Best Kept College Secrets

Colleges for Real People

How to Start the College Search

The College Search:

As a college counselor for more than forty years, I have watched thousands of students go through the process of identifying the colleges to which they want to apply. The search can be affected by any number of considerations from strong parental expectations to the availability of professional programs, from the opportunity to play a particular sport at a particular level of competition, to the organization of the curriculum. The whole enterprise is tricky because it comes upon a student too quickly and with incredibly high stakes, it involves people and institutions over which the applicant has no authority, and it demands the impossible ability to predict the future.

Every college has a campus, professors with degrees, a library, and dormitories. Some are in cities, some in the country; some are large, some small. For the most part, colleges and universities all offer a fairly standard set of courses, frequently called the Liberal Arts. Unless otherwise noted, most colleges teach languages, literature, history, math, science, and a rich variety of more specific disciplines attached to the arts, the humanities, or the sciences. Most colleges and universities prepare students for med school, law school, business school, and graduate school. Most colleges and universities offer counsel and advice given by faculty advisors. Most colleges and universities sponsor healthy residential life.

I can’t describe the entire process in this book, but I can describe several types of colleges and universities, recognizing that broad generalizations are only the start of an investigation. Some aspect of the search may make all the difference for one student and not matter to another. So, as a starting point, here are some very general categories of post-secondary options:

Small Independent Liberal Arts Colleges

The small liberal arts colleges have traditionally offered an introduction to courses in language, literature, social science, life sciences, physical sciences, the humanities, mathematics, and the arts. In recent years, the small liberal arts colleges frequently also offer study in Computer Science, Neuroscience, and Ethnic or Cultural Studies. Classes are small and taught by professors; they have no teaching assistants. An emphasis is placed on strength of community and activities often include the entire student body. Athletics, extracurricular, and recreational opportunities abound, and considerable emphasis is placed on creating a strong sense of engagement in the life of the college. The size of a small liberal arts college can range from very small (200) to relatively large (2500). Two of these colleges enroll only men. Several enroll only women.

The excellent small liberal arts colleges described in this guide are:

Marlboro College, Bennington College, Endicott College, Simmons College (women), Hartwick College, Eugene Lang/ New School, Drew University, Juniata College, Muhlenberg College, Allegheny College, Goucher College, Washington College, McDaniel University, Davis and Elkin College, Hampden-Sydney College (Men), Sweet Briar College (Women), Emory & Henry College, Hollins University, Lynchburg College, Randolph College, Guilford College, Presbyterian College, Wofford College, Furman University, Berry College, Agnes Scott College (Women), Eckerd College, Rollins College, University of the South (Sewanee), Rhodes College, Centre College, Millsaps College, Hendrix College, Southwestern University

Public Universities/ State Universities

Public universities are generally large, complicated institutions, offering instruction in the liberal arts as well as a wide range of specialized preparation for undergraduates seeking professional training (Nursing, Engineering, Music, Theater, Art, Architecture, etc) and even more specialized training in their graduate and professional schools. The number of opportunities available is huge, including big-time sports programs, specialized facilities, and a large number of students from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. Not all classes are enormous, but many may be. In most instances, a student will work with Teaching Assistants (TAs) rather than professors until the junior or senior year.

The advantages of the public university include lower cost for in-state students, access to specialized professional programs as an undergraduate and the exciting jumbles of living with thousands of students of the same age. For some, the larger university may appear to offer more opportunities to become independent, and for some, the university allows a degree of anonymity; a student may not want to see the same people every day.


The excellent large public universities described in this guide are:

The University of Maine, The University of Vermont, The University of New Hampshire, The University of Connecticut, Alfred University, Christopher Newport University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Appalachian State University, University of North Carolina Wilmington, The University of North Carolina at Asheville, The University of Georgia, The University of Alabama _-Tuscaloosa, The University of Alabama Birmingham, The, University of Alabama Huntsville, The University of Mississippi, The University of Arkansas, Miami University , Indiana University, Ferris State University, The University of Iowa, The University of Missouri, Montana State University, The University of Montana, The University of Northern Colorado, Northern Arizona University, Cal State Stanislaus, San Francisco State University, Western Washington University

State Liberal Arts Universities and Specialized Public Universities

A small number of states have made a commitment to support relatively small colleges or universities dedicated to the liberal arts. These institutions do not have the words “Liberal Arts” in their title, but their mission is to provide the equivalent of the small liberal arts experience in a public setting. Some of these can be considered “Non-Traditional” in their method of instruction ad character while others are similar to their larger cousins in pursuing big-time sports and in distinguishing pre-professional preparation. Most enroll fewer than 5000 students.

