Not every student has the highest GPA, and that's okay! Here is our list of colleges that don't rely on grades to get accepted.
Yonkers, New York
Sarah Lawrence, a small liberal arts school whose beautiful campus is just north of New York City, offers students the true freedom to steer their own unique educational journey. Students can choose from nearly 50 disciplines and meet weekly throughout all four years with their faculty advisor to create an individualized program of study. Through classes that are small, roundtable seminars, and a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio (which becomes 1:1 in the bi-weekly conferences with professors), students receive a level of intellectual and creative partnership that is unparalleled in undergraduate education. Want to study something not offered in the curriculum? No problem! Utilizing the system used at Oxford and Cambridge, students, together with a faculty member, design an individual course that is conducted through weekly meetings between student and professor. Students can also direct their own educational path through independent study, fieldwork, internships, and a senior thesis.
Although a letter grade is assigned for each course, it is not emphasized. The emphasis is instead placed on two additional modes of evaluation that not only measure a student’s performance but also shed light on specific aspects of and reasons behind a student’s performance. The first is an assessment platform designed to measure student performance against critical skills essential for academic and professional success. The other, a detailed written evaluation of students’ work in class, provides feedback that helps them understand their strengths and how they can improve.
Sarah Lawrence offers 5-year programs that provide students the opportunity to earn two degrees, including a B.A. and B.S. with Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. And for anyone concerned that the 4-year liberal arts degree does not best prepare students for a professional career, Sarah Lawrence students, in addition to their specific concentration, graduate with the critical abilities and leadership competencies to
- Think analytically
- Express ideas effectively through written communication
- Exchange ideas effectively through oral communication
- Bring innovation to their work
- Envisage and work independently on a project, and
- Accept and act on criticism.
It is no wonder that Sarah Lawrence graduates don’t just find competitive positions in their field—they thrive in them.
New College of Florida, one of the country's best public honors colleges, started as a private college, then merged into the University of South Florida, and in 2001, moved next door to become its own autonomous college.
New College’s students integrate professional development with their academic experience by working with a personal career coach and a faculty advisor. Each semester students register for the semester using eContracts, written agreements drawn up jointly by the student and their advisors. Each contract is tailored to fit students’ academic interests and goals, and in addition to courses, includes educational activities, co-curricular activities, internships, research, jobs, and community involvement. The eContracts serve as a negotiation between the student and College on what the student wants to learn, how they are going to learn it, and what they need to achieve in order to fulfill the contract. This provides flexibility to make each student’s academic experience unique.
At the beginning of each semester, students have the ability to “try on” a course by attending two days' worth of mini-course previews. Students are given the opportunity to ask questions about content, prerequisites, and course requirements, and a chance to feel out the vibe of professors and get a sense of whether or not the course fits their learning style.
At New College, students are evaluated through performance reviews instead of grades. These evaluations consist of detailed feedback about a student’s academic undertakings throughout each semester. The final evaluation is preceded by many one-on-one meetings between students and their professors and advisors, with in-depth discussions and opportunities to determine strengths and weaknesses, and a plan of action to continue academic excellence. The evaluation doesn’t just indicate how a student did in class but also charts how they can improve moving forward.
The New College has proven results. They have over 90 Fulbright Scholars, reinforcing the school’s status as one of the nation’s leading undergraduate institutions in terms of per-capital Fulbright winners, and have received other prestigious awards including numerous National Science Foundation “Research Experiences for Undergraduates.”
There may only be about 700 undergraduates on campus, but students never feel a lack of opportunities. Students can cross-register for courses at any of the neighboring schools: Ringling College of Art + Design, State College of Florida, Florida State University at Ringling Museum, and University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. Between classes, they can join one of the 40+ campus clubs, borrow and take lessons on sailboats, kayaks, and canoes, and enjoy the cultural and recreational resources of Sarasota. The city, named one of Money magazine's “best places to live,” is just a few minutes away. In addition to enjoying the bayfront campus, students are just a bus or bike ride away from Siesta Key, one of the world’s premier beach destinations.
For a college that is skeptical of numerical college rankings and does thus not submit data to U.S. News & World Report, Reed sure does have a lot of awards. In Princeton Review’s 2021 survey, students voted Reed #1 for Best Classroom Experience and #2 for Professors Get High Marks. They are ranked second in the country in the percentage of grads who earn PhDs in life sciences, third in the percentage of grads who earn PhDs in humanities, and fifth across all disciplines. Reed is also often referred to as one of the most intellectual colleges in the country, and students (known as Reedies) are known for their intellectual curiosity, creative thinking, and engaged citizenship.
What Reedies are not known for are traditional grades. The College encourages students to measure their achievement by intellectual growth and self-assessment of their grasp of course material, so although grades are put on a transcript, they are not distributed to students, provided the work continues at satisfactory (C or higher) levels. Instead, students’ work is closely observed and frequently evaluated by faculty; papers and exams are returned with lengthy comments, and students and advisors discuss the course narrative evaluations in an individual conference.
Classes at Reed are small and active; the professor is often a mediator for discussion rather than lecturer. Within this traditional liberal arts and science college, students pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in 40 majors and programs, including dual-degree programs with Cal Tech, Columbia, and RPI for engineering and with Duke for Forestry-Environmental Science.
When not engaged in their academic pursuits, Reedies can enjoy their beautiful campus with a forested canyon nature preserve at its center, the several creative Portland neighborhoods that intersect it, or take a bike, tram, or bus to downtown Portland. On weekends students can head up to the Reed-owned ski cabin on Mt. Hood, go on day trips through Reed’s outdoor education center, or use the campus’ co-op to stock up on gear for their own hiking, rafting, kayaking, or biking trip.
Worried about the weather? No need. Reedies know that rain brings rainbows, and believe a light rain jacket and a bike fender are always in style.
Check out our other 6 college recommendations as part of this month's 9 on 9 series:
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