Hope’s College Search: Part 2
Some might call my college search unconventional. I never asked my guidance counselor for help developing my college list and most of my peers had never heard of most of the colleges I applied to – but I knew what I wanted.
What I Wanted
I knew I loved learning but I couldn’t stand the academic work in high school. Juggling several AP classes at a time and taking sometimes fifteen tests a week did not feel enriching – it felt masochistic. I loved to read the news and was fascinated by both education reform movements and public health. But I never got to discuss those subjects in school.
The summer after my sophomore year I attended a summer program hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) where I took a class for seven hours each day called the History of Disease. I didn’t take this class because I thought it would look good on my resume; I took it because I knew I would finally get the chance to be around people just as excited about studying public health as I was. The experience was wonderful. Everyone was interested in learning and nobody was focused on grades and competition. In fact, we didn’t even have grades.
Beginning the Search
My experience at CTY stuck with me. I wanted college to give me learning opportunities just like that. I wanted to be surrounded by people who enjoyed learning for the sake of learning. They weren’t obsessed with prestige, appearance, partying, or athletics — they were in college to think.
With this information at hand, I took to the internet to begin my college search. I started out with Google searches of “intellectual colleges.” I came up with a list of ten colleges from the Princeton Review that included prestigious schools like Brown University but also institutions I hadn’t heard of at the time like Reed College and Grinnell College. Upon further research I discovered a couple of wonderful books that included Colleges That Change Lives and Cool Colleges. Both books pointed out a number of schools with varying degrees of selectivity that all had students and faculty who were committed to learning.
Once senior year rolled around I had developed a list of colleges that met all or most my pretty stringent criteria:
- Intellectual atmosphere
- Non-competitive student body
- A major or minor in education or educational studies
- Small classes
- Close enough to home so I could keep my same doctors who treat my chronic health condition
- Opportunities for significant scholarships or financial aid
The colleges I applied to included:
- Bryn Mawr College
- Goucher College
- Swarthmore College
- Brandeis University
- University of Vermont
- Wesleyan University
- University of Delaware
- Oberlin College
Other than University of Delaware (which I applied to as a financial safety school), I knew I would be thrilled to attend any of the schools on my list. I was ultimately admitted to all but Wesleyan University where I placed on the waiting list. I received merit scholarships to Goucher, Bryn Mawr, Delaware, and Vermont.
After considering the criteria that was important to me, I narrowed down my decision to Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore. My cost of attendance at Swarthmore was approximately $50,000 per year whereas at Bryn Mawr it was about $30,000 per year. I was sure I would choose Bryn Mawr for it’s wonderful educational opportunities and lower cost of attendance, but after attending accepted students events and overnight visits at each college I realized Swarthmore was a better fit for me. Swarthmore has an educational studies major whereas Bryn Mawr has only an educational studies minor. After attending an all-girls high school, I was concerned about attending an all-women’s college (though this anxiety was likely misplaced). And during my overnight visit at Swarthmore, I was pleasantly surprised by just how fun-loving the students seemed to be. I didn’t get that same vibe at Bryn Mawr.
Choosing to attend Swarthmore wasn’t easy. I am fortunate that at either institution I would have been able to graduate debt free. That is the only way I could justify spending an extra $80,000 on college. However, placing that kind of burden on my parents still induces feelings of guilt. My family doesn’t have a lot of money for extras and they certainly won’t pay for graduate school. But I couldn’t be happier with my college choice. Swarthmore has suited me intellectually and socially thus far. I have enjoyed my friends and my classes immensely – all of my expectations have been met or exceeded.
Photo courtesy of Anna Gonzales.