My Visit to Deep Springs College (2009)

118 points2
girzel2 days ago

I attended Deep Springs 1996/97. The school goes through semi-regular cultural oscillations between "mean" and "nice"; between what we'd now call toxic masculinity, and sort of a peace-and-love hippie friendliness. Students play a large role in admitting the incoming class, and tend to admit people like them, until the culture swings too far in one direction and they start correcting.

It sounds like this guy visited during a "mean" period, which is too bad. I attended during an upswing into a "nice" period, and it felt well balanced. My application interview was one of the most memorable experiences of my life -- I'd never had anyone pay that kind of close attention to anything I'd written, or what I thought. It woke me all the way up, in a sense where I'd gone through most of my teenage years asleep, and was enormously bracing. When they finally let me out, I emerged into the main room, where some guy reading on a sofa looked up and asked, "How was it?" I don't remember exactly what I said, but it communicated something along the lines of "holy shit that was a thrill!". I still suspect he communicated my attitude back to the applications committee and that played a part in getting accepted.

So far as I know, no one during my two years visited the Cottontail Ranch :)

vonnik2 days ago

I attended DS in the mid-90s, slightly before @girzel (who does great work btw!).

DS is essentially a transfer school that offers no tenure and whose small student body is on a two-year program. That is a recipe for rapid cultural change and little institutional memory inside the valley. Which is to say, Harrison got a snapshot of a very peculiar place, which is now peculiar in very different ways.

The school went co-ed a few years ago (it had spent the previous century as an all-male school). That brought a sea change.

Harrison is correct, I suppose, to say that every institution is deeply human and no one should be intimidated by them. But he is wrong to extrapolate too much about DS based on his visit there.

Even people who spent years of their lives there would have trouble generalizing about it in ways that accurately encompass decades.

If I could try to generalize about DS, I would say: it has traditionally been a place where excellent weirdos learn and work together, and which puts tremendous pressure on them, for good and bad. I have not experienced a more intense or sincere learning environment before or since.

girzel2 days ago

Hi Chris!

I also felt like the essay suffered a lot from generalization -- Harrison happened to talk to these three people, and extrapolated way too much from that.

refulgentis2 days ago

Well, no, at the minimum he talked to all 25 students.[^1]

Additionally, why would 1, 3, or 25 matter?

The behavior Chris described requires attending the school and visiting it often enough to view multiple cohorts.

[^1] When I went into the classroom at the appointed hour, the 25 students were all there ready to interview me.

[^2] Man, I wish I went there if it means you could talk like this all the time. The older I get, the more suffocated I am by the damp blanket of adult communication. At 20 I would have said it was immoral and boring to withhold engaging deeply, at 35 I need a damn good reason to bother engaging rather than smiling and nodding.

xrd2 days ago

I recall having a conversation with one of the most brilliant people I ever knew in high school. This was the college he wanted to attend. I hadn't heard of it before and later in the conversation referred to it as Palm Springs and could see the frustration on his face. Not the same vibe. He wasn't long for this world, died jogging in Japan and his parents didn't find out a week later until he was already cremated. As they say in Blade Runner: "the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long."

leoh2 days ago

I too know several people that died young after attending, albeit they were in a class in the ‘70s.

jyunwai2 days ago

This reminded me of another unconventional institution called St. John’s College, though it does offer a four-year degree.

Instead of offering a traditional undergraduate program that teaches largely from modern textbooks, students work through what the institution calls a “Great Books” curriculum of the “foundational texts of Western civilization” across a variety of subjects:

I have, however, read some accounts online that the program has flaws with the way it teaches mathematics, where some students claim that an approach through historical texts is less effective than one with more current books. In any case, I think it’s interesting that non-traditional institutions with largely respected reputations exist, like St. John’s and the colleges in the article and the discussion so far.

mastercheph2 days ago

It depends on what you want from a mathematics education and what you want from your education at St. John's. It is not a vocational school, and the mathematics we do won't strictly be aligned with any particular career path. And the other advantage/disadvantage is that almost all of the math you have learned before you start is not helpful, at least for the first two years. Neither of those things mean that the math we do is any less serious or important than the math education most undergraduates will receive. [1]

Most people that are frustrated by one of the two things I mentioned above, either experience a shift in perspective, or do not complete their studies at St. John's.

