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Evergreen State College (Olympia, WA)

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Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults > Evergreen State College (Olympia, WA)


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Our son is thinking about applying to Evergreen

May 2011

Our son is thinking about applying to Evergreen. Does anyone have personal experience with this school. Our son lacks motivation if he is not really excited about a class and a teacher. He likes very interesting classes, but is not especially self-directed. What is this school really like and who succeeds there? anon


My son just finished his freshman year at Evergreen, and it was a wonderful experience. He is creative and very bright, but has never been motivated by grades. If he doesn't like a class or a teacher, he doesn't put forth much effort, and his high school transcript reflected that. It has been liberating for him to be free of grades at Evergreen. His professors have definitely held him accountable though--the narrative evaluations are quite comprehensive. The work load is respectable, and can even be heavy. Because the student-professor ratio is small (generally one prof for every 24 students), and classes are taught seminar style, it's almost impossible to fly under the radar. Students have to come to class, and it's pretty obvious if they slack off.

It has also been wonderful for my son to have no general education requirements. He was able to jump right into the writing and film programs he was interested in taking. However, it can be very difficult to get your first choice program. Because all the programs are interdisciplinary, students often find themselves enrolled in programs that include some subject matter that they don't really want to study. It's just not really true that you can spend four years there and escape studying subjects you aren't interested in. The classes are very engaging though, and students often discover new passions.

Student life at Evergreen is pretty good. The campus is safe and beautiful, located outside of Olympia with 1000 acres of forest and a slice of beach on Puget Sound. It is very socially accepting, and there are lots of alternative kids there, mixing freely with more traditional types. Be warned though, there is a pretty heavy drug scene at Evergreen--mainly pot and hallucinogens. Also, the climate can become an issue, especially for kids prone to depression. It rains constantly, and can be very dark during the winter days. Although most kids get used to the weather, some struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder. The dorms are generally pretty nice, and lots of freshmen are able to get single rooms in six bedroom suites. The food really leaves something to be desired, even after the school built a gorgeous new cafeteria. Hopefully, that will improve.

My son is thriving at Evergreen, and has made tons of friends. There are plenty of Bay Area kids there, which makes the transition easier. In some ways, it feels like a small (albeit very eclectic) private college. Even with out-of-state tuition, the price tag is much less. For the right kid, it is an amazing choice. Good luck! Happy Evergreen Mom


My son is just finishing up his first year at Evergreen. I recently flew up to visit him and got a better feel for the school. My son, who transfered in as a sophomore, has been frustrated that he did not get into the music classes he wanted this year. But he hung in there and took a variety of courses and is doing well. He enjoys his professors. He has already registered for fall and got into his top choices of music classes. My son mentioned that many students at Evergreen are adrift, not particularly motivated, and smoking a lot of weed. I think the school appeals to free-thinking, creative types. Feel free to contact me with questions. Wilma
Hi - My son is starting as a freshman next year at Evergreen. It's an alternative liberal arts college that is one of the Washington State schools. We're really excited. It's listed as one of the ''Colleges that Change Lives,'' http://www.ctcl.org/colleges/evergreen. There are no grades, most courses are interdisciplinary, and there are student-designed ''programs'' rather than majors. My impression (from talking with people, reading the materials and visiting): Great for self-directed students and those who thrive with hands-on work and collaboration. An emphasis on non-traditional learning methods -- lots of class discussion & projects, rather than exams, for the most part. No huge lectures. My son was inspired when we went to visit and met a couple of the faculty in his area of interest by their passionate commitment to teaching. Downsides: students can drift if not self-motivated, and we hear there is a significant drug scene (true, however, at lots of colleges). Future Geoduck Parent
Our son is finishing his junior year at Evergreen. He has loved the school and been extremely engaged in his education. Mainly, students take one class each quarter and many different topics are covered. For instance, a science class may include everything from statistics, video production, writing seminars as well as week long camping trips. Group projects are also a large part of the curriculum. Without mandatory classes, each student is free to create his own program, so it is very important to continually get advice from advisors and professors. If a student is not motivated, it can be difficult to succeed with the loose structure, but that being said, your son may find both the environment and style of teaching very motivating. If you visit, do so on one of their special orientations as you have access to many administrators, professors and students. Feel free to email me and we can set up a time to talk.........my son would also be willing to talk with your son. Melissa
If you don't want to pay for a private college counselor, and you can't get an appointment with your child's high school counselor, he/she and the high school library will surely have several 2010 books (also available online) with independent and student opinions on selected colleges. The Underground Guide to Colleges comes to mind.

Basic comparative info on colleges (cost, test scores, size) is available free on the College Board's website.

I've heard Evergreen is smallish, a beautiful campus, far away, and a place where students plan their own curriculum (that's on the college's own website). Ask around to find some local students who go there. Of the three I know, one transferred out to another school for a better music program. Good luck!


Loren Pope has written two books about applying to colleges and I encourage you to read them. Looking Beyond the Ivies and 40 Colleges That Change Lives. He likes Evergreen.

Looking Beyond the Ivies will help you feel much better about the college application process. I think there's quite a bit of wisdom in that small book.

Good luck and try not to get too caught up in the application and selection madness. There are plenty of good schools out there and hopefully he'll find a good fit. mother of a rising senior


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