Autotelic Schools
August 20, 2007 8:09 AM   Subscribe

What's a good university, where good means a high concentration of people interested in learning?

My friend's taking a year off after High School to work, but would like to go to college eventually. Like me, though, we have a jaded opinion about college. In my experience, there were a group of people in my school who got engaged in the classes and activities, and wanted to make their college experience matter. And then there were those whose parents shoved them there, or they just wanted the piece of paper, or they were there for the prestige.

For example, UT Austin has such a high concentration of random midwesterners whose parents just shoveled them out here cuz it seems like the right thing. As a result, there's a lot of meatheads, slackers, and otherwise clueless types.

When I think of Reed College, though, I think of students who wanted to go there for the good liberal arts education. Same when I think of Carnegie-Mellon for a good computer science education.

So was your school like this? Do you know of any other schools that are? These schools don't have to be first tier, and they don't have to either liberal or techy (a generalist school would be good too), but they should be a place where an intellectually-geared mind would thrive.
posted by philosophistry to Education (54 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
My school (W&M) is. But I think almost every school with some academic rigor at least has a group of people who are serious about academics.

That said, academics are not the only thing in college, and you should not confuse work hard/party hard types with work hard/stay in types. And you should have a baseline of 'quality' schools based on some you've been to, since reputations are not everything. For instance, Reed is a great school, but if your idea of slackers includes smoking pot... well, it's full of slackers.
posted by tmcw at 8:22 AM on August 20, 2007


Are you talking just about American schools?
posted by loiseau at 8:22 AM on August 20, 2007


University of Chicago? My friend's sister went there for her undergrad, and I heard there's a strong emphasis on discussion of ideas there.
posted by elisynn at 8:29 AM on August 20, 2007


Not necessarily American schools.

Also, per tmcw, yes, then I'm interested in the work hard/party hard types. As for slackers, there are pot smokers for whom smoking pot is a way of expanding their mind and inspiring them, and there are those for whom it's just a psychological crutch or some mindless hedonistic addiction. The former is what I'm interested in.
posted by philosophistry at 8:30 AM on August 20, 2007


St. John's (santa fe and Annapolis), Harvey Mudd (and the Other Claremont colleges), Colorado College, Oberlin, Carelton. Also maybe Kalamzoo college, Williams. Dozens of other's I'm either forgetting, or I've never heard of.

You might want to check out www.ctcl.com for some other ideas.
posted by Good Brain at 8:34 AM on August 20, 2007


Rice University.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:38 AM on August 20, 2007


Most people are focused on academics at Brown, but we're focused as much on having fun...I wouldn't want it any other way.
posted by awesomebrad at 8:41 AM on August 20, 2007


I'm a graduate of Oberlin College and second it for your purposes. When looking at schools I considered the same issues that you are, and after spending 4 years there was very happy about how it was. Sure, there are some annoying uber-hippies that are just riding through on their trust-funds ("trustifarians") but they're not a majority of the student body and you can easily avoid them if you want. Overall, it's a student body that thrives on learning.

I would also suggest Earlham College in Richmond, IN. It's a small Quaker school that is known to be a place that Professors from other schools (even the Ivy's) send their own children for a great education. The location leaves a bit to be desired, however.
posted by jk252b at 8:42 AM on August 20, 2007


Rice, definitely.
posted by MsMolly at 8:47 AM on August 20, 2007


Hampshire College.
posted by OmieWise at 8:47 AM on August 20, 2007


I, too, chose William and Mary for its extreme emphasis on education (Tribe Pride! Or.. something). I wasn't disappointed.

But, I don't know what's going to be a useful answer for you or your friend. Selecting a college should be a personal matter. If you find a school that's a good fit for you, then it's really easy to ignore the slackers around you and thrive all on your own.
posted by Ms. Saint at 8:48 AM on August 20, 2007


Most universities with competitive admissions standards will have a student body that studies hard. They are full of students who busted their asses to get there. Larger universities like the one I went to (UCLA) can be isolating, though. It's actually harder to meet people. Smaller universities, I am told, are places where you can really get to know people in your class and network more easily.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:56 AM on August 20, 2007


x2 carleton, the inner nerd is definitely warmly embraced there

x2 u of chicago, but i hear sometimes they take it so far their unofficial motto is "the place where fun goes to die"
posted by irregardless at 9:02 AM on August 20, 2007


Columbia.

