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by Paul Romani (M.Ed.)

(Interdisciplinary) University after Pear Tree School

by Paul Romani (M.Ed.)

Wondering what kind of university Pear Tree students would thrive in? Here are some details that might surprise you!

When Pear Tree was previously a K-7 elementary school, the question was “Where do Pear Tree students go after grade 7?”

Now, with Pear Tree moving towards becoming a full K-12 school, the new question is “Where do Pear Tree students go after finishing high school with you?”

The goal posts keep changing, but the answers remain basically the same! It depends on the student!

Culturally, it’s the norm for people to go to university after high school in Canada and the USA alike. In other parts of the world, there are sometimes alternative options, like vocational or technical colleges. While there are such things here (e.g. BCIT, Douglas College, etc.), there is a stigma with not having an undergraduate degree; there’s even a stigma with where you even acquire that degree or how long it takes you to complete it!

While it goes without saying that not everyone wants to or needs to go to university, it would be naive for me to say that it isn’t sensible given this cultural expectation.

With this in mind, we should address this question of where Pear Tree students could or should go to university.


There are many considerations when choosing a university.

Many of the typical things mentioned on university ranking websites I find meaningless, such as university rankings (check out why they are misleading), their name-brand prestige, or the campus size. 

More important reasons are the type of programs offered, the quality of professors / instruction, the class sizes, the learning method, the location, and the cost.

Cost and location somewhat go hand-in-hand, as living outside of your city will incur accommodation and travel costs, the probably higher tuition fee for international students, as well as relatively higher prices for certain countries (particularly the U.S.) and more desirable/expensive cities and universities.

Good Options!

When parents ask where Pear Tree students go after high school, the assumption is generally that there are no universities that have anything in common with Pear Tree’s educational approach.

However, this isn’t really true and is based on parents’ preconceived notions of what universities are like or their own experiences that are based on a different time period and/or different country’s educational norms.

In reality, there are many great options for Pear Tree high school graduates.

Here are some examples and our reasons for suggesting them.

Please note that the following comments are our own interpretation of each university’s programs based on their website information.

Also, we have no affiliation with any of these universities at the time of writing this. These are purely based on our own research.

Quest University (Squamish, BC)

Most Vancouver families are probably completely unaware of Quest University, even though it’s pretty much down the road from us! And, I have to admit that so was I until recently.

Note to Quest: Advertise yourself more!

Quest University offers a combined Bachelor of Arts and Sciences degree. For the average high school student that isn’t encouraged to be well-rounded or think in an interdisciplinary way, doing a combined Arts/Science degree would be a major challenge (pun intended)!

Unlike traditional universities, you don’t choose a major; instead, you define an overarching question that guides and personalizes your academic studies, particularly in the 3rd and 4th year of your studies. During those two years, Quest students complete a project that is comparable to an undergraduate-level thesis.

Another difference from traditional universities is the absence of ‘filler courses’. Anyone that has attended any of the typical universities will be familiar with prerequisite courses, which are generally nothing to do with your area of interest or have no connection to anything else you’re going to learn about – but you have to take those courses regardless. Not so at Quest! At Quest, each course is designed to connect to other courses to build upon previous learning.

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Other highlights about Quest are:

  • Learning outcomes: higher-order thinking, communication, multiple perspectives, and understanding of the connection between people and the Earth
  • Field studies and/or Study abroad

Base annual tuition fees were CA$21,000 for Canadian residents for 2021-22, with total additional fees including accommodation and supplies raising that amount to around CA$40,000 (or around CA$55K for non-Canadian residents).

Evergreen State College (Washington, USA)

Another great option that is a little further afield is Evergreen State.

Evergreen has a great quote on its homepage that aligns perfectly with Pear Tree’s philosophy on its reasons for teaching through themes:

“We live in a world that’s interconnected and in a state of continuous change. Education should reflect that.”

While Evergreen offers seemingly traditional Bachelor of Arts and/or Science degrees, it does so through interdisciplinary courses (though, admittedly, not all interdisciplinary ones).

An example of such a course, as shown on the Evergreen website, is Earth dynamics, which combines physics, economics and history.

As a result of offering such interdisciplinary courses, teams of two to four professors co-teach the courses based on their own areas of expertise.

Base annual tuition fees were US$7,389 for Washington State residents for 2021-22, with total additional fees including accommodation and supplies raising that amount to around US$26,000 (or around US$47K for non-residents, which is about CA$60K).

Other Worthwhile Mentions

This blog post would be epic if we were to give equal mention to every possible university option for Pear Tree graduates. However, the following are certainly worth mentioning!

