Reed means being smart. Smart, in the biggest, most complicated, inspiring, and open
sense of the word. Smart in the sense of taking risks, of seeking challenges, and of seeing in any
answer an infinite array of more interesting questions. Smart in taking nothing for granted, and
asking every day, “What does it mean to learn, to communicate ideas, to seek understanding?”
The 1,350 students who congregate on Reed’s 100-acre campus share a singular passion
for learning in an academic environment that is as known for its intense intellectual rigor as it is for its out-of-the-box, open-minded, and liberal students. For many, Reed’s mixture of
classical learning and independent living seems like a contradiction in terms; for those who
see college as an adventure for the mind, as a challenge for the self, and as an opportunity to
learn not for profit but for the intrinsic value of knowledge, Reed makes perfect sense.
What, then, of a school that seeks to capture and cultivate smartness?
Intensity can exist without senseless competition. At Reed, grades exist, but they
aren’t reported on individual assignments or placed on report cards. Students produce
work because they value success as a measure of understanding. Classrooms come into
being as spaces for discussion, where professors, called by their first names, guide studentdriven
inquiry. There are no honors programs, no dean’s lists, or any exclusive club, organization,
fraternity, or sorority—no NCAA or varsity athletics, either.
Trust creates true community. Students, faculty, and staff alike are governed by the
Honor Principle, an unwritten commitment that takes the place of arbitrary rules and regulations.
You’re expected to act honestly and with regard for the community in all matters,
academic as well as social. From the college’s founding, this has meant that tests and examinations
need not be proctored; you’re as likely to take your chemistry test in the library as
you are to take it on the front lawn. In all matters, students must engage disagreement
rather than support divisiveness. An all-student judicial board, chosen by student representatives,
provides for true peer review.
Fun exists. Reedies take learning seriously, but they also, refreshingly, remember not
to take themselves too seriously. There’s a college newspaper as well as a comic book
library. And each year, students celebrate the Seventh Annual Nitrogen Day, a tribute to
that element’s unique triple bond.
And while Reed can’t claim responsibility for Portland, the city that hosts the college’s
splendidly green campus is also known for its smartness. An award-winning public
transportation system connects you to a vibrant downtown and to the city’s many neighborhoods,
whether you want to eat a great meal, go to a concert, or explore Forest Park’s
many miles of hiking trails.
Reed offers a distinctive liberal arts education
for students who seek smartness in its many forms.
First and foremost, you’ve got to enjoy academic work and find fulfillment through intellectual
inquiry. Reed mixes irreverence, creativity, and a dedication to community in a way that makes
education an ongoing and open question. The combination of classical learning with extensive
personal freedom fuels a continuous creation of diverse and meaningful experience. Smart, liberal,
and passionate, Reedies shun consumption and senseless competition and embrace production
and collegiality, limited only by their imaginations.
Legends abound as to the amount and the difficulty of the work at Reed. Some have
used the metaphor of boot camp. Those less militaristic and more existential have offered
the myth of Sisyphus. Don’t be afraid, though, of the hyperbole. There’s no doubt that the
academics are hard, that expectations are high, and that people take thinking seriously. At
the same time, you’re aren’t thrown in the deep end and expected to know everything on
the first day of class. Above all, you need to be interested in and engaged by learning. With
that in mind, you’ll find the challenges and satisfaction of studying at Reed to be as amazing
as anything you might imagine.
Reed values the classical model of a liberal arts education, based on a requirement
structure meant to ensure both breadth and depth in each student’s program of study.
Tradition also reigns within the college’s department structure, with very few “interdisciplinary”
or topical majors offered. The professors at Reed feel seriously that students need a grounding in their chosen major, with a comprehensive
introduction to the various methods and theories of
that discipline, past and present. This preparation
gives you a solid foundation for the challenges you’ll
face and the independence you’ll be given in upperdivision
coursework. Such focused introductions don’t
breed singularity of thought, however. Instead, they
provide the basis for seriously considering similarities
and differences in the various ways scholars both ask
and answer questions. With this preparation, it’s no
wonder that Reed graduates have such a fantastic track
record for success in graduate school.
