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Dr. Kat’s List: Top Colleges Where Students Change the World

For many students, giving time and service is not just a great way to spend the holidays, it’s a way of life. I’ve rounded up and compiled this list of schools where students are encouraged to get involved and shape the world around them. These schools aren’t just for community service superstars; they’re great for students interested in broadening their experiences and learning about the world from a different perspective. Many of the undergraduates at these universities choose to extend their service efforts beyond graduation, and go on to join Teach For America, the Peace Corps, or Americorps. These programs are great career-launchers and offer full-time, paid service opportunities either locally or abroad. In short, if you’re interested in schools that may provide you with some great tools to help the community, you just might want to add these universities to your college list.

Duke University, Durham, NC
Students at this private university have the opportunity to travel throughout the country and the world to create change. Through a program called Duke Engage, students participate in full-immersion service programs that can take place locally, nationally or internationally. Duke students, or “Blue Devils” may find themselves teaching eco-tourism in Brazil, advocating for women’s entrepreneurship in Kenya, or rebuilding homes for Gulf Coast victims of Katrina. To top it off, Duke commits to fully funding each student for a full summer or semester (yep, that means travel expenses and possibly a stipend too). If you choose to stay closer to campus, you won’t be doing good alone—more than 80% of students participate in volunteer work of some kind, and have created over 30 service organizations. Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs provides students the opportunity to work with the local community, including options for volunteering or tutoring and mentoring at-risk youth. All that tutoring pays off, as the university is also one of the top mid-size feeder schools for Teach For America, a program that places top students as teachers in urban schools at competitive salaries for two years.

Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Being a member of the Big Ten means being a sports fan—but MSU students have more to brag about than their Division 1 teams. Their university boasts a four-season, student-run organic farm, the lowest electrical consumption per square foot of the Big Ten colleges, and the oldest continuously operating service-learning center in the country. The center, which has been running for over four decades, provides students with over 360 community opportunities, and is regarded by U.S. News and World Report as one of the best programs in the nation. In addition to all their involvement, students here still manage to keep their grades up. Since the 1970s MSU has produced more Rhodes Scholars than any other Big Ten institution, including Northwestern, Penn State, and Purdue. The university’s Rhodes Scholars take advantage of this prestigious international scholarship award to continue their studies at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, MO
Students interested in teaching can get a head start at this community-driven institution. UMKC recently established the Institute for Urban Education, a teaching center that grants students a B.A in either elementary or middle school education. Students agree to teach in specific urban school districts for four years upon graduation and in exchange they receive generous financial aid that generally pays for tuition, room and board, and books for each year of school. These students get hands-on training in real world classrooms and are able to develop a rapport with area schools, while learning about issues of social justice and multicultural learning styles. In addition to teaching opportunities, the university provides students with multiple ways to get involved in many different community initiatives.

Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs is often well regarded as a graduate program for public affairs. However, you don’t have to be a graduate student to take classes there. The Maxwell School offers an undergraduate major in policy studies, as well as courses and majors in a number of related fields such as international relations, sociology and more (all offered in conjunction with the school’s College of Arts & Sciences). Students can also take cross-disciplinary courses featuring topics such as “Global Community” and “Critical Issues for the United States.” When students aren’t in classes, they can participate in service learning, leadership and volunteer opportunities through the university’s Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community Service.

Macalester College, St. Paul, MN
Macalester College is built on the tenets of internationalism, multiculturalism, and service to society. Students at this liberal arts school can take classes in subjects such as Global Governance and Comparative Freedom Movements or augment their degrees with a concentration in Human Rights and Humanitarianism. Macalester students, or “Macs,” have the opportunity to discuss human rights issues with students of all walks of life. Despite its Midwest setting, Macalester maintains an international campus, prompting the most recent Fiske Guide to Colleges to write that Macalester has “an internationalist view of the world.” Additionally, many courses at Macalester utilize the school’s Civic Engagement Center by integrating work with community groups on issues of public concern, which gives students valuable experience putting their ideologies into practice.

Whether you want to make a difference around campus or around the world, be sure to consider schools that will provide you with rich opportunities to make an impact. These five schools and others around the country strive to challenge students in and out of the classroom, encouraging them to become agents of positive change.