College Admissions: The 5 Most Unusual Colleges in the U.S.

Monday, June 13, 2016


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Are college tours and info sessions leaving you bored and listless? Do you feel like the campuses and curricula are all pretty much the same? Well here are five colleges that shatter the mold. 

They aren’t for the faint of heart or traditionalists, but they do present opportunities rarely found in the realm of higher education:

1. Deep Springs College

Located in the high desert of California, Deep Springs College is home to just 26 students. Although the college intended to adopt co-education three years ago, a lawsuit brought by alumni has blocked women from attending to date. The college runs a cattle herd and an alfalfa hay farming operation. Self-governance is a critical part of the Deep Springs educational program and students determine policies on admissions, curriculum, and faculty hiring. Tuition, room, and board are not charged, but students work at least 20 hours a week on the ranch or in positions related to the college and community. In a given semester, you could find yourself as cook, irrigator, butcher, groundskeeper, cowboy or feedman. For students looking for the ultimate ranching experience while earning a college degree, Deep Springs is a rare opportunity. All accepted students are given a scholarship to cover tuition, room and board.

2. St. John’s College

St. John's College boasts two campuses in equally stunning settings: Santa Fe and Annapolis. Each location enrolls about 450 students. Textbooks, lectures, and examinations are shunned, in favor of a series of manuals and classroom discussions. The Great Books program was adopted in 1937, and demands that students read and discuss the works of many of Western civilization's most prominent contributors to philosophy, theology, mathematics, science, music, poetry, and literature. Intensely cerebral, St. John’s is the perfect fit for students interested in a rigorous core curriculum focused on the classics.

3. College of the Atlantic

Set amidst the beauty of Maine, College of the Atlantic has just 350 students. The school's curriculum is based on human ecology, and all freshmen are required to take an introductory core course on the topic. Other requirements include Environmental Studies, Arts and Design, Human Studies, Quantitative Reasoning History and Writing. COA students are often knee deep in experiential learning and the frigid Maine waters during their classes. The intention is for students to explore ideas from different disciplines and to construct their own understanding of human ecology. All students complete a term-long senior project and essay in their final year, in addition to a mandatory internship. COA is a great college for students who embrace a rural, coastal environment with a small student body and hands-on learning.

4. Marlboro College

Located in Vermont, Marlboro College is home to a group of 300 eclectic students. A recent freshman class included: two military veterans, nine homeschoolers, two world-class pianists and composers, a trained firefighter and EMT, a beekeeper, a Taekwondo black belt, a hitchhiker of 5,000 miles, and a Civil War re-enactor. The mission of the school is to produce clear thinkers and writers. Students create their own curricula with the oversight of a professor and are given the freedom to study just about any topic. The school is governed in a town meeting style, and student votes hold the same weight as faculty votes. Marlboro is the perfect environment for students who thrive in a small school with no core curriculum and have an environmental, artistic or writing flare.

5. Olin College of Engineering

Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts is a shining example of new wave education with a brick and mortar presence. Although Olin was founded in 2002 and has just 350 students, it now rivals MIT and CalTech in the engineering rankings. Olin disregarded past frameworks for engineering education and instead has sought to create a new type of learning that is project based and free from the confines of traditional engineering cobwebs. This mission extends beyond the classroom to residential life where social skills are nurtured and leadership is emphasized. Olin students race robotic sailing teams, travel to West Africa to help empower women entrepreneurs and design gadgets that allow seniors to get out of their cars more easily. It’s a unique place where learning means doing, every day or the week. All accepted students are granted a scholarship that covers half of their tuition for four years, which makes it among the most affordable, top-rated technical institutions in the U.S.

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Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, college counseling and athletic recruiting services for students.


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