Classes, Professors, and Evaluations
One of the greatest parts of learning at Reed comes in the small, conference-based
classroom environment that predominates on campus. Conferences at Reed average
fifteen students, and all are taught by members of the faculty. You’re expected to be as
active, involved and engaged as anyone around the table, including the professor. For
starters, you can abandon the high school foolishness of hand raising. All students, shy and
extroverted alike, develop their skills as conference participants during their time at Reed.
Each meeting offers its own vibrancy and originality, and above all, you are learning how to
think in harmony with others, how to ask questions and articulate your ideas.
Faculty at Reed are called by their first names, and this openness exemplifies the
interest and support they offer students. You have a faculty member as an academic advisor
from the day you step on campus, and you can easily change advisors if your interests
shift or you develop a connection with another professor. Every professor hosts many office
hours each week, and e-mails receive quick yet thoughtful replies, sometimes even at two
in the morning.
Because letter or number grades are not noted on your assignments, faculty evaluate
your work with extensive and detailed comments. The criticism is as plentiful as it is constructive.
You’re called to task on the strength and logic of your arguments, on the evidence you used or might have used. And you’re also given encouragement to further your strengths
and develop your own original questions, in the classroom, library, and laboratory.
When I started at Reed, I figured I would check my grades at the end of
first semester, just to get a sense of how I was doing. When the time came, though,
I had no interest in asking. My whole sense of not only how I learned, but
why I was in school, what it meant to be successful, had begun to change. After
four years, I can’t imagine what it would be like to know your grades while in
school, to be in an environment where people talked about or even worse were
competitive about them.
The summer before you arrive at Reed, the alumni association sends you a copy of
Richmond Lattimore’s verse translation of Homer’s Iliad. With this text, new Reedies
begin the shared and enduring experience of the required year-long introductory humanities
course that focuses on ancient Greece in the first semester, and Imperial Rome and the rise
of Christendom in the second. Course material consists mostly of primary sources in all classical
fields, including art, with a minimum of secondary sources. Hum 110, as the course is
known, has two distinct components. First, three times a week, the entire first-year class
comes together for a lecture from one of the twenty or so faculty members drawn from a variety
of departments who are teaching the course. You hear well-researched and thoughtprovoking
talks that cover a given text or combination of works, offering useful contextual
information as well as arguments on how you might develop your own interpretations. Second,
each student is a member of a small, thirteen- or fourteen-student conference, led by one of
the professors in the course. Conferences can vary in character depending on the home discipline
of the professor, who might be a philosopher, political scientist, or art historian, yet all
share the same syllabus and paper deadlines. In Hum 110, you learn as much about the classical
humanities as you do about writing well, receiving academic feedback on your work, and
participating in the conference environment.
Part of attending Reed means having a broad interest in ideas and learning, and the curricular
group requirements provide structure for ensuring breadth in each student’s education. A total of ten of the thirty units required for
graduation are given to these requirements; most
semester-long courses are valued at one unit. Two units
must be taken from one department within each of four
groups: literature, arts, philosophy, and religion; history,
the social sciences, and psychology; laboratory
courses in physics, chemistry, or biology; and, mathematics
or a foreign language. In addition, students must
also complete two more units in any single department
outside the students major department. Though there
is no specific order or timeline for taking these requirements,
most students concentrate on them during their
first two years at Reed, the advantage being that you gain exposure to a variety of different
fields before choosing a major at the end of sophomore year.
Studying Off Campus
Close to thirty established foreign and domestic exchange programs allow Reedies the
opportunity to study away from campus for either a semester or a full year. All of the programs
are arranged in coordination with the faculty to support an aspect of the college’s academic
program. For instance, if you’re studying Islam in the religion department, you might
choose to take a semester intensively studying Arabic at the Al Akhawayn University in
Morroco. Some programs offer more general opportunities for your exchange program, such
as a year at Wadham College, Oxford, or at Ireland’s Trinity College. Because each program
has a direct tie with Reed, students are assured that they will have a meaningful experience,
and years of established relationships give Reedies access to the fullest privileges at partner
institutions. In addition, the International Programs Office will work with students to craft
any number of additional opportunities that suit a student’s particular interests. Unlike the
established programs, however, those that you devise on your own are not covered by the college’s
financial aid packages. Because of the general curricular requirements that each student
needs to complete, fitting a study abroad year into your time at Reed can take some
planning, so it’s worthwhile beginning to develop your plan for an exchange early on in your
time at Reed. Many Reedies also choose to take time off to travel rather than participating in an official program, and the college is very flexible in granting leaves of absence. While a
very different sort of experience, an independent adventure can often provide for some
refreshing time away from the routines of a traditional academic semester.