Generally speaking, the better the school is, the higher the concentration of people interested in learning. I'm not sure your question couldn't just be rephrased as "What are the best schools in the country?"

These schools don't have to be first tier... but they should be a place where an intellectually-geared mind would thrive.

I would look at first-tier schools first, if you can get in to them.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 9:02 AM on August 20, 2007


I should have clarified. In my experience, Rice kids tend to be down-to-earth and really nice, if a tad square/straight (maybe too much so for my tastes). Well-rounded, hard-working, but they have to be, because it's a really difficult school, and really difficult to get in to. Goal-oriented overachievers (which can be really irritating). They are overwhelmingly white, but I found that class differences and family backgrounds were overlooked. Not snobby. No frats, though they also drink a LOT. Broad (biased) generalizations, obviously. An excellent education overall.

And the administration only shut down the student-run station ONCE. So far. < /bitter>
posted by unknowncommand at 9:04 AM on August 20, 2007


University of Chicago. I went there and, yes, fun goes there to die, but then rises again like the mighty phoenix. Just don't get caught up with the people who pretend like it's a regular school and try to party like it is. There's plenty fun to be had that's unique to the environment without "keggers" and attractive people. The city is great, the neighborhood is wonderful (which is important since there will be little time to get off campus), and almost every student is there for the same reason as you would be. As an anecdote, they were filming that horrible Keanu Reeves movie there (Chain Reaction) when I was an undergrad and were trying to get extras for a lecture scene. They had the hardest time finding people because it was during peak class time. Also, since they're on quarters, you're never far from an exam.
I sound like an ex-marine.
posted by monkeymadness at 9:10 AM on August 20, 2007


Any big state U with an honors program, especially one with residences.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:19 AM on August 20, 2007


No finer institution than Texas A&M University.

"From the outside looking in, you can't understand it. From the inside looking out, you can't explain it."
posted by doorsfan at 9:23 AM on August 20, 2007


University of Chicago, Reed College, Deep Springs (guys only, small as hell), St John's College (snooty as none other, I've heard).

All the top 10/20 universities will have a significant amount of people that are there because of just that. They'll also have people there for other reasons, but honestly, it's nice to have the break. I seriously thought about Reed, but ended up deciding against it because I didn't want to be around the same type of people all the time. Getting a bit more diversity (in the loosest sense of the word) was definitely a good decision for me.
posted by devilsbrigade at 9:26 AM on August 20, 2007


Is there a budget we're shooting for? Does he have a rough idea of what he'd be interested in studying? And what state does your friend live in? I ask because different states have public universities of often very high quality at comparative prices that may not reflect their excellence.

That said, I'm a happy alumnus of UC Santa Cruz: it was, at least for me, the perfect mix of natural beauty, intellectual rigor, creative independence, and financial feasibility.

I will say, though, that I felt like I got a really good deal because I got way more out of things than just my classes and grades - here's a comment of mine from another AskMe question that talks about all the stuff I did in college that I never expected would even be possible or knew existed when I was in high school.

And once he does select a college and heads off to school, it sounds like your friend is a motivated person going to college for the right reasons; as long as he keeps his grades up, he should know that in many cases, if things don't work out at one college, transferring to another college in the same system (say, between University of California campuses) is often relatively easy - I know plenty of people who left UCSC for our flagship campuses of UCLA or Berkeley, and others who came to UCSC from those same campuses to pursue something we did better.
posted by mdonley at 9:31 AM on August 20, 2007


For undergrad studies look into small, liberal arts colleges. While of course all undergraduate programs are going to have plenty of people that are there because of parental pressure or who just simply aren't mature enough to handle college life, I think you will find more serious students per capita at these smaller institutions with a closer teacher to student ratio.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:31 AM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


UT Austin has such a high concentration of random midwesterners whose parents just shoveled them out here cuz it seems like the right thing.

I don't know where you got that idea. Less than 4 percent of UT Austin students this year were from the Midwest. Anyway, even at UT Austin, the Plan II Honors Program (arts and sciences) and Dean's Scholars (sciences) were full of students interested primarily in learning. There were a few who mainly wanted to get into law school or med school, but I assume you'd find that even at Reed. People living in the honors dorms mainly interacted with other people primarily interested in learning. So, what ROU_Xenophobe said.

