At the center of a Grinnell education is intensive mentoring of students by the faculty. This mentoring begins in the First-Year Tutorial, the only required course at Grinnell College. While faculty members from all academic departments teach the tutorial and their topics vary widely, every tutorial emphasizes writing, critical thinking and analysis, oral discussion skills, and information literacy. Each tutor also serves as adviser to the tutorial students until they declare a major field of study. Thus, students receive guidance from an instructor with personal knowledge of their academic interests, aptitudes, and needs. The tutorial is usually limited to 12 students, making it smaller than the average class, though similar in intensity to the rest of the curriculum. In keeping with the mentoring approach, Grinnell classes generally are small, with an average enrollment of 16 and fewer than 9 percent of classes above 30 students. Many academic programs offer a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP), either as independent study or in the context of a seminar. The MAP, closely guided by a faculty director, gives upper-level students the opportunity to culminate a sequence of academic work by completing an advanced project in research or creative arts.
At all levels of the curriculum, Grinnell College students receive an education rooted in active experience. For example, students in science classes engage in discovery-based learning, even at the introductory level. Each area of the fine arts offers opportunities for creative practice alongside the study of history, theory, and formal analysis. Outside the classroom, the Career Development Office has coordinated more than 500 College-funded summer internships for students over the past five years. About a third of students participate in intercollegiate athletics through membership on varsity teams. Student-regulated residence life, another important feature of a Grinnell education, teaches students the pragmatic social skills of self-governance as they live together in community. The College offers a calendar packed with cultural events and activities, including concerts, lectures, theatre, films, and opportunities for volunteer and civic involvement. Grinnell has never had fraternities or sororities; social events are open to all members of the College.
Grinnell’s emphasis on active learning extends to participation in the global community. With international students making up more than 10 percent of the student body and domestic students representing every state, Grinnell offers a geographically and culturally diverse environment for living and learning. A flourishing Center for International Studies coordinates and highlights the many courses and programs at Grinnell College with a global perspective. Even without a language requirement, nearly all students elect to study a foreign language. More than half of Grinnell students (a number matched by very few other colleges) spend a semester in Off-Campus Study. Nearly all of these students decide to live and study outside of the United States.
Above all, Grinnell College entrusts students with an uncommon level of responsibility for their own college experience. Just as self-governance is central to residential life at the College, the responsibility of each student to choose a unique set of courses is central to the way Grinnell organizes its curriculum. Students exercise this responsibility not in isolation, but with the active guidance of their faculty advisers and other faculty mentors.
Intensive teaching, active learning, residence in a community of cultural and global diversity, and self-governance in both social and academic life—these elements come together at Grinnell College to form a distinctive experience of liberal education.