Ten Treasure Colleges

After looking far and wide for a college that’s right for you, you might feel like the perfect college simply doesn’t exist. Maybe it’s because you are truly original, or maybe your criteria are so unique that a meaningful search presents too great a challenge. Alternative schools don’t necessarily fit neatly into any one category. The truly unique colleges can be public or private, co-ed, or gender specific; large or small; urban or rural. But what they have in common is an ability for students to achieve greatness, even students who may never have considered themselves extraordinary. So with you in mind, here are ten schools that offer a little of everything, as well as a little something extra.

Even if none of the following colleges fit your needs, they should provide food for thought. These schools have demonstrated a commitment to students both in and outside of the classroom. What they all share in common is a focus on the individual, dedication to serving others in society, and the creation of a community of learners.

Berea (Kentucky)

Berea College provides evidence that the best things in life are free. Students at this unique liberal arts school receive full-tuition scholarships in exchange for 10–15 hours per week of work. They also receive a superior education from faculty who are consistently regarded as among the best and most committed in the nation. Combine this with a philosophy dedicated to serving the community and the result is graduates with both the tools and drive to change the world.

Website: www.berea.edu

SparkCollege profile: Berea College

Reed (Oregon)

Perhaps no school in the country challenges its students more intensely than Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Despite a de-emphasis on grades, Reed students consistently achieve academic excellence and recognition. Reed has produced 56 Fulbright fellows, 104 National Science Foundation fellows, 2 Pulitzer Prize winners, 31 Rhodes Scholars, and 2 MacArthur Genius Award winners. If you have what it takes to meet the academic demands, Reed could be the perfect school for you.

Website: www.reed.edu

SparkCollege profile: Reed College

St. John’s (New Mexico/Maryland)

St. John’s College is a co-ed liberal arts college with campuses in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Annapolis, Maryland, that offers one of the most unique degree programs in the nation. Students at St. John’s don’t use textbooks and they are not subjected to lectures. Instead, they read from the “great books” and discuss the meanings of those texts with their classmates and instructors. The emphasis here is not on memorizing knowledge, but understanding knowledge. Like Reed College, St. John’s students go on to graduate school and win prestigious awards at rates as high as any Ivy League school.

Website: www.sjcsf.edu

SparkCollege profile: St. John’s (Santa Fe), St. John’s (Annapolis)

The Evergreen State College (Washington)

Private colleges have not cornered the market on unique teaching and learning. The Evergreen State College offers a liberal arts education at public school–tuition rates. Students at Evergreen select interdisciplinary programs that combine several subject areas; instead of grades students receive narrative evaluations of their performance. Plus, the students provide feedback for their instructors at the end of each quarter. Evergreen students carry this same level of interactivity into the community and are among the most socially active and responsible students in the country.

Website: www.evergreen.edu

SparkCollege profile: The Evergreen State College

Deep Springs College (Nevada)

The only all-male and the only two-year college in this list, Deep Springs might very well be the most unconventional school in the country. With an average class size of four (yes, four), perhaps no college in the land can match the depth of discussion students have with their teachers and classmates. Located on a remote ranch in the Nevada desert, students must work in exchange for the free tuition; they only pay for travel, books, and incidental costs. What they get in return is an intense two-year education.

Website: www.deepsprings.edu

SparkCollege profile: Deep Springs College

UC Santa Cruz (California)

The only other public college on this list, UC Santa Cruz, like Evergreen, employed narrative evaluations instead of letter grades. Recently they began issuing letter grades due to the number of enrolled students surpassing 15,000. Nevertheless, UC Santa Cruz is still able to offer the best of an intimate education with a big campus feel. UC Santa Cruz students go on to Ph.D. programs at a rate that rivals any of the elite colleges.

Website: www.ucsc.edu

SparkCollege profile: UC Santa Cruz

Grinnell College (Iowa)

With the highest rate of Peace Corps volunteers of any college in the nation, tiny Grinnell College in Iowa lives up to a reputation of service before self. This sense of helping others, however, begins in the classroom. With a 10 to 1 student to faculty ratio, Grinnell ensures that each student participates in an active learning experience that is the hallmark of a quality liberal arts education.

Website: www.grinnell.edu

SparkCollege profile: UC Santa Cruz

Mt. Holyoke (Massachusetts)

The only women’s college on the list, this South Hadley, Massachusetts, school was actually the first women’s college in the country and remains the longest continuously running women’s college in the world. This academically rigorous, yet intimate school has a reputation for producing great writers.

Website: www.mtholyoke.edu

SparkCollege profile: Mt. Holyoke

Earlham College (Indiana)

Students at Earlham College know they’re different. Earlham students are more interested in becoming better people than getting better-paying jobs. This tiny Indiana liberal arts college—where students and faculty are on a first-name basis—produces graduates with a commitment to helping others. Graduates also go on to great things.

Website: www.earlham.edu

SparkCollege profile: Earlham College

Albertson College (Idaho)

Who would think that a tiny college in Idaho would consistently rank as one of the best liberal arts college deals year after year? But combine a rigorous academic course load with faculty who really care about student development, and the result is an impressive list of graduates that includes Pulitzer Prize winners, Academy Award winners, and two former governors.

Website: www.albertson.edu

SparkCollege profile: Albertson College

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