Cool College Programs for Gifted Students
College can be a time for students to take control of their education and do things differently. We’re highlighting some cool opportunities below that students can look for as they research college options.
For students who enjoy really diving deep and digging into a subject, they might consider colleges that have a block schedule. At these colleges, students take one course at a time for 3½ weeks and 8 courses over the year. This schedule allows professors flexibility. They can take students on field trips, seamlessly work in several labs, and invite in guest speakers. Some classes even travel off campus for the entire block. Colorado College and Cornell College are two institutions with this schedule. Many other colleges offer January Terms—a short term between fall and spring semesters that offer block-like experiences. For example Bennington College’s Field Work Term focuses on getting students real-world experience through jobs and internships. Oberlin College’s Winter Term is all about independent projects and research opportunities.
Speaking of research, many students are excited about the prospect of working with professors on research in college. While most colleges offer this opportunity in some form, it’s important to really look into undergraduate opportunities. How accessible are these opportunities? How soon can you participate? How many opportunities are available? Are they funded? One stand-out program is Lehigh University’s Clare Boothe Luce Research Scholars program. It offers students the chance to work with professors over two years (including summers and during the school year), additional mentorship opportunities, funding for conferences and research experiences, and the chance to present their research at an undergraduate symposium. College students also mentor budding middle school scientists as part of the program. Research opportunities are not just for big universities! Reed College has the only nuclear reactor in the world run by undergraduates. You can start your training on the second week of your freshman year if you want. Another way to engage in research is through an undergraduate thesis—like the ones that students complete at the New College of Florida.
If hands-on education is your jam, you might look into universities that offer co-ops like the University of Cincinnati. While most colleges have career centers that will help students locate internships during their undergraduate careers, co-op universities are a bit different. In these programs, students are required to take semester-long positions with employers. The work experience is more integrated into the culture and structure of the university, and, because they are required, there is typically a lot more support to help students land opportunities. Students might also look into schools that are part of the Work Colleges Consortium. At these schools, all students work throughout their college careers for their school—doing everything from helping grow the food that the college cafeteria serves to serving as a tutor in academic support services.
Running the College
Like the idea of really being part of the college? You might like schools like Deep Springs College. These colleges are democratically run, meaning the college community makes decisions together. Students get a vote on everything—curriculum matters, admission decisions, etc.
Design Your Own Major
If you like the idea of being in control, then you might like designing your own major. While there’s a growing number of colleges that offer this option, there are schools like Hampshire College and Quest University where everyone designs their own path through college. This might be a great option for students who have diverse areas of interest and are looking to combine those interests in their education and careers.
If you’re looking to develop a specific talent, you might look at more specialized colleges. When we think of conservatories, we often think of the artistic disciplines. But there are conservatory-like colleges for other subjects as well. If you’re interested in business, check out Babson College. If you’re thinking engineering, explore Olin College’s project-based program.
Great Books Program
Specialized in a different way, Great Books programs offer students a classical education. At schools like St. John’s College and Thomas Aquinas College, all students study the same texts throughout their four years—delving deep into the great masterpieces of Western civilization. If you love reading and good discussion, this may be the place for you!
We’ve already snuck one non-US college on here: Quest University is in Canada! There are many benefits to attending college abroad, and you may even be able to use federal student aid to earn a degree internationally. There are several schools that teach primarily in English if you’re worried about the language barrier initially. Look at the American University of Paris and Franklin University Switzerland. Not ready to commit to a whole degree abroad? Check out New York University’s program in Global Public Health. Goucher College and Soka University are two schools that value a global perspective so much that studying abroad required for every student.
First-Year Experience Programs
All colleges have some sort of orientation, but First-Year Experience Programs really step up the game in making sure new students are integrated into the college’s community, know about relevant resources, and make the college campus their home. At Kalamazoo College, for example, everyone gets on the same page, quite literally, through the summer common reading program. Orientation is a weeklong and includes meetings with your first-year advisor, get-togethers with peer mentors, extracurricular fairs, and participation in campus traditions. There’s also an optional 18-day wilderness adventure for those who want to dive headfirst into college!
How do you find these cool programs?
Research. Lots of research. Really digging into a college’s website can be helpful (and time consuming!). Online research is a skill. Below is an example of how to get a lot out of a college’s website. In this example, the student is interested in the California Polytechnic State University (aka Cal Poly) and would like to pursue computer science in college.
- Looking through the Admissions pages, you can find that all applicants must declare their major on their admission application. You aren’t competing for admission to Cal Poly; you’re competing against only other students that want entrance to a specific program. You can learn more about who was accepted in the last year, including GPA and test scores. You’ll also find that, in addition to general guided tours, specific colleges/departments have tours. Exploring the Student Life pages, you can find out how Cal Poly helps new students integrate into their community and discover that freshmen don’t live just in dorms but in themed living-learning communities. Looking closer, you’ll learn that the school has a “Learn by Doing” philosophy. You’ll also find that Cal Poly has an Honors Program, and you can also learn about what courses you’ll need to take as part of the General Education requirements. Digging deeper into the offerings, you see that they have three related programs for students interested in computer science: Computer Science, Software Engineering, and Computer Engineering. Looking at the Computer Engineering page, you can see what your 4 years might look like in this program, what student clubs are related to the field, what co-op experiences are offered, and what a senior project in this program might look like (senior projects are required for all majors). You’ll also see that the program has a peer mentoring program, and you can get your questions about the program answered.
You can learn a lot by researching a school’s website, but it can also be helpful to remember that what these things actually look like in real life may be different than what’s stated on the website. For example, it’s often hard to tell how active a student club is or what classes really feel like by just exploring the school’s website. That’s where visiting a college can be helpful. Find our tips for visiting colleges in the article “Getting the Most Out of College Visits.”