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Colleges With Innovative Academic Programs

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  • Alverno College (Milwaukee, WI): Alverno offers a competency-based curriculum and doesn't hand out traditional grades but instead uses a narrative transcript as a way of assessing students.
  • Amherst College (Amherst, MA): Amherst has no core curriculum or distribution requirements. First-year students are required to take an interdisciplinary seminar designed to stimulate "critical thinking and active learning at the college level."
  • Bard College (Annandale on Hudson, NY): The 'pillars' of a Bard education are the yearlong first-year seminars that prepare students for rigorous intellectual exploration, sophomore year's moderation (i.e., a self-exploration as students transition to the Upper College), and an original, focused senior project.
  • Bennington College (Bennington, VT): Through the Plan Process, Bennington students specify what they want to study and how they intend to study it. In addition, students annually undertake a seven-week Field Work Term where, with help from the College, they pursue jobs and internships in their field of interest.
  • Brown University (Providence, RI): With no curriculum requirements, Brown provides an open learning environment in which students define liberal education for themselves.
  • Clarkson University (Potsdam, NY): The Clarkson School, an interdisciplinary program for high school seniors, enables students to obtain their high school diploma while finishing their first year of college.
  • College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor, ME): In order to prepare its students to "make a difference in the world," the College offers interdisciplinary classes and independent study projects. Seniors must produce an original project considered the capstone of their college experience.
  • Deep Springs College (Big Pine, CA): An all-male two-year college that is tuition-free and very selective in admission, Deep Springs is perhaps the most unusual college in the U.S. The total enrollment numbers about 25 students, all working and living together on a cattle ranch in California's high desert.
  • Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts (New York, NY): At this institution--whose formal name is Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts--all courses are seminars, integrated interdisciplinary learning is emphasized, and the curriculum is student-directed.
  • Goddard College (Plainfield, VT): In Goddard's low-residency model of education, students spend eight days on campus followed by 16 weeks of self-reflection and independent work with an advisor.
  • Grinnell College (Grinnell, IA): Students design their own curriculum. The only required course is the first-year tutorial designed to expand students, writing, critical thinking, analysis, discussion, and oral presentation skills. For their tutorial, first-year students can choose from more than 35 topics.
  • Hamilton College (Clinton, NY): The College's open curriculum allows students to zero in on their passions. "Proseminars," small classes that provide interaction and collaboration with faculty and other students, are designed to promote student writing and critical thinking. A recently adopted requirement specifies that "all concentrations, or majors, feature relevant, mandatory course work on diversity."
  • Hampshire College (Amherst, MA): Hampshire's Divisional System offers students a framework for taking responsibility for their own learning and customizing their curriculum. Rather than declare a major, students build a concentration, choosing courses from among five interdisciplinary schools.
  • Indiana University of Pennsylvania (Indiana, PA): Robert Cook Honors College features an integrated, cross-disciplinary curriculum of small cores classes (with no tests) as well as opportunities for research, travel, and internships. To promote friendships and provide support for one another, all first-year Honors College students live together in a single residence hall.
  • Kalamazoo College (Kalamazoo, MI): The K-Plan comprises four components: depth and breadth in the liberal arts, learning through doing, international and intercultural exposure, and independent scholarship.
  • Long Island University — C.W. Post Campus (Brookville, NY): At LIU's Global College, students live and learn in at least eight countries and then return to New York City for a final semester before receiving their bachelor's degree in global studies.
  • Maharishi University of Management (Fairfield, IA): Oriented around a 'consciousness-based curriculum' in which students are immersed in one full-time course a month, the University promotes active learning, transcendental meditation, and self-exploration and inner growth.
  • Miami University — Oxford (Oxford, OH): An interdisciplinary option in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Western Program permits students to create their own major and is home to the Compass Living and Learning Community.
  • Naropa University (Boulder, CO): Based in the Buddhist tradition, this nonsectarian school encourages students to choose from a host of 'curated majors' or create their own while expanding their learning through internships, service projects, global study, and creative projects.
  • New College of Florida (Sarasota, FL): New College of Florida, the state's honors college for the liberal arts, features academic learning contracts, tutorials, independent study, and a senior thesis.
  • New York University (New York, NY): At the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, an independent interdisciplinary college within NYU, students create their own learning through seminars, tutorials, internships, and global opportunities.
  • Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH): In addition to a curriculum exploration requirement encouraging students to broaden their interests, Oberlin requires that students demonstrate writing ability as well as quantitative and formal reasoning and take three courses with a cultural diversity designation. The Experimental College, both a student-run organization and a college department, sponsors courses taught by any member of the Oberlin community, whether faculty, staff, student, or resident.
  • Pitzer College (Claremont, CA): For Pitzer students, an interdisciplinary education means not just studying a variety of subjects but creating an individualized, self-directed program that incorporates learning outside the classroom.
  • Prescott College (Prescott, AZ): The focus at Prescott is on experiential education, collaborative learning, and student-designed study where grades are optional and narrative evaluations assess growth.
  • Quest University (British Columbia, CAN): Quest operates on a block plan (i.e., students take one course at a time) so that an area of interest can be thoroughly explored. The flexibility of the block plan also facilitates experiential learning in environments outside the classroom.
  • Reed College (Portland, OR): Often characterized as one of the most intellectual colleges in the nation, Reed provides conference-style classes where student can pursue interdisciplinary studies, dual degrees, and special programs.
