What are the schools everybody applies to? I’m sure anyone reading this can name several people who wanted to attend Stanford, Harvard, Emory, and the University of Michigan. There’s a simple reason for this: they’re PHENOMENAL programs! People want to go to the best schools and get the best educations that they possibly can.
We all know these Ivy League schools and the top tier universities with tens of thousands of undergraduate students and hundreds of thousands more applicants. But, there’s tons of other schools that aren’t talked about as popularly that will deliver just as high of a quality, if not higher, of an education as the more famous schools. The ones I named above could be considered the “Brad Pitt”s of academia, but allow me to introduce to you some of the “Jesse Plemons” of colleges and universities. (These rankings are in no particular order, I don’t have the authority to do that…yet).
1. Case Western Reserve University – Cleveland, Ohio
The only university on this list (sorry, spoiler alert), Case Western Reserve University, or simply CWRU, has been called “the Yale of the West” since the university follows similar entrance standards (a 27% acceptance rate) and curriculums to that of Ivy league institutions. Founded in 1826, Cleveland was “the west” at the time so the nickname made sense, but history has not gotten around to correcting the nomenclature to be “the Yale of the Midwest.” In total, about 11,000 students are enrolled at CWRU with over half of this population being graduate students.
Case Western Reserve University, from its main campus located five miles outside of downtown Cleveland and a fifteen minute drive from the Cleveland Guardians home field, is known worldwide for its fervor in scientific research. In its history, CWRU has taught or employed seventeen Nobel laureates. These seventeen include: Albert Michelson (the first American scientist to win a Nobel Prize in physics), Claude Beck (developer of the CPR method), and Edward Morley (calculated the most precise weight of an oxygen atom, creating the basis for determining all other atomic weights). With this emphasis on research and innovation, CWRU has received the 19th most funding amongst private universities in the United States for the purposes of research and development. The Yeager Center for Electrochemical Sciences and the Sear think[box] are the two flagship resources that CWRU touts as being areas for future innovators to begin developing and researching their curiosities.
Campus is much like a small town, secluding itself from the rest of Cleveland. Upon arriving, freshmen are grouped into residential halls, each of which promotes its own area of focus for improving the lives of the students as a part of the first-year experience. Overseen by coordinators, Cedar focuses on visual and performing arts, Juniper on multiculturalism, Magnolia sustainability, and Mistletoe on community service and leadership. Students can then choose to live off-campus beginning in their junior years. The Village at 115 is a series of seven buildings on campus with apartment style housing for upperclassmen as preparation for living beyond their parents’ and guardians’ homes.
Athletically, the Spartans compete at the Division III level in the University Athletic Association with the football team playing in the President’s Athletic Conference. CWRU has a long history of athletic success across its nineteen varsity teams with individual and team conference championships in eight sports including football, women’s soccer, and men’s soccer winning in the past five years.
On campus, nearly half of the undergraduate student body belongs to one of CWRU’s ten sororities and fifteen fraternities. Each of these groups stands to develop features of leadership, camaraderie, and social service or philanthropy for the surrounding community within the university itself and the personalities of the membership.
Alumni of CWRU include: Hollywood directors Joe and Anthony Russo, inventor of Gmail Paul Buchheit, civil rights activist and lawyer Fred Gray who represented Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and the victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study (which was conducted by another CWRU graduate), and Stephanie Tubbs Jones – the first African-American woman to represent Ohio in Congress.
2. Middlebury College – Middlebury, Vermont
Naming the New England states, Vermont is the one that is most likely to be forgotten. Even Rhode Island will be remembered, even if it is just for being small. In the same vein, the process of listing schools in the northeast will certainly mention Harvard, Yale, MIT, and Dartmouth. Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT is far too immaculate as an educational institution to be ignored by this list, so let’s give it some of the recognition it deserves. Accepting only about 600 students a year, the acceptance rate sits around 20% each year.
As a liberal arts college, Middlebury has been recognized for its progressive thought and impact within society. Founded in 1800, Middlebury was the first higher education institution in the United States to award a bachelor’s degree to an African-American when Alexander Twilight graduated in 1823. Sixty years later, Middlebury became one of the first formerly all-male schools to transition into a co-educational program. Currently, Middlebury has instituted an initiative called Energy2028 with the goal of completely shifting towards renewable energy, away from fossil fuels, by the year 2028. Though it’s named as a college, Middlebury operates with three graduate school programs – Middlebury College Language Schools, Bread Loaf School of English, and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
Right down the street from the last remaining car-hop restaurant, an A&W, in Vermont, Middlebury College is sternly focused on preparing its students for a life of becoming changemakers in whatever industry they choose to excel in. Through the forty-five majors offered by Middlebury, many of them involve an interdisciplinary or societal element including: Film and Media Culture, International and Global Studies (which includes programs such as Global Migration and Diaspora Studies), and a Chemistry-Biochemistry combination. The goal of Middlebury’s liberal arts curriculum is to expose students to a wide-range of topics and to develop a responsibility towards expressive and critical thinking regarding an ever-changing world. Upon graduating from their desired program, Middlebury students are given a cane – a replica of the one carried by Gamaliel Painter, the school’s founder – to symbolize the achievement.