Afaik they have been trying to fudge these numbers over the past few years because admin thinks it makes the school look bad, but fewer than 50% of freshman that enroll in the college will graduate. And at least a third of those that leave don't make it past the first semester.

[1] Just to paint a few broad strokes of the highlights of our math program: Freshman study Euclid's Elements and Optics, Archimedes, and Claudius Ptolemy's Almagest, Sophomores study Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler's Astronomia Nova, and Apollonius' Conics. Junior's study Newton, Maxwell, Oresme, Leibniz, Pascal, Descartes, and Dedekind. And Senior's work through Einstein, Lorentz, and Minkowski's relativity papers, before rounding the whole thing off with Lobochevsky, Bertrand Russell, and Gödel.

ipython2 days ago

Does the image from the article load for anyone? For me, from multiple browsers, it shows as a very broken JPG that's clearly had a few bit flips and as a result is just blocky garbage on my browsers. Curious if this is bitrot from AWS or what.

jyunwai2 days ago

That image also didn’t correctly load for me (just a slice at the top), also checking on multiple browsers.

andyjohnson02 days ago

Broken for me on Firefox Android.

Looks kind of pretty though. Like a blocky sunset.

dsctaway12342 days ago

Current resident of deep springs college, happy to answer any questions.

warner252 days ago

Fascinating. As I read this, I was mostly wondering about how much time the students were spending on the admissions process for new students.

This guy was just one applicant, and he spent a whole week there by himself, and all of the students reportedly spent time dissecting and discussing his 50+ pages of essays and participating in his four-hour interview. How does that scale? It seems like this would be an all-consuming thing for a whole admissions cycle. Does the whole academic program just revolve around these essays? Or are the assigned essay topics directly related to what the students are studying?

dsctaway12342 days ago

The application committee is a group of about 10 students and 2-4 staff and faculty. By the time of the interview, everyone will have read all parts of the applicants materials. Close reading and critique still characterizes much of the interview. But in my experience, someone can have major mistakes in the essays/tests/transcript and be admitted. Sometimes the application is deeply rooted in a specific intellectual tradition; sometimes it may ask questions like "which would win in a fight, a bear or a shark?" Usually there's a mix of both.

Like other comments here and on the OP have said, Deep Springs has many different cultural moments because of the short turn over of the students in their elected positions (and as residents), the 2 year or so retention rate for staff, and new visiting professors 4 times a year.

To your question of scale -- the college is actively against scaling. The founder hoped the school would inspire similar schools. And over the last decade or so, Outer Coast College, Tidelines Institute, Thoreau College, and Gull Island Project have all started programs based on Deep Springs. They're all coming out to the college next weekend for a summit.

Because students are constantly balancing too-much work between academics, labor, or self-governance, each year, the application committee finds a new stable point of work load each year. Based on my experience, if the students only had to work on the application committee, their first impulse would be to spend more time on it. The stakes are higher for them than it is for us, since, as the OP notes, the student body retains the authority to regulate the conduct of its members.

The academic program is relatively conventional, i.e. 4-10 person seminars with most students taking 2-4 per semester or term. The difference is the collective striving for great academic performance (written and spoken in seminar) and the ability for professors (long-term and visiting) to pitch courses they wouldn't be able to teach elsewhere (for any reason, e.g. politics, student quality, etc.).

