As admit rates continue to go down at the most selective colleges in the country, many students are being forced to expand their list of potential colleges. This can be a good thing, since they can find wonderful schools that might not have immediate name brand recognition but offer an excellent education.
You may need to change how you evaluate colleges. Rather than focusing on selectivity, think about what kind of experience you will have once you arrive on campus. A 4.2 GPA student should be successful at any college, but when a college routinely admits B students and transforms them into high-achieving, confident college students, that school is having more of an impact than a highly ranked college that only admits top students.
If you are immersed in the college search process, you may have heard about Colleges That Change Lives, a group of more than 40 colleges located around the country. They offer very different programs. What they have in common is a commitment to the undergraduate experience.
While most of the CTCL schools are private liberal arts colleges with a couple thousand students, Evergreen State College is a public school with over four thousand undergraduates. The wooded, waterfront campus in Olympia is less than an hour from Seattle. But what really distinguishes Evergreen is the unique interdisciplinary curriculum. Instead of taking four or five classes at a time, students sign up for one program, which is usually team-taught by several professors from different fields. A program called Foundations of Health Science integrates biology and chemistry, focusing on health, medicine and disease. The class includes lab work, lectures, seminars, group projects and case studies, as well as an internship with a local health-related organization. Another program, Memory and Conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean, incorporates archaeology, political science, Middle East studies and cultural studies, and includes a six week study abroad in Egypt and Turkey. Programs often include field projects, internships or travel, which are easy to schedule since students don’t have other classes. There are no majors at Evergreen and students create their own course of study, in consultation with professors who get to know them well since they spend many hours together during an academic program. Students receive narrative evaluations of their work instead of grades, although grades can be provided if necessary for graduate school applications.
New College in Florida has much in common with Evergreen, as it is also a public school with a waterfront campus, and students design their own curriculum and receive narrative evaluations. This small college of 800 students offers lots of opportunities for independent study and collaboration with faculty. And admitted out of state students qualify for a $15,000 per year scholarship, which cuts tuition by 50%.
While a number of CTCL schools, including Hampshire and Marlboro, allow students tremendous freedom to create an individualized course of study, St. Johns College has a mandated curriculum. There are no majors and no course choices. Students spend their four years reading and discussing the great books of western civilization, and everyone studies Greek and French, as well as four years of math and three years of science.
Students who like the idea of going to college in Florida but who want a more traditional college might like Eckerd College, which also has a waterfront campus, and offers a nice selection of liberal arts majors as well as terrific marine science programs. The school helps students make a smooth transition to college by bringing freshmen to campus three weeks before the fall semester starts, and having them take an interdisciplinary seminar with the professor who will serve as a mentor throughout freshman year.
If you want a beautiful campus with trees and space but need to be near a major city, Goucher College, just outside Baltimore, offers the best of both.
Most of the CTCL schools are not super-selective when it comes to admission, but that doesn’t mean you won’t work hard to earn a degree. Some of the schools require students to complete a major research paper, similar to a master’s level thesis. It’s no surprise that so many graduates of CTCL schools go on to earn Ph.D.s.
In addition to offering small classes and nurturing faculty, many of the CTCL schools also offer merit scholarships, making these colleges a real bargain for strong students.