During her first semester of college, Veronica Sorce and her dorm friends sat in the audience at the “Jerry Springer” show in Chicago. The college kids watched as couples on stage broke up and threw down. “The guys were getting in fights,” says Sorce, a graphic design major from Peoria, Illinois.
Checking out the “Springer” show is just one of the many outings Sorce had with her dorm friends. In between hangout sessions, the students attended class at DePaul University, the nation’s largest Catholic university.
Surprised? Sources say many students have stereotypes about religiously-affiliated schools. But she says DePaul is a school filled with students from all backgrounds.
Religiously affiliated schools are just one alternative to big state schools. Students who want unique campus experiences are also turning to single-sex schools, historically black colleges and universities and schools that offer work experience.
Megan Cloud Morales, 23, started at a big state school in Texas, but transferred after a year. “I wasn’t being very challenged there,” she says. Cloud Morales transferred to Barnard College, a women’s college in New York City. Cloud Morales says the girls-only classes were “fantastic” because there were no distractions. She was also impressed with the community of women who she describes as being smart and “savvy.”
Chris Mason, a director with , a college guidebook series that reviews schools individually, says students should expand their search past the standard state school. “I think it can only help to go to a place where you think you will excel,” he says. “If you find that match, it only enhances the education.”
Work programs are one way students can enhance their education. Schools like Babson College and The Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania intertwine classes with real work experience. For journalism students, the University of Missouri-Columbia has a student-run NBC affiliate and daily newspaper. Mason says more schools are also starting to develop work programs.
Historically black colleges and universities, also known as HBCUs, are another unique college choice. But don’t assume the culture is the same at all historically black campuses. “They all have their own unique culture,” Mason says. “That’s what’s at root at historically black colleges. It’s the rich history at the school, the style of teaching.”
Howard University in Washington, D.C., for example, doesn’t have a strong Southern culture like Morehouse College, Mason says. Sorce suggests not letting stereotypes stop you from considering a different kind of college, such as a religiously affiliated school.
“Don’t judge a school based on its religion. Even if you’re not religious, you may find that it’s a good school for you,” she says. “It’s pretty much up to you.”
You don’t have to be valedictorian to consider an honors program or honors college as another unique college experience. Samantha Brown, admissions counselor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, says honors students are typically near the top of their class and are motivated, but they don’t have to have graduated as number one.
“Students who are typically admitted to the Honors College have significant experience in honors, Advanced Placement, gifted and talented, and/or International Baccalaureate coursework,” Brown says.
Why would you consider an honors college? Students in them can take advantage of opportunities not opened to the general student population. That could mean special projects, smaller class sizes, top professors, research opportunities, unique courses, and invitations to special campus events.
And don’t forget that you’ll be around other motivated top students, too! The competition alone might make you even better than you already are.