These days, class is in the morning, labor in the afternoon, governance as schedules allow (though there are two regular meetings each week, committee meetings, such as applications, and the student body meeting). There is also a long-standing public speaking class each week during sept.-may; students give speeches on common prompts or speak on something important for the life of the community.

warner252 days ago

So if only 10 students are on this committee[1], that makes more sense. Either this has changed since the time of the author's story, or he misremembered, or exaggerated (re: saying that all 25 students, the whole student body at the time, was at his interview plus talking about his essays for days leading up to his interview). I understand that the idea isn't meant to scale up to larger schools, but it sounded like it wouldn't even scale to the number of applications that Deep Springs would get in any given year.

[1] Is this still 1/3 to 1/2 of the student body?

dsctaway123421 hours ago

I imagine his recollection is correct; there could have been a policy at the time that required all students to participate in the interview; in that case, they would have all reviewed every essay and discussed them beforehand to develop questions.

I agree with the other commenter here that the students probably didn't think, "this 18 y/o applicant's theories are ground breaking!!!" They probably thought, "what a crazy (but well written) essay, we gotta talk to this guy." Not clear to me if that essay was also the Jungian essay he talks about in the interview, but that gives a good indication of how students tend to approach interview questions about essays and following up on responses.

But yes, the current set up has just over a third of the student body serving on the application committee and only the application committee interviews the applicants. The student body still collectively interviews any long-term staff and faculty; one of the highlights of my time at deep springs (even if it was before I began).

azmodeus2 days ago

What made you choose Deep Springs? How are the career prospects? What are the pros and cons of studying there for you?

dsctaway12342 days ago

I am not a student at Deep Springs, but I can speak generally to different motivations of students and myself (staff).

One of the more interesting things about Deep Springs is that the students are definitely counter cultural but also very competitive and generally academically (or at least intellectually) straight-laced/standouts. That's the zone of genius they were in before they came here, so afterwards, they go to schools you'd expect them to go. Until the 1960s, many (most?) students went to Cornell to the Telluride house (also founded by Nunn) to finish their undergrad.

What they do next is usually more interesting. When accepting the scholarship to attend deep springs, students agree to commit themselves to a life of service to humanity. At the founding, becoming a titan of industry (emulating the founder) was definitely seen as such, but, as you can imagine, ideas have shifted with generations. Pursuing advanced degrees is pretty popular, and many alums have gone on to work in higher education.

When I was getting driven in by a student for my interview as a staff member, they asked me why I wanted to work there. After I gave some answer, I asked her why she decided to study at deep springs. She told me that of her options (including top US schools), deep springs seemed to be the hardest and the only place where she would get real feedback. After listening to her answer and talking to her about it, I decided I wanted to work at deep springs because I prefer to work with that quality of student, and, if I can work with 24 or so, even better.

These guys all come in very talented academically and in some cases professionally, and, for my money, the education that they get -- especially in politics and common sense -- helps round them in a way which is very rare in other colleges or learning communities. That high-minded conversations flow from the seminar to the ditch digging crew is why I would suggest a place like deep springs (or something like the Thiel Fellowship) versus reading lots of books in your spare time and working on a farm if you are a bright but disenchanted student.

Cons are a lifestyle which is very much out of sync with the rest of the world and expectations. Any resident is committing to live in a small village (mostly 18-24 y/os, usually <10 staff and faculty) on the northern boundary of death valley.

And if you're a student, you are committing to participate in a democratic game in which your peers (and yourself) will regulate your actions, e.g. no wifi on personal devices, only shared desktop computers. But as you can imagine, it's hard to get such regulations passed.

Depending on how you cope, the entire project might be a con, ha! That is, the program demands nearly all of the time of a student for 2 years. For some, that is too much of a burden. But for many it's their first introduction to working that hard that continuously. After their time, most deep springers would be great high-potential, low-experience start up employees, for example.

An easy way of thinking about deep springs today is that it's a modern seminary or monastery.

I like working on projects like deep springs because the marriage of mind and body. It has been rare for me to find good concentrations of folks who want to physically work until they're exhausted and who are also incredibly curious (and rigorous in their curiosity) about the world.

