Schreiben College (my ideal school)


1/31/2008 Kenneth Burchfiel

From the moment they arrive on campus, students at Schreiben University know that they’re in for something special. On the edge of a snow-covered hill

in central Vermont, Schreiben overlooks a vast array of mountains that serve up opportunities for hiking, skiing and even a little ice fishing. The real story,

though, lies inside the college’s walls.

“There’s probably nothing like it, and that’s what I love about it,” one sophomore said. In some respects, Schreiben is a typical liberal arts school.

It’s small, with 1,747 undergraduates and some 120 professors. It focuses mainly on the humanities, and offers few courses in business administration

or law. The rest of the school is like none other–from the campus architecture to its academic approach. As one student put it, “You can sort the nation’s

colleges into two groups: Schreiben, and the other three thousand.”

A cozy campus

Most colleges, these days, boast modern campuses with world-renowned architecture. At Schreiben, the architecture is just as striking, but for a far

different reason. All but a few of the dorms and halls on campus have a distinctive A-frame look, with wood-and-stone walls, brick fireplaces

and spiral staircases that cut up through the center of each hallway. Most of these buildings have four or five stories, but the largest, Squall

House, has ten. “I live on the top floor of Squall, and it’s insane,” one senior said. “If there’s enough snow, I can jump out of the top window,

slide down the roof and hit a snow bank at the bottom without a scratch.” Another student raved about the dorms for a different reason. “I feel bad for

kids who have to live in utilitarian, ‘modern’ residence halls,” she said. “I want my house to be like this. There’s nothing cozier than a roaring fireplace,

a sloped ceiling and a soft blanket.”

Sled jumps and Supertennis?

Fireplaces and blankets might come in handy. The average January low at Schreiben is 11 degrees, a temperature made none the more comfortable

by the snowstorms that frequent the area. While some students abhor the weather, most seem to fit right in. “I don’t know what I’d do without

snow,” a sled-toting junior said. “You can build jumps at the bottom of your dorm, go to the roof and slide right off them.” Sled jumping might be the

closest thing that Schreiben kids have to an athletics team, though another unorthodox sport ranks close. In “Supertennis,” players stand at opposite

ends of a road or field, racquets in hand, and slam balls from one side to the other. The goal is to hit the ball over the player’s head and past a goal

line for a score, which is easier said than done. “Some people here are really into [Supertennis],” one student commented. “They’ll spend long hours

discussing serve formation while the rest of us are asleep.”

Real dedication

That not-too-extensive list of sports teams may hint at something else: at Schreiben, the focus is on academics, not athletics. With selective admissions

and challenging courses, the small college holds its own when compared to big-name schools further south. Even so, the intellectual environment is

different from any other school. Students can take classes at four different “levels:” overview, comprehensive, focus and dedication. The fourth level

is what has made Schreiben both famous and infamous, as one senior explained. “You can choose to ‘go dedication’ as early as your sophomore year.

Basically, it means that you spend half your waking hours studying, thinking and dreaming about one subject alone. If you pick the wrong subject for

dedication, you’ll experience burnout within weeks, but if you make the right choice, you’ll find yourself surrounded by people with raw passion

for the same course you like.” According to most, upper-level success doesn’t just require skill and focus, but heartfelt appreciation for the subject at hand.

One senior recounted his own dedication saga. “I was an idiot and decided to go D in engineering. After two weeks, I realized that I hated that

course and switched my dedication class to Spanish. I never realized how much I loved foreign language until I found myself next to others who

loved it even more. Of course, I still take engineering as a Comprehensive course.”

Most are quick to explain to skeptics that the dedication system is only half the picture. No matter how skilled or immersed in one course they may

be, students are required to take at least five overview courses and four comprehensive courses each year. Some pass this off as “another dumb

liberal arts requirement,” but most appreciate the chance for academic diversity. “What’s cool is that I’m discovering bits of science in things like

Australian literature and Drama,” a physics dedicate said. Nor do students have to specialize early on. The majority of Schreiberites

take a mix of overview, comprehensive and focus classes until their junior year, when they assume a dedication. Regardless of their path, Schreiben

kids have a reputation for their curious, rather than competitive outlook on learning. One professor found this especially satisfying. “In my focus course,

nobody studies for the grade–there is none–or for the rank–there is none. They’re here because they’re passionate about what I teach. You could say it

rubs off on me.”

The absence of a competitive spirit makes for a friendly, warm, engaging student body. “You get to be pretty good friends with your fellow Dedicates,”

a senior said. “Actually, you get to be pretty good friends with everyone.” It’s that camaraderie, combined with heavy snow, self-driven academics

and, yes, Supertennis that make Schreiben a school without peer. The creative and excitable students here wouldn’t have it any other way.


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