Over a quarter of Middlebury’s students participate on one of their thirty-one varsity sports teams. Middlebury competes in the NESCAC within Division III play and has won eighty-four conference championships across its programs since 2000. The Panthers have spent the last twenty years collecting national championship trophies with both men’s and women’s ice hockey dominating the early-2000’s, field hockey having won five of the last six national championships, and women’s lacrosse making regular appearances to the finals.
At Middlebury, some Panther students take a more adventurous route to their graduation and wait until February to enroll so that they may take a Febmester – a gap semester with the goal of gaining worldly experience through avenues such as internships and independent travels. These students, referred to as Febs, hold their own graduation ceremony at the bottom of the Middlebury Snow Bowl – the ski area near campus. Instead of calling themselves Class of 2022 or Class of 2026, Febs add a .5 to the end of their graduating year to signify their unique path.
Alumni of Middlebury College include: Jeff Lindsay – creator of Dexter, Jason Mantzoukas – who has previously starred in The League and I’m Sorry, Myrtle Bachelder – critical member of the Manhattan Project, and Jill Seaman – MacArthur Genius Award winner in 2009.
3. College of the Holy Cross – Worcester, Massachusetts
Worcester (pronounced as woo-ster), Massachusetts is home to the Boston Red Sox Triple-A affiliate, the Worcester Red Sox a.k.a the WooSox, the Valentine’s Day card, and the College of the Holy Cross. Sitting atop Mt. St. James, Holy Cross is a liberal arts, Catholic institution. Everyone who attends Holy Cross pursues a bachelor of arts degree across their twenty-eight programs of study. Founded in 1843, Holy Cross’ goal is to both educate its students and assist them in their acclimation to a lifestyle of integrating their work into service for and with the community around them. While the college boasts a 38% acceptance rate, the Crusaders who do graduate and apply to medical and law schools are accepted to those programs at a rate of 72% and 92% respectively. The small school enrolls just over 3,000 students as of the Fall of 2021 and almost 90% of students live on campus with housing available all four years. Off-campus housing is mainly athletes who live in houses in the neighborhoods on the opposite side of College St. during their senior years.
The integration of academics with a student’s social life begins even before accepted high school graduates arrive on the campus’ series of hills. Taking place directly in the dormitories on Easy St., the Montserrat Program is a first-year class for all freshmen to take. Before students pack up their supplies for school, Holy Cross has them register areas of study that they could be interested in and houses students with similar interests near each other in the dorms. The Montserrat classes are based on your and your neighbors’ interests. With a relaxed grading system, the course is meant to be an introduction to life in a collegiate classroom and grappling with important ideas while instituting a sense of community throughout the student body.
In 2021, Holy Cross was recognized as the top long-term study abroad program amongst baccalaureate institutions – the thirteenth year in a row that the college has held one of the top three spots. Throughout non-pandemic years, Holy Cross sends 23% of its junior class abroad, participating in forty-three programs across twenty-six countries. If you want to study anywhere in the world, then you can probably access it through Holy Cross – from Scotland to China, Argentina, Cameroon, Australia, and many other countries in between.
Athletically, the Crusaders sport twenty-seven Division I varsity teams and primarily compete in the Patriot League (women’s ice hockey competes in the Hockey East conference and the men play in the Atlantic Hockey conference). The football team has seen a recent resurgence in its competitive level having won the past three Patriot League titles, earning berths into the FCS playoffs. Men’s basketball makes occasional appearances in the NCAA Tournament, with the last one being in 2016 as a 16-seed against Oregon, while the women’s team is a regular feature in the tournament. As a whole, the athletic program at Holy Cross is one of only eight in the nation to boast both a national championship in basketball and baseball. Almost a quarter of the student body participates in a varsity sport and the college offers dozens of intramural and club sports like wiffleball and ultimate frisbee for the NARPs on campus.
Some traditions on the campus include: 100 Days Ball commemorating one hundred days until graduation for seniors, Cape Week where seniors rent homes on Cape Cod after graduation, The Edge which is a party hosted by the school at the beginning of each semester, and the Spring Weekend concert which has featured acts such as Mac Miller, The Kid LAROI, and Drake in the past. Holy Cross is also consistently featured as one of the most beautiful campuses in the United States with the iconic ivy vines on Fenwick Hall and the St. James Chapel being popular spots for photos amongst freshmen, parents, and graduating seniors.
Alumni of Holy Cross include: Immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, Nobel Prize winner Joseph Murray, U.S Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and former CEO of NBC Bob Wright.
4. Vassar College – Poughkeepsie, New York
Founded in 1861 as an all-women’s college (it became co-educational in 1969), Vassar College emphasizes a flowing breadth between academic disciplines – not unlike the Hudson River which the school is located alongside, just over an hour north of Manhattan. The school instructs just over 2,000 undergraduates and admits around 20% of applying high school seniors. Holding its students to a high standard, Vassar encourages independent thinking and purposeful judgements – a journey towards original thought – through the academic journey encountering subjects across fifty-one majors. A hallmark feature of Vassar’s academic programs is the interdisciplinary nature that many courses of study take including: Anthropology-Sociology and Earth Science And Society.