The Junior Qualifying Examination
Before students can begin their senior year, they must pass a junior qualifying examination
proctored by their major department. The “qual,” as it’s known, can vary widely in
format from department to department, yet all are designed to test students’ initial mastery
of the skills and methods of their chosen field. The exams don’t generally target a specific
body of information that you need to cram into your brain in order to get through the test.
Mostly, they are concerned with seeing if you’ve begun to get a handle on the way scholars in
your department do research and communicate their findings, and the various methods and
traditions that inform their work. Some departments, such as history and English, require
specific Junior Seminar courses that play a role in preparing students for the exam. In all
cases, the faculty of each department meets to discuss students’ performance on their exams,
as well as their work in the courses they’ve had up to this point. With solid focus and preparation,
the vast majority of students pass their qual outright the first time they take the exam.
Some receive what is called a conditional pass; in this case, you need to meet a specific stipulation,
such as retaking a particular section of the exam or taking a class in a particular area.
For students, the qual serves as a good time to think about your particular interests in your
major, and look toward a topic you might like to explore in your senior thesis.
The Senior Thesis
Your thesis is a defining experience of your time at Reed. Along with two or three other
classes in your senior year, you are given the opportunity to embark on a sustained and
original piece of scholarship on a topic of your choice in your major. You have an advisor
specifically for your thesis, and you’re given the independence to shape your inquiry in a
manner you find most engaging. Depending on your field, you usually complete one of three
types of theses: experimental, research-analytical, or creative. Generally, those in the sciences
take the experimental route; they get lab space for the year where they can base their
work. If you’re writing in literature, the humanities, or social sciences, you get a thesis desk
in the library. Studio space in the art building or access to the theater or dance studio is
given to those who do a creative thesis in the arts.
Wherever your thesis project lands you, the space inevitably becomes a home away
from home, with decorations, stashes of food, reminders to call your family, and an accumulation of coffee cups that helps as a material reminder of
your progress. There are also funds available if your project
requires travel away from campus, such as visiting
an archive, doing fieldwork, or using lab equipment
that’s not available at Reed.
Thesis means getting your hands dirty as a
scholar, and Reedies produce amazing work that
expresses their passion for thinking, for developing
their ideas, and sharing them with others. Many a latenight
conversation revolves around how everything in
the world can be explained through your topic; the brilliance
of this is that you present your case as eagerly as
you listen to your friends explain theirs. Thesis gives
you frustration and revelation and challenge, and ultimately,
an unmatched experience for seeing how much
you are able to accomplish through the cumulative
education you’ve received in your time at Reed.
All theses are due to the college registrar by three o’clock on the last day of the
semester, an event that is marked by Thesis Parade, an extraordinary celebration in which
the community fetes all the seniors who have completed their projects. In the spring semester,
the annual weekend-long Renaissance (Renn) Fayre celebration follows this ritual
event. Later, during exam week, all students present their work for oral examination by a
panel or four or five faculty members, including their thesis advisor. Tradition dictates that
students bring plentiful refreshments for their orals board, and respond to two hours of faculty
questioning. Orals mark the final completion of your thesis, confirmed with a handshake
and congratulations from your advisor.
Reed is the only undergraduate college
with a nuclear reactor, one of the many
resources that support the college’s extraordinary
science program. The 250 kW
TRIGA research reactor is the only one in
the world that is primarily operated by students
(science majors as well as students
of English and religion, among other
departments), all of whom are licensed by
the nuclear regulatory commission.
