The 9 Most Flexible Colleges in the Country

Have you ever sat through an Introduction to Statistics lecture in an auditorium replete with three hundred groggy college students, daydreaming about the incredibly fascinating course you would have enrolled in, had it not been for your university’s math requirement? I’ve sure been there, picturing my hypothetical “Anthropology of Food” class in the midst of a riveting analysis of the cultural implications of crème brûlée. Meanwhile—back in reality—the ant-sized professor stands far away in the front of the auditorium, mumbling something or other about hypothesis testing.  

Clearly, I am not a mathematically-oriented person (although cuisine is not exactly my forte either), but whichever your field of expertise, you can probably identify with the experience of being in a class that has absolutely no relation to your academic goals or interests.

That is, unless you are enrolled in one of those schools where the administration actually trusts that their students will have the capacity to design their own programs of study; where, if there are certain graduation requirements, these extend no farther than a writing requirement and one course in the humanities, sciences, and mathematics—an interesting, engaging course that will somehow relate to your field and that doesn’t include an “Introduction to” anything lecture; and where the main objective of the school is to cultivate curious students who will push the boundaries between academic disciplines.

Many of us associate the term “flexibility” with the mind-blowing physical abilities of Olympic gymnasts and not at all with our school’s academic curriculum. But at these nine colleges and universities, this term actually serves as the core of their values:

1. Brown University
Perhaps the most renowned of the “flexible” schools (partly thanks to Emma Watson, aka Hermione Granger), Brown has absolutely no curriculum requirements (aside from a writing requirement). Upon arriving at the Providence, Rhode Island campus, students have the liberty to discern for themselves between the courses that interest them and those that don’t.

Requirements:

  • The one general requirement enforced at Brown is the completion of a Writing Course.
  • Each student must fulfill the requirements for his or her chosen concentration.
  • In addition, when they declare their concentration, students must describe what writing they have completed at Brown and the writing they intend to do in the concentration.
  • Students are “encouraged” to write an independent research paper, a seminar paper, or an honors thesis in the concentration.

2. Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon offers programs that are specifically tailored for students who are interested in more than one academic arena. One such program is the BXA Intercollege Degree Programs, which encompasses the Bachelor of Humanities and Arts, the Bachelor of Science and Arts, and the Bachelor of Computer Science and Arts programs. 

Stephanie Murray, the Academic Advisor for BXA, says the students in the programs “make me tired to look at them sometimes; they’re just so excited and involved in what they are doing.” Can’t you just picture Glee’s Rachel Berry ambitiously strutting down the BXA halls?

One of BXA’s enthusiastic students, Julie Mallis is pursuing degrees in Art and Anthropology. “I always knew I wanted to do something with art, and I wanted to do something with people,” she says. “You have to really want to be in the [BXA] program in order to get into it, so right off the bat, I was taking all the classes I wanted to be taking—and they fit directly with my interests.”

As to how she feels about having the ability to follow her own academic goals, Julie says: “I haven't had to ‘waste time’ doing things I am not interested in doing. Having this type of freedom to really study two separate areas affects each piece of work I make and strengthens them.” “I am not following some formula, but really going with my gut,” she says. Props to her!

Requirements:

  • Each of the BXA programs has its unique set of curriculum requirements based upon the academic inclinations of its students. The course requirements range from languages and social sciences to mathematics and science.
  • Students are also required to complete a freshman research seminar, a senior capstone project, and a computing skills workshop.
  • Each student must choose a fine arts concentration from one of the five schools within the College of Fine Arts: Architecture, Art, Design, Drama, or Music.
  • In addition, students must pursue another concentration within their other chosen discipline (Humanities, Science, or Computer Science).