The London Interdisciplinary School (London, UK)

LIS offers a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences (BASc) in Interdisciplinary Problems & Methods. The learning approach is centered around problem-based learning, which is one of the methods also used at Pear Tree School (including project-based learning and inquiry-based learning).

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Based annual tuition for international students in 2022 is GBP15,000 (about CAD25,000) not including additional fees or living costs.

College of the Atlantic (Maine, USA)

COA offers an interdisciplinary and personalized Bachelor’s degree in Human Ecology. While the degree name is the same for every COA student, the content will vary depending on each student’s particular interests.

The areas of specialization that COA students can choose from as part of their Human Ecology degree are diverse:

  • Biomedical Studies & Molecular Biology
  • Climate Change & Energy
  • Community Planning & Ecological Policy
  • Culture & Place
  • Educational Studies
  • Environmental Law & Politics
  • Ethnography & Documentary
  • Farming & Food Systems
  • Field Ecology & Natural History
  • Gender & Identity Studies
  • International Studies
  • Languages
  • Literature & Writing
  • Marine Science
  • Mathematics & Physical Sciences
  • Mind, Meaning, & Consciousness
  • Performance & Music
  • Sustainable Business
  • Visual Arts & Design

At any traditional university, such a diverse range of courses simply wouldn’t exist, as courses would be restricted depending on your study program (e.g. Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Fine Arts, etc.)

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COA annual tuition fees for 2022-23 are US$44,280, with estimated total costs around US$55,000 (or CAD67,000). COA doesn’t differentiate tuition fees for international students, which is a pleasant surprise! However, they do stipulate that:

[International student] Costs may be somewhat higher due to greater transportation costs, foreign student insurance coverage, additional miscellaneous expenses and visa fee considerations.”

Hampshire College (Massachusetts, USA)

Hampshire College offers what they call a ‘Student-Designed Curriculum’. There are no majors or departments. The emphasis is on interdisciplinary studies, project-based learning (though inquiry-based learning seems to play a strong role), hands-on learning, real-world problem solving, and entrepreneurship.

The university also incorporates workshops, field studies, community learning, study abroads, and internships.

Students complete their Hampshire ‘careers’ with a year-long student-designed thesis-like project.

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Hampshire College annual tuition fees for 2022-23 are US$52,714, with room and board bringing that up to over US$67,000 (or CAD84,000). Hampshire also doesn’t differentiate tuition fees for international students.

What About UBC and SFU?

Despite being much more traditional universities than the ones recommended above, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Simon Fraser University (SFU) are still modern and evolving institutions that are almost certainly different from how many alumni remember them.

At UBC, for example, they have modified their entrance requirements to include a ‘Personal Profile’ section. This recognises that a student’s value isn’t just about their academic grades.

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Additionally, UBC has been experimenting with an interdisciplinary course called ASIC 200 Global Issues in the Arts and Science. As with the interdisciplinary courses at Evergreen State, this UBC ASIC 200 course is taught by two professors, one with a background in the Arts and one in the Sciences.

UBC also talks about interdisciplinary programs, but it’s really a misuse of the word/term. In reality most of what UBC offers is multidisciplinary (i.e. studying different disciplines without necessarily and explicit connection drawn).

It should also be noted that the traditional educational downsides to UBC and SFU are almost exclusively at the undergraduate level, i.e. 300-person lectures, exams, grades, fragmented/unrelated courses, etc.

In contrast, their post-graduate programs are radically different. While not inherently interdisciplinary, the post-grad courses are much more personalized, relevant, and engaging. However, it should be noted that there are many prerequisite courses that detract from their programs and put too much emphasis (or presumption) on UBC/SFU students becoming academic researchers.

Pear Tree graduates would do well at either UBC or SFU at the post-grad level, but would have a much less rewarding educational experience at the undergraduate level.

What About The ‘Great’ Universities?

When most people think of universities, they think of Harvard, Yale, MIT, Oxford and Cambridge (and possibly Princeton and Stanford if you’re American).

How would Pear Tree School students fare at such universities?

Culturally, there are going to be differences between the UK and the U.S. universities, which would affect the study environment and the university culture / atmosphere (vibe) and, therefore, the level of adaptation required for a Pear Tree graduate – or any high school graduate for that matter.

Having never been to any of these universities, it is necessary to rely on not only each university’s website, but also a bit of feedback from alumni.

Firstly, all of these particular universities have extremely low acceptance rates. Clearly the acceptance rate is determined by the number of applicants versus the number of spaces available. Given that these are highly desirable universities, you would expect more people to apply to them, which can skew the acceptance rate. Nevertheless, the low acceptance rate gives these universities the air of exclusivity – and that affects their ranking.

