Evergreen State College (Olympia, WA)

Outside the Bay Area

Parent Q&A

  • Evergreen State College is on my daughter's list of possibilities as well as Cornish School of Art in Seattle. Any comments that could help us make a good decision?



    evergreen was one of the west-coast colleges my son checked out. I think it is one of those "love it or hate it" places, and that that it is either a really good fit for a kid, or they will know that it's just not them. It's a beautiful campus, and seems like it would be a great school if it were the right match for your kid. My son knew immediately it wasn't right for him - too quirky, not alternative in the way he is alternative, too far away from the city, the academic program was too vague - he needs more structure. My very superficial sense is that It seems like a good match for kids who are very self-motivated, confident in themselves, and who have independent in their personal tastes and progressive politically.. If you're familiar with the Colleges That Change Lives book/website, it's one of their schools, which to me is a very good recommendation.

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My son sounds similar and has struggled with ADD and slow information processing,  There ed services have been very helpful.   He also hated high school and traditional academics and has loved Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington.  It is a WUE school so we did get a $3000 fee reduction each year.  Classes are small and there are only narrative evaluations.  He most often has had papers and final projects, not much standard testing.  Classes are integrated so there is only one class to manage, even though there are three subjects. 

My son is a senior and recently told me that he wished that he'd taken a gap year or even two.  He felt like he wasn't really engaged in his studies until late sophomore/early junior year. This quarter, he is doing an independent study and internship.  Feel free to contact me if you have more questions,

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Evergreen-like school in Cali?

April 2016

Dear wise ones (aka fellow parents)

My bright, creative, non-academic son is coming off a rich gap year experience (in India and Africa) and is ready to take his next step in life. I am helping him look for schools that would be a possible fit for a kid like him, and a friend recommended Evergreen State College in Washington. I looked at the website (http://evergreen.edu/) and indeed, it looked like a great potential match... but alas. It is very expensive for out-of-state students, beyond my means. Is there anything in the California state system that resembles Evergreen? That is, a school that dispenses with traditional basic requirements and urges students to pursue their particular interests? Grateful for any leads! Linda

My daughter was accepted to Evergreen, and ultimately decided on another college, but for kids that it is a good fit, it seems like a wonderful place and she has several happy friends there from Berkeley High. I don't believe there is a public college in CA similar to Evergreen, and as you know, the private colleges are quite pricey. In addition, Evergreen offers merit scholarships (not all public schools do, which bring the price below the range of in-state UC tuition. Presumably with need-based financial aid it may be do-able for you. We found that Washington State out-of-state tuition is comparable to in-state UCs. I suggest you call the admissions office and ask about your financial situation. My daughter and friends were offered merit scholarships and none of them were straight-A kids. They accept like 90+% of applicants, but its not a good fit for everyone so their yield is low, and the merit money is essentially a tuition discount to get people to come. Fine schools in the Midwest do the same thing- it is not a reflection on the quality of the education. Anon

Our son is thinking about applying to Evergreen

May 2011

Our son is thinking about applying to Evergreen. Does anyone have personal experience with this school. Our son lacks motivation if he is not really excited about a class and a teacher. He likes very interesting classes, but is not especially self-directed. What is this school really like and who succeeds there? anon

My son just finished his freshman year at Evergreen, and it was a wonderful experience. He is creative and very bright, but has never been motivated by grades. If he doesn't like a class or a teacher, he doesn't put forth much effort, and his high school transcript reflected that. It has been liberating for him to be free of grades at Evergreen. His professors have definitely held him accountable though--the narrative evaluations are quite comprehensive. The work load is respectable, and can even be heavy. Because the student-professor ratio is small (generally one prof for every 24 students), and classes are taught seminar style, it's almost impossible to fly under the radar. Students have to come to class, and it's pretty obvious if they slack off.

It has also been wonderful for my son to have no general education requirements. He was able to jump right into the writing and film programs he was interested in taking. However, it can be very difficult to get your first choice program. Because all the programs are interdisciplinary, students often find themselves enrolled in programs that include some subject matter that they don't really want to study. It's just not really true that you can spend four years there and escape studying subjects you aren't interested in. The classes are very engaging though, and students often discover new passions.

