Want a Unique Academic Experience? Try One of These Schools.
At most colleges, you need to complete two full years of general education requirements and then focus on your major requirements. You take between three and five courses at a time, and are graded on a scale from A to F. But some unique liberal arts colleges are bucking the trend, establishing innovative academic programs that help students to discover and engage with their passions. If you don’t want a run-of-the-mill academic experience, take a look at these unique schools.
This small school in gorgeous Colorado Springs offers the unique Block Plan, which allows students to focus on one course at a time for a three-and-a-half week period (though some intensive courses require multiple “blocks”). This innovative structure gives students the opportunity to plunge into their studies, engaging in field trips and independent projects along with several hours a day of classroom instruction and discussion. There are rarely any lectures: the average course size is just 16 students. After the intense block course is over, students have 4-and-a-half day weekends, in which they can either relax on campus or take advantage of one of the school’s many adventure excursions, such as hiking or mountain biking.
St. John’s College.
This small school has two campuses: one in Anapolis, Maryland, and another in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The lecturers are folks you may have heard of: Plato, Aristotle, and Freud, to name just a few. Rather than spotlighting individual professors’ courses, the entire school follows a Great Books curriculum, in which all students spend the first two years reading, discussing, and engaging with the same books and other media, ranging from the ancient to the modern. There are no lectures; instead, students are given the chance to debate ideas and philosophies on equal ground with their instructors. And you won’t find any textbooks teaching you how to interpret the texts: here, the classic books, and your fellow students and professors, are your only guides.
Brown is part of the Ivy League, but has vetoed the competitive academic atmosphere of its counterparts in favor of a more flexible curriculum, focused on the students’ interests. At the school, there are no general education requirements; students are allowed to enroll in any courses they choose, including classes at the nearby Rhode Island School of Design. There’s also no need to worry about grades for courses outside of your concentration: students may elect to take courses for “satisfactory” or “no credit,” which means that the fear of not performing up to par won’t stop them from trying something new.
At Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, students work with professors in 10-to-1 ratios, typically in roundtable conference style. Though they receive grades at the end of courses, they aren’t mailed to the students, and few are aware of their GPAs—discussion and engagement with the courses are far more important than exam scores. The rigorous academic program concludes with a year-long senior thesis, which can be anything from a scientific project to a novel-length book, which students will then defend before faculty members. Reed also offers a unique program called Paideia, which allows anyone—faculty, students, and janitors alike—to create their own weeklong courses, which have included esoteric subjects like Underwater Basket Weaving and Garden Gnome Construction.