If you’ve heard about the 2019 College Admissions Bribery Scandal (AKA Operation Varsity Blues), you’ll know the extent to which some wealthy parents will go to get their children into these exclusive universities and how some university staff and intermediaries have exploited this for their own ends! Yes, this can include illegal activities. It is widely acknowledged and documented in the press that super-wealthy parents literally buy their places. Others will ‘dress up’ their child’s portfolio to make them seem great at sports. And yet others will fake their child’s college entrance test results by having imposters sit the exam on their child’s behalf.

My point in mentioning this is that getting into these exclusive universities can be less to do with a student’s abilities (unless they are particularly exceptional) and more to do with ‘politics’ – for lack of a better word – or luck.

There are added challenges with the type of people you can expect to be shoulder to shoulder with. Many will come from extremely wealthy families and completely different social classes – we’re talking about the upper echelons here.

Added to that is the fact that one can expect to have decorated professors (e.g. Nobel laureates).

Either of these things may take some adjusting to, especially the former.

Consider that Pear Tree School provides a stark contrast to the elitist private schools in Vancouver, with diversity not only culturally, but also socio-economically. Attending a prestigious university will more than likely immerse you with the wealthy elite. This may be beneficial in terms of developing connections to people with influence, but it may also raise some moral question marks.

Harvard University

Like any old university, the university prides itself on traditions, and acknowledges that it can be a little overwhelming when you first arrive on campus.

Harvard is renowned for more traditional academics, particularly at its associated Schools and Colleges, e.g. Harvard Law School, Medical School, and Business School.  Nevertheless, Harvard offers a very wide range of study areas, including a Liberal Arts & Science education designed to promote interdisciplinarity. Within this program, Harvard offers a wide range of concentrations, all of which a Pear Tree student would excel in.

Given the range of specialist Schools and Colleges it offers, there isn’t a singular tuition fee for the entire university, as there aren’t really for any university that offers specialist programs like Law and Medicine. However, as a guideline, Harvard’s standard annual fees (for tuition, room & board, expenses and travel costs) are around US$80,000 (or CA$100,000). Financial aid and scholarships will make Harvard more financially accessible.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

The descriptions of MIT – both in the press and from alumni – sound absurdly intense to say the least! The classes and workload are extreme, as this image about sums up:

The status of being an MIT student can go to some students’ heads, though the tough exams can bring people down a peg or two!

As with the other elite universities, expect to encounter Nobel prize winners, yet they are reputed to be very approachable people!

Unlike many other elite universities, MIT appears to be a place filled with remarkably intelligent and gifted individuals (educators and students alike). I’ve never heard a report of anyone buying their way into MIT, though who really knows?

If they did, they would have the most miserable experience if they didn’t have an IQ that matches their socioeconomic status!

Having said that, there was a recent report of a Dean of Admissions not having the qualifications that she claimed to have.

Many of the aspects that MIT is famous for (math, science, engineering) seem inherently linked to application of skills, rather than learning for the sake of learning. This would certainly appeal to Pear Tree graduates!

There are claims of students there suffering from mental health issues as a result of the high pressure and test failures. There are also reports of suicides which, if true, is of huge concern.

Pear Tree School students would not be accustomed to extreme stress or unreasonable workloads, as these aren’t things that are conducive to learning. Nevertheless, Pear Tree students are immersed in the development of their socio-emotional skills to develop a positive sense of identity, healthy relationships with others (incl. social networking), the ability to verbally express their feelings, and problem-solving and time management skills. They are also accustomed to having a high work ethic! All of these things would help a Pear Tree student cope with life at MIT – within reason.

Tuition, room and board, and other expenses at MIT add up to an annual amount of around US$80,000 (CA$100,000). The university claims that 85% of students receive some type of financial aid which reduces actual payments to more like US$18,000 per year – theoretically.

Yale University

Yale is reputed for its politics, law, and drama (David Geffen School of Drama), though it offers a wide range of programs.

Yale’s range of interdisciplinary programs may be of more interest to Pear Tree School graduates. However, the programs don’t seem particularly adventurous in their interdisciplinarity, e.g. chemistry and biology, computation and cognition, humanities and engineering, etc.

Unsurprisingly, tuition, room and board at Yale cost around US$80,000 (CA$100,000) per year, i.e. the same as Harvard and MIT.

Cambridge University

Moving over to the two big UK universities, we start with Cambridge University.

