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Dr. Kat’s List: Five Colleges For a Winter Wonderland

Tis’ the season! For college students around the US, December often brings final papers, presentations, and exams, as many students enter the home stretch before winter break. Luckily, at many colleges, this end-of-semester stress is lightened by snowy celebrations and holiday cheer. Whether you’re partial to chestnuts roasting on an open fire or prefer to have Jack Frost nipping at your nose, here are five schools where you can celebrate the season.

Bates College, Lewiston, ME
Students at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine are used to a campus blanketed in winter white. The picturesque city receives an average annual snowfall of 65.6 inches, creating the perfect setting for the college’s Winter Carnival. Hosted by the Bates Outing Club, this nearly 100-year-old tradition celebrates cold and snowy weather, which is a trademark of fierce Maine winters. Each year, the club selects a theme for the four-day festivities, which are kicked off with an Olympic-style torch relay. Past themes have included “Mardi Gras,” “Wintergallactic,” and ” The Roaring Twenties.” The carnival features athletic competitions (from three-legged snowshoe races to cross-country skiing), an ice skating party, concerts, a bonfire, a snow sculpture competition, and tray races, in which students race down Mount David on cafeteria trays borrowed from the Commons. The penultimate event of the Winter Carnival is the Puddle Jump, during which “Batesies” venture down to Lake Andrews, nicknamed “The Puddle,” cut a hole in the ice, and jump in.

Students looking to warm up at this private institution can head indoors, where the school’s classrooms provide the setting for more than 30 majors or a design-your-own interdisciplinary major. The school’s 1,700 undergraduate students can also take part in 60 student organizations from the Competitive Eating Club to the Stage Combat Club. Further, students can experience campus traditions such as Mustachio Bashio, an annual party celebrating “fanciful facial creations” and the annual Oxford-Bates debates. Off-campus, Lewiston and its neighboring community draw outdoor enthusiasts from near and far with access to the 574-acre Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area, the Bates College Coastal Center at Shortridge (a woodland and freshwater habitat), the Thorncrag Bird Sanctuary, and numerous hiking, canoeing, golfing, and skiing options.

Columbia University, New York, NY
Founded more than 250-years ago, Columbia University in New York, NY boasts winter traditions both old and new. Dating back to the Revolutionary War, the lighting of the Yule Log is the oldest tradition on campus. Bell-ringing escorts dressed as Revolutionary-War-era soldiers carry the log, three feet long and decked in festive greens and berries, throughout campus. The log is finally lit outside John Jay Hall, where students and faculty gather for seasonal carols and readings. Favorites include “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore and “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” by Francis Pharcellus Church, both Columbia University graduates. A new tradition, started in 1998, is the tree-lighting ceremony. The bare trees lining College Walk are lit with white lights in early December and kept ablaze through February. Following the lighting, students gather at the sundial in the middle of College Walk (a gift from the class of 1885) for hot chocolate, performances by several of the school’s a capella groups, and words of wisdom from the university president and a featured guest speaker.

In addition to bright lights and the big city, Columbia University offers its 8,100 undergraduate students 100 areas of study from Creative Writing to Sustainable Development. Additionally, students can partake in more than 500 clubs and organizations in everything from Bach to figure skating. The university, located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, gives students easy access to all that the city has to offer. Students can take advantage of free admission to more than 30 of the city’s museums and famous cultural institutions including theMetropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, and discounted tickets for access to hundreds of exhibitions and shows.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA
Located in a sylvan mountain setting in Blacksburg, Virginia, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, commonly known as Virginia Tech, has a winter tradition true to its military history. The school, a former ROTC institute, and one of the few public universities in the US with an active corps of cadets, is the scene of the annual cadet versus civilian snowball fight. Each year during the first big snowfall, a fire alarm sounds indicating the immediate start of an all campus snowball fight on the Drill Field. In the past, students have gone so far as to strategize in advance of the winter weather, bringing water balloon launchers and bugle horns to set the scene.