JackFr2 days ago

Wouldn't it be easier to fly into Reno, NV and take the bus to Bishop, CA?

dsctaway12342 days ago

The bus only goes to Beatty these days, so most people fly to Reno, LA, or Bishop.

solarkraft2 days ago

Are they accepting women now?

dsctaway12342 days ago

Yes, 2018 was the first co-ed class.

breaker-kind2 days ago

did you meet my friend Kel a few weeks ago?

every2 days ago

Blackburn College is also a work college and was established in 1837. My dad was an alumnus back in the Great Depression. It was all he could afford...

teachrdan2 days ago

Berea College is similar. I met a super smart student from there years ago. Interestingly, they were also early pioneers in being co-ed and racially integrated.

"Berea College is a private liberal arts work college in Berea, Kentucky. Founded in 1855, Berea College was the first college in the Southern United States to be coeducational and racially integrated. It was integrated from as early as 1866 until 1904, and again after 1954... As a work college, Berea has a student work program in which all students work on campus 10 or more hours per week."

b82 days ago

I'm a current student at Berea, and yeah Berea has a unique history.

giraffe_lady2 days ago

Some of the most interesting people I've ever met had gone to berea. One notable example was when I met him working as a farrier but had a MM piano performance from berklee and had published papers in a CS journal. Another was a chef, would give me a six stone handicap in go (I was playing 1-2 kyu at the time) and then tear me apart in between heroic bong rips. These just not common combinations of skill and interest at all.

deepsprings2 days ago

I'm a current student at Deep Springs College. I recently gave a Reddit AMA about the school, but I'm also happy to answer any questions here.

troupe2 days ago

How many teachers are there and how long do they usually stay at the college? It seems like it would be hard to sustain much of a faculty at that size.

deepsprings21 hours ago

There are five permanent faculty in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Physics/Astronomy, Math, and Biology. In addition to these faculty who live here year-round for around five to six years, every semester includes a few visiting faculty who teach one course for one term. The curriculum committee, which is student-led and operated, hires these professors largely to fill the curricular gaps left by the permanent faculty.

interiorchurch2 days ago

Question: TASP, a related summer program, has recently gone through some painful convolutions related to race and inequality[1]. How much if at all has Deep Springs been affected by currents like this?


dsctaway12342 days ago

These conversations have been live on campus for some time (80s) and continue. Though we're isolated, most conversations happening elsewhere also happen here, but, because everyone's so weird, the conversations get turned on their head or don't present in the same way in other places. Mostly it just makes the environment less reactionary.

That can be frustrating for some who want change now, but, at the end of the day, the students and community have the power to change most aspects of the program, and year to year different students or community members take on different projects in response to community needs. That agency helps diffuse many convolutions via compromise and practical action. Of course, convolutions still happen. Basically, this isn't a place that avoids conflict or disagreement, it's a container where students (and staff, ha!) learn how to disagree, conflict, resolve/forget, and get shit done.

brindlejim22 hours ago

Does the college remain a pipeline to good schools? In the past, a very significant portion of the student body, some years the majority, transferred to tier-one, four-year universities (Harvard, Yale, Brown, Cornell, Cal, Chicago, Stanford). This ensured that it attracted smart and ambitious applicants who knew they were not giving up the chance to attend those schools. What is the current rate of admission to tier-one schools, year by year, and how does it contrast with historical rates? If it is lower, does the college view that as a problem? If the college does not view that as a problem, then what is the vision? Deep Springs' reputation was built on being excellent and anomalous in highly legible ways. It can coast for a while as a two-year associates degree on a farm, but not forever.

dsctaway123421 hours ago

The college does remain a pipeline, though the landscape of junior + senior transfers has changed.

