Would you believe, some colleges don’t give grades? A number of reputable liberal arts colleges either de-emphasize the use of grades or do not issue any grades at all. They often use narrative evaluations as an alternative measurement system. In most cases, the rationale is that grades do not provide a clear picture of academic aptitude or the potential for success – and that the goal of a liberal education should be learning, not achieving the highest score. These colleges range from private to public, conservative to progressive, and Christian to secular, but they share a common educational philosophy in that they don’t follow a standard letter or number grading format.
Alverno College (Milwaukee, WI) is a private Roman Catholic college with a student-centered approach to education, relying on lengthy and highly personalized performance assessment systems that provide feedback to students based on eight areas of development: communication, analysis, problem solving, valuing, social interaction, developing a global perspective, effective citizenship, and aesthetic response. Alverno college has admitted homeschoolers and shares their philosophy of hands-on learning.
Antioch College (Yellow Springs, OH) utilizes the process of evaluation as an integral part of both learning and teaching, and an essential ingredient of the Antioch College experience. Faculty members provide a narrative evaluation detailing the student’s performance in each course based upon a set of standards and learning objectives, in addition to recording letter grades. Students are also expected to actively participate in the evaluation process of their learning, by writing a self-evaluation for inclusion in the narrative evaluation. The self-evaluation should include an assessment of the student’s own accomplishments in the course, both with respect to the stated course objectives and the student’s own expectations. The narrative evaluations become part of the student’s permanent academic record on file in the Registrar’s Office. When transcripts are requested, the student may elect to have some or all of these narrative evaluations reproduced to accompany the official transcript. Antioch College “welcomes applications from homeschooled students wishing to pursue a liberal arts education. We recognize the important contributions made by homeschoolers both in the classroom and as part of student life, and make a deliberate effort to accommodate the special circumstances of homeschoolers during the admissions process.”
Bennington College (Bennington, VT) uses a unique structure called the Plan Process which enables students to design and evaluate their own education in close collaboration with faculty. Letter grades are available in addition to narrative evaluations upon request on a per course basis. This college welcomes homeschoolers, since homeschoolers have often already had the experience of taking personal responsibility for their education.
Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY) is located in the Hudson Valley, housed in two historic riverfront estates. Bard is known as a haven for highly liberal education and radical political action. The college provides students with both letter grades and written comments via “criteria sheets” given mid-term and end-of-term. The “capstone” of the Bard undergraduate experience is the Senior Project in which the student presents whatever work is required to a moderation board of three professors, and is subsequently interviewed, examined, and critiqued. “Bard regularly receives applications from students who have been homeschooled for some or all of their education. Since their experiences and curriculum vary tremendously, our requirements for home schooled applicants differ somewhat from our requirements from more traditional high school students. It is hard to standardize these requirements and we are willing to work with you to tailor the admission process.”
Brown University (Providence, RI) allows any course to be taken on a satisfactory/no credit basis. In addition, there are no pluses or minuses in the letter grading system, and students do not have a grade point average. A report on the accomplishments of homeschool students was published in Brown University’s January/February 2002 edition of its alumni magazine. In an article titled, “Homeschooling Comes of Age,” Dean Joyce Reed states, “Homeschoolers are the epitome of Brown students. They are self-directed, they take risks, and they don’t back off.”
Burlington College (Burlington, VT) is a progressive liberal arts institution that offers highly individualized academic planning and allows students the option of participating in a narrative evaluation system or traditional transcripts. Burlington students work in small discussion-centered classes. The college integrates learning, personal development, and community engagement. Burlington College “seeks to admit students who are independent thinkers and share a commitment to collaborative, authentic learning.” Burlington College’s application process is highly personalized and holistic. “The College believes that the best assessment of an individual’s ability to succeed and benefit from our programs results not only from an evaluation of written materials that are part of an application file, but through meaningful communication with the applicant.”
College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor, ME) is an environmental liberal arts college community. They utilize a three-part evaluation consisting of a course description, instructor evaluation, and a student self-evaluation. These evaluations form an ongoing portfolio and permanent record for use by the student and advisors, and comprise the student’s official transcript. As a summary and synthesis of work over a period of years, this transcript is an effective way to show how courses and projects mesh into a coherent education of the student’s own design. There are also several degree requirements that must be fulfilled: community service, internship, human ecology essay, and final project. “We’re looking for imaginative, idealistic, and intellectually curious people who want to make a difference in the world – people who will appreciate COA’s unique community and enlarge it with their thoughts, opinions, and spirit.” This college has admitted homeschoolers.