Reed’s reactor also has more licensed
female operators than all other research
The Greek word for learning, Paideia also
names the ten days before the start of
spring semester at Reed, a time when students
organize and teach a diverse program
of classes and seminars on pretty
much anything. Some of the hundreds of
recent course offerings include: Tree-
Sitting 101, Underwater Basket Weaving,
Notebook Binding, Inside the Animal
Mind, Bad Faulkner, Ben and Jerry’s
Appreciation, Introduction to Photoshop,
Catapult Construction Competition, and
Japanese Monster Movies.
Most Popular Fields of Study
For more than ten years now, Reed has openly refused to participate in annual college
rankings, a fact that captures the college’s attitude toward admission. Rather than rely on
arbitrary numbers, presumptions of status and prestige, and the notion that colleges, like toasters or television sets, can be ranked from best to worst, Reed wants to be judged on its
merits and chosen by students with a true interest in the education it offers. There is no one
single Reed, either, in numbers, guidebooks, or online message boards, so you should explore
as many angles of vision as possible to discover the school’s distinctive character. Ideally, a
campus visit offers the most comprehensive picture. You can meet students, go on a tour, and
find out that the food is actually quite good. During the school year, you can sit in on classes
and spend a night in the dorms. If you’re not able to get to Portland, you should see if an
admissions representative is traveling to your area, as interviews are offered in cities across
the country in late summer and throughout the fall. Alumni interviews are also widely available.
Check out the school’s Web site, including the trees of Reed which document over 100
species of trees found on campus as well as individual student and professors’ pages. There
are as many sorts of Reedies and Reed experiences as there are students on campus, so look
to discover and enjoy both diversity and coherence in your explorations.
On the college’s end, Reed seeks to admit students with the same desire and ability
for smartness that underlies the existing community. For starters, this assures that getting
in is not a numbers game. Nor is it a matter of finding that most perfectly “well-rounded”
person, as if the spherical was somehow the most nobly lived life. Reed is notable for “taking
risks” with applicants who may be far from perfect on paper, but who have demonstrated
in any number of ways their readiness and ability for success at Reed.
When I was looking at schools, Reed was the one college that didn’t try
to impress me with how hard it was to get in, or to suggest that only some cadre
of saintly elite might be worthy of admission. Everyone I spoke to wanted to
know what I was interested in, how I thought about things, and why I wanted to
go to college. Reed didn’t mix up education with pretension or exclusivity; it just
asked that I be interested in ideas, want to learn, and be willing to share in challenging
work. It seemed so simple an idea yet Reed was the only place I could
find such honesty. And they had fun, too.
What Is Important?
At the same time, there are some familiar truisms that, much more often than not, carry
the day. The better you do in high school, especially taking the most challenging courses
offered by your school, the better your chances for admission. There are no specific curricular requirements, though it’s recommended that you have multiple years of coursework in all
the major core subjects such as English, social studies, math, science, and foreign language.
Involvement and extracurricular activities matter, though demonstrable passion, intellectualism,
commitment, and thoughtfulness of involvement always triumph over resume building.
Diversity of background, experience, and identity, including race, ethnicity, and gender
play an important role in admission and in the larger Reed community.
First-year students can apply to Reed under either the November 15 or December 20 Early
Decision options, both of which are binding, or at the January 15 Regular Admission deadline.
Transfer students are to submit applications by March 1. If you’re certain that you want to
attend Reed, applying Early Decision can give your application added advantage in demonstrating
your commitment. All admission options require the general Common Application
form and supporting materials such as teacher recommendations and so forth. Also required
are results from either the SAT or ACT and the Reed supplement form, a graded writing sample,
and an essay that answers, “Why Reed?” This last piece is quite important; you should use
your essay to demonstrate your understanding of the school, most importantly by showing how
you imagine yourself at Reed. You’re not being asked to write propaganda; instead, have fun and
describe the potential adventures, challenges, and successes that draw you to the college.
The best colleges and universities tend to be very expensive, and Reed is no exception
to that rule. At the same time, the college is extremely committed to making its education
accessible to students from all economic backgrounds. To do this, Reed offers entirely needbased
financial aid that covers tuition, room, board, college fees, and other related expenses,
and will meet one hundred percent of the demonstrated financial need of all accepted students.
