The College Experience

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The typical college experience of a student in the 1950’s is both relatively similar and different to that of college students in society today. After graduating from high school with a minimum GPA of a 2.5, most students went on to automatically join the workforce. However, students who wished to continue enhancing their learning and knowledge skills as well as a having a greater chance of achieving a high paying job went on to apply to college.

In order to get into an average level college institution students were required to have a high school diploma and a college essay that went along with the schools application (most applications came with a $25 fee). The creation of the SAT tests were only just emerging in society and most colleges used other baseline tests to determine if a student was accepted or not. More developed schools that did use these tests required students to get a score anywhere from 950 to 1500. Tuition at most mid-level colleges in the 1950s ranged from $400 to $600 a year and most books could be purchased for $50.

Colleges across the country offered both basic and advanced classes for different types of majors, some of the most popular including English, history and philosophy. Most colleges required students to take at least one English/writing course, a few basic science courses which were dependent on each major, mathematics courses and some type of exploration. However, college in this time had no where close to as many majors available as today. Course loads varied based on the students major. Most classes were lecture style and had around 100 students per class, each class lasting about an hour.

Outside of classes students had plenty of time to study, do homework, go to work or have fun with their friends. Students were had large amounts of assignments throughout the semester and had to figure out ways in which they could balance their class work with other things like going to their jobs in order to pay for their tuition. Unlike most students today, students in the 1950s had to work extremely hard in order to pay off their student debt. Just like the SATs, the emergence of financial aid was just surfacing and was nowhere as developed as the system that we have today.

Not only were students involved in their academics but they also had access to numerous clubs as well as sports groups that they could become a part of. Some of the most popular sports on campuses across America were football, soccer, basketball and lacrosse. The idea of becoming a student athlete soon became popular and the idea of getting a scholarship to play on campus was desired by those involved in these sports.

Some of the most prominent colleges of this time included Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia. The majority of colleges were 4-year colleges that gave students the opportunity to apply to/attend graduate school after graduating from the institution itself. The graduation rate of most colleges in the 1950s was around 85% with students graduating with a GPA anywhere from a 3.0 to a 4.5. After students graduated they were able to pursue jobs in fields that those who did not attend college did not have access to. By the end of this era most high school graduates planned on going to college in order to have a more successful future.

– John Reinbott

Posted: Feb. 25th 2015

Revised: Mar. 11th 2015

Works Cited

MWC Memories, “The Classroom Experience”. (2007). Accessed March 16, 2015.

The Future of Children Collaboration, “The Changing Landscape of Higher Education”. (2010). Accessed March 16, 2015. 

University of Pennsylvania University Archives, “Educational Costs (1946-1960)”. (2001). Accessed March 16, 2015.  

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