Intellectually Endowed

Schools where Nietzsche is a hot topic in the dining hall

By Explore Editor

Brown University

If all of the Ivy League schools came to your house for Thanksgiving dinner, Brown would be the cool uncle wearing a Miles Davis t-shirt who carries an unidentifiable odor but ends up being really well-spoken and interesting. BU gets its reputation as the "weird Ivy" due partially to its open curriculum and progressive grading system. "With the open curriculum, you can take any class you want to, which is really cool, because I've taken a class called Ancient Utopias and Imaginary Places at the same time as I was taking Organic Chemistry," says Gregory, a freshman at Brown. Stephanie, and English major has this to say about the benefits of Brown's open curriculum: "Interested and engaged students foster deeper, more involved discussions and, in my opinion, an overall more fulfilling academic experience… learning for its own sake -- not getting a job."


Carleton College

With a reputation as one of the country's top private liberal arts colleges and intimate class sizes, Carleton is an ideal environment for students who want their college experience to be more about academics than house parties. "Even if you aren't studying you are talking about something intellectual. It is highly likely to run into people debating politics, religion, or even relativity. Intellectualism isn't about being in class here, it is your way of life," claims Martha, a philosophy student. This doesn't mean that students are trying to one-up each other on Kant trivia, however. According to Robert, a junior at Carleton, "Kids are definitely very smart but not pretentiously so. A lot of people worry that they aren't smart enough to fit in when they first get here but soon realize that there was a reason they were accepted and that they actually can keep up with classes and whatnot. Also, I think the smartness just adds to the style of humor on campus. People will be as willing to make a joke involving some chem theory or philosophical thinker as they are to make one about something in pop culture. This friendliness and love of learning adds to the vibe on campus."


Georgetown University

For aspiring politicians and global thinkers, Georgetown is the ideal college destination. Students rarely come to Georgetown undecided, and conversations in between classes are more likely to revolve around domestic policy than last night's rager. Andy, a business student, says "Georgetown creates well-rounded students who are not only well-educated in liberal arts but are also ready for the work world in whatever field they choose. Almost all major firms recruit at Georgetown for full-time and internship positions. Class participation is common and you'll hear some very interesting debates in class, even in larger intro-level courses." Georgetown also offers plenty of opportunities to engage with Washington, DC. "No school rivals Georgetown in terms of the high-profile speakers who come to campus, and usually students get meaningful interaction with them beyond just sitting and listening to speeches. For those who seek them out, there are lots of ways to get involved in everything from Wall Street, to government work (the DoD and State Dept), to human rights work (STAND was founded here, and many students are involved in charity and development stuff), education (TFA is the largest undergraduate recruiter), entrepreneurship, undergraduate research, etc.," explains Ed, a senior.


Hampshire College

If one wished to sum up Hampshire College in one word, "alternative" might suffice. The school encourages students to pursue their passions and offers an academic program that stresses individual freedom and creativity over any sort of traditional core curriculum. According to one sophomore named Greg, "Out of the 9 classes that I've taken, I've only disliked one, and I still learned a great deal in that class. The professors are amazing; they are intelligent, friendly, caring and passionate. I've managed to have a personal relationship with most of my professors, and all except for one have been helpful outside of class." Since letter grades do not even exist at Hampshire, students are able to focus on their own work without the pressures of maintaining a GPA or in-class competition. While this could be an incentive for laziness at other schools, Hampshire students tend to seize the opportunity to learn on their own terms. "Hampshire is really unique because, since you create your own program and since there's no testing, the drive to learn and excel doesn't come from competition, but rather, it comes from the desire to learn and excel," says Bobby, a junior.


