Any student looking for a college or university has particular needs. Some students will thrive on large campuses in urban areas, while some need small, quaint campuses will small class sizes. Some students will feel most comfortable when surrounding by classmates from similar backgrounds, while others want as many experiences as possible, as far from home as possible.
The key to finding the best college is to do as much research as possible, talk to some students at the college, make as many visits as you can, and find out how well the particular institution matches your individual needs.
In other words, without being highly ranked or well-known, a college can provide an incredible experience for a particular student. Many of these institutions, even if they’re not well known, employee very talented professors and offer a first-rate education experience all around. Here’s a look at several colleges you may not have heard of.
1. Centre College
Ranking: #45, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Located not far from Lexington, this private liberal arts school has a unique wrinkle of emphasizing study abroad. 85% of its students study abroad at one time or another. It’s a pledge they give their incoming students—if this is an experience they want, it’s one they can have. Students can choose from China, England, Scotland, Japan, Mexico, France, Northern Ireland, and Spain.
One draw to this small college is the heavy emphasis on experiential learning, which means learning and experience outside the classroom. It can include internships and work with professors on research projects. The unique requirement that all students live on campus (aside from a few seniors with exceptional circumstances) gives the campus a close-knit feel. A student who wants to be involved in a tight environment in which their fellow students’ lives are interdependent might particularly enjoy Centre.
Centre College offers the full complement of Liberal Arts majors, including Asian Studies, Dramatic Arts, International Studies, Linguistics, and Pre-Dentistry.
The average high school GPA for students admitted to Centre is 3.71.
2. Wabash College
Undergraduate Enrollment: 926
Ranking: #61 National Liberal Arts Colleges
First, note that Wabash is not co-ed, but for men only. This men’s college offers, as a small liberal arts school, a low student-to-teacher ratio and a highly-personalized educational experience. One of the main features of Wabash is the Gentleman’s Rule, which holds students to high standards in terms of citizenship and leadership.
Wabash has a very unique culture in the sense that 40% of its students compete in graduate sports—naturally, this is a proportion that is unheard of. Roughly have of the student population also participates in Greek (fraternity) life. With such a small enrollment, it’s doubly impressive that Wabash offers 60 student organizations. The school offers 26 majors and minors, and was the institution at which poet Ezra Pound held his first teaching post.
Wabash’s web site says that the school takes into consideration a person’s interests and extracurricular activities in its admissions decisions.
3. College of the Ozarks
Point Lookout, MO
College of the Ozarks, a Christian liberal arts school near Branson, MO, has one of the very most unique traits a school could possibly have: students do not pay tuition.
Students do not pay tuition.
All students admitted to C of O participates in a work program, working fifteen hours per week, plus to forty hour work weeks.
Most students pay the balance of their fees through federal and state grants—not loans. If a particular student does not qualify for these, then he or she may be responsible for a small amount of fees not covered by the work program.
In any case, C of O is interested in values such as patriotism and Christian citizenship.
It offers a wide variety of academic programs, with the basics, such as Accounting, Elementary Education, Biology, and English, plus Dietetics, Allied Health Science, and Speech and Theatre Education.
Another beneficial feature is the Patriotic Education Travel Program. This pairs college students with veterans of wars, taking them to the original battlefields. Students have recently traveled to France, Belgium, Austria, and Vietnam.
4. Marymount Manhattan College
New York City
Marymount offers its students the benefits of its highly-focused specialization. It offers a liberal arts education, with a specialty in media and the arts. A representative sample of Marymount’s majors includes Cinema, Television, and Emerging Media; Dance, Digital Journalism, Entrepreneurship, Fashion Marketing, and Sociology.
While many students major in a field other than the media or performing arts, roughly a third of them do, and they find the Manhattan location to be more than advantageous. Since the school includes among its alumnae such performers as Melissa Rauch, Melissa Benoist, and Alexandra Daddario, it has gained a reputation as being the ideal training ground for actors, actresses, and people in similar fields, even if it provides a full-fledged liberal arts education.
The urban campus has an urbane feel, with a truly diverse student body. 16.7% of current students are Latino/a, while 9.8% are African American. 4.9% are international.
First-year students study in New York City Seminars, which are pods of students grouped together by interest, who not only study together, but also engage in extracurricular activities en masse.
5. Hampshire College
Ranking: #95, Private Colleges
Often, unique features and styles can make a school absolutely perfect for a particular student. Hampshire absolutely has a unique educational style, offering a “test-optional” curriculum, and emphasizing the creation of portfolios over traditional grades. It also takes this philosophy one step further: it doesn’t look at standardized test scores for admissions decisions.
This small Amherst college is known to be challenging and very academically rigorous, with a highly-personalized style. Indeed, its 11-1 student to teacher ratio ensures there’s nowhere for a student to hide, and plenty of opportunities to work one-on-one.
The school offers a customized curriculum for students, requiring them to be active in the design of their learning as well as the learning itself. Its website says that actual projects by students in their final year include writing a novel and building a robot that teaches itself to climb.
Students in need of the traditional structure may not thrive at Hampshire, but self-starters who are creative and/or intellectual curious probably will.
That theme pervades this look at interesting, lesser-known colleges. All of them can be considered “alternative” in one way or another. None of them attempts to cast a wide net, teaching a “general” student or a wide variety of students.
For that reason, a person who chooses to attend one of these institutions very well may thrive there, taking advantage of their unique traits. That may also be why some of these colleges are not as well-known as others. That brings up a fascinating question: what is it that causes various institutions to be well-known? Why are some schools ranked fairly high but not famous? Is notoriety an indicator of quality?
It may be the case that one just has to look around as long as possible to find the best fit. To find a lesser-known, yet high-quality school, one might just have to look a bit farther.