Five Extraordinary Colleges You Know Very Little About…until now

According to the Department of Education, there are 2364 four-year colleges in the United States. Of those, 612 are public colleges. I dare say that about 300 of them would be at least somewhat familiar to about 80% of the public.

What about the 2064 “unknown” colleges. Which of these colleges are worth exploring?  When all is said and done, does it matter that much where one goes to college?  If you are not looking for a specific program only offered at a particular college, it matters less than you think. What really matters is what you do when you get there.

Some students realize that it might not be a bad idea to look at two-year colleges as well. And some of them are looking at two-year colleges outside of the region in which they live. If there is a community college that is beyond commuting distance but has a specific program you are interested in taking, particularly those with a Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society chapter, you can rent an apartment near the campus. Many colleges such as Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts or the Ivy Tech Community College system in Indiana, can recommend student housing for such students.

Occasionally I like to step back and look at the colleges whose offerings make them stand out. It does not mean they are right for you. But one or more of them could be.

Let me take you on a brief tour of just five of them now.

They are not in any particular order, but # 1 on the list is a two-year college. In fact, this two-year college is tougher to gain admission than is Harvard. Though they are shocked at first, I get a kick out of telling some extremely bright students that they will not have a prayer in being accepted to this college.  Here is why.

1.)  Deep Springs College since 1917 accepted only thirteen men into its two-year program each year. That is, until the Class of 2017 applies at which time it may accept female applications. (As of 1/15/17 the decision to accept women has not been made.) It is a rigorous admissions process including several interviews and multiple essays. (The average applicant’s SAT score is 2200.) It is a working cattle and alfalfa ranch but one with a rigorous liberal arts curriculum in the High Desert region of Southern California.

It was founded by an early California pioneer, LL Nunn in 1917 on his idea that the three pillars… academics, labor, and self-governance help young men prepare themselves for lives of service to humanity. The school’s 26 students, along with its staff and faculty, form a close community. The college operates on the belief that manual labor and political deliberation are integral parts of a comprehensive liberal arts education.

Plus, it is FREE. Each student attends for two years and receives a full scholarship valued at over $50,000 per year. Afterwards, most earn their undergraduate and graduate degrees at the world’s most prestigious four-year institutions. It is practically a “slam dunk” admission transition. Getting a first class education, and saving up to $110,000 in the process is not a bad way to invest two years.

Now you know why I can no longer say to some students that they will “not have a prayer” to being admitted. Ladies…that is you…and may continue to be. One intellectually curious young woman I shared this fact with, was undeterred. Because her goal is to become a college English professor, she saw that as way to be part of the Deep Springs community. (Professors from schools like Stanford, Harvard and Yale go there to teach periodically for a semester or two.)

Therefore, if you are a male and intrigued by the concept, why not take 30 minute look at a college like no other.

2.) Another college that is respected for its’ philosophy of combining work with learning is The College of the Ozarks. COFO is committed to a five-fold mission of encouraging academic, Christian, cultural, vocational, and patriotic growth in its students.

All full-time students work rather than pay for their tuition. The college discourages debt and, like Hillsdale College, does not participate in any government loan programs. On the other hand COFO does participate in federal grant programs so the FAFSA will need to be filed, to determine eligibility. (Hillsdale does not use the FAFSA.)

Academic offerings are surprisingly broad as you can see here. This combined with the strong work program makes it a valuable experience and excellent preparation for a fulfilling life.

By the way, College of the Ozarks has been named a “Stone-Cold Sober School” by the Princeton Review for ten consecutive years.  Alcohol and drugs are strictly prohibited on and off campus. Therefore, a student who applies to the school with the nickname “Hard Work U.” and looks forward to spring breaks in Cancun, is unlikely to be a good fit for this college.

3.) In beautiful Southern California, high above the Pacific Ocean sits a relatively new college with a unique mission. Soka University  was founded on the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life, SUA is open to students of all nationalities and beliefs and is committed to diversity in its academic community.

Soka founders and faculty believe that student-centered education is the best way to promote peace and human rights by fostering a global humanistic perspective on the world in which we live. The university prepares students for graduate studies and the world of work in an increasingly diverse and global society.

