Hidden Gems – Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pepe
Hidden Gems is a series of posts on great colleges that may not be on a typical family’s radar.
“To find a life changing college you must pay attention to how a college educates its undergraduates.” – Loren Pope, author of Colleges That Change Lives.
In 1996, Loren Pope, the former editor of the New York Times Education section, wrote a little book called Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL). It featured 40 schools that offer more than just an education. With small personal classes taught by professors, close relationships between professors and students, and a strong liberal arts education, the CTCL schools offer students one-on-one attention and flexible educations. Many of these colleges admit a large percentage of applicants, yet turn out a great number of students who go on to pursue and complete PhDs, attend medical school or law school, or win Fulbright scholarships.
A factor that was important to Pope was selectivity: some of these schools admit B and C level students. They are welcoming to students with learning disabilities, late bloomers, and nontraditional students (such as homeschoolers). The schools on the CTCL list take students who need a more personal touch and turn them into graduates with the same knowledge and abilities as students from the Ivy Leagues.
The National Science Foundation regularly conducts a survey of those who complete PhD programs in a variety of disciplines; one question it asks is where students received their bachelor’s degree. This allows us to compare the CTCL schools to more prestigious ones, such as Ivy League and University of California universities. The results are surprising. Many of the schools on Pope’s list rank just as high or higher than their Ivy League counterparts (and most consistently outpace the few UCs that even make the list). Students from the Colleges That Change Lives show remarkable academic abilities even though they might not have had those abilities when they entered as freshman.
The National Science Foundation ranks institutions by the percentage of students who go on to complete a PhD. Click HERE to compare the CTCL to more selective institutions, such as Stanford, the Ivy Leagues, and the UCs.
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington
The goal is not to just get into college; the real prize is what you have once you’ve finished your degree. The schools on the CTCL list offer their students more than just a degree at the end of four years: they offer a truly life changing experience.
Take a moment to look at the CTCL website. The Colleges that Change Lives Tour will be coming to California at the end of the month, so make sure to check it out while it's here!
Marlboro College, Vermont
If your child wants to attend a highly competitive college, they need to jump through all the same hoops as public school students, and possibly a few extra. Still, there a plenty of schools that offer excellent educational opportunities, but will not require test scores. There are many colleges that are now actively seeking homeschooled applicants, because they know they are motivated to take charge of their learning.
At the time of this research, my daughter had a specific goal (which has since changed), so I was searching for schools with strong liberal arts and humanities programs. Additionally, we were looking for a smaller school in a traditional setting on the East Coast, and this list reflects that preference.
The following schools are very open to accepting homeschooled students. Many are actively recruiting self-directed learners because they have a strong sense of what these students have to offer. Some are test optional (do not require SAT / ACT scores for admittance) and many will do a portfolio review instead of requiring a traditional transcript.
Several colleges on this list are also open curriculum colleges. Traditional colleges and universities require 1-2 years of core curriculum requirements before students can move on to study in depth in their area of interest. These schools don’t have that requirement, so they may be more attractive to your self-directed learner, or a student who knows exactly what they want to study and wants to dive in immediately.
College of the Atlantic
Located in Bar Harbor, Maine, COA is on the Atlantic, a mile away from Acadia National Park. COA offers unique opportunities for students interested in marine biology and ecology, including field work utilizing their location. They are actively looking for homeschooled students because they believe their school and program is a great fit for motivated, self-directed learners. Students can choose their course of study with flexibility and a minimum of core requirements.
Located in Vermont, 10% of incoming freshmen are from a homeschooling background. Their website calls Marlboro “the perfect place for self-directed learners that work best in an intimate educational setting… Just like Marlboro students, homeschool students understand the power of letting one’s deepest interests govern one’s studies.” (pictured above)
Located in Vermont, the admissions team wants to know “how life experience has shaped you as a learner.” They offer a low residency program in addition to a traditional semester program. Students design their course of study, with the help of advisors. From their website: “Goddard is a one-of-a-kind institution of higher education with a history of creativity and chaos, invention and experimentation, of growth, decline and reemergence. It is an institution that has survived with integrity and adherence to its founding values.” These are the three key principles that guide the Goddard experience:
Sarah Lawrence College
Located in Bronxville, New York, about 20 miles outside of NYC. Sarah Lawrence was one of the first colleges in the U.S. to adopt a test optional policy more than 10 years ago. They remain committed to a holistic approach to evaluating applicants. Students can create a custom learning plan which can be as interdisciplinary as a student desires. Classes are small, based on round-table seminar discussions. Close collaboration with faculty on independent writing and research is standard. The school known for it’s many creative graduates, such as Vera Wang, Juliana Marguilies, author Alice walker and writer / director JJ Abrams.