The flip side is that by being at a large university, you would have access to resources not available at a small liberal arts college.
posted by grouse at 9:33 AM on August 20, 2007


Well, I went to one of those first-tier schools where admissions are tough, and found lots of people who worked their asses off....so that they could get good corporate jobs or get into first-tier law, medical, or business schools upon graduation (not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that, but it sounds like your looking for an atmostphere that's intellectual for the sake of learning, and not one where people want good grades in order to make money). While a significant chunk of the population was not what I'd call intellectually curious, it is a small school, where courses taught by T.A.s rather than professors were/are nearly non-existant, and it was pretty easy to find folks who didn't just want to drink their brains out Wednesday-Sunday. Much of my education came via political action stuff done outside the classroom, and via quasi-political groups whose official advisors were professors. I probably did as much reading outside the classroom as I did in (and I was a history major, so you can imagine how much reading was required).

I'd say look for a small school rather than a large one; look for a school where even intro classes are taught by professors rather than T.A.s; if the stats are available, look at where graduates end up when they've graduated: if a significant portion go on to non-professional graduate programs, you might have found your match.
posted by rtha at 9:34 AM on August 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


A bunch of the colleges on the list at "Colleges that change lives" are probably exactly what you are looking for. (The website is promoting a book, but the list is right there on the front page, and there are pages for each college listed; here is the one for Reed, which you mentioned.)

Really, most of the top-tier liberal arts colleges with an intellectual emphasis (Reed, Haverford, Oberlin, Grinnell, etc etc etc) will probably serve your friend well... if that is actually what he or she is looking for. You can get an incredibly good education at UT-Austin or UCLA, too, and the person who is happy there won't be so happy at Reed or Grinnell, and vice versa. It's kind of a stock answer, but if your friend can visit a few colleges and universities before applying, he or she will have a much better idea of where will be a good fit. My experience has been that you can get a pretty good "feel" for a campus in a very short visit -- you will miss the subtleties, but the big picture of "people here are friendly" or "people here never leave the library" will be immediately apparent.
posted by Forktine at 9:35 AM on August 20, 2007


I graduated from SUNY Albany, which frequently tops the list of party schools. I put in a lot of hard work, and I had a damn good time there as well. You can work hard and surround yourself with like minded people easily at any university. But there are going to be coke heads and bimbos at every school from the local community college on up through the Ivy's. So I don't think you have much to be concerned about in the University itself but rather in how well you can control yourself.
posted by munchingzombie at 9:47 AM on August 20, 2007


Look for schools that focus on liberal arts. If a school has more nutrition science/nursing/education/etc majors than English/biology/political science majors, that's a bad sign. If most kids are majoring in business, you're not going to see a lot of intellectual curiosity. There's nothing wrong with non-liberal arts majors, per se, but they're not going to create the same kind of environment.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 10:01 AM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you're interested in engineering, I went to Olin College just outside of Boston. Only 75 people per class, undergrad only, the students are incredibly determined and hardworking, and the profs do an excellent job of encouraging curiosity and fostering the kind of environment you're talking about. Small and intense, but it was really a great experience for me.

It's also tuition-free, which is nice...
posted by olinerd at 10:02 AM on August 20, 2007


University of Chicago. My fun hasn't died yet.
posted by rhoticity at 10:25 AM on August 20, 2007


Argh! "...but it sounds like your looking for..." Ought to be "your friend is", or possibly "you're" - I no longer remember what I meant to write. Really, I got an excellent education there!
posted by rtha at 10:53 AM on August 20, 2007


Grinnell College was very much like this. I learned a lot in class, and talking about class outside of class, but I also learned a lot about subjects that I never studied because people would sit around and talk about ideas and share things they'd learned with one another. We'd get excited about "liberal arts moments," when we saw the areas where multiple subjects seemed to come together

A small liberal arts college, in addition to having a student body dedicated to learning, often has a body of professors dedicated to teaching, which is a huge advantage. Sure, research is important, but the number one goal of Grinnell College was to educate young minds.

All of my professors made themselves available for one-on-one meetings, sent personal messages, and checked in with me by phone or e-mail if I seemed to be struggling with a topic. Tutoring or sharing sessions were set up for all the larger classes I took (which meant more than 20-25 students -- I never had more than 30 classmates in any class).

