Road Trip: "Aha! Moment" at The Evergreen State College

With close to 2,500 four-year colleges in the US, I confidently tell students and families that there is a college for everyone.  My aha! moment at The Evergreen State College was taking that statement out of the theoretical and experiencing it first hand. The school, literally amid a forest of evergreens, is built on Native Lands and yet just 15 minutes from Olympia, Washington.  It is true to the Pacific Northwest’s progressive and laid back attitude.  

Of the eight students at our info session (Evergreen has 3,978 students), five were interested in music / film / photography and two were transfers.  This mix was remarkably reflective of the school. Film is one of their most popular majors along with Environmental Sciences. Half of the student body is comprised of “non-traditional students”, meaning they are not coming straight out of high school, thus the student body’s average age tends to skew a little older.

The average GPA at Evergreen is 3.11 un-weighted. Evergreen looks for students who do not use the words “self-motivated” in their personal statement.  Why? Because “those students will be successful anywhere.” They are looking for students engaged in their education who will check in with professors during office hours.  Evergreen admissions officers will, by the way, read your personal statement and give you feedback before you submit your application. They want you to succeed.

Evergreen has a truly unique approach to teaching comprised of three distinct aspects:

  1. Integrated Learning. Students select an overarching theme or question, which extends over one, two, or three quarters. All of their courses for the quarter(s) are related to looking at that theme from different perspectives. As example, a theme regarding Climate Change may have courses in energy, political science / policy, sustainability, agriculture, communication, etc.  Only one theme is studied at a time. Students get to know each other well as their complete course work, which frequently incorporates fieldwork or even study abroad if relevant to the theme.
  2. Independent Contracts.  The option exists for a course of study that includes study abroad (beyond a theme course curriculum) and/or internships.  Students must find a professor to sponsor the contract and develop the course of study.  They can replace up to one year of integrated learning with study abroad and one year with internship over their four years at Evergreen. 
  3. Narrative Evaluations. There is no GPA.  Instead students receive narrative comments on their performance. There are a few schools that follow some variation of this no grades philosophy… and of course there is a “best of” list for that!

The Evergreen State College is truly among “Colleges That Change Lives”.   It offers those who took a bit longer than others to pursue the education path, possibly taking a detour along the way, an opportunity to thrive in an environment where they are the norm and education is a process of inquiry they direct. 

Consider The Evergreen State College if you fit the “non-traditional student” description, particularly if your interests lie in film or environmental studies, and if you enjoy the Pacific Northwest.