transfer for self-motivated student w/sketchy record and great intellectual interest

<p>I've been prowling CC for some time and while I've learned a lot, I haven't found quite what I'm looking for. This is going to be a long post as my situation is rather unique.</p>

<p>white female from the bible belt, below-the-poverty-line family.
HIGH SCHOOL: I was homeschooled from pre-school to high school, and member of a co-op with 14 kids in my graduating class. I was the only one NOT to attend the local religious university, and the first (and, so far, only) one from 10-or-so years of the co-op's history to go OOS.
No APs offered; maybe three "honors" courses taken through homeschool co-op (all were regular courses with optional assignments to count the class as honors--i took this opportunity every time it was given.)
Completed two courses at local fourth-tier university in 3rd year (first year I was eligible, and as many as I was allowed to take), which were easy 4.0s.
National Home School Honor Society
graduated a year early
SAT: CR 760 M 690 W 790 ACT: 31
high school GPA ~3.8 UW.
2.5 years volunteeing at local hospital
5 years in home school basketball league
5 years as a member (of which one was spent as secretary and one as VP) of an organization for homeschooled middle- and high-school kids coming from half the state to socialize and do community service projects.
lots of service hours, held a nannying job down for all three years.
in my third (last) year of high school, i undertook three self-study courses, all well-documented.</p>

<p>COLLEGE: tiny great books college. went at age 16. academically, it was a mistake. personally, i grew a lot. left mid-second semester freshman year--med. withdrawal following stress from two rapes and a bout of mono. worked at home, then returned and completed two more semesters. mid-fourth semester, left again for many reasons--among them:
recurring sexual assault by roommate's boyfriend; administration would take no action since i was living off-campus and could not offer me a room on campus.
mom had heart attack.
close friend from high school died in afghanistan.
uncle murdered.
came down with swine flu.
completely unhappy at the school--socially, intellectually, etc etc.
the store at which i worked 30+ hours/week had closed, and i had exhausted my savings with medical bills and outrageous heating bills (mid-atlantic region hit with incredible blizzards this past winter).
so, my situation: i want to go back to school badly, and i've learned a lot about what i actually want out of college. however, the school returned my federal loans (of course) and i owe them a pretty hefty sum before i can get my transcripts, so i don't know what my college GPA is yet; but even the best students i've known there have GPAs around 3.4. (i expect mine to hover around 3.1.) however, it was a written-evalutation school, and these evaluations contain glowing commendations of my intellectual ability, but mixed reviews of my work: on one hand, i was "the best- and most consistently-prepared student" in a language class; but from the previous semester, one professor had griped about a paper turned in a week late while i was sick. my recommendations will come from graduates of harvard, princeton, and the committee on social thought at uchi, and i believe they will be strong.
i am currently working three jobs and doing an independent study on the connection between memory and identity (using texts from aristotle, rousseau, locke, augustine, proust, woolf, merleau-ponty, etc; i am also examining the portrayal of this relationship in film and other mediums). i am documenting this study well, and will most likely mention it in transfer applications. i will be working on an organic farm for this upcoming semester, and in the spring i hope to go abroad (for an independent academic program or english-teaching position). transfer apps will go out for fall 2011.
i'm concerned about my shady academic past--being home schooled, leaving college mid-semester not once but twice, etc. and about my financial situation. my family EFC is 0. my dream school in NYU's gallatin school of individualized study, but i'm worried that i'd be applying on a prayer and an essay showing intellectual interest, and of course NYU isn't known for aid even for freshman admits. so i need help finding schools that might take me, questionable history and huge financial need and all, which meet the following criteria:</p>