Once US News started more heavily weighting 4-year completion rates, schools responded by attempting to select for folks who would complete in 4 years and providing more support for first and second year students. That left fewer spots for transfer into upper-level classes because of fewer dropouts / transfers-out.

Like I commented elsewhere, most students until the 60s went to Cornell to the Telluride house. That relationship was very helpful for generations of students. Deep springers still do follow this path, but much more rarely, i.e. every few years someone will go.

The stories from the modern era about a quarter or more of the class going to Harvard of UChicago are mostly gone now, although every so often an admissions director starts trying to get as many dsers as they can -- looking at you Columbia ;) But basically, top schools seem to accept about one deep springs student a year as part of their upper-level transfer class. For example, this year, harvard accepted just 14 students for upper-level transfer, including one deep springer.

So things seem to be getting harder, but the student experience here is so unique and the student quality so excellent, that they're still able gain admission to top schools despite the changing landscape (most of them get into one or more of these schools before they attend deep springs).

There has been some conversation as this has been taking place about new arrangements or additional support (e.g. 4 year scholarships, a formal relationship with another school, etc.), but at the moment, the need isn't acute enough, though vision for this aspect of the experience will be included in the next strategic plan.

Generally, the quality and curiosity of life on the ground here is what attracts great and weird students to enroll rather than a pipeline effect; applicants attached to that don't tend to make it into final class.

brindlejim18 hours ago

Great answer. Thank you.

brindlejim2 days ago

TASP was renamed TASS a couple years ago, and it now offers only two seminars: Critical Black Studies and Anti-Oppressive Studies. The program has been taken over by woke radicals both on its board and in the administration, which is led by Amina Omari, someone with near-zero experience in education prior to her appointment. I receive desperate emails from them asking for volunteers and financial support, which suggest that they have lost some of their base due to their political choices.

Deep Springs is on a different track, but not a totally dissimilar one. That is, the school has been attempting to feminize for decades, a process that culminated in its conversion to co-education in 2018 after a long legal battle. I get the school's newsletters and see occasional land acknowledgements penned by privileged people of color, which tracks with a known trend in US liberal arts colleges.

But the real shift at DS, triggered by co-education, seems to be that it's less hard-core. One person called it "Benningtonization". The boys and girls all hive off into pairs, and the communal life of mind and labor and governance shrinks as it cedes ground to America's default version of life together, the romantic couple.

But the school has gone through many phases. This is no doubt a temporary one.

hattmall2 days ago

Everything about that sounds like a SNL skit. TASS? Like really?

brindlejim17 hours ago

No kidding. As they say on Twitter: "What did you think decolonization meant? Vibes? Papers? Essays?" Racialism is the stovepipe for the revolution.

23kfuhfsdf2 days ago

TASP -- Sad to hear!

b82 days ago

I'm a student at Berea College, which is like Deep Springs College (tuition free, everyone works etc.), but it's a bit bigger. It's a decent college and some work on the campus farm. Most of the faculty are from top tier colleges or are reputable scholars. A few students have transferred to top tier colleges as well. Anyway, the 60 minutes episode about Deep Springs is a good watch!

mattficke2 days ago

I have a broom made by the student workshop at Berea and it’s a delightful tool, never thought I would enjoy sweeping.

itronitron2 days ago

From the article:

"My visit to Deep Springs College taught me, in no uncertain terms, to be extremely careful about trusting anyone. Whether it is trusting a leader, trusting the numbers an institution claims, or trusting someone who is making an argument to you about this or that. A substantial majority of the people, institutions, and others we encounter in our day-to-day lives are completely full of shit. Everything is a facade and you really do not know what is real and what is not."

cozzyd2 days ago

I drive past there semi-regularly since one of the experiments I work on is in the White Mountains (near Barcroft Station) and Deep Springs is on the way between Las Vegas and the experiment site. Would be fun to try to visit sometime...

aaronharnly2 days ago

I visited a friend who was attending Deep Springs back in 1995 or 1996, when we were both first-year students.

