New College of Florida: Unique, with Honors Attributes

The New College of Florida, located in Sarasota, is the official public liberal arts college for the state, and with only about 800 undergraduates enrolled, the entire campus functions in much the same way as a relatively small honors program at a larger university.

New College is not, strictly speaking, an honors college.  But with an estimated average SAT in the 2000 range and average GPA of about 3.75, it is as selective as many major research university honors colleges and programs, and the curriculum and extremely flexible options appear to have some of the same elements as Echols Scholars enjoy at the University of Virgina along with tutorial choices that are similar to Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College.

Like Echols scholars, all students at New College can create their own, individual curriculum, with a choice of forty majors and additional choices for double concentrations.  Classes are with very small–about 12 students–or one on one, in the tutorial format that is associated with Ohio U.

And there’s one other thing you should know about New College: there are no grades.

Students receive lengthy and detailed narrative evaluations of their performance in course work and tutorials.  Does this hurt New College students when they apply to graduate and professional schools?

The answer appears to be no.  “About 80 percent of New College alumni go on to graduate school within six years of graduating,” the college reports. “For the 2010 graduating class, 86 percent of graduates who applied to a Ph.D. program were accepted, and 100 percent who applied to law school got in! It’s no wonder that The Wall Street Journal ranked New College the nation’s no. 2 public feeder school for elite law, medical and business schools.”

Another key feature of New College is that Kiplinger’s Best Values in Public Colleges ranks New College at number 5 as an in-state public college value, and at number 19 as an out-of-state value.

One thing that students should consider is very small size of the college.  On the plus side, there is the flexibility, the individual instruction, the research opportunities, and excellent options for studying abroad, especially in language-related study.  New College students have an extraordinarily high rate of success in attaining Fulbright Student Fellowships, to go with the excellent prospects for placement in graduate and professional schools.

But on the other side of the ledger, the small campus is also like a very small town, and some small towns can seem confining.  One factor that may offset the small size is that about 80 percent of students live on campus.

“New College’s Pei Campus is the center of residential life, the college says, “with eight out of a total of nine residence halls located there. Along with the dorms, Hamilton ‘Ham’ Center, Palm Court, the Fitness Center and other recreational facilities form a student village where academics and campus life seamlessly intertwine and ‘learning occurs around the clock.'”

“Designed by internationally-renowned architect I.M. Pei, New College’s Pei Residence Halls opened in 1965 and accommodate more than 250 students in double and triple-occupancy rooms, each with its own private bathroom. Community spaces and laundry rooms in the Pei buildings are located in each of the three quads, and the outdoor Palm Court around which the rooms are grouped is a focus of New College student life. Pei rooms are spacious, measuring approximately 15′ x 15.’

“All of the rooms have recently, and some feature covered porches or large balconies, providing additional living space. The clustered construction, communal spaces and orientation around Palm Court affords Pei residents a strong sense of community.”

Dining options include the student-run Four Winds Cafe, located on the Bayfront section of campus, a market cafe with sandwiches and traditional entrees, and a deli.

And we shouldn’t neglect to mention the nearby beaches.

“Lido Key offers quiet North Lido Beach, the popular Lido Beach with parking and restrooms, and South Lido Beach, which has BBQ grills and picnic tables under Australian Pines. Boutique stores and restaurants can be found on St. Armands Circle.

“Siesta Key Beach, named America’s #1 beach and known for its powdery white sand, has volleyball nets, tennis courts and picnic area. Every Sunday at sunset there’s a drum circle. Siesta Village offers restaurants and nightlife. Turtle Beach, on the southern end of the island, is quieter with coarser sand and beach dunes.

“Or head up north to Anna Maria Island for a change of scenery. There are many restaurants and funky shops along the beautiful beaches. Check out the island’s annual Bayfest, too.”