Need is determined by the Financial Aid Office using information from the FAFSA and
Profile forms. Over half of current students receive aid, which is composed primarily of grants;
it also includes loans and, in addition, gives students the opportunity to use any campus job toward their small work-study contribution. The average
aid package is well over $30,000. Another benefit of
being a small school, Reed’s Financial Aid Office can
take the time to assist each student in maximizing the
available resources for studying at Reed.
In the early 1990s, Betty Gray, a long-time
Reed benefactor, donated many millions
of dollars for sponsoring fun activities on
campus and adventures around the
Northwest. A student, faculty, and staff
committee plans events that have included
bringing singer Ani DiFranco, historian
and activist Howard Zinn, and spoken
word poet Saul Williams to campus.
Additionally, the Gray Fund sponsors trips
almost every weekend, from white-water
rafting adventures to trips to the Oregon
coast or an afternoon at the art museum or
movies. And the best part is, all trips are
completely free—usually with an abundance
of great food, too.
Student Financial Aid Details
Reedies’ passions extend far beyond the classroom, and the myriad of organizations,
activities, and events occurring on campus testify to their creativity and involvement. Campus
life occurs within these webs of interest, with people engaging one another in refreshingly genuine terms. With no exclusive clubs or organizations,
such as fraternities, sororities, and NCAA athletics,
community at Reed has a true sense of
openness and opportunity.
Though it’s not technically a requirement, pretty
much every first-year student lives on campus.
Dorms vary in size and location on campus, and generally
the word actually designates the specific floor
on which a student lives rather than an entire building.
All dorms have students from every class year,
and except for one all-women’s floor, are coed. Most
first-year students share what’s called a “divided
double,” composed of an inner and outer room, the
latter with a door to the hallway. On average, the
rooms are generously large, and give you the benefit
of both having a roommate and also getting your own
space. Upper-class students have single rooms and participate in a housing lottery that
decides who gets to pick their room on campus first—those with fireplaces tend to get
snapped up early. Some dorms have designated themes, recently including film appreciation,
community service, and one called “Running with Scissors” that sponsored lots of children’s
games. Language houses, each with a native speaker in residence, exist for the five
modern languages taught at Reed. The college also owns a number of apartments on the
west edge of campus, and this is a popular alternative to the dorms, one that doesn’t
require students to stay on campus. All dorms have upper-class students serving as house
advisors, usually called dorm “moms” and “dads.”
About a third of students live off campus, a number of them in “Reed Houses” near
the school. Original names such as “The Fridge” or “Red Barn” offer testimony to their having
been occupied by Reedies for as long as anyone can remember. Most students walk,
bike, or bus to campus, but there are no restrictions on having a car. Reed provides a nightly
van service that will take you to your off-campus house until 2:30 each morning.
At the beginning of each semester, the student senate initiates a funding poll, and any
organization that wants student body funds—new or well established—must submit
an entry in the poll. Every student on campus has a chance to vote preferentially on all of
the proposals. Groups that receive the most student support receive priority in presenting
their ideas to the student senate during funding circus, which in turn divvies up close to
$200,000 each year. This open and directly democratic system reflects the autonomy given
to students in governing campus life, and also assures that anyone with an idea has a
chance to see it happen. Groups such as the campus newspaper, radio station, multicultural
resource center, outdoor club, and political organizations always receive significant support.
More exceptional groups have been created under banners such as the motorized
couch collective, cookies for campus, and midnight theater.
I’ve always been amazed by how much goes on at Reed. It’s sort of like
an incubator for people’s passions, and that means it’s never boring. One weekend
a group of students turned the student union into a Nerf palace. Another
group brought a mechanical bull to campus, for anyone who wanted to give it a
whirl. And these are the same people who are licensed to operate the nuclear
reactor, who have spent time researching plant fauna in Nepal, who developed a
community exchange with a town in Nicaragua. As involved as I was, I also
would just smile at the fact that so many people where getting to see their ideas
take shape and participate in so many different activities.