Student life at Evergreen is pretty good. The campus is safe and beautiful, located outside of Olympia with 1000 acres of forest and a slice of beach on Puget Sound. It is very socially accepting, and there are lots of alternative kids there, mixing freely with more traditional types. Be warned though, there is a pretty heavy drug scene at Evergreen--mainly pot and hallucinogens. Also, the climate can become an issue, especially for kids prone to depression. It rains constantly, and can be very dark during the winter days. Although most kids get used to the weather, some struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder. The dorms are generally pretty nice, and lots of freshmen are able to get single rooms in six bedroom suites. The food really leaves something to be desired, even after the school built a gorgeous new cafeteria. Hopefully, that will improve.

My son is thriving at Evergreen, and has made tons of friends. There are plenty of Bay Area kids there, which makes the transition easier. In some ways, it feels like a small (albeit very eclectic) private college. Even with out-of-state tuition, the price tag is much less. For the right kid, it is an amazing choice. Good luck! Happy Evergreen Mom

My son is just finishing up his first year at Evergreen. I recently flew up to visit him and got a better feel for the school. My son, who transfered in as a sophomore, has been frustrated that he did not get into the music classes he wanted this year. But he hung in there and took a variety of courses and is doing well. He enjoys his professors. He has already registered for fall and got into his top choices of music classes. My son mentioned that many students at Evergreen are adrift, not particularly motivated, and smoking a lot of weed. I think the school appeals to free-thinking, creative types. Feel free to contact me with questions. Wilma

Hi - My son is starting as a freshman next year at Evergreen. It's an alternative liberal arts college that is one of the Washington State schools. We're really excited. It's listed as one of the ''Colleges that Change Lives,'' http://www.ctcl.org/colleges/evergreen. There are no grades, most courses are interdisciplinary, and there are student-designed ''programs'' rather than majors. My impression (from talking with people, reading the materials and visiting): Great for self-directed students and those who thrive with hands-on work and collaboration. An emphasis on non-traditional learning methods -- lots of class discussion & projects, rather than exams, for the most part. No huge lectures. My son was inspired when we went to visit and met a couple of the faculty in his area of interest by their passionate commitment to teaching. Downsides: students can drift if not self-motivated, and we hear there is a significant drug scene (true, however, at lots of colleges). Future Geoduck Parent

Our son is finishing his junior year at Evergreen. He has loved the school and been extremely engaged in his education. Mainly, students take one class each quarter and many different topics are covered. For instance, a science class may include everything from statistics, video production, writing seminars as well as week long camping trips. Group projects are also a large part of the curriculum. Without mandatory classes, each student is free to create his own program, so it is very important to continually get advice from advisors and professors. If a student is not motivated, it can be difficult to succeed with the loose structure, but that being said, your son may find both the environment and style of teaching very motivating. If you visit, do so on one of their special orientations as you have access to many administrators, professors and students. Feel free to email me and we can set up a time to talk.........my son would also be willing to talk with your son. Melissa

If you don't want to pay for a private college counselor, and you can't get an appointment with your child's high school counselor, he/she and the high school library will surely have several 2010 books (also available online) with independent and student opinions on selected colleges. The Underground Guide to Colleges comes to mind.

Basic comparative info on colleges (cost, test scores, size) is available free on the College Board's website.

I've heard Evergreen is smallish, a beautiful campus, far away, and a place where students plan their own curriculum (that's on the college's own website). Ask around to find some local students who go there. Of the three I know, one transferred out to another school for a better music program. Good luck!

Loren Pope has written two books about applying to colleges and I encourage you to read them. Looking Beyond the Ivies and 40 Colleges That Change Lives. He likes Evergreen.

Looking Beyond the Ivies will help you feel much better about the college application process. I think there's quite a bit of wisdom in that small book.

Good luck and try not to get too caught up in the application and selection madness. There are plenty of good schools out there and hopefully he'll find a good fit. mother of a rising senior