A High School Senior's Top Picks for Colleges and Universities

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As a senior in high school, I’m constantly thinking about where I’ll go to college. What academic programs does each school offer? What extracurricular and study abroad options will I have? Then, of course, there’s the all-important question: What’s the food like? Because I’m interested in a sustainability- or conservation-related career (not sure quite what yet) and want to live a greener everyday life, I’m also concerned about how eco-friendly my school options are. So, I decided to see which colleges and universities have earned A’s where the environment is concerned. Here are a few of my favorites. These schools were awarded the highest green rating—99—by the Princeton Review. All institutions, except for Harvard College, have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, a commitment by colleges to become carbon neutral and increase research efforts to decrease and reverse our impact on global climate.


American University, Washington, D.C.

What do paper towels, leftover cafeteria food, and vehicle lubricants have in common? They all get recycled at American University as part of the school’s commitment to zero waste. This ambitious commitment is only part of this liberal arts university’s larger goal of carbon neutrality by 2020. Environmental consciousness abounds in the classroom as well: in addition to offering a BS, BA, minor, and MS in environmental science, AU, a private, Methodist-affiliated school, rewards teachers for incorporating sustainability into their curricula.


Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona

ASU’s School of Sustainability (part of its Global Institute of Sustainability) offers degrees up to a Ph.D. in sustainability, with concentrations in economics, international development, policy, energy and material use, and sustainable ecosystems. Outside the classroom, this large, four-campus public state school has committed to mitigating all of its carbon emissions by 2035 through water conservation, solar panels, LEED certification, and more.


College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, ME

The College of the Atlantic, a private self-declared environmental liberal arts college, became America’s only carbon-neutral college in 2007. Students have developed, installed, and upgraded solar panels, two wind turbines, solar electric vehicles, and other renewable technology for the campus. In its buildings, COA applies green technology, including wood pellet boilers and insulation made from recycled cellulose. The school also runs an organic farm, composts food, and more. Academically, COA requires that students take a course in human ecology; provides courses that integrate sustainability, such as Sustainable Material Design, Global Politics of Sustainable Development, and Ecology, in all areas of study; and offers programs (there are no departments) in field ecology and conservation biology, ecological policy and planning, sustainable business, and sustainable food systems.


Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA

Ever wanted to live in a Treehouse? At Dickinson College, a private liberal arts school,  you can. The Treehouse (which is not actually located in a tree, as awesome as that would be) is Dickinson’s sustainable living house, where students live as greenly as possible and host events so that the whole campus can be learn about eco-friendly life styles. But sustainability at Dickinson stretches far beyond the Treehouse door: as part of its initiative to become climate neutral by 2020, half of its energy comes from renewable sources like biodiesel, which students produce in Dickinson’s Biodiesel Shop, and biogas, which is also made by students at Dickinson’s organic farm (which, I remember from my visit, provides great food to the campus cafeteria!). Academically, Dickinson offers majors in environmental science (in which one can also minor) and environmental studies. Dickinson’s Center for Sustainability Education links environmental organizations, academic departments, and student-faculty research to make sustainability education and activism available to all students on campus.


Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA

Everything is bigger in… Georgia? The Georgia Institute of Technology, a public research university located at a renovated Olympic Village, is home to one of the largest solar panel systems in the world, the largest campus rainwater collection system in the U.S., and the largest LEED Gold Certified university residence hall in the world! That’s in addition to many other exemplary environmental initiatives on campus, like recycling and composting programs, green buildings, and alternative transportation programs. Students inspired to walk the green walk long after college can earn degrees in environmental studies, environmental science, environmental engineering, and environmental and energy policy. George Tech also has a whopping 30 on-campus sustainability research centers. After all, Georgia Tech’s stated goal is to have students “take [sustainability] with them throughout their careers and live it every day.”


Harvard College, Cambridge, MA

If you like painting in green as much as going green, Harvard College, the undergraduate branch of the famous private liberal arts university, could be the place for you. In addition to its concentration in Environmental Science and Public Policy (in which students can specialize), Harvard offers a concentration in Visual and Environmental Studies. Staying true to its new motto, “Green is the New Crimson,” Harvard composts its waste (it sports a perfect 100 percent composting rate for landscaping waste); buys local produce; and uses renewable energy, such as biodiesel for its shuttles and geothermal heat pumps, among other green sources. Ninety-seven percent of students also take alternative transportation every day, so if you drive to Harvard on a college visit, you’ll have moah places to pahk yah cah. But perhaps you’ll want to invest in a hybrid.


San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA

Where can you compost everything from coffee grounds to ice cream containers, encounter efficient floor-cleaning machines, use recycled toilet paper, do hands-on research in a bay just a few miles down the road, and participate in citywide efforts to divert waste oils for biodiesel and eliminate all waste by 2020? San Francisco State University’s the answer. This large public research university’s other environmental initiatives include waste diversion and a bicycling initiative. Academically, SFSU offers a BS and a BA in Environmental Studies and an MBA in Sustainable Business. SFSU also has local, organic, vegetarian, vegan, and hormone-free options in its dining halls.


State University of New York- Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY

SUNY Binghamton is pounding the pavement to go green- literally. This public university’s Green Space initiative plans to convert paved areas into green space. So far it’s transformed 85,000 square feet (out of a total goal of 2 acres). Looking out over this beautiful landscape are three LEED-certified buildings- the SUNY (State University of New York) system’s first. Binghamton has also spent $1 million on energy conservation and improved rates of waste reduction, composting, and recycling. Binghamton’s extensive academic environmental program (comprising a BA, BS, minor, and BA-MPA in environmental studies and a minor in sustainability engineering) is complemented by a 182-acre Nature Preserve and a 12,500-square-foot, 4-climate Teaching Greenhouse.


University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point, Stevens Point, WI

You don't have to love worms to attend the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, but it helps: as a way to reduce food waste, this public university has installed worm composting bins, or vermicomposters. Its recycling systems, some of the first in Wisconsin, are unique and comprehensive. UWSI also sports ecofriendly residence halls, solar panels, and a dorm bed loft rental program, eliminating the need for students to build new lofts each year and reducing wood use. In the classroom, UWSI offers majors in environmental studies, education, geography, law, and communication, in addition to many other ecology- and biology-themed majors.


Warren Wilson College, Asheville, NC

Sustainability is integral to the makeup of Warren Wilson College, a private liberal arts college that emphasizes the “triad” of academics, work, and service learning. It offers six Environmental Studies majors, a sustainable business major, and a crossdisciplinary sustainability curriculum. In addition to this, Warren Wilson is the only school in America to offset 100 percent of its electricity use with wind power, and its farm, which provides grass-grazed pork and beef in addition to produce, dates to 1894. Yum!


If you want to know how your dream school stacks up in terms of environmental consciousness, go to the Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges (pdf). 


Best of luck in your college search!

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