The excellent state liberal arts colleges and universities described in this guide are:

Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, University of North Carolina Asheville

University of Montevallo, Sonoma State University, Southern Oregon University

The Evergreen State College

The Comprehensive Private University

Called “comprehensive” these universities offer all of the liberal arts, specialized professional programs such as Nursing, Engineering, Architecture, and Business. They also operate significant graduate and professional programs such a School of Law or Veterinarian School. In this guide, the comprehensive universities are not gigantic. For the most part, they are in or near cities and operate external enterprises that can offer internship. The comprehensive private university offers many of the benefits of the larger public universities at a smaller scale. For the most part, they will offer a highly competitive athletic program and specialized study. Examples of the private comprehensive university would include Johns Hopkins, Duke, Georgetown, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt, and Northwestern. Those famous universities accept a tiny proportion of applicants; this guide presents great options that accept more than 50% of applicants.

The excellent private comprehensive universities described in this book are:

Quinnipiac University, Fairfield University, College of Charleston, Stetson University

Belmont University, Samford University, University of San Diego, University of the Pacific, University of San Francisco, Dominican University, Pacific Lutheran University

Specialized or Technical Colleges or Institutes

This guide identifies a very few exceptional programs that are not for every applicant. In some cases the institutions are technical institutes; in some instances they are dedicated to a singular undertaking.

The excellent specialized or technical schools described in this guide are:

College of the Atlantic – Ecology/ Marine Ecology

Green Mountain College – Environmental Liberal Arts

Lesley University – Education

Curry College – Learning Difference Liberal Arts

Worcester Polytechnic Institute – Engineering and Technology

Bard College at Simon’s Rock – Early College/Liberal Arts

Johnson and Wales University – Culinary Arts/ Hospitality Management

Clarkson University – Engineering and Technology

Paul Smith’s College – Forestry/Natural Resources/ Hospitality Management

Alfred University – Ceramics

Rochester Institute of Technology

The Culinary Institute of America – Culinary Arts/ Hospitality Management

Virginia Polytechnic Institute – Engineering and Technology

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology – Engineering and Technology

Ferris State College – Materials Engineering/ Automobile Engineering

Colorado School of Mines – Engineering/ Petroleum Engineering

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology – Engineering and Technology

Santa Fe University of Art and Design – Art and Design/ Film

Colleges with a Strong Religious Affiliation or Conviction

Applicants may be familiar with Notre Dame, Georgetown, Boston College, or Villanova, all Catholic universities. Many of universities of a particular size (between 5,000 and 10,000 students) happen to be operated with a sense of purpose attached to faith. Almost all present their convictions in their statement of mission; all of the institutions in this guide do not demand or expect students to practice the convictions of their founders, but they do hold to principles consistent with their faith.

The excellent colleges and universities with strong religious affiliation described in this guide are:

St. Michael’s College – Catholic

St. Anselm College – Catholic

Fairfield University – Catholic

Guilford College – Quaker

Berry College – Christian Nondenominational

Belmont University – Christian Nondenominational

Samford University – Alabama Baptist Convention

John Carroll University – Catholic

Earlham College – Quaker

St. Olaf College – Lutheran

Saint John’s University/ College of Saint Benedict – Catholic

University of San Diego – Catholic

Thomas Aquinas – Catholic

Saint Mary’s College – Catholic

University of San Francisco – Catholic

Dominican University – Catholic

Pacific Lutheran University – Lutheran

Whitworth University – Christian Nondenominational

Nontraditional Colleges

There are several ways to differentiate these colleges from the rest of the colleges and universities described in this guide. Some are intimate and student directed. Some concentrate so emphatically on a particular issue. A few have maintained a quality of character or identity that separates them from standard sensibilities. A few can be described as “quirky”; I suspect each of them would be delighted to be in this company.

The excellent nontraditional colleges described in this book are:

College of the Atlantic, Green Mountain College, Marlboro College, Bennington College, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Paul Smith’s College, The Culinary Institute of America, Eugene Lang College/ New School, Warren Wilson College, Berry College, Coe College, Santa Fe University of Art and Design, Prescott College, California Maritime Academy, Thomas Aquinas College, The Evergreen State University.

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