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Studying at Principia College is a unique experience. For one, it is the only college that exists to serve the cause of Christian Science. Many students currently studying on campus have transferred from other colleges around the U.S. and the world. The following transfer students compare their experiences at Principia with other college environments.
Anna Tarnow is in her second year of college. She studied at Bates College in Maine last year. Bates is a liberal arts institution with nearly 2,000 undergraduates. It currently places 22nd on the U.S. News’ national liberal arts college rankings, in which Principia ranks 107th. Tarnow said she transferred to Principia for “mostly personal reasons.”
Concerning the difficulty of academics at the colleges, Tarnow said, “[Bates] gave you a lot more intellectual freedom in assignments.” However, she spends “a lot more hours on homework at Prin.” She said later on in the interview that “I think they’re still figuring out the semester system here … the course load is kind of heavy.” She added, “at Prin, there’s less choice and less freedom because the administration doesn’t really trust students to make balanced decisions with their course load.” It is evident Tarnow has a heavier workload at Principia than she did at Bates, and at Bates they gave her more freedom: “Here, they have a lot of general education requirements, which they didn’t at Bates.”
The social life at Bates was “astronomically different.” According to Tarnow, “at Bates there was a really big party culture, and it kind of consumed everyday life.” She also mentioned that a student died at Bates during her time there after falling down the stairs while drunk. She said, “I know there’s definitely people at Prin who drink … but for the most part, they keep it on the down low.” Tarnow’s experience with the social life at Principia is very different, mainly because of the the lack of alcohol on campus, which means “Prin is very quiet, even on the weekends.”
When asked which college she prefers Tarnow said “there’s good things about both. I definitely like being surrounded by Christian Scientists, and I’m sure I’ll get a good education, but I do miss the number and variety of classes at Bates.”
Devon Carlson, also a second-year student, lives in Brooks. She transferred from Northwestern in Chicago. Northwestern University ranks 12th on U.S. News’ list of National Universities. Carlson transferred because she “was really socially unhappy.” She said “everything felt really superficial and no one was happy … I felt very alone, and knew I needed to focus more on spiritual growth, too.”
On the workload at Principia, Carlson said “my classes here require a lot more busy work than I ever had previously.” She added, “At first, I was a little resentful of this, but I’ve grown to appreciate the fact it keeps me on track.” However, she doesn’t fully agree with the current system: “I think that professors often have unrealistic expectations for the amount of time we should spend on work for their classes … It’s a lot to do.”
On Principia’s professors, Carlson said that the small size of Principia, as well as the whole Christian Science movement in general, “limits Principia’s ability to hire professors with as truly remarkable experience in their fields as those of larger, more renowned universities.”
Carlson talked about the Greek life at her old university, saying that “the fraternity and sorority scene is very popular.” However, she said, “I’m so much more satisfied with social life at Prin. It’s simple and stress-free, and I feel completely comfortable getting to know people here.”
At Northwestern, Carlson explained that though she was a member, she rarely attended the CSO meetings. She said, “there were five of us in total … We weren’t close, either, so it was a little strange.” Her experience at Principia has been drastically different: “I am so happy that I get to share metaphysical ideas with friends on a daily basis. It’s so uplifting and incredibly helpful for constant growth in Christian Science.”
Overall, she said, “I love Principia. Where it falls short, it does not fall far.”
Eric Muneza is a one-year enrichment student. Muneza hails from Rwanda and attended the National University of Rwanda (MUR). MUR is ranked 77th on Webometric’s rankings of African universities.
“Academic life at Principia is very hard,” he said, adding that at his last school, he would do two pieces of homework per course every semester. He explained, “the system of studying here is not the same, since here you choose your courses every semester” instead of at his last university when classes would last for the full four years.
Talking about quality of teachers in the different universities, Eric explained that a lot of the differences have to do with the class sizes. He said, “what is good here is that every teacher knows their students.”
Talking about the nightlife on his campus in Rwanda, Muneza said “there were always parties on Friday … there were sometimes organized international events like cultural events, dancing and so on.”
He also said there “was a CSO that was known to the campus due to different conferences, exhibitions … many students know about Christian Science due to these events.” Muneza suggested the CSO at MUR was a lot more beneficial for him and successful in spreading the message of Christian Science on his campus than CSOs on American campuses.
A transfer from Michigan State University, Marshall McCurties came after the first semester of his freshman year. Michigan State ranks 73rd on U.S. News’ list of National Universities. It is evident that McCurties had a negative experience while at Michigan State.
