Most college students don’t know what they want out of their lives. This list, however, isn’t for them. It's for high school students dreaming of becoming a doctor and saving lives, arguing cases before the Supreme Court, and closing deals like Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross. They know exactly what they’re going to become and how great they’ll be once they get there. Now, they just need to get up and go, and these ten schools are the best places to start.
This small liberal arts school in New England offers a challenging stretch of course work that some students can find off-putting, “First, we're worked to the bone by classes, which I guess is important because the ‘real world’ can do that, but sometimes all the busywork isn't necessary.” But for many, the Five College Consortium means there are a large number of resources to access. “Being a part of this consortium means that Amherst can retain the advantages of a small college but offer its students the course catalogue of a large university,” writes a student studying political science. That includes "classes in communication, accounting, filmmaking, and so on that are not offered at Amherst." "Amherst is a small school that doesn't feel like it, because of its position in the five-college area," writes another freshman. There are some real-world classes too, “I've taken some pretty cool classes from the Sociology and Spanish departments, including several Sociology classes that involved hands-on social research.” The curriculum means “graduates do get good jobs or highly coveted spots in top grad schools,” and while “the academic requirements at Amherst can be tough, it really depends on what path the student takes, since the school has an open curriculum.” Basically, Amherst students “all do our homework well, sometimes too well.” Spoken like a true CEO.
This Pennsylvania liberal arts college is equipped with over 60 majors, and 50 minors to choose from, but the learning is always with an eye out towards the future. “Their aim is to make you learn, that will always make for a better resume and a better person,” writes a senior majoring in psychology. At the core of Bucknell is hands-on-training for your field of interest, whatever it may be. “I can’t believe how easy it was for me to get involved in research with one of my professors. I literally looked through different teachers’ research and found a project that really interested me and I emailed the teacher, explaining what my interests were, and how I thought their research would help me develop those passions.” The science fields are among the strongest in the country, “the Psychology and Physics departments at Bucknell are amazing. All of the teachers know an amazing amount of information about their respective fields and they make sure to cover as many details as possible, even when talking about something that may seem inconsequential.” Regardless of the field of study the possibility to “choose your path in almost anything” means “you can choose to be job-oriented.” You’re free to be “geared toward whatever interests you,” which for many is “preparing for a job.” Primarily, Bucknell is “geared towards the professors teaching and the CDC (career development center) working with you to find the perfect job or internship.”
This Ivy institution has a reputation for having one of the hardest working student bodies in the nation, “I have engineer friends who sleep 5 hours a night and study in the library all the time,” but also some of the smartest “students here are very competitive, and are very intelligent.” One student summed the academics up with “STRESSFUL. Do not come here if you aren't ready to work your ass off all year!” Where your academics lead you is ultimately up to you, whether you want it be a precursor to a profession or an academic career. “Because Cornell has so many different schools, if you really do your research, you can choose a program that is either entirely professionally or entirely academically oriented. It's all here.” Cornell provides its students a big leg up once they graduate, “the name Cornell can open doors to internships, interviews, and employment.” One student pointed out the Cornell School of Hotel Administration as particularly helpful when looking for employment after undergraduate studies conclude, “Cornell’s Hotel School is great at finding you jobs.” Another student thinks there should be more of an emphasis on education rather than acquiring a job. “I am disappointed that a large proportion view their time here as a stepping stone to a job rather than as a learning experience,” though it’s tough to complain when you attend a school with “great resources and a fantastic alumni network.”
Nestled in North Carolina about 20 minutes from Charlotte, this tiny liberal arts college has around 1,700 undergraduate students. Though small, Davidson is defined by its extreme work ethic. A sophomore involved in club sports “remembers the tour of Davidson, when the tour guide pointed out Belk Computer Lab (a 24-hour study room) and warned us that if we went to Davidson we would probably use this room to pull an all-nighter. I thought she was exaggerating, but I don't know a single student here who hasn't skipped sleep at least one night to meet a deadline,” Another student chimed in, “I guarantee you will work harder than you ever have, but you will come out having learned more than any of your peers at other institutions.” “Academics are at the forefront of Davidson's culture, and people know that when they apply here." The students enjoy the herculean academic schedule, “almost every student here pushes him or herself to accomplish his or her set goals.” Most importantly, Davidson students are taught the skills necessary for any profession. “The education at Davidson is not geared toward a specific career path but it will help you get a job because it trains you to be trainable and flexible. You learn skills that will always be important and useful no matter what job you apply for or higher level education you enroll into after Davidson. You will learn to analyze, discuss, and use your writing.” “Since it is a liberal arts institution, the education is geared toward learning for its own sake, especially to think critically, read, write, and communicate. I like it because it prepares you for any job in the future, which you can decide on later.”
Smack dab in the middle of Washington D.C., and surrounded by luxury town houses of Senators and Representatives alike, Georgetown is at the forefront of the D.C. metro and political scenes. It’s also in what permanent residents consider to be the trendy part of the city. Students aren’t deterred from the nightlife because they're constantly focused on their studies. “Even those people who love to go out on the weekends, or weeknights, know when they have to buckle down and do work. Everybody wants to succeed.” Because the government is around you, many students major in things like “Culture & Politics, the most interdisciplinary major of any in the SFS (School of Foreign Service), yet I still was required to take a litany of courses designed to prepare students to follow orders at the State Department or the World Bank.” Obviously the “language programs are really good, as are most of the SFS courses.” The “professors are not flexible when it comes to missing class for interviews,” but “the career center, on the other hand, is heavily biased towards connecting students with finance and consulting jobs.” One student bragged “a lot of us, especially those in the business school, are competing for the most lucrative jobs in investment banking.” It might not be empty bravado when “there are literally thousands of internship opportunities that can help you network and land a great job after graduation.”
