Nietzschean Supermen (and Superwomen)

Top 10 Colleges Where the Pursuit of Knowledge Goes Beyond the Classroom

By Unigo Editors

For most college students, there’s a differentiation between life inside the classroom and out; there's a time to be cerebral and then there's the other 22 hours of the day. But these aren't most college students. We looked for schools that cater to students who happily spend all their waking hours in pursuit of intellectual stimulation, questioning life, challenging the status quo, and letting their curiosity run wild. 30,000 student votes later, we've identified the Top 10 Schools where being a "nerd" (as they often, and lovingly, refer to themselves) is truly the norm.


Brown University

The students at Brown University are said to be among the most intellectual, and eccentric, of all the Ivy Leaguers. Part of this reputation stems from Brown’s progressive educational philosophy: students can choose to take any course pass-fail, and there are no core requirements. As a result students only take the courses that interest them and rarely stop talking about their academics. “Everyone in every class has chosen to be there,” writes a senior majoring in English. “Interesting and engaged students then leave class and chat long into the night about every topic you can imagine, hours after classes are done.” “I’ve taken classes (and geeked out on subjects) like Ancient Utopias, and Imaginary Places, while also taking things like Organic Chemistry. We love what we’re learning here.” “Overall, and fostered by our open curriculum, Brown students are unique in that we get to place an extremely high value on creativity, on intellectual independence, and on a real, honest passion for learning and being.”


Carleton College

At Carleton College, many joke that the five-story Gould Library is the centerpiece of the social scene. “Intellectualism isn’t about being in class here – it is your way of life.” “Students study constantly both because they want to, and because the work never stops. Even if you aren’t studying, you’re probably talking about something intellectual. You will very frequently run into students hanging out outside debating politics, religion or the theory of relativity.” This outside-of-class philosophizing only enhances in-class work, and students rave about the breadth and depth of classes available. They also praise the fantastic faculty. “Professors here are incredibly wonderful and down to earth - they have high expectations, but encourage and help students to meet them. As students we're welcomed into their offices and even their homes, usually with a plate of brownies to satiate us.”


Grinnell College

Grinnell College students are intellectually curious, fiercely liberal, and anti-mainstream. One junior describes the typical Grinnellian as “as liberal and idealistic as can be, ever protesting and petitioning, a rabid environmentalist, studying like crazy, beyond over-involved in extracurriculars and loving it, always questioning the world as we know it, wanting to learn more, and wearing jeans and sneakers because you never know when it'll be warm enough to lay out on the field with a book to read.” Another says "The great thing about Grinnell students is that each one of them is an intellectual dork. When you talk to them they seem really laid back and chill, but then when you touch on that one subject that really interests them, they suddenly jump out with enthusiasm and impressive intelligence,” writes a senior majoring in Spanish. In class, that intelligence is put to good use. “Most classes are discussion based, and you are challenged not to repeat what you are told, but rather to question what you are told and give reasons why someone might decide to tell you that in the first place. The best part of learning at Grinnell is you are taught how to learn and question, as opposed to learning facts and rules.”


Haverford College

Haverford College’s motto roughly translates to “not more learning; better learning,” which reflects how engaged students are with their education. “The normal Haverford male is 5’7, brilliant, and socially inept” says one sophomore. “The normal Haverford female is relatively the same height, just as smart, although with more social intelligence than the male.” As a freshman summed up - “People here are nerdy, but in the absolute best way possible.” Overall, the academics at Haverford are top-notch, and Fords thrive on both formal – and informal – intellectual conversations. One senior, a History major, put it this way: “Every single class I’ve had at Haverford has been stimulating. Professors always know your name, inside the classroom and out of it. And our love of learning definitely transfers effortlessly from the classrooms during the day to the dorm rooms at night.”


Macalester College

Macalester College’s 2,000 undergrads are known for their quirky intellectualism and liberal politics. Students thrive in the small, discussion-based classes which undergird Macalester’s challenging academic programs, and professors go the extra mile to ensure students get the most out of their education. “Professors here make you think harder, write better, speak better, make connections you never would have made, and even laugh (that’s important too!)” said one freshman studying art. “Students are extremely passionate about the classes they take, and this leads to endless intellectual discussions in the dorms at night. Endless. We never get to sleep!” “I probably learn as much outside of class as I do inside of it, thanks to other students,” a sophomore said. “It is simply understood that students at Macalester are passionate, intelligent, and honestly enjoy learning.”