McCurties said, “academics at Principia are way more rigorous than at Michigan state.” He does not see this as a bad thing, continuing by saying, “the quality of the education I get and the relationships I form with professors are way stronger at Principia.” He questioned the intentions of the teachers at Michigan State, saying, “teachers at Michigan State are there to do research and get published … There is no real teaching going on.” He related that at Principia it is very different: “Teachers here care about you as a person while still holding you up to a high standard of academics.”
On the social life at Michigan State, McCurties shared, “many people party starting Thursday, some start on Wednesday and pretty much party the rest of the week and weekend.” This meant that he felt excluded, “I didn’t have much of a social life [at Michigan State] because I didn’t party, which made it difficult to meet people and get to know them well.”
Although McCurties stayed at an Asher House near Michigan State and attended the Sunday School and Org there, he said “I didn’t experience the spiritual growth at [Michigan State] I have here at Prin … Here, there are wonderful opportunities that I appreciate every day.”
In concluding statements, McCurties said, “I chose Principia, and I would choose it again and again. I believe it is the best education I can get, and am very grateful for it. At the end of college, we all get degrees, but it’s the people, experiences and memories that count, and I know that Principia is the best for that.”
Jay Quaquah is another one-year enrichment student from London. After finishing his degree at Kingston University he decided to come to Principia because to experience education in another country and to evaluate his career choices. Kingston is ranked 100th in The Guardian’s rankings of U.K. universities.
Unlike the rest of the interviewees, Quaquah said “on the whole I do not think that there is a great difference in the difficulty of academics.” However, he admits this may be due to the subjects he’s been studying: “I haven’t studied the same courses in the U.K. and the U.S.”
Although there is little difference in the difficulty of academics for him, Quaquah has a great appreciation of the professors here. He said, “The teachers at Prin are second to none. They are extremely supportive inside and outside of class.” Teachers in his past experience were “strict or very formal.” Quaquah also appreciates the class sizes at Principia: “Class sizes in Principia are smaller than the classes I am used to … This is helpful when I need to ask or answer a question in class and for class discussions.”
Quaquah also mentioned something that other interviewees alluded to: the drinking culture at many universities, especially in England. He said, “It didn’t really affect me directly, but was always a presence on campus or at student parties.”
On his Christian Science experience at Principia, Quaquah stated, “Principia really facilitates one’s growth as a Christian Scientist. The resources on campus are fantastic and easily accessible.”
Quaquah concluded by saying, “The campus here at Prin is unique, it is purely dedicated to the learning needs of its students.”
Non-trad Elisabeth Meindl transferred here in 2011 after a seven-year gap from school. She’s attended a plethora of colleges, including Blinn College, University of Tulsa, University of Houston, and Houston Community College. She said “Principia was my choice after much prayer. God was really clear on that message.”
Meindl says the academics at Principia are, for the most part “more challenging than most schools I have attended.” However, she admitted that “part of that may be the expectations I have decided for myself.” Despite this, she appreciates the professors a lot.
When asked what she thinks of the teachers at Principia, she said they express “so much love. That cannot be said enough.” She continued, “the amount of spiritual and metaphysical support that goes into every single class is so visible, and so rare.”
Meindl also said that class sizes at Principia were one of the main factors for her choice to attend. “The class sizes at Prin are definitely a benefit. I chose Prin because of the student-faculty ratio, I wanted that much attention.”
Social life at Meindl’s previous colleges were “based on specific cliques and interests.” At Principia “it’s a much broader group of interests.” She puts this up to the Christian Science environment on campus, stating that in “other colleges the thing was to ‘party,’ which mostly meant to get trashed. I like that I can be up till 2 a.m. with my friends here and actually remember it the next morning.”
Meindl’s Christian Science experience was non-existent at her other colleges. She said “I had zero involvement with Christian Science other than when I could get to church at my other schools. I don’t think we had CSO’s on any of them, and if we did, I was completely unaware of them.”
When asked which college experience she has prefered she said, “Prin. It’s hard, and there are things I disagree with intensely, but the overall environment and educational experience is held to a higher standard.”
Though the majority of students interviewed agree that Principia requires a significantly greater amount of academic work than other colleges, most said that they think it’s ultimately worth it. The Christian Science experience at Principia creates an environment which cannot be obtained at other colleges, most all agreed.