By Paul Culp, MA (Oxon.), CFT, GCDF, CCSP

Twice now we’ve written about peculiar scholarships, in parts one and two of The Odds Are Good But the Goods Are Odd. Now it’s time to look at unusual colleges. For this we need some ground rules, because it would be easy enough to throw together an article about diploma mills, or specialized colleges for necromancers, nephrologists, pewter-workers, and bandicoot tamers. We’re discussing colleges that offer degrees in the arts and sciences, that award the credentials considered normal in the Western world, but that differ from the mainstream in culture, organization, emphases, or pedagogic methods. We also are considering only those schools that have full regional accreditation (see What Accreditation Is and Why It Counts, October 16, 2018).

We are not necessarily endorsing any given institution, but here, in no particular order, are five we consider especially noteworthy for their uniqueness:

Deep Springs College

Located on what it calls “an isolated cattle ranch” in California, Deep Springs was founded in 1917 and describes its program as being based on three pillars: academics, self-government, and manual labor. Historically all male, it began admitting women in 2018. “The Student Body, which fluctuates between 24 and 30 members, is responsible for deciding admissions, hiring faculty, reviewing student performance, and many other aspects of running the college…In addition to academics and self-governance, students are expected to participate in labor for at least 20 hours each week. Labor includes farm and ranch work, but also other daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and maintaining facilities and vehicles.” All students are on full scholarship. Deep Springs does not offer degrees beyond associate of arts, but its graduates typically go on to pursue bachelor’s degrees at high-echelon four-year institutions.

Bard College at Simon’s Rock

Owing to reforms in the British higher education system, there will be no more stories quite like that of Ruth Lawrence, who received a math degree from Oxford as a 12-year-old in 1982. However, someone like her might find an opportunity in Great Barrington, Massachusetts:If you’re on the  verge of 11th or 12th grade and certain you don’t want more of the same, Simon’s Rock can show you what education is like when everyone shares your love of learning. We’re the only residential college experience designed for thoughtful, exceptionally motivated students who are ready to start college early.” Journalist Ronan Farrow, son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, enrolled at Simon’s Rock at age 11. Simon’s Rock has about 450 full-time students, from 37 states and 15 countries, 85 percent of whom are receiving financial aid.

Note: Bard College at Simon’s Rock is not to be confused with Bard College in New York, though of course it often is. The two are affiliated, a relationship we need not explore here.

Webb Institute

This one is definitely not for students who are unsure of a major or who expect to spend their first two years of college “finding themselves.” No, Webb Institute, located in Glen Cove, New York, is strictly for those who wish to pursue a dual bachelor of science degree in naval architecture and marine engineering. “A practical work period between the first and second semesters of each of the four years is an integral part of the academic program. These eight week long ‘winter work’ terms provide students with first-hand experience in the industry and encourage attitudes and work habits that contribute to a sense of professional excellence.” A senior thesis is required, with oral report presented to “the entire Webb community and invited guests.” As of the current academic year, Webb has 104 students and a 9:1 student-to-teacher ratio. The admissions rate is 27 percent.

All U.S. citizens and permanent residents admitted to Webb receive full-tuition scholarships. The job placement rate is 100 percent. One needn’t be a naval architect  or marine engineer to figure out that this would be pretty hard to improve upon.

Berea College

Notwithstanding the free rides given at two of the aforementioned colleges, and their high ratings, Berea College, located in Berea, Kentucky, claims to be “the only one of America’s top colleges that makes a no-tuition promise to every enrolled student.” More than 70 percent of Berea’s 1,600 students are from the Appalachian region and Kentucky, and the mean family income of freshmen is under $30,000. Thirty-two majors are on offer, with a student-teacher ratio of 10:1. The Tuition Promise Scholarships are made possible by the school’s “endowment and the generous support of alumni, friends, organizations and others who believe that family incomes should not dictate students’ outcomes.” More than 40 percent of the class of 2017 graduated without debt, and the average debt was about $6,000, compared with a national average of $37,000. Students must work 10-15 hours each week, many of them in campus support roles, while carrying full academic loads.  