Reedies enjoy a remarkably large amount of freedom when it comes to campus life. Very
few rules exist, and students respect this privilege by taking an active responsibility for
their own conduct. The honor principle originated, and still thrives, as a hallmark of academic
honesty. Professors opt not to proctor examinations, for instance, as an indication of the
general trust extended to students for completing all of their work honestly and in good faith
as assigned. More broadly, the honor principle has become a terms to designate the way of life
agreed upon by all community members. Not a code of conduct to be adhered to—in fact, the
honor principle isn’t codified or written down at all—students instead have a responsibility
for being aware of their actions and of the comfort and well-being of those around them.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
Playing sports at Reed means having fun more than anything else. A few competitive
teams exist, most notably the very successful female rugby team, along with Ultimate
Frisbee, basketball, and squash. While there certainly isn’t any jock culture on campus,
Reedies do a good job of staying active, though generally through life sports such as tennis,
squash, or hiking. Reed students must fulfill a general physical education requirement as
well, and the available courses defy anything you might have found in high school gym class.
Offerings include yoga, skiing at nearby Mt. Hood, canoeing, juggling, dance, SCUBA certification,
and much more, assuring that there is something to suit everyone’s interest.
Following the spring semester thesis
parade, the entire Reed campus celebrates
a weekend-long festival known as
Renn Fayre. Inspired by the fairs of the
European Renaissance, current Reedies
transform the entire campus with decorations
and continuous activities. Rooms are
entirely filled with balloons for your romping
pleasure, teams vie to win the softball
tournament, and bands play day and night
in the student union. Each year, Glo-Opera
presents an after-dark performance animated
entirely with glow-sticks, a humorous
skit that creatively adapts in Reed
spirit stories such as Calvin and Hobbes,
Where the Wild Things Are, or Harold and
the Purple Crayon. Creativity and imagination
reign as Reedies pay tribute to the
best of a modern Rabelaisian spirit.
Reed graduates take on the world with the same
intellectual, creative, and open-minded energy that
defined their undergraduate education. Success for
Reedies means finding satisfaction and fulfillment in
the challenges of the world, and little judgment exists
as to whether that ought to mean starting your own
organic farm, becoming a professor, or making your way
in the marketplace. While there are no business or preprofessional programs on campus, many
alumni have made successful careers in business, law, and medicine. Nearly ten percent of
alumni are practicing artists or have direct involvement in the arts. A large contingent of graduates
work for nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations, from international agencies such
as the United Nations to smaller community-driven efforts. Most often, Reedies pursue careers
in education at all levels and in any manner of ways.
Almost three years after finishing Reed, I am still struck by how transformative
an experience I enjoyed while in college. The amount of possibilities I
see in the world, the amazing diversity of friends I made who have found such
interesting paths to follow, make me realize exactly how Reed empowers your education.
The personal rewards of independent thinking, of being critically aware,
provide a bridge between the academic and the practical, the theoretical and the
everyday. That bridge isn’t handed to you; it’s something that you begin building
at Reed and continue to recognize in everything you do, always finding innovation
and insight in whatever challenges you confront, whether at your job, taking
action in your community, or simply continuing to explore the world.
No matter what path is chosen, Reed graduates
more often than not attend graduate school, regularly
gaining acceptance to the best programs in the
country. In fact, nearly three out of every four alumni
have earned a graduate degree, and one quarter of all
graduates have a Ph.D. Reed’s tremendous legacy of
academic and intellectual achievement has included
widespread recognition for its alumni, including
thirty-one Rhodes Scholarships, sixty-four Watson
fellowships, twenty-five Mellon awards, and two
MacArthur “Genius grants.”
- Gary Snyder, ’51, Pulitzer Prizewinning
- Barbara Ehrenreich, ’63, Writer and
Author of Nickled and Dimed
- Barry Hansen, ’63, a.k.a. “Dr.
Demento,” Musicologist and
- Peter Norton, ’65, Founder of Norton
Computer Software Company
- Richard Danzia ’65, Deputy Secretary
- Janet Fitch, ’78, Novelist and Author
of White Oleander
- Gina Turrigiano, ’84, Professor of
Biology, winner of MacArthur “Genius
- Jennifer Ferenstein, ’88, President of
the Sierra Club