Colorado College (visited 10/1/12)
Colorado College is one of the few colleges in the country on the block schedule: students take one class at a time, 3 hours a day for 18 days, and then have “block break” (Wednesday afternoon through the weekend); when they come back, they start a new class. Professors also only teach one class per block so they are also fully invested in the class and the students. The best thing about this is that there is so much flexibility in how the class meets: if they want to meet in the afternoon instead of the morning, they can; if they want to take a day-long (or a week-long) field trip, they can just go! The geology class, which is apparently hugely popular, goes to New Mexico for a week for field-work. A sociology class about deviation in society goes to a prison for a day. They also have classes that go places for all three weeks like a theater class in London or the “Yachtyssey” which studies Homer’s Odyssey from aboard a yacht, going to many of the places mentioned in the literature.
Students usually take eight block classes a year – four during the length of a traditional semester at another school. This gives some flexibility to students who may want to study abroad for a semester or year; they can go away to get a different experience and come back to pick up at the start of the next block at CC. Classes are small – generally in the teens, but all are capped at 25 unless the class is team-taught by a couple professors. Even then, the class size doesn’t double; it’s capped in the high 30s. On the other end of the spectrum, classes won’t get canceled even if only one student signs up.
Their required classes are meant to give students critical thinking and global awareness: students take two classes each in West in Time, a college level language (even if they come in with proficiency in language), and Scientific Investigations, and one each in Social Inequality, Global Culture, and Quantitative Reasoning. Several classes can count for two areas, but they will not excuse students from the language requirement since they want students to have their classes which not only include language instruction, but discussions about culture and other topics related to the language.
One of the traditions that my tour guide talked about was “First Monday.” On the first Monday of every new block, students are invited to a presentation held in the non-denominational chapel (one of the largest gathering spaces on campus). CC brings in big name people; Margaret Atwood (author) was in recently, as was Ralph Nader. Students tend to come in fairly large numbers to these events and others. The typical students are socially aware, intellectually curious, and want to give back to the world. There is an organic farm and a student-run soup kitchen on campus.
Several years ago, Discover Magazine published a list of Top 50 Women in Science. Three of them were CC grads; only MIT had more – with four. Not too bad for a small liberal arts school! They do a lot to attract good students up front, especially in the sciences: They offer 4 Barnes Scholarship in Natural Sciences which grants a full-tuition scholarship to the winners – 2 in Bio and bio-chem, and 2 in the other sciences. The nice thing is that the winners are chosen by the faculty. They also have a lot more to brag about, including that they are the only nationally ranked Liberal Arts college in the time zone.
I didn’t realize that CC was so competitive: overall, they accept about 23% of applicants. They accept a little over a third of Early Decision applications, a little under a third of those applying for Early Action, and only about 15% of those in the Regular Decision pool. Because they do try to meet full need of their students, they require that the CSS/PROFILE get submitted with the application. They will superscore both the ACT and the SAT, and because they know that students demonstrate strengths in different ways, they have a policy that allows students to submit a combination of AP and/or SAT II scores rather than ACT or SAT scores. Overlap schools tend to be other small liberal arts schools with highly motivated, smart, maybe slightly quirky students: Bates, Bowdoin, Williams, Pitzer, some of the Ivies, and some Colorado Schools.