  • Ripon College (Ripon, WI): To develop the skills that employers look for, Ripon's five-seminar Catalyst Curriculum builds students, writing, collaboration, qualitative reasoning, communication, and intercultural competence. A Four-Year Career and Development Plan helps ensure that graduates are ready to make the most of life after college.
  • Sarah Lawrence College (Bronxville, NY): Hallmarks of academics at Sarah Lawrence include small seminars, biweekly student-faculty conferences, and study abroad and exchange programs.
  • Smith College (Northampton, MA): There are no distribution requirements but a range of majors as well as numerous concentrations that allow students to combine and connect different areas of interest.
  • Soka University of America (Aliso Viejo, CA): Special features include a student-centered curriculum, seminar classes, and study abroad for all students, which is included in tuition fees.
  • St. John's College (Annapolis, MD): St. John's program is based on reading and discussing the major works of Western civilization. Students can study in either Santa Fe or Annapolis or alternate between the two.
  • St. John's College (Santa Fe, NM): St. John's program is based on reading and discussing the major works of Western civilization. Students can study in either Santa Fe or Annapolis or alternate between the two.
  • St. Lawrence University (Canton, NY): A "domestic study abroad program," the Adirondack Semester is held at an off-the-grid yurt village where students study nature and human relationships through such courses as nature writing, ecology, environmental philosophy, and land-use change.
  • St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN): The Center for Integrative Studies offers a path for students to design their own majors to meet individual learning interests and goals.
  • Sterling College (Craftsbury Common, VT): Every student has a job and everyone gets their hands dirty at Sterling, which is dedicated to educating stewards of the environment and is one of seven federally recognized Work Colleges.
  • Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, PA): Swarthmore features small seminar-style classes and an interdisciplinary curriculum, plus an Honors Program that emphasizes independent learning and dialogue with peers, faculty, and outside scholars.
  • The Evergreen State College (Olympia, WA): Evergreen's interdisciplinary learning contracts allow students to explore a subject at an advanced level, working closely with a faculty or staff sponsor.
  • The University of Chicago (Chicago, IL): Chicago is noted for its emphasis on interdisciplinary education, critical thinking, and discussion of classic texts.
  • Thomas Aquinas College (Santa Paula, CA): Eschewing traditional majors, the College offers a four-year interdisciplinary curriculum focusing on original writings of philosophers, historians, scientists, poets, and theologians. The Discussion Method in the Socratic tradition compels students to grapple with big ideas and contribute their voice to every class meeting.
  • Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (Merrimack, NH): The College focuses on the classics and emphasizes individualized education. Sophomores spend a semester in Rome exploring all that the Eternal City has to offer.
  • Truman State University (Kirksville, MO): In addition to choosing a major, students at this public liberal arts university participate in the Liberal Studies Program. Here they focus on essential skills for success, modes of inquiry into problems and issues of different academic disciplines, and interconnecting perspectives to better understand how disciplines relate to and influence each other.
  • Unity College (Unity, ME): Unity calls itself "America's environmental college" and backs it up by offering 16 environmentally focused majors and a liberal arts curriculum centered on sustainability science.
  • University of California, San Diego (La Jolla, CA): Under UCSD's undergraduate college system, each college has its own programmatic theme, curricular requirements, and extracurricular activities. With this system, UCSD combines the intimacy of a small liberal arts college with the resources of a large research university.
  • University of California, Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, CA): A "graduate school for undergraduates," the College of Creative Studies offers select students innovative classes and one-on-one assistance that culminates in each participant producing a body of original work in the arts and sciences.
  • University of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA): On enrollment, students are affiliated with one of 10 colleges that provide academic support and student activities. Performance evaluations are a part of the UC Santa Cruz grading system.
  • University of Dallas (Irving, TX): UD has an intensive, integrated two-year core curriculum, and student participation in study abroad programs ranks among the highest in the nation.
  • University of Redlands (Redlands, CA): The Johnston Center for Individualized Instruction allows students to shape their education, study abroad, connect with real-world issues, co-teach with a professor, and enjoy a community of like-minded scholars pursuing their individual interests as they support each other.
  • University of Rochester (Rochester, NY): In lieu of complicated general education requirements, the Rochester Curriculum allows students to choose two clusters of three-course sequences within a division or department.
  • Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY): Vassar offers nine multidisciplinary programs and six interdepartmental programs. The Ford Scholars Program brings together students and faculty in collaborative work in the social sciences and humanities. Students may study off campus at Vassar-sponsored locations abroad or at U.S. institutions through the Twelve College Exchange and other programs. Each year some 500 students take on internships locally or in New York City.
  • Warren Wilson College (Swannanoa, NC): The Triad--academics, work, and service--is the foundation of a Warren Wilson education and ensures that learning takes place inside and outside the classroom. An integrative study option provides what is essentially a design-your-own-major experience.
  • Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT): Known for the diversity of both its student body and curriculum, Wesleyan offers service learning so that students can apply classroom knowledge to the real world. To incorporate service learning in their courses, faculty can draw support and resources from the Allbritton Center.
  • Western Washington University (Bellingham, WA): The Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies provides small seminar-style courses, narrative evaluations in lieu of grades, interdisciplinary majors, close faculty advising, and opportunities for independent study and study abroad.
  • Wheaton College (Norton, MA): Beyond its 47 majors and 59 minors, the College encourages students to explore connections and delve into international and diverse cultural issues through the Center for Global Education and the Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning, respectively.

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About This List

Common classes, traditional grades, structured curricula: these colleges and universities throw it all out the window. Just don't get too excited when they talk about "negotiating" grades. FYI, this list is from The College Finder, 2017 edition now available!

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