very urban. within or within quick (20 min. or less--no greater than sarah lawrence's distance to nyc) and easy public transit reach of boston, new york, seattle, san francisco, baltimore, or DC.
i would be willing to look at metropolitan areas like houston, austin, chicago, new orleans, LA, denver, minneapolis/st. paul if a school in one of those places were an outstanding fit, but for the most part the bigger the city, the colder the winters, and the closer to a major harbor, the better.
also, i have a soft spot for gothic architecture (bryn mawr, princeton, yale) and an ugly main library could be a dealbreaker.
i'm going to study some combination of philosophy/critical theory/social thought/history of ideas, cognitive science (more philosophy/psychology/linguistics than computer science), and european cultural studies. i want to be able to study a wide range of disciplines, however--i want instruction in the hard sciences and in mathematics, in studio arts, and a variety of foreign language courses.
i've found some wonderful-looking interdisciplinary programs in the humanities and social sciences: WUSTL's phil-neuro-psych, wesleyan's college of letters, brandeis' history of ideas, u washington's comparitive history of ideas, harvard's hist and lit, etc. of those, i'd have the best shot/be most interested in brandeis and UW.
i'm highly self-motivated and would love true independent study. i'd be into hampshire if it weren't in the middle of land-locked nowhere and its students didn't seem so drug-addled and listless. i do want to get into grad school, after all.
school type--
i want my fellow students to be fiercely passionate about learning. if i read rousseau in my spare time, i'm not going to be happy surrounded by vapid tramps prancing around in ugg boots and watching grey's anatomy while complaining about the one paper they'll have to write for their psych class this semester. i don't want everyone to read rousseau in their spare time, but i want to be surrounded by people with real interests that they've worked had to cultivate and to pursue with honest inquiry. i know this has been discussed time and time again on CC, but i'm really not interested in going to a pre-professional mill cloaked as an academic elite. although i wouldn't want to go to shimer or thomas aquinas or some other replica of the st. john's model, i do love the great books/primary source/classical education, and a core a la uchicago or columbia could be great. it seems like the core schools and the open curriculum schools are those most frequently called intellectual (plus reed and swat, i guess).
not a religious school. i could be fine with the Jesuits or Jews, but no evangelicals. i've lived in the bible belt my whole life, and i'm over it. don't really want a sports-oriented school at all, no frats; i'd be happy with kids that work hard-party hard, but am mostly looking for a dynamic, diverse, hard-working, passionate, and, above all, NEVER BORING student body.
also, i'd kind of like to avoid stand-alone LACs--i'm sure some have great resources (williams, amherst, etc), but they're both out of reach and far too rural for me. a LAC-style school within a bigger U is ideal. (Or a consortium--the amherst five-col is too rural; claremont too warm, too rural; bryn-swat-hav might be good, but i'm not incredibly excited about any of their programs).
financial aid--
in some ways the most important factor, though i think i'd rather stay a drop-out than go to my state flagship. i'll need 95-100% of need met no matter where i go, including meal plan and dorm room and all. minimal loans would be incredible.
i want to work in social policy/for a think tank, and will most likely pursue a doctorate and/or law degree after my BA.
so, for all of this, here are the schools that i am interested in applying to but don't know if they'd absolutely be throwaway applications or not:
NYU Gallatin
U Chicago
U Washington
Eugene Lang
Bryn Mawr
of which all but Gallatin feels like a compromise, and none is a safety. I'm almost to the point where I think I'll only apply to Franklin College in Lugano, Switzerland and Gallatin, and if I don't get into/get aid for the latter, I'll completely forgo real academics and have a hell of a time for the next 3 or so years.
Any advice, school suggestions, chances, etc would be greatly appreciated. (Particularly welcome is advice on how to explain the more gruesome reason I had to leave mid-semester twice without seeming whiny or tasteless, like I do in this thread.) I'd be open to going to a uni abroad (although I know the UK at least does not give fin aid to US students.) I think I've read up on every somewhat-known school in the country, looked into every possibility, and all have paled beside Gallatin, but if someone can convince me that Lang or Hampshire or what have you would be okay, please do. I'll greatly appreciate any responses.</p>

<p>Essentially, I'm looking for a very urban, intellectual, LAC-style education within a larger university--preferably a feeder for top grad schools--that is strong in humanities and packed with resources for social research, that would understand my capability and passion despite a jagged transcript/resume, and that offers damn good aid for poor transfer kids.</p>

<p>The U of C would be a fabulous fit for you intellectually, and they might give you a look if you can write a compelling essay (you have plenty of material to write about). The architecture is Gothic, and the libraries are amazing. Your college GPA is a problem, of course, and getting funding is going to be really hard as a transfer anywhere. I'm sorry that you had all those terrible experiences. Good luck!</p>

<p>I don't know about the environment, but check out New College of Florida. Although it doesn't meet all your criteria, it might be perfect anyway.</p>

<p>Am I the only one who thinks this is a troll?</p>

<p>Thanks greennblue and GeekMom. And Erin's Dad, I couldn't make this up. Sorry if it seems unreasonable.</p>

<p>i'm saying uchicago as well. my gpa was relatively bad (3.17,) but mitigating factors were there, and i could communicate those effectively. i got an absolutely unbelievable aid package, and i'd have graduated debt free if i hadn't mucked it up.
so yeah, i most certainly believe that an application to UofC wouldn't be a throwaway in the least. lots of places talk about holistic this/that/the other thing as far as admissions go, but UofC's really the only place i take seriously in that regard. uc does have frats and sororities (most frats have their own houses along university & woodlawn aves.; the sororities don't have houses of their own,) but i can tell you that you often wouldn't be able to point out the brothers in a random selection of people. the sisters might be another story. =P </p>

<p>where do you feel you're compromising in considering UC?</p>

<p>as far as your opinion of perpetually blazed and bloody-nosed hampshire is concerned - it's a stereotype, and it's not entirely accurate. shift that over to reed, though, and i think you'd be spot on. going to hampshire definitely does not amount to signing a grad school deathwish. that said, i grew up and still live down the road, and while the valley's a good fit weather-wise, i think i know where you're coming from with the being-on-water-ness. about its being rural, though; while hampshire does feel and is a bit more isolated than the rest of the 5 colleges, they're all easy to get to. boston isn't all that big either, and especially during the school year, you really do have a lot of the same cultural opportunities in western mass as you'd have in a major metro area. i would advise against BU, personally, but all i have to go on myself is the experience i had when i sat in on a third-year english class. i could probably put you in touch with someone who actually went there, should you be interested.</p>