Love Reed. It’s a phrase that is sprinkled throughout campus, adorning buttons you’ll find on student backpacks in the fall and senior laurels in the spring. In order to Love Reed, however, you must first get to know it. The experience at Reed is different from the experience elsewhere on measures of intellectual engagement, academic rigor, and closely held traditions of weirdness. As an applicant, this is something for you to make a serious effort to learn before you apply, both because it’ll make you a better informed applicant and because it’ll help you craft a thoughtful response to your essay.

The essay supplement to the Reed application is an attempt on the part of the Reed College admission office to help you to understand some of its uniqueness, by introducing you to the tradition of Paideia. Let’s have a look:

For one week at the end of January, Reed students upend the traditional classroom hierarchy and teach classes about any topic they love, academic or otherwise. This week is known as Paideia after the Greek term signifying “education” – the complete education of mind, body and spirit. What would you teach that would contribute to the Reed community?

Having a look at that prompt, what do you think are its most important elements? Where do you divert your attention? What grabs you?

I’m particularly interested in concepts like the “upending of traditional hierarchy” and the “complete education of mind, body, and spirit.” Note that you are able to teach about any topic you love, academic or otherwise. Anything and everything is on the table here, so long as you consider yourself an expert on that topic.

Consider this essay prompt an invitation for you to nerd out. What topic gets your mind racing? What do you love to discuss with your friends? What are the arguments that you’re certain you will win because you know more than everyone else on that particular issue? Get narrow, and be specific. You’re not teaching a class on fantasy novels, you’re teaching a class on accurate representations of food and clothing between the books in A Song of Ice and Fire and the HBO series. You’re not teaching a class on Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, you’re exploring the nature of existentialism and epistemic truth in season six, episode 17, Normal Again (my favorite). Rather than teach yoga, you’re teaching the seven essential poses to keep you going through an all-nighter.

The most successful version of this essay will help your reader to learn something about the topic you’ve chosen to teach, but even more importantly, it will help your reader learn something about you, why you care about this particular thing, and what drives your curiosity. You needn’t explore your interests explicitly with statements like, “I would teach this class because,” but can instead let the passion and interest flow through your writing: “Time travel is so rarely executed with philosophical accuracy, which is what makes the climax of 12 Monkeys so jarring and impressive.”

Life at Reed is an opportunity to nerd out, day and night, about all of the things in the world that you might have even a remote interest in learning about. This essay is your first step towards nurturing that inner Reedie.


Written by Ian Fisher
Ian Fisher is an experienced educational consultant, part of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Ian received his master’s in policy, organization, and leadership studies from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Prior to joining College Coach, Ian worked as a senior admissions officer at Reed College. Visit our website to learn more about Ian Fisher.