Colleges that Change Students' Lives
If the title of this book and website does not hook you, then perhaps the “essential elements” of the colleges included will: These schools share two essential elements: a familial sense of communal enterprise that gets students heavily involved in cooperative rather than competitive learning, and a faculty of scholars devoted to helping young people develop their powers, mentors who often become their valued friends. - Loren Pope
Colleges that Change Students Lives was the creation of New York Times writer and researcher, Loren Pope. He set out to find colleges that truly lived out their mission and delivered what they said they would to their student bodies. Whether one wants to call them “hidden gems”, the right fit colleges, or the place that my child is going to find and pursue her passion, these colleges are focused on what we, at McMillan Education, see as being the crucial elements of any student’s college experience. The following is what Pope identified as the characteristics that should ideally guide one’s college search when looking for the tenets outlined above:
- Low student-to-faculty ratios. Classes are taught by professors, not Teaching Assistants.
- Faculty are dedicated and passionate about teaching, advising, and mentoring undergraduate students.
- A living and learning environment that is primarily residential.
- Holistic admission policies including "test-optional" applications for admission. These schools take into consideration everything about an applicant—not just their numbers on an application.
- Alumni networks that help graduates with professional and career development opportunities.
- An ideal living and learning environment where students can meet and exceed their own expectations for personal intellectual growth.
A wonderful way to get to know this type of college would be to look at two excellent examples of these schools that are quite different from one another in terms of location/geography.
Clark University in Worcester, MA and Reed College in Portland, Oregon. What each school has in common is its devotion to the undergraduates, the commitment to pushing students to try new things and develop new skills, and a shared emphasis on how each student should be involved in the community outside the classroom.
For sure, these colleges are not known for having the traditional pre-professional programs many families are looking for; however, in the pursuit of their deep interests in the liberal arts, students do exceptionally well both in graduate school placement as well as the job market because they do well academically and are well-prepared for graduate school and because they are doing what they are interested in and passionate about--all what we are looking for when sending our students to have the best possible college experience.
On both a personal and professional level, it still surprises me how often adults say to young people that selectivity is a measure of the quality of a college. Aside from name recognition, colleges that are the most selective sometimes are unable to provide the kind of one-on-one professor and student relationship that can clearly guide a student to success at college and in life. Furthermore, it is these relationships that develop into not only important mentor-mentee experiences, but also crucial opportunities for recommendation writing and graduate school advice placement.
It is this type of college that often triumphs over the more well known schools in helping to earn students jobs they find fulfilling, and spots in the graduate schools they want to attend. Finally, this all goes back to the question we all want the answer to: where will our student be healthy and happy? The answer is clearly that it is at the college where they will feel most cared for and, at the same time, pushed to take risks and face challenges. Only then will they be ready to face what life after college has to offer them.