Pomona College

“In high school, I spent 5 hours a day talking to people online. During my entire first year at Pomona, I only IM’ed one person once,” a freshman from Arizona says. “Why? Because everyone I want to talk to is right here, living with me, and they are some of the most fascinating people on earth. We are constantly interacting with one another, in the flesh, and I can honestly say I learn as much from listening to my intellectually engaged peers as I do from my professors.” This isn’t to say students don’t appreciate their professors as well. “Almost all the professors I've had know me by name and they are very accessible.” Another sophomore adds, “I get more individual attention from Pomona professors than I did in my high school. If you’re looking for an incredible education in beautiful California, surrounded by some of the smartest and in-love-with-learning students imaginable, this is the place to be.”


Reed College

Reed College is a school for free-spirited intellectuals deeply in love with learning. The typical “Reedie” spends hours each day (including weekends) hunched over some lofty text in the library or poring through volumes of scholarly journals. “Not studying is not an option," explains one student who claims to hit the books a minimum of five hours a day. "Not studying enough is also not an option. The workload and academic expectations are enormous - prepare for the onslaught or you WILL be crushed. No, really.” Students often cite reading assignments topping 300 pages a night, 20-page papers, and the “stress culture” that these rigorous demands breed. "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,” writes one junior. The workload may often seem overwhelming, and it probably is, but students are bolstered by their professors, who treat them as peers and insist that students refer to them on a first-name basis. “[My professors] know who I date, they know how I really feel about those people,” writes a junior majoring in religion. “They know my strengths and my weaknesses and whether I am, at any given moment, strong, weak, or falling apart.” But, as a final student writes, “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.”


Swarthmore College

As a current senior says, “If the idea of spending four years surrounded by a bunch of slightly off-kilter, extremely cerebral and typically poorly dressed people sounds good to you, then you'll love Swarthmore.” “We’re awkward nerds here, but definitely not in an unattractive way! In fact, some peoples’ awkward characterists are what make them so very human and lovable.” “We spend a lot of time having 4am philosophical conversations on the true nature of poetry, etc.” “Though it's true that we like to play misery poker while having dinner in our one dining hall (e.g. 'I have a 15 page paper due tomorrow and I haven't even read one of my sources,' 'Tell me about it; I have to write a film paper on Andy Warhol's 5-hour long film of his friend sleeping, which I haven't seen either.' 'That doesn't sound so bad, at least it's a movie.' 'The paper is due in two hours.'), we play misery poker together because Swarthmore students love to philosophize, collaborate and share.” A final student sums up, “Swarthmore is a good place to find a husband or wife, because the high intellectual capacity of everyone here means you’re more likely to find your ‘soulmate’, or some other stupid term like that.”


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 is somewhat misleading, but it gets to the heart of U Chicago’s reputation: its academic intensity. “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.” A sophomore studying anthropology writes, “Let's put it this way: the all-night level of the library is one of the most social places on campus.” But students don’t mind. To the contrary, they seem to get a kick out of the intellectual—and sometimes straight-up weird—atmosphere of the school. “Sometimes my friends and I will look at each other in the middle of a conversation and just say WOW, this is a UChicago conversation!” “At any given time, when you walk across the quad, you’ll hear everything from talk about Super String Theory, to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to a psychoanalysis of Anna Karenina, to commentary on the new U.S. Mint. How great is that?”


Wesleyan University

“Wesleyan University, as an institution and as a community, genuinely supports and encourages ‘the life of the mind.’ If you’re honestly interested in getting a great education and really challenging yourself, Wes offers countless opportunities to do so.” Another student chimes in, “What I love about Wes is that it’s okay to get enthusiastic about the things that were uncool in high school. This is not to say that all of my friends share my enthusiasm for 19th century British social customs, or particularly tech-savvy stage lighting equipment, but I've never felt dismissed for being interested in those things. Plus, more often than not, the person you're talking to is equally interested in some related dorky thing.” “Wesleyan is a school full of truly engaged students,” says an alum who majored in government. "Students are very progressive, politically involved and active in a whole variety of extracurricular activities including the arts (particularly film), comedy, theater, and many, many others. Students are also an extremely intellectual group, meaning they are equally intellectually engaged both inside and outside of the classroom.” Two final students sum up, “Everyone here is so talented at something, and often it is the thing you would least expect.” “But if you come here, prepare to spend time around people who question every single thing – really, every single thing! – in society. All the time. It honestly never stops.”