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5 Unique Colleges In The United States You Must Check Out

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

Colleges are by no means one-size-fits all. Everyone has different learning styles, preferences, and career goals. 

With over 5,300 colleges and universities in the U.S., we certainly have many options to choose from. 

Out of these thousands of schools, how many do you think you can name?

Odds are, you can probably think of 15-20 off the top of your head, but that leaves over 99% unexplored by you!

While we all know our state’s flagship universities and the famous Ivy Leagues, I did the digging for you and found some unique colleges you may have never heard of.

While the schools on this list may not be the right fit for many students, it’s still nice to learn a little bit more about what college can be: It doesn’t have to have 15,000 students, 300+ person lecture halls, and Division 1 sports. 

If that’s what you like, by all means, seek out schools with that kind of environment. It’s definitely the right place for many kinds of people. 

But if you’re a non-traditional student looking for an outside-the-box education, check out this compilation of the 5 most unique colleges in the country:

1. Cornell College

Cornell College, not to be confused with Cornell University, is a liberal arts college located in Mount Vernon, Iowa. With just over 1,000 students, Cornell College has a very unique approach to class schedules.

While the average college student is taking 12-17 credits at any given semester, Cornell College students only study one, 3-credit course at a time.

Each course is only 3.5 weeks, but it covers as much content and material as a full semester at other colleges. By the end of their first semester, Cornell students have taken as many credits and classes as you, but in a different sequence.

Cornell students get a nice 4-day break in between every class, allowing them to refresh themselves before their next highly-accelerated course begins. 

Offering degrees ranging from Molecular Biology to Creative Writing, Cornell continually ranks as one of the best small colleges in the U.S.

You can learn more about Cornell College here.

2. Reed College

Reed College—one of the nation’s top liberal arts schools—is located in Portland, Oregon and offers a unique academic grading system. 

Reed evaluates students based on Pass/Fail and doesn’t distribute letter grades unless it’s below a “C.”

They still keep track of letter grades in case you want to apply to graduate school or other professional programs, but you won’t be shown them at the end of the term unless you specifically request to.

Some students also receive written evaluations for their courses, allowing them to get important feedback from their professors and instructors. 

It’s not just Reed that believes in the benefits of Pass/Fail evaluations. In fact, Harvard Medical School—one of the most prestigious schools in the world—also uses this grading scheme for its medical school students.  

Reed and Harvard, along with other progressive schools, believe that it helps students better focus on their intellectual and academic pursuits without the pressure of GPAs looming over their heads.

More time for internships, volunteering, and part-time employment? Yes, please!

You can learn more about Reed College here.

Find Your Best Fit Colleges

3. Olin College of Engineering

Olin College is an engineering-focused school in Needham, Massachusetts that enrolls just 300 students in its project-based program. 

With a 16% acceptance rate, Olin ranks as one of the best undergraduate engineering programs in the country.

All accepted students are offered full-tuition scholarships, and they take all their exams outside of class, on their own time.

They’re even allowed to use any resources necessary (besides other students) to complete their entirely open-book final exams. Talk about a best-case scenario!

Despite being an engineering school, all students take art, humanity, and social science courses to encourage exploration outside their major. They actively work on engineering projects with the surrounding community, working up to their senior engineering Capstone

Students are also encouraged to pursue independent projects that align with their personal interests, with faculty acting as their mentors and advisors. 

Olin’s curriculum is valid for 5 years and is re-designed each cycle to help keep it fresh in the rapidly-evolving field of engineering.

You can learn more about Olin College here.

4. College of the Ozarks

College of the Ozarks is a liberal arts school located in Point Lookout, Missouri. With an enrollment of just under 1,500 students, they offer over 30 undergraduate programs, from Theatre to Nursing.

Students here don’t pay tuition for any of their 4 years and instead trade in part-time work at the college for student loans. What a great deal!

Other costs such as housing and books are covered by various scholarships and grants available at the college, with this college being a firm believer that your financial standing should not dictate the quality of education you receive. 

90% of the incoming class must demonstrate financial need while it is waived for the other 10%. 

The school gives preferences to students from Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Illinois, but you can be from anywhere to be considered for admission.

Either way, with an acceptance rate of just 10%, you’ll need to put together an impressive application to earn your way towards free tuition. 

You can learn more about College of the Ozarks here.

5. Berea College

Located in Berea, Kentucky, Berea College is a private, Christian liberal arts school with just under 2,000 students and offers a wide range of degrees in both the humanities and sciences. 

Similar to College of the Ozarks, Berea College has a No-Tuition Promise Program where its students are guaranteed a high-quality education without the worry of debt once they graduate

The rest of the cost, including housing, meal plans, lab fees, and books, cap off at just $1,000. At other schools, you can expect these costs to easily surpass $15,000 to $20,000.

Berea students, many of whom are economically disadvantaged, love how they can focus on their studies without having to worry about debt after graduation.

In the U.S. alone, the student debt crisis totals 1.71 trillion dollars, with 44.7 million Americans being in student debt today With Berea’s No-Tuition Promise Program, it makes life after college just that much easier for its graduates.

You can learn more about Berea here.

Key Takeaways

In the end, these colleges really aren’t that outlandish: they’re simply designed for the current day and age of education and the current student. 

If we’ve learned anything, it’s that there are so many different kinds of colleges that practically anyone can find their perfect fit.

It takes a bit of digging, but you’ll eventually find where you belong

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Author: Norah Baldwin

Norah is a high school senior from Boston, Massachusetts, and will major in Nursing next year at college. She currently works as a lifeguard and swim instructor for kids, and volunteers with the American Cancer Society in addition to blogging for Niche.