The down side of a small college is that there will be fewer majors available. Think about what you might want to study before you settle on one.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:54 AM on August 20, 2007


Swarthmore is famous/notorious for the study-hard mentality. At the time I thought it was burning me out and that was it. Now I see that the experience made me love learning and the life of the mind. That's worth the money to me.
posted by bluebird at 11:05 AM on August 20, 2007


I go to St. John's and one of the things I love most is how shared the love of learning is here. People really value the things that aren't superficial here, and it makes such a huge difference (I went to a good, academically rigorous high school, but even the best material was hard to get into when everyone else seemed focused on getting it done in order to go to college, not for the love of the thing itself). The only thing with St. John's is that you have to study what is on the Program with no course choices or anything.
posted by Oobidaius at 11:18 AM on August 20, 2007


Deep Springs is pretty much the epitome of this kind of school. Good luck getting in. It's the most exclusive Associate's degree out there. Since it is a two year general studies school you can't transfer in from some other school with credit.

But there are other schools where you can find students whose orientation is similar to yours. Look at the more prestigious schools. Some of the students will be doing what it takes for the next step, others will be more interested in the material and less so in the grades. Liberal Arts Honors programs in large universities are a good bet as well.
posted by BigSky at 11:21 AM on August 20, 2007


Some context if anybody cares. He lives in Austin, TX. No budget, but cheaper would be better. Scores are good enough to get into UT Austin, not enough to get into Harvard.
posted by philosophistry at 11:38 AM on August 20, 2007


I'll nth the U Chicago recommendation. Best experience that I've had that I wouldn't recommend to very many people. It's just not for everyone. Most people even.
posted by zpousman at 11:51 AM on August 20, 2007


Whitman College did right by me, and it just keeps getting better.
posted by willpie at 11:55 AM on August 20, 2007


For me, at least, getting the hell away from the university town where I grew up was a very important part of my educational experience. Not that it sounds like your friend wants to go to UT Austin, but I would recommend finding something with a very different environment - small, New England or West, etc.

Any college is going to have some folks looking for the party, some folks killing time until they get out, some folks maxing out their GPA for a good law school, and some folks happy to sit around and philosophize all day. To some extent, a good college experience will be dependent on finding the right group of fellow students to hand out with. You may have better odds at a small, liberal arts college.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:55 AM on August 20, 2007


I'd recommend any of the Claremont colleges, particularly Pomona. Someone mentioned Harvey Mudd above and that is one of them. They all sort of share the same facilities so the students intermingle. Everyone I've met there including my own friend has struck me as really bright and intense.
posted by vacapinta at 12:01 PM on August 20, 2007


Canadian universities are often quite a bit less expensive than their US counterparts; here are McGill's, UBC's, and UToronto's admission pages for American high school students.
posted by mdonley at 12:06 PM on August 20, 2007


nth University of Chicago. I too am a survivor. There's been an irritating trend lately of administrative efforts to market the school as more "mainstream" by lightening the academic load, closing the all-night study space, pouring money into a brand-new gym, and so forth. Most of these proposals are met with massive student protests. How dare they suggest eliminating our three-quarter Social Sciences requirement!

One thing about the U of C is that there's a strange balance of students who chose the school for its academic rigor and geek pride, and aspiring investment bankers who chose the school for its economics program. I was surprised at how strong a presence the latter group holds. But in general, the application pool is very self-selected - it's almost like a "cult" school insofar as it doesn't quite have the name recognition of an Ivy (I think most of my relatives believe I went to the University of Illinois-Chicago), but is easily as academically prestigious among those who know it (and with less grade inflation).

This is from the U of C's webpage for prospective students:
Ever heard of the 'Life of the Mind'? Here at Chicago, it's our academic philosophy. It means a constant conversation sparked by the reading and analyzing of original texts from Plato to Foucault. It means small, discussion-oriented classes in the midst of a large research university. It means that academics come first on our campus, and the difficulty of the courses reflects that. Our students learn because they genuinely love learning, while the University rises to meet them with vast intellectual resources. There are few other places in Chicago's league when it comes to research opportunities, a unique curriculum that provides the spark for campus discussion and debate, and an intense academic life.

wank wank wank wank wank
posted by granted at 12:07 PM on August 20, 2007


Oh, here's a recent Metafilter post on Scav Hunt. It's like Geek Bacchanalia. If this sort of thing interests you, you might like the U of C.
posted by granted at 12:10 PM on August 20, 2007


If croutonsupafreak is going to bring up Grinnell, I'm going to have to bring up my alma mater (Cornell College).

