Florida College Road Trip: Rollins College

Rollins’ nearly 2,000 undergraduates spend a good bit of time away from their sunny suburban campus in central Florida.

All told, 75 percent of them study abroad, and in keeping with the college’s mission of promoting civic engagement and global awareness, every year Rollins coordinates off-campus immersion trips, where students complete community service and social entrepreneurship projects for a week or weekend at a time.

The experiences really help you “find your anchor” and embrace “what interests and engages you,” says Ailin McCullough, a 2018 political science and environmental studies grad from Gainesville, Florida, who completed seven immersions. One took him to Tanzania, where he helped build an ecolodge in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. In another, he traveled to Utah to tackle conservation and wildlife habitat restoration projects.

[See: 2019 Colleges With Great First-Year Experiences.]

For many, community engagement starts at the annual Service, Passion, Action, Rollins College Day, held just before fall classes start. All freshmen participate in a day of volunteer work in the local community, usually with the professor who will teach their required first-year seminar and their classmates in the course. First-year students also live in the same residence halls as their seminar classmates, which helps them form close connections.

Undergraduates can major in fields like international relations, social innovation and marine biology, or they might pursue an accelerated bachelor’s and MBA program offered in conjunction with the Crummer Graduate School of Business. The college also enrolls some 600 grad students.

In addition to their major requirements, everyone takes courses in writing, a foreign language, math, ethics, and health and wellness. Students also complete a set of five Foundations seminars, which cover science, the arts, the humanities and the social sciences, and are organized around a common theme.

“It creates more meaning in your classes, rather than just checking off a requirement,” says Mollie Thibodeau, a 2018 communications grad from Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Her “Mysteries and Marvels” themed classes focused on asking questions about big puzzles in subjects like science, religion and culture.

The college’s 10:1 student-faculty ratio and average class size of 17 allow for strong connections with professors — and provide ample opportunity for one-on-one research. Recent anthropology grad SaraJane Renfroe of Gulf Breeze, Florida, traveled to Barcelona, Spain, with a professor as part of a research project on migrant women in Spain and Florida. She is now pursuing a master’s degree in human rights studies at Columbia University.

[See: Don’t Make These 10 Freshman Mistakes in College.]

Rollins’ campus is full of Spanish-Mediterranean-style architecture, and its location on the edge of Lake Virginia provides easy access to water skiing, sailing or just enjoying the views from a gazebo overlooking the water. Every spring, students wait for a random day dubbed “Fox Day” that the president deems “too pretty to have class.” Everyone is treated to food and activities instead.

The Tars compete in a range of men’s and women’s varsity sports, including rowing, water skiing and sailing. There are more than 100 student organizations, and some 40 percent of students get involved in Greek life. The Center for Leadership & Community Engagement helps connect undergrads with service opportunities and other activities at local organizations in Winter Park and the surrounding area, such as Habitat for Humanity and the Mead Botanical Garden.

Just steps off campus is Park Avenue, home to shops, dining options and a shared outdoor space. Central Florida’s cultural institutions, gardens and theme parks — including Disney World and Universal Studios — are all nearby, and students can get discounted tickets. The SunRail commuter rail system, which stops on Park Avenue, can get to downtown Orlando in about 15 minutes.

[See: Best Colleges in Florida.]

Karina Barbesino, a senior international relations and Asian studies major from Croatia, came to Rollins knowing about its intense focus on global engagement. When she couldn’t find a study abroad option for exactly what she wanted, she worked with the college to create one and ended up spending nine months in China studying business, culture and language.

“If you set your mind to something, Rollins will help you as much as possible,” says Barbesino, who hopes to either study or teach in Taiwan after she graduates and eventually work for the government.

More From the Florida College Road Trip:

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This story is excerpted from the U.S. News “Best Colleges 2019” guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.

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Florida College Road Trip: Rollins College originally appeared on usnews.com