The 24,000 undergraduate students at this public university can choose from 70 majors, with a focus on science, technology, engineering, and professional programs. Students can strengthen their snowball throwing arms playing for one of the Hokie’ 21 Division I Atlantic Coast Conference teams or by joining the more than 13,000 students who participate in an intramural sport. If athletics isn’t your forte, VT offers more than 600 clubs and organizations from the Robo Boat Team to Street Dance. Additionally, students can go bowling, play pool, or partake in a friendly videogame challenge in the BreakZONE, a hangout sponsored by the school’s Department of University Unions and Student Activities. Once the snow has melted, students can head off-campus to enjoy the International Street Fair & Parade held in Blacksburg each year in April. Food, crafts, and culture from more than 110 countries collide on College Avenue for the festivities.

Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, PA
While snow signifies the start of the winter season for many, for others, it’s all about the food. Each year, the Dining Center at Gettysburg College hosts a Thanksgiving dinner for the school’s 2,400 undergraduate students. This year, 224 turkeys, 1,050 pounds of mashed potatoes, 845 pounds of stuffing, and 1,888 slices of pumpkin pie were prepared! Members of the faculty and staff serve students, who gather to reflect on the semester and celebrate the upcoming holidays. Many Gettysburg alumni reflect fondly on this memory and continue to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner with fellow alumni in tribute to their college days. Furthering the food festivities, each December, on the last day of classes before winter break, Pete Curry, the Dean of Intercultural Advancement, invites students to his home for a traditional holiday dinner.

When they’re not chowing down, students at this private university in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, can choose from more than 60 majors and minors from Civil War Era Studies to Neuroscience. In commemoration of its grounds being a major Civil War site, the college also offers an intensive immersion called the Gettysburg Semester. The experience includes related courses, internships with Civil War-related agencies, and Civil War-themed housing. For students who prefer to stay immersed in the 21st century, the school offers more than 120 student clubs and organizations, from the Wiffleball Club to the Jazz Appreciation Club. Away from classroom (and the battlefield), students can follow in the footsteps of former US Presidents Lincoln, Grant, and Eisenhower at one of the city’s many historic sites, or relive history of a different sort at the Gettysburg Ghost Lab or the International Museum of Spiritual Investigations.

Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
Another school that embraces the snow (Syracuse, New York averages more than 100 inches of snowfall each year!), Syracuse University holds a Winter Carnival that dates back to 1930. Chilly traditions include midnight snowshoeing, a snowman-building competition, and the human dog sled race and human bowling competitions. When its time to warm up, students can trade chilly for chili at the chili cook-off, which showcases the culinary talents of faculty, staff, and students. Things heat up indoors as the school’s 14,000 students attend a pep rally and viewing party for the much-anticipated annual SU vs. Georgetown Men’s Basketball Game. Other indoor Winter Carnival activities include free food, arts and crafts, trivia, karaoke, and videogame competitions.

While Syracuse students may feel at home on a campus blanketed in white, this private research university is better known for another color; almost 600 students compete in 20 NCAA Division I sports as “the Orange.” In addition to its record snowfall, ‘Cuse is also known for its designation as a research university, offering more than 200 majors in nine undergraduate colleges. Further, students can choose from more than 300 student organizations from the Sour Sitrus Society (Syracuse University’s Basketball Pep Band), to Wellness, Health, Exercise and Education in Life, which promotes exercise and education on campus. Students looking to escape the winter chill can study abroad at one of the university’s eight overseas centers or spend a semester at one of the campus’s outposts in New York City, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC. Off-campus, students can enjoy the city of Syracuse, located in central New York, which is home to two annual jazz festivals, the Syracuse Shakespeare Festival, and the Everson Museum of Art.

These are just some of the many schools across the country that will allow you to celebrate the season while gaining a great college education and experience. Happy holidays and winter wishes from all of us at IvyWise!

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