Evergreen State College (Olympia, WA) is a unique public liberal arts and sciences college in which the professor writes a one page evaluation of the student’s activity in the class, and has an end-of-program evaluation conference with each student. The professor also determines how many credits should be awarded to the student, and students can lose credit. Letter/number grades are never used. Evergreen State College has admitted homeschoolers. The college website states that “admission applications for Home School students are evaluated on an individual basis” according to their homeschool transcript, SAT or ACT scores, a personal statement, and high school or college transcripts (if applicable).
Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies (Bellingham, WA) is an undergraduate division of Western Washington University. Its purpose is to offer students the opportunity to take an uncommon degree of responsibility for the structure and content of their own education. Students do not receive letter grades but instead receive a written evaluation from the instructor in addition to writing their own narrative self-evaluations for each class. Academic credit is granted after course requirements have been satisfactorily completed and the student has submitted the narrative self-evaluation to the faculty. The student self-evaluation, combined with their faculty member’s narrative assessment of the student’s work, become part of the student’s academic file and form part of the student’s academic credentials. Students must apply to both Western Washington University and Fairhaven College simultaneously. Although it’s unclear whether they have accepted homeschool applicants, “If you’re a student who shows initiative, intellectual curiosity that crosses traditional academic boundaries, and tends to take a different path than others, then Fairhaven College – one of the seven colleges at Western Washington University – may be a place for you!”
Goddard College (Plainfield, VT) offers a progressive education for creative minds. Students design their own curriculum for a self-directed, individualized study plan, supported by faculty advisors who offer feedback and guidance. Letter/number grades are never used. The Undergraduate Program for Homeschoolers at Goddard offers young people, ages 14-19, who have learned independently outside of schools, an opportunity to begin earning college credit while continuing to learn in a self-directed style. Students design their own courses in collaboration with a faculty advisor, and may choose one or two 3-credit courses per semester. Students attend a 3-day intensive residency on Goddard’s beautiful Vermont campus, and spend the rest of the semester working from home. They send their work to their mentors periodically for review and support. Students entering the program may apply for scholarships to help offset the tuition cost.
Hampshire College (Amherst, MA) was founded as an experiment in alternative education, and it is also one of the most politically liberal colleges in the United States. The college emphasizes a curriculum centered on student interests, with students taking an active role in designing their own concentrations. Part of earning a degree at Hampshire College is completing a major independent study project. Instead of letter/number grades, detailed written evaluations and portfolio evaluations are given for courses and projects. For homeschooled applicants, “it is the student’s responsibility to present her or his home schooling program in a manner that will enable the admissions committee to get the strongest sense of the high school program and level of achievement. At a minimum, home-schooled candidates are required to submit the Common Application’s Home School Supplement.” However, they also suggest that the student’s homeschool portfolio include a brief description of learning activity or course taken, the dates and amount of time spent on the activity, texts read and work produced related to the learning activity (i.e. papers, projects, etc.), a grade or narrative assessment of your work and progress, and a self-assessment of the nature of your work and how it contributed to your intellectual growth.
Johnston Center for Integrative Studies (Redlands, CA) is one of those colleges that has a “radical vision for undergraduate education.” The Johnston educational process recognizes that students have a great variety of interests and seeks to give each person extensive ownership of their education. In this alternative education program offered by the University of Redlands, students have the ability to design their own courses in consultation with faculty. Also instead of traditional numeric grades, students receive written faculty evaluations at the end of each class and write a self-evaluation for each course. Once a separate college, the Johnston Center is now fully integrated into the College of Arts and Sciences and one of the college’s largest academic programs. Homeschool students must submit a “Home School Supplement” to their admissions application. The college website states, “Occasionally, homeschooled students have difficulty completing the counselor or teacher recommendation forms. If this is the case, please contact our office and an admissions counselor will be happy to guide you through the process.”
Marlboro College (Marlboro, VT) students follow an individual study plan designed in conjunction with a faculty member. Plans can be single subject or they can incorporate multiple subject areas. The college requires a written portfolio and an independent project which is put on permanent file as a reference work in the college library. The results of this work are defended in an oral examination before two professors and one outside evaluator who has expertise in the student’s field of study. Marlboro College welcomes homeschoolers. “Often, homeschooling engenders the same qualities that make for successful Marlboro students: self motivation, a passion for learning, and original thought. As such, homeschoolers have been among our strongest candidates for admissions. The application procedure for homeschooled students is the same as for other students with the notable exception of the high school transcript requirement. In lieu of a transcript, we ask for a description of the homeschool curriculum. This would include lists of books read, projects completed and areas of study.”
