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Pitzer College: Social Activism, Global Perspectives, and Interdisciplinary Learning

With only 950 students, Pitzer College may seem tiny, but its relationships with the other Claremont Colleges allow it to also seem “medium sized.” Originally a women’s school, it went coeducational soon after its establishment, and developed a focus on the social sciences. The curriculum is more free-form than the other Claremonts (e.g., Pomona–see my posts here and here), and Pitzer has the fewest general education requirements.

Unlike most colleges, Pitzer does not have clearly delineated academic departments. Faculty offices are interspersed among the academic buildings, and the mantra is interdisciplinary collaboration. Having been established in the 1960s, Pitzer retains the flavor of that era. Environmental consciousness and activism tend to set it apart: the new dormitories are fabulous examples of green construction, the landscaping is full of native and xeric species, and the feel of the buildings is open and airy.

When asked about the identifying traits of a Pitzer student, the director of admission spoke about “social responsibility” and “global perspective.” Students tend to be interested and engaged in social issues, including human rights, GLBT rights, and animal rights (and their concomitant wrongs). It is one of the few campuses I’ve been on recently that had posters related to the war in Iraq.

This global perspective is also manifest in the strong study abroad programs. Seventy-two percent of students do at least a semester abroad. This is an amazing statistic: most colleges report study abroad statistics to include short, 3-week sojourns abroad. Pitzer students tend to immerse themselves in cultures and languages more than most.

The Grove House, the Pitzer student center, is an early 20th century farm house relocated to the campus. Its mission style architecture and cozy wood paneled interior give it the intimate feel of a coffee house. The new dorms are constructed in a U-shape, with a new student athletic facility and a very welcoming swimming pool gracing the center. There is also an organic garden on campus, replete with a chicken coop.

By the numbers, Pitzer is perhaps slightly easier to get into than the other Claremonts. But the admissions director emphasized that with so many applications, Pitzer is able to concentrate on fit rather than on the numbers. However, Pitzer practices “need aware” admissions, so financial aid is somewhat more limited at Pitzer than at the other colleges, each of which is need blind. Pitzer is also a test optional school for students in the top 10% of their high school class or with a 3.5 GPA. Students can submit a graded essay and a graded math test instead of SAT or ACT scores.

I enjoyed Pitzer very much, and it was helpful to be able to spend enough time wandering the campus to understand that each of the Claremonts has a distinct personality. Just as Hogwarts has several houses with different traits, the Claremont Colleges constitute and interesting amalgam of academic and social characteristics.

Mark Montgomery
Great California College Advice

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