The first thing to take into account about University of Pennsylvania is their academic excellence as an Ivy League school. “The academics are top notch...I certainly won't deny that I felt intimidated taking my first Calculus exams even though I was always the best in my high school class.” Part of the intimidation is UPenn’s Wharton Business School, which might very well be the best in the country. “The Wharton School, beginning with the required Management 100 for freshmen, is especially cutthroat.” But the Wharton undergrad program isn’t the only thing pushing students, “Penn’s Nursing, Anthropology, English, Psychology, and Urban Studies programs are tops in the nation as well, though the pre-professional atmosphere can often cloud other non-professional areas of study.” The unrivaled intensity in the environment is what landed UPenn on our list, and most students agree “everyone is very career oriented” which makes “them extremely concerned about their grades.” There is a backlash against this careerism, too, as one senior joked “if you are stuck-up, obnoxious, or focused only on your career, please go elsewhere - we're all set in that department!” In the end, UPenn is a place that focuses on preparing you for life outside of college, rather than placing you in a bubble. “Knowing that there is on campus recruiting and that some people have six figure salaries by September of their senior year drives people (even ones who have nothing to do with business or finance) to really push for jobs early and get down on themselves when they don't get them. While I was already applying to dozens of jobs and bemoaning my lack of responses, my friends from other schools hadn't even begun to think of where to send their resumes.”
One of America’s oldest institutions and a preeminent academic location, Princeton is rightfully amongst some of the best pre-professional schools in the nation. A Classical Studies major tells us the primary reason why: “don't come here unless you are willing to work.” One of the more popular stereotypes is that Princeton students are “wealthy, conservative, connected, going to Princeton to coast through school so they can make profitable connections with alumni who will get them lucrative jobs.” The reality is more that “the professors are some of the most noted scientists in the field, but they prefer to be called by their first names. Their doors are always open and you, as an undergraduate, can drop by at any time. Most (not all) of them are good teachers, and you can work with just about anyone you like, on any subject.” Academics are interesting, but competitive, and professors do what they can to help post-graduation. “The academics are very stimulating and you can get as much help or go into as much depth as you want. However, grade deflation leads to a slightly stressful environment and only further encourages the already competitive nature of many of the students.” “Academics are challenging, but extremely rewarding, professors are readily available to help with anything from course work to summer internships and jobs.” Simply being a part of Princeton’s long tradition as one of the finest universities in the country can help you pursue work after your undergraduate years. “Alumni connections are great, and help out for getting jobs and internships and in general they enable lots of things to be freer than they would be anywhere else!”
Located in Houston, Rice University lacks some of the big name prowess of some other schools on this list, “no one has heard of Rice! This can be a problem for graduates who, like me, relocate to another part of the country and wish that their school had the name-recognition to help them land a great job,” but Rice conducts some of the most challenging courses in the country, “Rice is hard, plain and simple,” notes a sophomore studying engineering. They would know as “engineers have plenty of good company, and there’s no bias against us in the curriculum or anything.” The hard work extends to the heavy course load that students consistently assign themselves. “About half the students seem to be Pre-med, but these students major in everything from Bio-engineering to English. Every other student also seems to be either double-majoring or triple-majoring.” The student body at Rice makes it the school du jour for professional careers since the “best things” are “students who are genuinely passionate about their work, and their research.” One student summed up Rice’s career aspirations: “the computer science department at Rice is really great. I learned a ton and got a good job. I feel well prepared for handling changing technology. Rice is not a technical school and as such they do not teach for the purpose of getting you a job. However, everyone I know in my department got great jobs after graduating, especially since Rice has good recruiting relationships with some top tier companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and others.”
Vanderbilt College can sometimes be overlooked despite its serious academic accomplishments. A student said without a doubt that “academics are number one here. There is truly an intellectual network running all over.” Not only are the academics first-rate and somewhat unknown, but they’re designed to prepare you for the next step. “The education you receive here prepares you more for a job after graduation or further learning in graduate school. You learn how to juggle heavy course loads and extracurricular activities, and the time management skills will probably be the most useful of all after graduation.” Have no fear studious students, you’ll be in the majority at Vanderbilt. “The classes here are tough, but everyone around you is doing the same thing, so the sense of community is very strong.” For better or worse, the coursework can often be explicitly focused on students’ first job out of college, “education seems geared towards getting a job rather than a broad liberal arts education,” but it’s not entirely done out of practicality “the academics here are not that competitive, and the requirements are fair. Education is geared toward both getting a job and learning for its own sake.” This is especially true of specific majors, but the environment is one that aptly prepares you for the dreaded real world. “I think Vandy is very much geared toward getting a job (at least in certain fields like managerial studies and engineering).” Finding a school that will arm you with skills outside the realm of textbooks is rare, and VU does just that.
Wake Forest is often dubbed “Work Forest,” but if you’re looking for a great education, this is the spot. “Academics? They’re tough, but not impossible. It's how I imagine it to be at most top-tier schools. Wake continually one-ups itself in academic significance - the Dean's List requirements were raised my junior year to make sure the students have to work harder to earn such distinction.” The focus on academics means “classes are difficult. You may work hard for merely a C in a class,” but the classes are aimed at helping you acquire a job in your given field “I definitely think that a Wake education will get you far in the job world. People are actually often quite impressed by a Wake diploma!” But to sum up, the courses, although hard, are extremely well-rounded. A Wake diploma means you’re ready to take the next steps. “The curriculum at Wake is geared both to getting a job and learning. The divisional requirements are a good way to learn a variety of disciplines and provide a good base for any student. I am in the Calloway business school and grade deflation is terrible, classes are hard, but we will come out extremely well rounded and more competitive for it.”