Located in Amherst, Mass, Hampshire is part of the Amherst 5, a group of colleges that share resources. Hampshire is on track to become the first U.S. residential college to obtain all of their electricity from on-site solar. From their mission statement: “At Hampshire, your education focuses on personalized, independent work, close collaboration with faculty, and the belief that the questions that drive you should drive your education.” Hampshire encourages students to take responsibility for their education by designing their curriculum and moving beyond the boundaries of disciplines and departments.
Goucher College, MD
Located minutes from downtown Baltimore, Goucher offers a highly individualized application process and allows applicants a choice in how they apply. Students can choose to use the common application, or submit a video application. Goucher is test optional and was among the first in the country to introduce independent study, field work, accelerated college programs, and individualized majors “Goucher College is a selective, private, coed, liberal arts college dedicated to providing a multidisciplinary, international education, and it is the first college in the nation to make study abroad an undergraduate degree requirement.”
Located in rural New York, Bard College offers an alternative to the traditional application process. If your unschooled / homeschool student is a strong writer and not interested in taking standardized tests to prove their “worth” (and what, really do they prove?), this may be an option to consider.
Students can apply using the standard common application, or choose to gain admission through writing a series of essays. Via the Bard College website: “From human rights to physics and studio arts to experimental humanities, Bard students construct individualized educational programs with faculty who are at the top of their fields.”
There are so many incredible options available to homeschooled students who wish to continue their education and earn a degree. If your student chooses to take the required standardized tests and apply to a more traditional college, the options are even greater. According to HSLDA, “statistics demonstrate that homeschoolers tend to score above the national average on both their SAT and ACT scores.” Homeschooling works! And if you are concerned that your student won’t be able to handle the social and academic pressures of college, take a deep breath. Maybe take another. All statistics imply that your student will be up for the challenge. For example, a Bob Jones University study found that college freshmen who had completed their entire high school education in a homeschool had a “slightly higher overall . . . critical thinking score” than students educated in public or private schools.
Bennington College, Vermont
Bennington offers students a personalized education, driven by the student utilizing what they call The Plan Process. Through this process, students explore and learn to define what they want to study and why, how their different paths of study relate to each other and how it will impact their overall educational path. Students are well supported throughout the processes by faculty and advisers.
They offer an alternative application, called The Dimensional Application, which provides an opportunity for applicants to share a complete look at their high school work and accomplishments.
“We invite you to share with us a collection of your work that speaks to these capacities and creates a portrait of what you bring to the Bennington community.”
Bennington, Vermont is in the south west corner of Vermont, not far from the NY and Massachusetts border.
The library building at Evergreen State College
Evergreen goes beyond formal majors and allows students to design their course of study. There are no required core courses that must be completed to obtain your degree. Additionally, they encourage a non-competitive environment and believe narrative evaluations are more valuable than grades. Students will receive a detailed, constructive evaluation of their work. and meet with faculty to discuss the evaluations before it is entered on their transcript.
Evergreen does require SAT or ACT test scores from homeschooled students.
Bonus! Evergreen is affordable. Tuition is currently $8,000 for state residents and $22,000 for out of state students, making it one of the most cost effective schools on this list.
St. John’s College, Maryland
If your homeschooler is coming from a literature based or classical program, St. John’s could be an excellent fit. It’s a small liberal arts colleges with academic programs based on the study of the most important books.
The application process is standard here. Although most students do not need to submit test results, homeschooled applicants are required to submit either SAT or ACT scores.
*Note: St.John’s does not offer an open curriculum, but would be ideal for a student with a strong interest in humanities, history and writing. Small, discussion based classes are standard and students focus their efforts on refining their skills in writing, reading, communication and critical thinking.
From their website:
“Through close engagement with the works of some of the world’s greatest writers and thinkers—from Homer, Plato, and Euclid to Nietzsche, Einstein, and Woolf—students at St. John’s College grapple with fundamental questions that confront us as human beings.”
