Schools like University of Chicago

My youngest is a strong student and is looking at U Chicago. He will apply but wants to build out his college list with schools like it. What he specifically likes about UC is:

  • Open curriculum - freedom to explore his interest in a variety of subjects
  • Not having to declare a major until 3rd year
  • Quirky community-like student body willing to engage in insightful debate
  • Located in a diverse city (people and culture)

If anyone has found schools similar to UC in their travels we would love to hear about them.

Thanks in advance for your replies.


Are you really looking for low barriers to declare/change majors? UChicago has a strong Core requirement and is normally considered the opposite of an open curriculum.


UChicago has an extensive set of core requirements, so I would not call them an open curriculum.

However it is true that you can explore several majors before you have to commit. Many selective colleges have a similar policy.

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Hi. Mine loved U Chicago for the same reasons. Looks like they will be attending Pomona college - most diverse LAC in the country. Flexible curriculum with small, discussion based courses. The 5C consortium means access to lots of resources, and over 6000 UG students. Fantastic financial aid, and easy access to LA with lots of people and culture. Also, So Cal weather and lots of outdoor activities available. We are heading to visit for admitted students day - but as of now its the #1 choice.

At many schools, the inflexibility comes from the College of Engineering, School of Business and the College of Health Sciences. UChicago doesn’t have any of these. To be a fair comparison, you would really have to look at just the Arts & Sciences College at most universities. Many of them don’t have as many restrictions within the college.

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For this criterion specifically, this site may be of interest:

Note that the curricula at these colleges differ from that of the University of Chicago, however.

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I guess I used the term open curriculum too casually. Ill try to do a better job explaining what I mean. Hopefully this doesn’t come out as a confused mess.

For me its a multi discipline problem. He’s an elite athlete in the classroom so he does well in any course he takes, AP or otherwise. My fear is that this creates the false perception that he’s good at everything and makes it difficult for him to figure out his true calling. Michael Jordan could have played baseball but would he have been the greatest of all time?

Thats where I think UC has differed from other colleges we’ve visited thus far. I’m thinking those first two years, where they really dig into the core curriculum (Humanities, Social Sciences, Physical Sciences and Biological Sciences) and teach him how to critically think, will help him find this true passion.

I am a realist though and UC is hard to get in to so I’m looking for other colleges like it.

From my experience as a parent of a UChicago student that really didn’t have a strong direction, I wouldn’t expect the Core to help with finding one. The Core does take a rigorous approach to these various topics. The others things that I think differentiate UC is the depth that you do into each topic and that some are taught using the Socratic method. At many schools you can take unrelated “survey” courses to fulfill GE requirements. The 2-3 course sequence in many of the Core get you deep. But I wouldn’t expect that to help him find his calling. It may actually reinforce that he is good at many things.


St. John’s College in Maryland, which has no majors, is based on the original U of C plan from the 40s.


That seems to be the opposite of University of Chicago, which has a large core or general education requirement list: The Curriculum < University of Chicago Catalog . Basically, 15 out of 42 quarter courses needed to graduate are in the core or general education requirements; there is also a foreign language requirement (third quarter or second semester of college foreign language courses or equivalent by testing).

“Open curriculum” would more closely describe schools like The Evergreen State College, Amherst College, or Brown University.

That is fairly common in colleges for liberal arts (including sciences), although some majors (particularly in the sciences) require getting started on prerequisites from the first semester or quarter to retain the option to declare the major later. For example, you would not be able to declare a physics major at the end of second year or beginning of third year and expect to graduate on time if you have not completed the frosh/soph level physics and math course sequence by then.

Chicago (the city) has long had a reputation of highly segregrated diversity. Consider whether that matches the desire.

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Also has a campus in New Mexico. However, it is the polar opposite of an open curriculum, since it has a core curriculum that is the entire curriculum.

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Well the definition of open curriculum being used here is peculiar. So ignoring that factor, if op wants like U of C but easier to get into, St. John’s is worth mentioning.

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Haverford might offer much if what he’s looking for. Possibly Tufts. Both are urban but have the liberal arts mindset that seems to have resonated with your son.

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I’m not sure I understand your criteria- but I can provide a list of colleges that kids I know who either ended up at Chicago or wanted to be at Chicago applied to and loved for various reasons (obviously they don’t all meet all over your criteria- but they have an overlap in student body interests-- many are not urban and are out in the middle of nowhere, however). But if you are trying to get at “a place which doesn’t have an overwhelmingly pre-professional vibe” this list might be worth researching:

Conn College
Franklin and Marshall

If I think of others I’ll add to the list. But I would also encourage you to think about your aspirations for your son educationally. I don’t think ANY college is better or worse at helping a kid find their true calling. Some people believe a big core does that- other believe it’s too restrictive. Some believe that small seminar classes do that- others believe that they aren’t paying tuition for their kid to sit at a round table and listen to another 19 year old pontificate about Plato or Tolstoy-- they are paying for a star professor to teach. Etc.

I do believe that finding a college where every other kid is neither premed, gunning for investment banking, or majoring in computer science will provide what you are looking for. Which is why I sadly have not included Columbia on this list- a really fantastic institution which still has pockets of kids learning for learning’s sake- but the “vibe” seems more attuned to Wall Street and other pre-professional goals. So it’s not on my list although for the right kid it’s a fantastically interesting place with great professors and a core which runs you through your paces.


Seconding the St. John’s rec (Annapolis or Santa Fe campus…and students can switch between the locations, too). This profile page might provide a better sense of the school: St. John’s College – Colleges That Change Lives

Colgate and Vanderbilt are two other schools that seem to have more requirements in terms of their core classes. Also thinking Macalester, Oberlin, or Tufts.

Thanks so much for the reply’s, we appreciate the insight. Plenty to think about and research…

Thanks again!

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I would consider Johns Hopkins. Like UC, it is a predominantly graduate university. More cerebral than many universities. Also consider Columbia or Barnard College of Columbia University.

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Reed College came to my mind immediately. While it is much smaller than University of Chicago and is a liberal arts college, it’s attracts hardcore academic types and also quirky types and is in a great city (Portland).

Yes, except I believe the pronoun “he” was used - which likely would eliminate that option.

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Late to the party, but I will just throw out that while Chicago has a fairly distinctive vibe/branding, I think of the following schools as broadly similar: Harvard, Columbia, Penn, Johns Hopkins, and WUSTL. Basically, those are all private universities on the same basic model, and they are each the long-standing “top” such university in a major US city (Boston, New York, Philly, Baltimore, and St Louis respectively).

Incidentally, if you go back to, say, the 1900 Census, the largest six US cities were New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, St Louis, Boston, and Baltimore. Obviously things have changed, but I don’t think it is a coincidence that is the same list of cities with private universities like this.

Indeed, as various cities in, say, Texas, Southern California, and so on were rising to much higher relative size over the next 100+ years, the ecology of higher education in the United States was shifting, including that public universities were taking on an increasingly large role.

So, of course there are still important private universities like Rice and USC in Houston and Los Angeles respectively, and indeed you could include them on this list if you like. But I think there are some subtle distinctions in how universities like that fit into relatively “new” cities, including because of how universities like Texas or UCLA fit into such cities. Of course I know Texas is actually in Austin, but people I know from Houston seem to think of Texas as their top “home” university in the same way that, say, people I know from Detroit seem to think of Michigan as their top home university.

Anyway, that is my two cents on the universities I think of as broadly forming a “cousin” group with Chicago.