Why is Everyone Talking About Alternative Colleges?

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Not sure if a traditional college experience is right for you? Learn why everyone is talking about these alternative colleges!


Traditional education not your thing? If you’re an out-of-the-box thinker who marches to your own drum, alternative colleges might be the thing for you! From planning your own curriculum, to taking courses flexible to your lifestyle, alternative colleges offer you a way to earn a degree in a way as unique as you are. Learn why everyone is talking about these alternative colleges.



Source: Unsplash



First of all, alternative colleges offer a meaningful degree which you can complete on your own time. These days, it’s inevitable that you need a college degree to stand out in the job market. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend 4 years and $100,000 sitting in a classroom!



What is an Alternative College?

Let’s define a traditional educational experience first. Most colleges follow a prescribed program, and use testing and streamlined grading systems. In an alternative college, programs will vary widely from school to school as well as for the individual student. Grading systems may include comprehensive reviews or Pass/Fail only. Earning credit may come in the form of hours of work, submitting a self-directed project, or completing a portfolio.



Who Should Study at Alternative Colleges?

  • Individuals who didn’t find traditional learning experiences successful
  • Those with careers already
  • People with families
  • Creative thinkers
  • Those who prefer out-of-the-classroom learning experiences



10 Top Alternative Colleges

These alternative colleges just might fit the bill for your independent nature!



1. Evergreen State College


Evergreen State College is a progressive college in Washington State. Founded in the 60’s as an experimental program, this college focuses on interdisciplinary academic programs in place of classes and does away with grades altogether!



Source: Evergreen State College



2. College of the Atlantic


This small college on the coast of Maine has only 350 students, all which choose their own academic path in Human Ecology. Students choose their own classes to complete their major, and are invited to help run the college alongside faculty members.



Source: Town of Bar Harbor



3. Thomas Edison State University


At Thomas Edison, all courses are online, and there’s no grades! Students receive credit for courses by submitting a portfolio assessment, in place of exams and grades. Plus, the online-only coursework makes it a great option for busy adults.



Source: TESU



4. The New School


The New School, located in Manhattan, NY was established in 1919 as a school dedicated to academic freedom and progressive thinking. Famous designers, writers, artists, and politicians all make their way out of the five offered schools: Design, Liberal Arts, Social Research, Public Engagement, and Performing Arts.



Source: The New School



5. Cornell College


Cornell College operates on a schedule not known to most students — you take one course at a time for 18 days. This Iowa college argues that one class at a time allows students to focus on the topic being taught and learn in a deeper way.



Source: Cornell College



6. St. John’s College


Class size is capped at 20 students, allowing for a more intimate learning experience. Discussions are highly encouraged in classes and students get to know their professors personally.



Source: SJC



7. Antioch College


Using Co-operative education as its model, Antioch requires students to spend four academic terms engaged in full-time work, research, or self-directed projects. This means graduates end up leaving with real work experience, and Antioch claims their students are more creative and innovative than their peers.



Source: Antioch College



8. Maharishi University of Management


Calling themselves a “consciousness-based education” model, Maharishi emphasizes self-exploration, transcendental meditation, vegetarianism, sustainability, and they allow students to design their own majors!



Source: MUM



9. Olin College


Olin College is an engineering college known for its small size and project-based curriculum. Instead of requiring first-year students to complete countless prerequisites in science and math, freshmen jump right into the engineering curriculum, getting real-world experience from day one!



Source: Olin College



10. Naropa University


Founded by a Tibetan Buddhist leader and located in Boulder, Colorado, Naropa emphasizes self-transformation and what they call “contemplative education.” This is the idea that knowledge arises in a thinking mind only. In order to get to this mind, the university encourages mediation, Chinese brushstroke, Tai Chi, and yoga.



Source: Naropa University



Other Alternative Options You May Want to Consider


1. Online Universities:


Many traditional and alternative colleges and universities offer online studies, either for partial coursework (called hybrid programs) or entire degrees. Some universities are fully online, meaning they are experts in providing quality education to distance learners. Check these top online universities: University of the People and Western Governors University.



2. Traditional Universities:


Just because they are labeled as ‘traditional’ doesnt mean they don’t offer a variety of great programs, many of which can accommodate an independent, alternative learner. Many feature research programs, work for credit, online courses, and other unique ways to earn credit.



3. Community and Junior Colleges:


Local community colleges are a great option for all types of learners. Some may have a higher acceptance rate, lower tuition fees, and can guarantee just as great of an education as larger, traditional schools.



4. Women’s Colleges:


These colleges make a point to have a primarily female student body, although they will admit male students at lower rates. Women’s colleges have been declining recently, and now only 40 remain in the U.S. Many see this decline as a sign of decreasing quality, however the extant women’s colleges remain to offer excellent education options for female students.



5. Tribal Colleges:


Focused primarily on admitting minority students, Tribal Colleges grew out of self-determination effort of various tribes within the U.S. and continue to offer vocational and degree programs for both Native American and non-Native American students. An emphasis of the curriculum is placed on preserving the traditions and cultures of the tribes, including special course offerings and community events.



6. Historically Black Colleges:


Historically Black Colleges were generally established before the Civil Rights Era in order to give African Americans the opportunity for higher education. Diversity of these schools has increased over time however, with 23% of HBCU enrollment being non-black students.



7. Technical Institutes:


These are great options if you are looking for a specific degree or profession. If you already know what you want to do, these offer 2-year degree options to reach your goals in fields such as business, arts, construction, finance, or IT.



8. Military Colleges:


Military colleges are some of the best schools in the country. They can be tough to get into, but offer some of the best educations, and you get a military job upon graduation. Graduates earn a B.S. and are required to complete a minimum of 5 years of service. While military academies offer a great deal on tuition, books, and all expenses paid, they are also extremely strict and academy life can be described as disciplinary and conservative.



Wrapping Up


Whatever type of college you end up choosing, be it online, alternative, or many of the non-traditional options listed here, you can be sure to find a program that fits your personal and individualistic nature, personality, and learning style.