Clarkson University is a top-rated university for ambitious and highly motivated students. It is located in upstate New York, near the Canadian border.
Clarkson’s areas of excellence include biotechnology, advanced materials, environment and energy and entrepreneurship. If your student is interested in the sciences, medicine, occupational or physical therapy, technology or psychology, Clarkson is worth a closer look. They offer an ivy league level education (according to a variety of sources) but admissions for highly qualified students is attainable. They also offer an Unconventional Application, as an option to the common application. Clarkson’s homeschool application instructions can be found here.
The Clarkson School operates within and as a part of Clarkson University. It is an early college option ideal for homeschoolers who are ready for college level work. Students complete their freshman year in college and senior year in high school simultaneously. Clarkson is very open to viewing applicants from homeschooled and alternative backgrounds and actively recruits homeschoolers for this program. Standardized tests are expected with your application.
In the news: Clarkson’s entrepreneurship program was ranked in the top 20 by Princeton Review
Quest University British, Columbia, Canada
Quest University is an independent, non-profit secular university. Academic schedules are on a block plan, where students focus completely on one subject at a time, for 3 and a half week sessions. Following their core program (two years), students design their area of concentration with the help of their adviser and faculty.
The University was founded in 2002, and is a small but highly diverse cultural community with a high rate of international students. Study abroad opportunities abound in this globally minded community.
Wayfinding Academy, Portland, Oregon
This school offers a truly unique and alternative college experience. It offers personal, community driven education, sending students out into the community to apprentice, intern and work along side a professional in a chosen fields as a core part of their education. Core values include creative conflict resolution, socratic questioning, and integrity.
Please note: Wayfinding is a new institution, with it’s first classes expected to begin in January 2016.
Connecticut College, New London, CT
This small liberal arts college encourages applicants to submit a portfolio along with their traditional application, in order to share a full picture of how they have spent their high school years. Connecticut College does not require test scores be submitted. In fact, if you feel that your test scores do not reflect your capabilities accurately, they discourage you from submitting them. It is ranked in the top 50 Liberal Arts Colleges.
If you have a student considering a career in law or medicine:
In recent years, the acceptance rate for our seniors applying to law school and graduate programs in the health professions is about 80 percent. via CC
University of New Hampshire
UNH values the unique perspective that homeschooled students bring to the classroom and the college community. All applications are looked at holistically. UNH is a competitive school, so applicants should have a rigorous high school academic background. All students applying to UNH are required to submit test scores. To view their guidelines for homeschool applicants,see their website.
University of Dallas, Texas
The University of Dallas is a Catholic University with a traditional approach to higher education. They are homeschool friendly, and have specific application instructions for accredited homeschool students, as well as instructions for non-accredited homeschooolers and self-directed students.
Learn more about their requirements and offerings here.
Sterling College, Craftsbury Common, Vermont
The only work/learning/service college in New England, Sterling clearly offers a unique college experience. Located in the Green Mountains, in the north eastern section of Vermont, it is a great choice for a student who loves the outdoors, is interesting in sustainable agriculture, environmental conservation or education. It is a small school, and students can create (with help from faculty) a custom major of study. They actively seek out homeschoolers and self-directed, self-motivated students.
Sterling has been named one of BestColleges.com’s “Greenest Colleges and Universities,” and has received the Special Achievement Award in Food from Sierra magazine. It is #1 in the nation for serving food that is local, humane, sustainable and fair trade.
From the website: “Sterling College removes the barriers between living one’s life and learning. If your values lead you to commit to becoming an environmental steward and you want the rigor and challenge of working with both your hands and your mind, then Sterling College is the right place for you.”
The admissions process is a highly individualized process, characterized by a personal approach. Home-schooled students may submit a portfolio of educational and life experiences. The portfolio should include detailed information about coursework and accomplishments. Submission of test scores is optional.
Learn more about Sterling here.
Shimer College, Chicago, IL
Shimer is one of the few Great Books Colleges. Homeschoolers who follow a Classical or Charlotte Mason path will greatly appreciate the educational approach at Shimer. Shimer enrolls only 150 students, and you won’t find more than 12 students in a class. Using great books as their core curriculum, students at Shimer will never crack a text book or take a multiple choice quiz. All classes are discussion based.
Additionally, the community at Shimer is self-governing, where “Every voice is heard, all beliefs respected.” Although Shimer’s is small, it shares a campus with Illinois Institute of Technology and shares resources.
