Researching a College: Grinnell a Case Study

The better you know prospective campuses, the better you can figure out which might fit in with your postsecondary expectations. If you don’t have any or few expectations formed as yet, doing some research will get your thoughts of college into motion.

A good place to begin a search is with guides such as Fiske, Princeton Review, The Ultimate Guide to America’s Best Colleges, and the Yale Daily News Insider’s Guide to Colleges. Many high school counseling offices and public libraries have these on their shelves.  The ubiquitous Fiske Guide to College contains a useful questionnaire for  the size, location and academics & extracurricular you might prefer.  

Supposing you narrowed your interests down to small liberal arts colleges with a solid track record of academic achievement, you might begin looking at such schools not only in California, but in the Midwest, the East, and possibly the South. Chances are one school that will pop up is Grinnell College in Iowa.  Right after Carleton, it’s one of the top liberal arts colleges in the region.  

From the guides you’ll learn it’s small, 1700 undergraduates and mandates a 1st semester writing tutorial modeled after the writing program at Oxford. With the assistance of a faculty advisor you may begin to design a major, or select among the 500 courses within 26 different majors across 11 concentrations.   

A quick analysis of the financial aid offerings can best be found at College Navigator, which is the website of the NCES, and has exact information on the average financial aid packages offered in the recent school year. Of the recent round of admits, 93% received financial aid with the average package of $31,000. Grinnell has an endowment of $1.83 billion, which until 2011 was run by Warren Buffett; on a per student basis, this is one of the wealthiest colleges in the country.   Now we’re off to the races to learn all we can about the alluring corn fields of Grinnell.

One source that I have found useful is Wikipedia. Its Grinnell write up is engaging—especially regarding Grinnell’s history. The College’s namesake, Joshua Grinnell, an abolitionist minister, was told by Horace Greeley in 1846 to “go West young man”. He did and established the college, which later moved to its current home in Grinnell, Iowa.  Most of the alumni and faculty perished in the Civil War, only to face a Cyclone in 1882 that wiped out the campus.  

Looking at Grinnell’s own website you’ll find ‘Grinnell at a Glance’, which is a flood of facts: 9:1 student to faculty ratio, 7th nationally in the percentage of PhDs per graduate, 15th for graduating female PhD earners, 11 Fulbright’s garnered in 2014, and  51% of Grinnellians have an advanced degree 10 years after graduation.

While many consider Division III athletics unexciting, over a third of Grinnell students participate in varsity athletics. Moreover, Wikipedia describes how Grinnell plays its own brand of basketball: continual full court press and a full line change every 35-40 seconds (like hockey). One of the Grinnell stars, Jack Taylor, scored 138 points in a 179-104 victory over Faith Baptist Bible; he is the only NCAA basketball player ever to have two 100-point basketball games to his credit.

The college has the wherewithal to recruit the best faculty (its professor average rating is 3.83 on Rate My The resources of the Burling Library alone, with its 1 million volumes, its bathroom graffiti (officially encouraged), Jungle Gyms and Amoeba Tables, Media room with over 7,000 documentaries and 22,000 audio recordings, exemplifies the weirdness yet abundant resources Grinnell offers it students.    

With a few college guides, a computer or Smartphone to access College Navigator, the Grinnell website, Wikipedia, and Rate My Professor, we’ve discovered a lot about Grinnell. If you’re drawn to a place that nurtures original thought, action and is capable of channeling idiosyncratic behavior, Grinnell warrants consideration.