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Chapman University: the Liberal ARTS college of Los Angeles

Today I spent a few hours on the campus of Chapman University in Orange, California. The first pleasant surprise was the drive into town. The old town of Orange is actually quite quaint for the Los Angeles area. If it weren’t for the palm trees, I would have thought I was in a small town in rural Virginia or New England. The main street was replete with little cafés, coffee shops, restaurants, and antique stores (okay, so maybe most college students won’t be furnishing their rooms with heirlooms). But it’s a nice little town on the edge of the campus.

The Chapman campus is relatively small, belying the size of the student body (just under 4,000). But it’s architecturally coherent, with nice walking paths and open spaces. The student center and library are both relatively new, and the residence halls are also well designed and modern–and all contained within a “residential village” adjacent to the academic campus.  One drawback is that campus housing is not guaranteed after freshman year, so 60% of upperclassmen live off campus.
I met a few very enthusiastic students who had nothing but positive things to say about their experiences. The 4-1-4 calendar allows students to keep motoring through the curriculum, helping keep kids on track for graduation within four years. And the winter interterm allows for some interesting curricular offerings, some of which include travel abroad or within the US.

The brightest stars in the Chapman crown, however, are the arts programs. The school of performing arts includes music, dance, and theatre. The facilities and the faculty attract a talented bunch of students. So the campus as a whole has an artsy feel to it, but the focus on the traditional liberal arts disciplines—plus the popular business school—helps keep the campus as a whole very well-rounded.

Then there is the film school. One word: amazing. This is one of the best undergraduate film programs in the United States. The few and the proud who are admitted to this competitive program not only complete general liberal arts requirement, but they also receive a BFA. The facilities are tremendous. The faculty members are all practitioners in the entertainment industry (including some very well-known names). The first year students are able to launch right into their creative work, and all students who want to are able to pursue professional internships. The one thing our tour guide admitted is that the program is especially intense—lots of late nights, hard work shooting on the weekends, and pressure to produce. But graduates from the film program are among the most successful in gaining entry to the industry.

All the arts programs require an audition and a supplemental application, the requirements for which are available online.  Anyone interested in the film school MUST apply by the early action deadline on November 15.  This is an extremely competitive program, and there is virtually no possibility of acceptance during the regular process.  Merit and talent scholarships are available for the artists.

One drawback to this excellence in the arts is that non-theater majors cannot participate in some of the main stage productions, which are reserved for theater majors.

All in all, I was enormously impressed by Chapman. A pleasant town, a challenging liberal arts curriculum, an active Division III sports program, and a vibrant arts community…who could ask for anything more?

Mark Montgomery
Montgomery Educational Consulting

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