In contrast with the big US universities, Cambridge seems famous for… just being Cambridge University. I mean, it’s 800 years old! Undoubtedly, Cambridge is world renowned for certain academic areas, such as math, science, humanities, politics and literature. However, I feel that it is more famous for the plethora of famous people that have attended the university than anything – the list is endless.

Cambridge’s educational approach combines traditional lectures and traditional seminars with traditional ‘Supervisions’ – are you getting the traditional vibe?

These Supervisions are very small-group sessions (1-3 students) with an academic supervisor. The shared video makes this seem like a casual chat, but reports from alumni suggest they are much more interrogative and intimidating; they are really designed to test the depth of understanding and the ability to cope with being challenged by an academic peer – similar to how PhD candidates have to defend their thesis. Pear Tree School students would likely find aspects to Cambridge’s supervision system engaging, assuming that the manner of the academic supervisor is one of constructive criticism / pressure rather than being demeaning.

As with MIT, Cambridge appears to have a reputation for ridiculously high work loads during the first three years of studies. Accompanying this is the reputed mental health problems of students; though, others have stated that those who are accustomed to getting 4 x ‘A’-grade A-Levels shouldn’t find this unusual. The experience is therefore a subjective one.

Perhaps the biggest cultural adjustment would be the pompousness. The annual May Week combines extremely formal black tie / ball gown attire with something akin to the U.S. spring break antics. Like any such event, it will appeal to some and not to others.

In 2022, Cambridge’s international tuition fees range from GB£23,340 to £60,942 (CA$38,000 to CA$100,000) per year. This excludes accommodation, food, and other expenses.

Oxford University

As with Cambridge, Oxford also has a reputation for intense workloads. However, once again, the experience will vary from person to person. And, again like Cambridge (and their supervision system), Oxford has a tutorial system one hour per week.

A comment that stood out to me about Oxford is that it ‘values self-directed learning’. This is something that is strongly encouraged at Pear Tree School.

At Pear Tree School, we foster an environment where learning doesn’t just happen with your teacher, but happens anywhere and everywhere – and should be sought out. Along with this is our promotion of intrinsic motivation. Your motivation to learn shouldn’t be extrinsic, or at least not exclusively so. You should be curious, ask questions, and seek out the answers.

As such, these qualities should shine at Oxford, as they should anywhere!

In 2022, Oxford’s international tuition fees range from GB£27,840 and £39,010 per year. This excludes accommodation, food, and other expenses.

The university is very open about the fact that:

If you are an Overseas student, you will be charged a significantly higher level of course fee, which will vary according to your programme of study

Overall Thoughts About The ‘Great’ Universities

One thing that I think is applicable to most of the ‘great’ universities is the likelihood of experiencing Imposter Syndrome (yes, it’s a real thing).

The combination of being at such famous and historic universities and being around very intelligent students and professors can leave new students with the feeling that they don’t belong there and that they will soon ‘be found out’.

There are many factors that can enhance the likelihood of experiencing Imposter Syndrome. I’ve already previously alluded to the elite nature of such institutions and the type of super-rich or famous people that one can expect to be around. Coming from a poorer (i.e. working class) family or even a middle-income family may leave one feeling inferior compared to others that spend their typical spring break in the Caribbean. The movie Scent of a Woman illustrates this social class contrast very well, albeit in a private high school setting.

Gender also plays a role in Imposter Syndrome if certain subject areas are dominated by a specific gender.

In spite of all of these things, a Pear Tree graduate should do fine at any of these universities. The question is would they do better or worse than ones that really nurture the skills and values instilled by Pear Tree School?


While any university listed in this blog post would be possible options for a Pear Tree graduate, the initial ones seem much more appropriate to the academic approach and values instilled by our school.

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Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

All (liberal arts) universities will likely have some kind of ‘interdisciplinary’ programs. However, for most of these institutions, such programs are secondary in contrast to those at the universities that we have recommended.

Perhaps a more political perspective on everything is the nature of being a creator of change. Pear Tree believes that education should be at the forefront of creating positive change in the world. To do so effectively, you need to be in an environment that fosters and nurtures this mindset and the accompanying skillset.

While the ‘great’ universities may nurture certain skills, being around and making friends with wealthy individuals whose families profit from the Status Quo or negative impacts on the world (people, societies, economy, and the environment) may make it challenging to truly become an agent of positive change in the world.

Whether or not this is the case is certainly debatable, and this is just a subjective point of view on the matter. Everyone is different and every person’s experience is different.

At the very least, we hope that this blog post creates some food for thought and expands people’s notions about the potential options for Pear Tree School graduates!