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  • Writer's pictureBeth & Tim Manners

College Tours: Providence & Bryant

Updated: Sep 18, 2019

Our students sometimes comment that their college campus tours are a blur, that one seems pretty much like the next. This is understandable, given that so many schools tend to cover similar points in their information sessions, and make the same stops during campus tours. Yet, it’s usually not that hard to “hear” what makes a school different, and special. Such was our experience while visiting two Rhode Island schools located fewer than ten miles apart — Providence College and Bryant University — earlier this week.

At a glance, the two schools differ in terms of size (Providence is small/medium-sized, while Bryant is just plain small). They are also different by dint of diversity (Providence is 80% Catholic) and selectivity (Providence acceptance is about 56% and Bryant 72%). What stood out most, however, was the way in which the two schools are similar: They both highlight their heritage and how that informs what they offer, both conceptually and in practice.

Providence was founded in 1917 by Dominicans, whose organizing principle is a quest for “truth.” This manifests itself in at least two notable ways, most visibly in the white-robed friars who roam the campus. Less obvious, but just as significant, is the two-year, cross-discipline course in Western Civilization required of all incoming students that explores human history through literature, philosophy, art and, yes, theology. The goal is to teach students how to think. Our tour guide confirmed that this orientation serves students well no matter their eventual academic focus (he is a theater major).

Bryant got its start in 1863, originally as a business college in downtown Providence. In 1967, Earl Tupper of Tupperware fame donated about 400 acres in Smithfield, RI and the school relocated there. The college later became a university with the addition of a liberal arts school, but its roots in business remains its raison d’etre. The beauty is that students combine business and humanities studies to work towards what Bryant calls a “culture of innovation.” Its spectacular Academic Innovation Center gives the concept a jewel-box of a home, its classrooms featuring collaborative clusters of desks surrounded by walls of whiteboards, encouraging a free and open exchange of ideas.

It’s highly unlikely one would come to appreciate any of this without visiting these two very impressive schools because neither institution’s website truly captures its essence. Providence buries the freshman-year immersion in Western Civilization that may define its key point of difference, and Bryant does not cover the origin story that makes it what it is at all. Admissions officers at both schools did a much better job of telling their respective stories, as did the tour guides (with a special shout-out to senior William Oser at Providence, who was as informative as he was entertaining). If you don’t believe us, watch William’s Vogue-style, 53-question interview with Fr. Brian Shanley, president of Providence College:

Our advice, then, is that when you visit college campuses, lean in and listen carefully. The sound you hear may be that of the perfect school for you.

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