New College of Florida (Sarasota, FL) is a public honors college specializing in student-centered learning through collaborative curriculum development and independent research. New College has an academic philosophy that students are responsible for their own education, and students’ progress should be based on demonstrated competence and real mastery of an area of interest rather than on the accumulation of credits and grades. At the start of each semester, students negotiate a contract with their faculty adviser, specifying their courses of study and expectations for the semester. For each course taken, students receive an evaluation written by the instructor critiquing their performance and course work, along with a satisfactory, unsatisfactory, or incomplete designation. At the completion of the term, the academic adviser compares the student’s performance with the requirements defined in the contract, and determines whether the student has “passed” the contract, or not. Completing seven contracts is a prerequisite to graduation by the college. In addition, each student is required to write an original and lengthy thesis in their discipline, and to defend it before a committee of at least three faculty members. Letter grades and grade-point-averages are not used. The New College of Florida has accepted quite a few homeschoolers.
New Saint Andrews College (Moscow, ID) is a classical Christian liberal arts college, modeled after the Harvard College curriculum of the seventeenth century. This curriculum stresses learning from Great Books and developing the skills to be a lifelong learner. Rather than using textbooks, the college requires reading of primary works in the classical and Christian literature of Western civilization. The college uses “Oxford-style” small group recitations, in which six to eight students meet with individual faculty members to discuss the assigned readings. Students have examinations every eight weeks, many of which are conducted orally. Seniors are required to write theses and defend them before a faculty panel. Short evaluations are given in addition to a system of Latin letter grades. New Saint Andrews is homeschool friendly with approximately forty percent of its students coming from home schools. The college even has a graduate program designed for homeschooling parents. New Saint Andrews College is intensely independent and refuses to accept federal funding; but the cost of attending New Saint Andrews is one-third the tuition of the average private college.
Prescott College (Prescott, AZ) gives students an exceptional amount of freedom in creating a degree plan that reflects their own interests. Much of the learning is experiential in nature and is often field based, with in-depth study of one topic at a time. To graduate, each student must design and complete a senior project. Letter grades are available in addition to narrative evaluations upon request on a per course basis. For homeschooled applicants, a portfolio reflecting all four years of high school equivalent education is required. The portfolio should include course titles and descriptions, a bibliography, and writing samples.
Reed College (Portland, OR) gives letter grades to students, but grades are de-emphasized and students are encouraged to focus on learning rather than on grades. Papers and exams are generally returned to students with lengthy comments but without grades affixed. Many students graduate without knowing either their cumulative GPA or their grades in individual classes. There is no dean’s list or honor roll, although Reed does note academic commendations on the transcript and confers awards for academic achievement at the time of commencement. This college is homeschool-friendly. “We realize that home-schooled students may find that our application forms do not fit their individualized high school programs. Although individual students may not be able to submit everything that we ask for, they should send as much information as possible about their academic background and capabilities… There are no “cutoff points” for high school or college grades, or for examination scores.”
St. John’s College (Annapolis, MD and Santa Fe, NM) follows a Great Books program and avoids modern textbooks, lectures, and examinations. Instead of textbooks, in addition to primary materials, the college relies on a series of manuals. While traditional (A through F) grades are given, the culture of the school de-emphasizes their importance and grades are released only at the request of the student. Grading is based largely on class participation and papers. Tutors, as faculty members are called at the college, play a non-directive role in the classroom, compared to mainstream colleges. St. John’s welcomes applications from homeschooled students; homeschoolers should submit the results of either the SAT or ACT, and they should submit an outline of the curriculum they have followed, arranged in chronological order by conventional subject matter, with brief descriptions of the course content and texts used.
Sarah Lawrence College (Yonkers, NY) provides students with written academic evaluations. Letter grades are recorded only for transcript purposes and are given to students upon request. Additionally, Sarah Lawrence College completely disregards SAT scores in its admission process. Dr. Michele Tolela Myers, the former president of Sarah Lawrence College, explained, “We are a writing-intensive school, and the information produced by SAT scores added little to our ability to predict how a student would do at our college; it did, however, do much to bias admission in favor of those who could afford expensive coaching sessions.” This college is homeschool-friendly and has one of the lowest student/faculty ratios in the country. Seminars of no more than 15 students are combined with individualized and independent study.
Soka University of America (Aliso Viejo, CA) offers narrative evaluations and P/NP grades for up to five courses. A capstone project is required of all students in their senior year, drawing upon the research and academic skills and experience that they have developed during their careers at SUA. The university accepts applications from homeschooled students; all applicants before enrolling must have earned a high school diploma or its equivalent.
University of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA) has adopted the use of faculty-authored narrative evaluations as a supplement to letter grades. UCSC instructors write a personalized narrative evaluation of each student’s academic performance in all courses in which the student earns credit. Once made part of the permanent electronic record, the narratives are maintained indefinitely and sent, on request of the student, to potential employers, graduate and professional schools, and other agencies as part of the student’s official transcript. UCSC has admitted homeschoolers; eligibility is appraised on basis of entrance examination or previous college-level work.
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