10 Alternative Colleges for the Non-Traditional Student

If you’re dreading the thought of spending the next four years in a traditional four-year college with standard grading systems and coursework, consider taking the alternative route with a very non-standard education.

While there are thousands of standard college options to choose from, not every college will meet your needs or be a perfect “fit.” Non-traditional colleges offer a more personalized, different approach to higher education. Whether it’s a unique grading system, a non-traditional curriculum, or non-standard class hours, these colleges offer a wider variety of options for your college experience. Browse through these top ten alternative colleges– maybe you’ll find the college you’ve been looking for.

TEN TOP ALTERNATIVE COLLEGES | in no particular order

College of the Atlantic

The only major available at this Maine college is Human Ecology. Students learn from the leading experts in the field and take intramural classes in a variety of subjects in a self-designed course of study. Every student is required to complete a large-scale project on the topic of their choice before graduating. If you enjoy leading your own education, read more about this college.


Antioch College

If group projects were your thing in high school, Antioch may be your college. The school requires students to work outside of classes, cooperate on all course-work, and participate in student government.


St. John’s College

If you’re the type that loves structure, this is the college for you. Students at St. John’s College must follow a very strict curriculum of required courses on important books in Western Culture. The only degrees available are in liberal arts. Grades are based on class discussion and writing assignments rather than on exams.


Alverno College

Hate grades? Consider applying to Alverno, where there are no grades. Instead, students are evaluated based on their qualities, growth, and achievements. Alverno focuses on building up the whole person rather than focusing only on academic performance.

Olin College

Do you love projects and have a tight budget? Olin provides all of its students with a half-scholarship for tuition and its curriculum is based on one large project. Students are able to real-world problem-solving skills in Olin’s unique curriculum.

College of the Ozarks

Work hard, study hard, play hard. This college requires students to work, but in exchange waives tuition. Students affectionately call the College of the Ozarks “Hard Work U.” If you need a quality education on a very low budget, consider applying here.

Naropa University

Become one with the universe at this university. Naropa was founded by a Buddhist monk, and the curriculum was created to reflect Buddhist teachings. Here, you can take classes, meditate, drink tea, and do yoga at the same time. Students can attend lectures at the famous Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and relax in the flower gardens between classes.

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Cornell College

Not the multi-tasking type? Dive into your studies and focus at Cornell College. Not to be confused with Cornell University, this liberal arts school has a unique eight-term annual curriculum with one class per term. This system allows students to immerse themselves in each 3.5-week-long course.

Oberlin College

Have it your way at Oberlin. Students at Oberlin college spend their winter term creating their own curriculum of courses. In addition, at the Experimental college, students, faculty, and even the public can teach classes not otherwise available at Oberlin.

Bard College

Are you a junior or senior still in high school? If you are, you can attend Bard College. Bard gives high school students the opportunity to take college classes. If you’re a motivated and hard-working student who wants to start their higher education earlier than usual, consider applying to Bard College.

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