The students at these fantastically geeky schools don’t need extra credit—but they do it anyway, because they can’t resist an unsolved problem set! Not only are the students at these colleges among the smartest in the nation, they have an intense nerd culture that would put your childhood Pokémon card-trading club to shame. Check out the 10 schools where geek culture is THE culture.
10. CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY (Cleveland, Ohio)
It would be a complete shock to hear a dim-witted exchange on this campus, considering College Prowler ranked Case Western as having the seventh smartest guys and the 17th smartest girls in the US. You’d think the first date conversations would be the best, but apparently, “having a better computer is more important than a girlfriend” at Case Western, according to one Urban Dictionary definition.
While one student on StudentsReview gave the school a A- for Educational Quality, Case Western bombed the Social Life category with a big, fat F. But students don’t seem to mind the apparently lacking social scene because high school graduates are flocking to this nerdy paradise—the school gained significant recognition for its academics in 2011 when student applications increased by more than 44 percent!
9. SWARTHMORE COLLEGE (Swarthmore, Pennsylvania)
Students don't waste time at this high-intensity school, and, as a result, they’ve earned a spot on Ultius's Nerdiest Colleges in America list. One student on Unigo said, "My friends in the natural sciences in particular seemed to spend most of their waking hours working on problem sets or in the labs." Maybe their busy schedules are the reason they have a ninja Valentine delivery system that doubles as a charity fundraiser—with those study schedules, who has time to hand out their own valentines, particularly when ninjas can do it for you? When Swarthmore students aren’t turning romantic holidays into an excuse to role-play, they are attentively taking notes in class. In a review on U.S. News & World Report, one alum attributes the students’ work ethic to the positive relationships in the classroom: “I think that something unique to Swarthmore… is that professors are super appreciative of the fact that their students are invariably really smart and really nerdy.” We know there’s a Teacher Appreciation Week, but Swarthmore proves that nerds need love, too!
8. THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO (Chicago, Illinois)
UChicago students are no stranger to the phrase "where fun comes to die," but their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed, as the school has an impressive alumni base that includes 87 Nobel laureates. One student on College Prowler says their first year at the intense university was “probably the most learning I have ever accomplished in one year.” But brainiacs at the second best private Midwest school (according to Forbes) take study breaks to create their own definition of fun—and it includes school pride chants about physical constants. UChicago students know their place on the scale of nerdiness—and they are proud of it!
7. DREXEL UNIVERSITY (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
According to the National Research Council, Drexel’s Materials Science and Engineering Department is ranked as the 11th best in the country. And if that wasn’t awesomely geeky enough, Drexel’s mascot is a dragon named Mario the Magnificent. Lana*, a student at Drexel, says, “Oftentimes during the week you will casually find students choreographing a lightsaber fight on the quad or slacklining between trees. When it snows, there are castles and mazes built out of the snow by our engineering students.” Navigating a snow maze on the way to class sounds pretty fun—but knowing Drexel’s superior academic standing, we wish anyone luck on solving it!
6. JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY (Baltimore, Maryland)
JHU hosts a summer program for gifted elementary through high school students through The Center for Talented Youth, which is regarded by many as "geek camp.” CTY students spend seven hours a day and five days a week doing challenging academic work there (fun fact: Lady Gaga once attended!).
But the geek culture at JHU doesn’t stop after summer is over. Katie Naymon, a junior at Johns Hopkins, says, "I've heard of multiple stories where drunk freshmen will do calculus proofs together… there [were] once two drunk kids who were trying to out-calculus each other." We’re guessing those two mathematicians probably reached their “critical points.” Katie also says students snoozing in the library is a common sighting, so much so that there is an entire tumblr dedicated to pictures of people sleeping there. One JHU senior scientist leads GeekChic workshops that teach basic programming to aspiring female nerds. The intensive program lasts 10 weeks and helps women learn junior-level programming.
5. REED COLLEGE (Portland, Oregon)
Any college that dedicates an entire day to an element is guaranteed a spot on our geek list. Reed College celebrates the Seventh Annual Nitrogen Day every year—always the seventh because nitrogen is the seventh element on the periodic table—with free food and an open mike for students to recite poetry about nitrogen. The students, also called “Reedies,” wonder how life would be without what the school website calls “one of the universe's most important, yet under-appreciated elements.” With an amazing tradition like this, Reed has been showered with nerd culture accolades from sites such as the Huffington Post, Unigo, Ultius, and Geeky Tech News. In a review on College Confidential, one prospective student who went on a college visit claimed Reed had “almost too many nerds.” We hope “almost” was the key word for that high schooler—how can you say no to a love of nitrogen?
4. CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (Pasadena, California)
As MIT's greatest rival, Caltech is sure to rank high on the geek scale. Their rivalry is hilarious, by the way. According to the Caltech admissions site, Caltech students once visited MIT’s campus during a prospective student weekend to distribute shirts that said “MIT” on the front. However, when students unfolded the shirt, the back revealed the words “...because not everyone can go to Caltech.”
One student on Unigo describes the student body as "'outcasts' from your high school: the nerds, the hippies, the anti-socials, the quiet." But when a school is consistently applauded for educating our generation’s brightest minds (the Times Higher Education World University Rankings named Caltech the best university in the world within the Engineering and Technology Universities category), don’t they have a little wiggle room for less-than-cool hobbies? Plus, we have to give Caltech some credit for their annual Ditch Day, a senior skip day where underclassmen take the initiative to “modify” seniors’ rooms with sand, car parts, and other random materials and suspend the furniture from trees—we hear the prank day involves a little less science than most days (by a hair). Plus, how can a school not make the list when the Big Bang Theory character Sheldon Cooper is a researcher there?
3. MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
Home to 78 Nobel laureates, MIT breeds nerds destined to change the world. Students use their brainpower for work and play by participating in scavenger hunt puzzle races, such as the Mystery Hunt. Every January, you’ll find MIT students zooming around campus, solving a series of puzzles that lead to the discovery of an object, called a “coin,” which changes every year. Past coins have all held significance to the theme of the race—in 2005, the coin was a piece of meteorite to fit the theme of superhero powers. The school’s more famous tradition is their hacks, a series of harmless practical jokes executed by the student body (“hacks” has nothing to do with computers for once, though some hacks do pay tribute to computer-related themes). Some notable hacks include the time MIT’s Green Building was transformed into a giant game of Tetris and the time Pacman and Blinky appeared on the Great Dome, a major MIT landmark.
But playtime on campus is short-lived, because students know firsthand that the amount of work at MIT is unforgiving. Handling the workload at the school has been compared to “drinking from a fire hose”—yikes! Even with a face full of water, nerds here should rejoice that they were among the about 8 percent who get accepted to this brainy institution every year.
2. COLLEGE OF WILLIAM & MARY (Williamsburg, Virginia)
The nerds at William & Mary have a selection more than over 400 clubs to busy their brains after those grueling lecture classes. Some of the nerdier clubs include interest groups for The Settlers of Catan, competitive gaming, and Macintosh. The description for the Mac Club says the organization helps “Macintosh users make their computing experiences productive and enjoyable.” Laugh all you want, but discovering new keyboard shortcuts is actually life changing! About.com also named William & Mary the number one school for Harry Potter fans, thanks to their thriving, 200-member organization called Wizards and Muggles (how clever!).
“This is a school where frat boys unabashedly watch Battlestar Galactica, Magic: The Gathering mini-tourneys between friends happen in common areas and kitchens, and where our nerf gun enthusiasts have hosted after-hours zombie apocalypse games in the halls,” says Harper Yi, a junior at William & Mary. In a school of self-proclaimed nerds, Alexandra Court, a junior at Willam & Mary says, "We even have a name for our geekiness: we call ourselves 'TWAMPs' (typical William and Mary person).” Though the general consensus is that a TWAMP is an academically inclined college student, Mariana Debbe, a junior at William & Mary, thinks the label should be taken with a grain of salt. “It's not that we all lack social skills… we're out at parties, playing on sports teams, running for student government, playing in bands, etc.,” she says. “But we understand what we have to do to succeed, and if that means practically living at the library during finals, so be it. We play hard but work even harder."
1. CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
Carnegie Mellon University: where the kilt-clad marching band is twice as big as the student section at any given home game. But luckily, CMU students are proud to be "too school for cool," as one student posted on a Facebook group dedicated to conversations overheard on campus. While the computer science majors are on their way to becoming the highest paid graduates in the nation, students from every department can be found cracking away in Hunt Library—better known by its moniker, Club Hunt, because it houses many students late into the night. But CMU students do find some time for play; they unwind by slacklining on The Cut (the greenery in the middle of campus), running around on broomsticks in a game of Quidditch on the soccer field, or playing Humans vs. Zombies between classes (all very common college activities, right?). “It's just an average day when you see a robot interacting with students as they get their morning coffee or lunch,” says Hannah Dellabella, a senior at CMU. “And it's even more typical to hear your friends laughing over programming jokes while arguing about who pulled the most all-nighters.” Because what are five measly Red Bulls in the name of bragging rights?
*Name has been changed.