The founder of a college startup more exclusive that Harvard or Stanford says traditional applications don't measure anything but wealth

Marcus ReichmannMinerva students in Berlin.

Minerva Schools, a college startup based in San Francisco, California, believes that the traditional model for college is failing students.

Based on application numbers for the Minerva Class of 2021, it seems that there may be tens of thousands of students that agree.

In just its fourth year accepting applications, the unconventional college received 20,427, admitting 385 students. That acceptance rate, at 1.9%, is far lower than at any schools in the Ivy League or Stanford.

However, the startup doesn’t aim to be another elite private school. Its model vastly differs from four years of school in the prestigious Ivy League.

Take the admissions process, for example. Ben Nelson, who founded Minerva five years ago, believes the traditional admissions process measures income, rather than aptitude and effort.

“Our application does not expose anything about the student that indicates their wealth,” Nelson told Business Insider. “A traditional application that claims not to, exposes it everywhere,” he continued.

Marcus ReichmannMinerva students studying in a cafe.

For example, Minerva doesn’t want to know any information about parent or sibling background, and does not accept the SAT or ACT. “Two hundred points on your SAT can be directly attributed to your wealth,” Nelson said.

There is no prewritten college admissions essay, which Nelson said is “a wonderful measure of how well your college counselor worked with your mother.” And extracurriculars that can in essence buy admission to prestigious schools — recruitment to the sailing team, water polo, or other typically pricey sports — are similarly ignored, Nelson said.

Instead, Minerva has its own set of assessments and essays that are done live on camera and recorded. This includes an oral and a written interview. “No college coach can help,” Nelson said.

While Minerva is need blind, and offers full financial aid to those in need, its full-price tuition, room and board, fees still come in at $US29,450 — which is less than what Harvard and Stanford charge, but is still significant.

Classes also differ from those at a traditional college. For one thing, students don’t stay in one place during their four-year education. They spend time in up to seven residence houses in San Francisco; Berlin; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Seoul, South Korea; Bangalore, India; Istanbul; and London.

About 80% per cent of Minerva’s students come from outside the US. The Ivy League’s percentages are roughly the inverse of that figure, with roughly 10% to 15% international students.

There is a strong focus on critical thinking and communication skills in academic coursework. Students earn bachelor’s degrees in Arts & Humanities, Computational Sciences, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Business. There are also two graduate degrees that students can work toward, and still graduate in four years.

Still, there are some unknown variables in what a Minerva degree will provide. Salary of recent graduates and job placement metrics, for example, are nonexistent. That’s because the first cohort of Minerva students has yet to graduate.

But interest continues to grow for Minerva. Applications were up 26% from the previous year, perhaps indicating that prospective college students are interested in nontraditional post-secondary education.

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