In an age when the world is facing the prospect of perpetual war, this is a mission that mandates going beyond words, putting beliefs into action. Soka is a very small university with a big vision. If its core mission could be replicated in some manner by other colleges, that would be ideal. In any case, I believe Soka University is heading in the right direction.

Take a 360-degree tour of this incredible campus with buildings inspired by northern Mediterranean style architecture.  You will not believe what you see.

4.) There are two St Johns College campuses one in Sante Fe, New Mexico and the other in Annapolis, Maryland. There is little difference between the two, other than the natural beauty of the Santa Fe campus and the rich historic setting of Annapolis.

St Johns is a college that bases its curriculum on the great books. The all-required course of study is based on the reading, study, and discussion of the most important books of the Western tradition. There are no majors and no departments; all students follow the same program.

Students study from the classics of literature, philosophy, theology, psychology, political science, economics, history, mathematics, laboratory sciences, and music. No textbooks are used. The books are read in roughly chronological order, beginning with ancient Greece and continuing to modern times.

All classes are discussion-based. There are no class lectures; instead, the students meet together with faculty members, called tutors, to discuss the books.

If you are interested in becoming a doctor, there is no lack of solid science learning at St Johns either. You will be well prepared for medical school, and their approach is explained here. 

So, you might be thinking “That‘s nice, but what can I do with a degree based on the study of the ancient writings and philosophical musings of dead white males?” The answer is…anything you want to do!

Here is how valuable you will be to a future employer (even if you are self-employed) once you learn how to think critically, discuss ideas rationally and write interestingly.

5.) I wish there were more Universities like Bastyr University. I have had a life long interest in nutrition and wellness. My dad was a physician who was trained in the Allopathic tradition but who spent his professional career focused on nutrition and disease prevention. That made sense early on to me.

If you are teenager who wishes to become a medical doctor or enter the health sciences because you have a strong desire to help people, I encourage you look at this university. In fact, many bright men and women have gone on to become Naturopathic or Homeopathic physicians after they earned Doctor of Medicine degrees. But that does not have to be the route one takes. Spend time in high school studying the merits of each, particularly by reading this book! 

There are pluses and minuses with each approach. For instance, if you were hit by a truck, a hospital emergency room would be the best place to be, not having a Reiki treatment. But if you want to understand the true connection between “mind and body” as it relates to optimal health and prevention of disease, the first step may be a 90-minute appointment with a physician who has been trained in that approach.

Regretfully, Johns Hopkins and Harvard medical school et al do not train physicians in that manner.

Bastyr is recognized as a pioneer in natural medicine. It is the largest university for natural health arts and sciences in the U.S., combining a multidisciplinary curriculum with leading-edge research and clinical training.

Graduate programs include naturopathic medicine, acupuncture and Oriental medicine, nutrition, and nutrition and clinical health psychology.

Look here to see what they are doing for the greater Seattle community. This is the kind of clinical training students at Bastyr take advantage of in their undergraduate and graduate years.

With the cost of health care rising along with metabolic diseases of all sorts, does it not make sense to focus on genuine prevention of disease as opposed to treatment of disease? That is Bastyr’s mission.

In the future I will highlight five more sets of less known schools that have admirable missions.  I hope that you see in this sampling of five unique colleges opportunities to explore that go beyond the traditional path of a typical high school student.

Let us be your guides. Call for a free get acquainted consultation today. Or, if you are a student we are already working with, and have not had a review of your college strategy recently, email or call.

2 Responses to “Five Extraordinary Colleges You Know Very Little About…until now”

  1. Clay Russell Says:


    I definitely learned something with your 5 picks. I did know of Deep Springs, St. Johns (2) and College of the Ozarks. Regarding the latter, I think it is important to know that besides being a work college, they cater to need-based financial aid kids. It is very difficult to get in there if you come from a family with money. I got that directly from their “admissions dept.” a couple of years ago.

  2. Eric Says:

    Yes Clay, income is a factor in the admissions decision. The college was originally founded to serve the poorer population, but unlike Berea College in Kentucky, COFO leaves room to accept up to 10% of students (about 30) who do NOT have need. Berea College, which is also a “work for your education” school has no such allowance. At Berea, if the parents’ income is higher than $50,000 (family of four) a student will not be admitted.