Lawrence University has a northern campus, Björklunden, in Door County, Wisconsin. Björklunden serves as a site for retreats, seminars, concerts, and theatrical performances. Donald and Winifred Boynton of Highland Park, Illinois, donated the property to Lawrence in 1963.
Lawrence's first period of major growth came during the tenure of alumnus Samuel G. Plantz as president. From 1894 until 1924, Plantz presided over the school and led its student body to grow from 200 to 800.
From 1913 until 1964, the school was named Lawrence College, to emphasize its small size and liberal arts education focus. The name was changed to Lawrence University when it joined with Milwaukee-Downer College, symbolizing the two schools united as one. Initially, the university designated two entities: Lawrence College for Men and Downer College for Women. This separation has not lasted in any material form, though degrees are still conferred "on the recommendation of the Faculty of Lawrence and Downer Colleges" and the university by-laws still make the distinction.
The Lawrence Conservatory of Music, affectionately referred to as "the Con," was founded in 1894. The university confers a Bachelor of Music degree and also offers a five-year program leading to a Bachelor of Arts in addition to the music degree.
Lawrence University is distinguished by originating the idea of freshman studies. Freshman Studies at Lawrence is a mandatory two trimester class that panoptically exposes students to notable literature from many fields. President Nathan M. Pusey is credited with initiating the program in 1945, although Professor Waples chaired the Freshman Studies Committee and was responsible for actually getting the program off the ground. The program has continued to this day, despite being temporarily suspended in 1974, and has been adapted by many liberal arts colleges.
The traditions and heritage of Milwaukee-Downer are woven into the Appleton campus, from the grove of hawthorn trees (called Hawthornden) between Brokaw and Colman halls, to the sundial on the back of Main Hall, to the bestowing upon each class year a class color and banner. Milwaukee-Downer alumnae are generous both financially and spiritually to Lawrence University, attending yearly reunions and other events there, and contributing to the school's endowment. The State of Wisconsin purchased the Milwaukee-Downer property and buildings to expand the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. When the University had separate offices for a "Dean of Women" and a "Dean of Men", the officer overseeing women students was called the "Dean of Downer." That title is still borne by the senior woman on the faculty, but her only duty now is carrying the Downer mace in academic processions. For many years the women's choir was called the Downer Chorus. At one time the BA was conferred upon women in the name of "Downer College of Lawrence University" and upon men in the name of "Lawrence College of Lawrence University"; now all BA degrees are conferred in the name of "Lawrence & Downer Colleges of Lawrence University."
Lawrence is also highlighted as a "Best Value" by the Princeton Review. The school has a strong financial aid program: it is one of the few colleges in America that has need-blind admissions, and the college awards both need and merit-based financial aid to over 93% of its students.
Unlike most colleges, Lawrence University operates on a trimester calendar. A complete academic year runs from late September to mid-June.
The student/faculty ratio at Lawrence is 9:1, much lower than the national average. This allows for small class sizes and individual attention from professors.
Lawrence distributes Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Music degrees. A double degree is possible and double degree students are not uncommon. Lawrence offers a number of cooperative degree programs in areas such as engineering and environmental studies.
The college has major programs in most areas of the liberal arts. The school also offers the option of interdisciplinary majors and allows students to create their own majors. All students are required to take Freshman Studies, which introduces students to broad areas of study and provides a common academic experience for the college.
The school has an independent study option that allows students to design their own courses. This allows students to explore academic interests not covered by Lawrence’s classes or to explore topics more deeply. Over 90% of the students take advantage of the independent study program.
In 2005, Lawrence University began the Lawrence Fellows Program, initially selecting eight recent Ph.D.s to teach and research at Lawrence for a period of two to three years. The goal is to expand the program to twenty Ph.D.s.
The school has a low number of American minority students: over 75% of the students identify as white. However, Lawrence has a significant number of international students : about 12%.