With programs such as SILP, Self-Instructional Language Program, allowing students to perform their own teaching and learning of non-traditional topics, Vassar attempts to curate a mindset of curiosity and interest-driven research to allow students to truly make the most of their education. For this reason, Vassar also encourages students to study abroad and is associated with programs on every continent (except Antarctica. That would just be bad manners to send a student to study abroad down there). Vassar touts the experience as helping students develop self-confidence, a worldly outlook, and increased cultural competence and the school is flexible regarding the plan of study while a student is away from Poughkeepsie. Abroad, students can acclimate within the host university’s typical classrooms or they can participate in academics that are specifically tailored to those studying abroad.
Originating as singing battles between the classes on the steps of Strong and Rocky, Serenading is one of the more popular traditions at Vassar which has since evolved into more of a school-wide food fight. Freshmen are “given the opportunity” to come up with a Vassar-related cover of a popular song and present their new song to the seniors. To “show their appreciation” for the hard work put in by the freshmen, the seniors pelt the underclassmen with water balloons and a phalanx of super soakers. In the past, ketchup, mustard, paint, and chocolate sauce were popular forms of ammunition for the senior class, but environmental concerns led to an insistence that water be the only ingredient thrown around.
The Miscellany News is Vassar’s student-run newspaper and has been operating since 1866. While many students may use it to either build their writing skills or to continue a hobby they developed during their high school years, it can also be seen as a great opportunity to network and spread an author’s name throughout the media industry. In the past, students who have been a part of the paper have gone on to become editors of magazines such as People, write for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, and the paper has developed several Pulitzer Prize recipients.
Vassar competes in Division III NCAA athletics against the other members of the Liberty League. Nicknamed the Brewers, Vassar is represented in fifteen varsity sports and seven club sports and claimed its first ever national championship in 2018 when the rugby team defeated Winona State at a Division II level.
Alumni from Vassar include: former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, actresses Lisa Kudrow, Meryl Streep, Jane Fonda, and Anne Hathaway, USO founder Mary Ingraham, and Grace Hopper – US Navy rear admiral who invented the first compiler for a computer programming language using her theory on machine-independent programming languages.
5. Davidson College – Davidson, North Carolina
Founded in 1837 with a mission of committing academics to sincerity in the search for truth through questioning, Davidson College enrolls just under 2,000 students, with 95% of them living on campus, while being situated in the small town of Davidson, North Carolina. Sitting a half hour north of Charlotte, Davidson is easily accessible for international students and allows students to enjoy the benefits that come with studying in a city while profiting from the solace that comes from living in a more rural town. Davidson College is governed by a strict Honor Code that all incoming students are required to sign and abide by; the code mainly applies to academic policies, such as plagiarism, but also mentions instances of theft as being grounds for expulsion.
In the past, 23 Rhodes Scholars have come from Davidson. In the future, you could too, after following academic plans weaving through its thirty-one majors and liberal arts curriculum. Due to the selectivity of the college, Davidson students more often than not participate in classes of fifteen or fewer students, making the professors much more easily accessible to their students. Not only that, but limiting class sizes allows Davidson students to pursue freedom in engaging with their curiosities as the education becomes more communal and discussion-based in these tightly knit groups.
Competing in the Atlantic-10 Conference, except in football which plays in the Pioneer Football League, Davidson sports nineteen varsity teams – on which about a quarter of the student body participates. The men’s basketball team saw national attention in the 1960’s and then rose to prominence in the late 2000’s with the star emergence of Stephen Curry – whose jersey, the school has stated, will not be retired until he graduates. Men’s basketball continues to be the flagship athletic program for the Wildcats with men’s soccer and women’s basketball enjoying recent success as well. Flickerball – an intramural combination of football, dodgeball, and ultimate frisbee – is played each year as a tournament between freshman dormitories. Originally meant to discover hidden track talent amongst the student body, the Cake Race is an annual sprint hosted by the college with men’s and women’s competitors racing for the elaborate decorative cakes as trophies.
Alumni from Davidson include: John Chidsey – former Burger King CEO, Lunsford Richardson – inventor of Vicks VapoRub, and Burkey Belser – inventor of the ‘Nutrition Facts’ label design.
Of course, these are all schools located in the United States. However, there’s plenty of underrated schools all around the world including:
- University of St. Andrews (Scotland)
- National University of Singapore (Singapore)
- McGill University (Canada)
- University of Melbourne (Australia)
- University of Burgundy (France)
- University of León (Spain)
- Ghent University (Belgium)
See the kind of service you can get at Zinkerz? The title says five underrated colleges and you walked away with twelve schools. I’d call it a BFGT (buy five, get twelve), but that doesn’t roll off the tongue as well as BOGO and, also, nobody bought anything.