Kenyon College

Incoming freshman don't choose Kenyon for the bustling cosmopolitan scene of Gambier, OH. Instead, they come for the tightknit community of intellectual, quirky students who want a pure college experience without the distractions of the outside world. According to Nina, a senior, "The whole academic culture at Kenyon, which encourages exploration and branching out, lends itself well to completing diversification. Students will take Economics just for fun and find out later that it completed their quantitative reasoning requirement--surprise, you took a math class!" Students commonly praise the school's laidback environment and lack of academic competition. "The atmosphere is probably not as competitive at comparable colleges; student work hard for the sole purpose of learning," says Chris, a freshman.


Morehouse College

Morehouse is an all-male, historically black college with a reputation for excellence and impressive roster of graduates, from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Spike Lee. Both students and professors take academics very seriously at Morehouse. According to Carl, a freshman, "It's sort of like taught love. Every teacher cares about you and pushes you to the limits because they care. I have the numbers and emails of all of my professors and know each one of them to some degree or another. Students here are highly competitive but it pushes all of us to be great. Mays told us to be so good that no man living, dead, or ever to be born can do it better. That is the foundation of our academics and our response to it will determine how high the elevators of our skyscrapers will go." Ryan, another freshman, reiterates, "Class participation is required, and intellectual conversation happens everywhere on campus. We spend time with professors outside of class."


Reed College

Reed is not for everybody, and the students are quick to tell you that. "Do not go to Reed if you do not want to push yourself to learn, and if you are not enthused by reading, by writing long papers, and by discussing things in class," warns Owen, a junior. "Reedies," as they're known, spend hours a day pouring over textbooks. Academics bleed into the social life on a regular basis, with students discussing their classes with passion at parties, in the dining hall, or walking around campus. Michael, another junior, says, "Reed will drive you crazy. If it doesn't, you didn't do it right. It's small, it's intense, and it's lovely. It's a haven for displaced and disenchanted intellectuals and we like it that way."


Sarah Lawrence College

A college without grades - this is the dream of countless high school students across the nation. Those students probably couldn't get into Sarah Lawrence though, where grades are non-existent not so that students will slack off, but because students wish to focus on learning for its own sake and avoid unnecessary competition. Andy, a creative writing major, says, "Outside of class, you'll be hard-pressed to find a student who doesn't love talking about their studies, and groups of like-minded students seem to form naturally, thanks to mutual respect and admiration among peers." SLU students rave about the school's unconventional academic program, which offers more than just a lack of grades. According to Anna, a senior bio major, "Conferences, which are unique to SLC as far as I know, are my favorite part of the curriculum. They allow you to explore your own interests in depth as well as getting one on one time with professors, to ask questions, get advice, or just chat. There are definitely intellectual conversations outside of class at SLC, if you're looking for them."


University of Chicago

While the University of Chicago's official motto is "Crescat scientia; vita excolatur" (Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched), some students refer to the school as the place "where fun goes to die." This isn't entirely accurate though, as most students know before attending that they will be subject to some of the country's most rigorous university-level coursework. "The stereotype says UC students spend all their time studying … but it leaves out an important clarification. We find studying fun. We find doing work fun. Normative definitions of fun don't fly here," says Corey, a sophomore. One senior has this to say, borrowing from another city's famous motto: "If you can make it can make it anywhere. Hell, even English majors graduate to become consultants in finance and trading firms."


Wesleyan University

Wesleyan students, by reputation, are driven, hyper-intelligent, and liberal-minded. "Don't go here if you don't want to be around people who question every single thing in society (and this is coming from a Philo major)," warns Mike, a senior. "I'm excepting a lot of liberal ideas here, which are the one thing people here are pretty dogmatic about, but in general people here can't just go with the flow and accept life the way that it is." While this may be true, students at Wesleyan harbor a strong desire for knowledge, and this atmosphere creates an ideal environment for learning and concentrating on studies. Christopher, a sophomore, says, "For Wesleyan students, work comes first. There is no pressure to go out and party if you need to finish a big paper or study for a big test. Reading Week at Wesleyan is not four days to party, it is four days of study time/time to just chill."


Now check out the top 10 schools where the periodic table is the cliche freshman dorm poster.