Small, private, liberal arts college. Class sizes capped at 25. All professors are full PhDs. In class raport was phenomenal.

I majored in philosophy and biochem/molecular biol. I ended up with far more lab experience (on top of the opportunity to do research over the summers) than anyone I know who graduated from from larger colleges and universities.

Instead of taking a semester with five classes or so, it's set up so you take 1 class for 3&1/2 weeks and you get 3&1/2 days off between classes.

This is the ideal setup for a work-hard/party-hard mindset.

The downside is that it's in the middle of Iowa.

(Grinnell has more modern facilities than CC... and Colorado College has a similar one-course-at-a-time setup)
posted by porpoise at 12:41 PM on August 20, 2007


Well, I guess I gotta represent for my, uh, alma mater, Eugene Lang College. It's under the umbrella of The New School, in NYC. And is not (I don't think) particularly cool or known or anything else.

I went because it was small, in the city, cheap (at the time) and had no real 'campus.'

I think it's creative writing program has really taken off in the many many years since I was there, but when I was there it also had a terrific Lit. Crit. program and Poli. Sci.

Maybe most importantly through the school the city and almost all of its cultural heart were opened up to us. Which, for a kid who was interested in the arts, was pretty much nirvana.

YMMV, of course.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:41 PM on August 20, 2007


Definitely UChicago. MIT and Caltech certainly qualify as well; they're certainly science/engineering oriented [though I'll vouch for the quality of MIT's humanities any day], but there are very few people who don't go all geeky over the subject of their choice even outside of class. [And even when they're "playing hard", things that are intellectually challenging/geeky/academic tend to be involved - check out MIT's Mystery Hunt or UChicago's aforementioned Scav Hunt.]
posted by ubersturm at 1:09 PM on August 20, 2007


Generally speaking, the better the school is, the higher the concentration of people interested in learning. I'm not sure your question couldn't just be rephrased as "What are the best schools in the country?"

This is just not true. There is a very high proportion of people going to the top schools in the country who are more interested in being successful than in learning. Going to a top school automatically puts pressure on you to be successful at the same time as making you feel like you already accomplished something just by getting in - some people know it's ok to get gentlemen's C's at yale, for instance, since no one is ever going to look at your transcript once you're done (it's different if you're going to grad school of course). The element of learning is not necessarily the most important aspect of things. Making contacts and getting prepared for your career, and enjoying your freedom the first time away from home, are often what college is about for Americans, and with a name brand school on your resume already, there is almost no need to bother actually getting deeply into the academic side. Obviously people do, but modern day college simply isn't set up so that learning is the only focus of the institution.

I would say that a school where original texts and small class sizes are emphasized is what you're looking for. St. John's is pretty hardcore in this regard; I think it's an amazing institution, but I don't know if I regret not having gone there for my undergrad - I did consider it at the time, but I didn't end up applying, and later I rediscovered it and thought what an amazing program it would have been. But on reflection I don't think I'd have been ready for it at 18. I had too much energy and creativity, and the program is a very rigorous undertaking of the great texts of western civilization. I would have been too impatient & chaotic for such a careful, diligent approach to learning, as awesome a foundation as it would have been for later branching out (but when you're young it's hard to remember how much time you have).

I ended up wanting to go to Hampshire, but through a family disagreement ending up at Lang College in NYC (previously "seminar college") which was a young experimental school, at the time committed to having no classes over 15 people, no textbooks, no exams (only term papers or projects), and also located in downtown NY, so a lot of interesting part time artist/writer profs. It was the kind of school where you could learn a lot if you wanted to, but you could also float by without learning all that much if you got caught up in life in the city. It was great for the creative side of things, and you could really get a lot on the academic side if you were willing to dig around and do some work (mostly by being connected to the New School for Social Research) but there were also plenty of loud opinionated kids who think they can save the world (not that I wasn't one of them). But that's kinda true about college wherever you are

I would say what's important wherever you go is mostly keeping an open mind about what you study. Don't approach it with the answer in mind, but explore it without having a conclusion drawn. Try to actually believe you may not know the answer and see if you can understand the opposing view sincerely...

I think the most important aspect of my education was just being introduced to interesting books, some of which I didn't fully appreciate until years later, but which still were planted in my mind somewhere.
posted by mdn at 1:17 PM on August 20, 2007


Some context if anybody cares. He lives in Austin, TX. No budget, but cheaper would be better. Scores are good enough to get into UT Austin, not enough to get into Harvard.