Shimer allows applicants to apply year-round. Test scores aren’t necessary, but you can submit them if you choose. They want to know who you are. Your story is very important to them and an interview is essential. If your student is interested in getting an early start of college, Shimer’s early entrant option is worth a closer look.
Discussion based, small classes and an emphasis on critical thinking, writing and learning to communicate clearly are what make this program stand out. These are essential life skills that will serve your student well in every aspect of their lives. Learn more about Shimer College here.
Hillsdale College, Michigan
A private liberal arts college, Hillsdale is ranked #31 inKiplinger’s Best Value Colleges, #16 in the Princeton Review’sassessment of Happiest Studentsand #34 in Forbes’ Top Colleges in the Midwest.
Hillsdale offers a wide range of academic majors, including pre-law, pre-med, pre-vet and pre-dentistry. Hillsdale has a required core curriculum of 8 courses, to be completed over the first two years of enrollment.
Detailed information about the application process can be found here. There are additional application requirements for homeschoolers.
*While exploring their website, I discovered that they offer a free course: An Introduction to C.S. Lewis. Trying out a course is a great way to get a feel for their academic approach.
Hillsdale college is very homeschool friendly. Not so much self directed, but very much in the Great Books, Well Trained Mind tradition -Libby
Gutenberg College, Eugene, OR
A private Christian college, Gutenberg offers discussion based classes, with an emphasis on learning how to think, not what to think. Students study the great books, in classes of 12 students or less.
Gutenberg aggressively seeks students with a homeschool education because they find they are out of the box thinkers, and likely to embrace Gutenberg’s alternative learning environment. In order to be eligible for admission, homeschooled students must have a combined SAT score of 900 or higher, as well as having accomplished the equivalent of a college prep high school program.
They offer one B.A. degree in the Liberal Arts. Many of the students come from a homeschooled background (as I did!) – Karina
From their website:
The prospective student must be mature and ready to interact with the deeply personal Gutenberg College program. In the course of reading the Great Books, students struggle with and work through serious and personal questions that lead to profound introspection and outward reflection.
Grace College, Winona Lake, Indiana
One in five students at Grace College comes from a homeschooling background. It is a small private Christian college, located on 180 acres in the resort town of Winona Lake.
In addition to their 4 year degree programs, Grace offers accelerated degree programs such as a BA in 3 years and a BA/MA in 4 years. Grace College also offers a unique opportunity for homeschooled juniors and seniors through their JumpStart program.
Grace College… is very amicable toward home schooled students. The faculty there is very good with students as they are interested in the whole student, not just the academic side of college life. -Cheryl
Centenary College, Hacketstown, New Jersey
Centenary College makes it clear that they understand what homeschoolers want: a personalized education, the ability to pursue their passion in their Freshman year and the opportunity to relate learning to real life in a safe and supportive environment.
They offer small classes, hand-on experiences and one on one interaction with professors to help students achieve their goals. Learn more here.
Centenary College in NJ has a homeschool to college transition program. Clearly they are actively recruiting homeschoolers. – Jenn
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana
Rose-Hulman is a small, private college specializing in math, engineering and technology and a personal approach to education. The school is “ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report among institutions whose highest degree in engineering is the master’s. With 99% placement, the school is ranked in the Payscale top 10 for starting salaries,” according to their website.
To be considered for admission, SAT or ACT scores are required, with a minimum score of 1050 combined on the SAT or ACT 21 English/24 Math. Detailed information regarding admissions requirements can be found here.
It’s an exceptional private engineering school.They made it very clear that they welcome homeschooled students and that the ones that have attended have been very successful.-Bonnye
Arcadia University, Pennsylvania
Located a short distance outside of Philadelphia, Arcadia University offers a wide range of academic programs, including extensive offerings in the health sciences such as pre-physical therapy, physician assistant, and dual degrees in counseling.
Arcadia offers a close-knit community and a faculty that will work one-on-one with students to help them reach their long term goals. Application requirements for homeschooled students include standardized test scores, but AP, SAT II and CLEP test are optional. Detailed guidelines for applying can be found here.
List of 180 that do not require SAT or ACT
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Jess Arce is a homeschool mom of four, a tutor for children & adults who struggle with Dyslexia & Dysgraphia and an all around entrepreneur. She is passionate about helping others understand dyslexia.