crazy, unique, intellectual, creative, and transcendent. It absolutely has its cons (as I’ve outlined), but they are all 100% worth the pros. This place is not for you if you aren’t completely committed to being challenged, exhausted, criticized, and to spending more time on a paper than you ever have. This place is not for you if you are depressed and need a culture that won’t bring you down, or if you are over-impressionable to social surroundings and have an addictive personality. This place IS for you if you want to use your time in college to explore–academically, emotionally, and creatively. Sarah Lawrence is intense, in every way, and it is for intense people.