Grinnell College has a big post card, but the actual cost to attend is set based on household income. The school has a "meets all demonstrated need" policy. As a result, only the wealthy actually pay the high price tag, 90 percent of students receive grants to cover all or part of their tuition, and the average student loan balance of graduates is less than the national average student loan balance.

This "Best Values" list can provide you with more inexpensive colleges to consider. If your friend wants to stay in Texas, Rice is a good school to consider, though it is very selective.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:23 PM on August 20, 2007


Re: finances - don't let your friend write off private schools just because he's got no money. Private schools often have more money to offer than large public institutions - I couldn't have afforded my state U., for instance, since they offered no financial aid. My alma mater gave me barrels of money; some of it was loans, so yes, I came out with debt, but it's not the end of the world. I mean, I ended up with about $12K of debt for a 120K education (things were cheaper then). Look for schools where admissions are need-blind.

If he's going to go to a state U., it should be in-state, unless he can establish residency in the state of his choice. Out-of-state tuitions can be crazy high, and financial aid hard to come by.
posted by rtha at 3:09 PM on August 20, 2007


I'd agree with everyone saying that a liberal arts college might fit the bill. Generally, people choose such a place because of broad interests and a real passion for academia, which sounds like the right kind of attitude. I went to Carleton, and I can vouch for the quality of teaching and general intellectual atmosphere, and I think the same holds at all the other, similar schools (Oberlin, Grinnell, Reed, Rice, Swat, Williams, Whitman, etc. etc.).

One thing to consider is the major. Business, pre-med, and similar majors (with some exceptions) tend to be in it for the degree and the preparation, not necessarily for the love of learning. People majoring in classical languages or astronomy, on the other hand, pretty much wouldn't be doing it if they didn't have a passion for the ideas themselves... certainly they won't be majoring in philosophy for the money. So both pick a school that primarily educates students for a future in academia, and pick a major that tends to attract the intellectual-for-the-fun-of-it type. Finally, if you're really gung-ho about discussing Marxism late into the night, you can find friends who will be into that at most decent institutions (warning: you may want to punch some of these people in the face after your freshman year. Not all of them... but some of them). Some people won't like school, and some will be so burned out with classes that they'll just want to watch reruns of What Not To Wear (um, me), but inevitably there'll be others out there whose spirits haven't yet been crushed.

Finally - and I can't emphasize this enough - VISIT EVERYWHERE YOU CAN. Visit before you apply to get a good idea of what you're looking for; and definitely visit after you get accepted and have to make your decision. Good luck!
posted by you're a kitty! at 4:52 PM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


First, I want to second rtha's point about finances. I used to represent my school at a lot of college fairs and there were a lot of people who didn't understand that for a lot of small private liberal arts colleges, many people don't pay "list price."

Beyond that, I thought it might be useful to contrast my experience with two very different undergrad environments. I transferred into one of the schools the OP mentioned from decent liberal arts honors program at a state univeristy. I am very glad I transferred.

I met a lot of smart, intellectually curious people at the state University, but it was just not as immersive. I didn't see much of most of them, and so didn't have an opportunity to interact informally. A lot of people lived off campus. I lived in the dorms with a large percentage of football players and other people on athletic scholarship. For the most part, I only saw my peers people in class. There wasn't much time to talk before or after, because we often had to head across the large campus to make our next class. I bumped into some in the library, and some in the dorm, but except for the people I called my friends, there wasn't much opportunity for interaction.

At the school I transferred to, I ended up living off campus for two of the three years, and my first year I was shoved into a college owned apartment. Never the less, most of my waking hours were spent on campus, and the same went for most of the other students. We worked hard and had a lot of fun. Some of my classmates went on to be traditionally successful, like a lot of the people who go to top-tier schools, but it wasn't always obvious who they'd be. One of my classmates went on to be an exec in the family metals business, but at school, he was a religion major and fronted the hottest band on campus.