Evergreen State College

Located in Olympia, Washington, Evergreen State embraces the avant-garde in a manner normally associated with small private institutions, allowing each student to create his or her own “area of emphasis” from among 60 fields of study. The college uses “context and explanation to evaluate performance, not a simple letter grade…Detailed evaluations highlight your work and provide specific examples of your progress.” The student also creates “a self-reflective Academic Statement which acts as your blueprint to your degree. You’ll use this document to record your achievements and refine your area of emphasis.” Those with an appetite for advanced study can negotiate an Individual Learning Contract with a “faculty/staff sponsor who…agrees to provide appropriate oversight, support, and advice.”

The college is especially proud of its mascot, Speedy the Geoduck. Give yourself extra points (we allow that, and we feel sure Evergreen would approve) if you knew that a geoduck is a type of edible saltwater clam. Applications are accepted at any time of year, and Evergreen still accepts hard copy, rather surprising for such an environmentally conscious place. Not that it’s getting as many applications as it used to. A series of politically and racially motivated incidents in 2017 contributed to a decline in enrollment, which has been accompanied by budget cuts, layoffs, and increases in student fees. 

There’s nothing unusual about college admissions success with TCE.

It’s easy to see some of these institutions being a good fit for some of the students we’ve worked with during The Coaching Educator’s ten-year history of helping students get into and succeed at the right college. (In fact we’ve had relatives who attended three of the five.) So we urge you to think creatively about a college destination, and call on us to help you do that. To learn more about our philosophy and capabilities, be sure to watch our free webinars, listen to our podcasts, sign up for our four-week College App Boot Camp, consider our Ultimate Programs and our special services for athletes and performing-arts students, and book a consultation to hear what we can do for you and how we do it. Keep reading this blog, and look for us on social media (see links in “Credits and Recommendations” below) as we keep our clients and admirers advised of new developments in our effort to help students get into and succeed at the right school.

Paul Culp is certified as a global career development facilitator and writes about college admissions, college costs, financial aid, and college life in general for The Coaching Educator team. A former journalist and corporate ghostwriter who now operates Shenandoah Proofreading, Editing & Composition Services (SPECS), he has also been a humanities teacher at all levels from university down to sixth grade. Paul has degrees from Oxford University, Jacksonville State University, and Samford University, and also is certified as a fitness trainer.

Credits and Recommended Reading About College Admissions and Scholarships

Photos: Cow by Luke Stackpole, USS Winston Churchill by MC1 Grant P. Ammon, geoduck by Project Noah 

Culp, Paul. “A Nuanced Look at Freshman Retention Rates,” The Coaching Educator, 12 September 2018, http://tce.local/2018/09/12/a-nuanced-look-at-freshman-retention-rates/

Culp, Paul. “The Odds Are Good But the Goods Are Odd: 16 Unusual Scholarships,” The Coaching Educator, 12 October 2018, http://tce.local/2018/10/12/the-odds-are-good-but-the-goods-are-odd-16-unusual-scholarships/

Culp, Paul. “Part 2: The Odds Are Good But the Goods Are Odd: 10 More Unusual Scholarships,” The Coaching Educator, 20 March 2019,  http://tce.local/2019/03/20/part-2-the-odds-are-good-but-the-goods-are-odd-10-more-unusual-scholarships/

Culp, Paul. “The Prez, the Prov, the Profs, the Veep, and the Redge: Who’s Who on Campus,” The Coaching Educator, 17 December 2018, http://tce.local/2018/12/17/the-prez-the-prov-the-profs-the-veeps-and-the-redge-whos-who-on-campus/

Culp, Paul. “Ten Unusual Athletic Scholarships,” The Coaching Educator, 8 April 2019, http://tce.local/2019/04/08/ten-unusual-athletic-scholarships/

Culp, Paul. “What Accreditation Is and Why It Counts,” The Coaching Educator, 16 October 2018, http://tce.local/2018/10/16/what-accreditation-is-and-why-it-counts/

Culp, Paul. “What the Cap and Gown Mean and Why They Matter,” The Coaching Educator, 21 December 2018, http://tce.local/2018/12/21/what-the-cap-and-gown-mean-and-why-they-matter/

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