For me personally, I would not have taken as much away from a less intense and intimate experience at a larger, less focused school. That said, I had some friends who were in honors programs at other, large state schools, and I think they were structured to be much more intimate, focused experience than I had before I transferred.
posted by Good Brain at 5:17 PM on August 20, 2007


I did a summer program at St. John's (in Maryland) and it was probably one of the best academic experiences of my life -- however, at the time, the 'degree' they offered did not suit (and I was dreadfully bored by Annapolis), so I ended up going to Berkeley, where it's possible to maintain a good grade while skipping all your classes and never talking to another soul, if you desire. If you want to push yourself academically, you'll have to work much harder for the type of resources a small school might offer: often at large schools, the professors have little time for undergraduate students. Additionally, larger schools are sometimes more interested in obtaining 'prestige' professors that do interesting research than professors who are good teachers. At private schools, where the cash comes out of *your* pocket, rather than grants or patents or what have you, you might have a better chance of getting a professor who's really devoted to teaching.

My sister went to/graduated from Reed, and I visited there once -- I think at the time I was considering transferring out of Berkeley. The small school size of St. John's and Reed lends itself well to intense academics and passionate classmates, but it also means close proximity to the regrettable drama that you get when you throw a lot of bright, young, and socially immature people together.
posted by fishfucker at 5:48 PM on August 20, 2007


Williams (my alma mater), Swarthmore, Grinnell, Amherst (shudder), Haverford, Deep Springs...
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:27 PM on August 20, 2007


My sister went to/graduated from Reed, and I visited there once -- I think at the time I was considering transferring out of Berkeley. The small school size of St. John's and Reed lends itself well to intense academics and passionate classmates, but it also means close proximity to the regrettable drama that you get when you throw a lot of bright, young, and socially immature people together.

Reed alum here (class of 1986). I have a love-hate relationship with "Reed's fine college" as my econ prof used to say (RIP, sir). And this nails it. Reed is an intellectual experience par excellence, even in (some would say especially in) the sciences, unlike most libarts schools. When you graduate, grad schools will roll over and let you fuck them, even if your GPA wasn't brilliant- Reed grads make grad schools very, very horny and they will throw money at you and make you feel very special, because you are. But you're probably also neurotic, narcissistic, and in my case completely unaware of what "college" was supposed to be like. I was a rare thing at Reed, a first generation, rust belt, working class kid with too much on the ball, and Reed was NOT a good place to have one's genius encouraged, not when it was and is lousy with professor's kids and legacy kids, kids who grew up in culturally advantaged environments with brilliant fathers and mother and uncles and siblings. I went to grad school at Wisconsin and enjoyed the diversity and FUN of the college town more than I ever "enjoyed" my undergrad years.

But Reed was good for me in other ways- the rigors of grad school? Ha! I had already taken quals, I had already written a thesis, I was a Reed grad. Grad school was a piece of cake.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:04 PM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Fall of 2004, I was in your shoes as a high school senior, looking for this intellectual experience at college as you described. Like some other posters, I visited a couple private liberal arts colleges and a larger public university and found the liberal arts college environment to be a better place for me.

Three years later, I'm entering my junior year and about to embark on a six month study abroad program. Although study abroad is offered at nearly every college, my opportunity is probably offered at few, if any, larger schools. I find my education to be engaging and the academic rigor there filters out nearly everyone who wants to merely go through the motions of the college.

However, I want to warn you of the financial burden that may lay ahead for you. For me, I'll be in 50K in Debt for undergrad (a combination of govt and private loans). When I applied for colleges, I was afraid of the debt amount but I didn't want finances to dictate my educational future (my parents didn't attend college, I didn't want to ). The high school's college counselors, the CTCL books, and some college graduates that I had spoken with, agreed with me. Alas, I'm now seriously considering if I continue to really afford this. If you do consider attending a private college (most liberal arts colleges are private), definitely consider your financial status.

If I could return to Fall of 2004 with what I know now, I don't know if I would change the decisions that I made.
posted by fizzix at 6:40 AM on August 22, 2007


I'm another happy Oberlin grad (jk252b-I'm 2004; you?). I'll just second the recommendation that you give the Liberal Arts schools a look. I think the Harvards and Yales have lots of students who are there to get into a top tier med/law/business school, and I found that to be less true of Oberlin. Plenty of kids go on to grad school, (Oberlin produces tons of PhD's!) -Look at the blurb in the middle of the page.

My favorite thing was just the quality of discourse over lunch, coffee, dinner, etc. I haven't been able to find as many really awesome conversationalists as I did there, and I'm in grad school. People just tended to be bright, engaged...I miss it, to be honest.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 8:06 PM on August 22, 2007


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