Because I was too young to rent a car, I had to take a bus out of Las Vegas, and get picked up by someone from Deep Springs coming over the pass in a pickup. This is the Lida Junction mentioned in the article.

Very memorably, the "bus stop" was just an intersection with a dirt road, with (1) a phone booth (2) a brothel.

knodi1232 days ago

> Very memorably, the "bus stop" was just an intersection with a dirt road, with (1) a phone booth (2) a brothel.

They mentioned that in the article a couple of times. I wonder if it's still that way? Sometimes Vegas seems like a different country.

brindlejim2 days ago

The brothel (The Cotton Tail Ranch) closed many years ago.

Another neat thing about the "bus stop" was that the phone booth gave you no way to dial. There was no number pad. You'd pick it up, and the call would go straight to the operator, because neither she nor you actually knew what was going on. That is, the phone was a very old one, built for a system that relied on operators to "put you through". I remember calling the school to tell them I had arrived, and having to wait for the operator to find the right instructions in the manual to do that. Even then, there were only a few of those phones left in the US.

classichasclass2 days ago

Is that on highway 168? Beautiful drive. Always loved the Westgaard Pass.

cozzyd2 days ago

Yes, the eastern segment, there is also a western discontiguous segment of CA 168.

There is of course an interesting history about this road:

35235829082 days ago

I'm married to a Deep Springer. I've been lucky to go there once, during the Centennial.

Yes, they are brilliant.

Yes, they are hilariously weird and counter-cultural.

The college is absolutely gorgeous. I would cherish the opportunity to go again.

astrange1 day ago

What does countercultural actually mean? There hasn't been a universal culture since the Boomers more or less, so you need to pick something to counter.

352358290821 hours ago

Hmm, I think there are some kinds of universal cultural expectations that the Deep Springers I know have tended to defy.

Imagine someone went to Harvard, you'd expect that they have a classic high paying industry job.

But instead they are a farmer.

Or it's standard in the culture to be married, but the vast majority of Deep Springers are not.

I agree countercultural is overly vague. At the same time, its hard for the mainstream culture to understand what they take for granted until they come across people who are explicitly unaffected by it.

astrange9 hours ago

Farmer is a rich person job - it’s better to think of them as landlords or people running a tax evasion scheme on the side. Median farmer in the US is a multimillionaire.

Actually the one Harvard Law grad I know draws anime porn.

urstop2 days ago

There's another reunion around labor day this year.

pyuser5832 days ago

> One of the most embarrassing moments came when they asked me a question about Carl Jung, whom I had quoted in one of my essays. I had included a few lines about how Carl Jung believed this or that.

> “Have you ever actually read any books by Carl Jung?” one of the students asked me.

> “No, I’ve never read a single thing by him,” I answered truthfully.

> “Then how can you possibly have a large quote from him in your essay, base an essay around his teachings and also lead us to believe that you know what you are talking about?”

> It was a really good question and he had a point. The rest of the experience and all of the questions went basically like this: I would say one thing and they would contradict me and accuse me of not really understanding what I was talking about.

This is a big paradox of modern society: most of what people believe is bullshit.

But you can’t go around saying people believe bullshit, because they are people, and worthy of respect.

The best solution is to focus on contributing new knowledge, not destroying the bullshit.

It would have been much more impressive if a student actually addressed the ideas attributed to Jung, or explained why the quote was misleading.

mastercheph2 days ago

Why would you expect this character, the one who quotes Jung at length without ever having read anything he wrote, to remember and record if and what anyone said to him about Jung?

screenothethird2 days ago


diracs_stache2 days ago

Several people from my high school went to Deep Springs. They were all incredibly bright, high potential students but definitely wanted "different". The ones I knew went on to UChicago, MIT, and (I think?) Harvard after their terms. I went to a Service Academy and couldn't help but think that their experience sounded much more challenging than what I went through.

ricardobeat2 days ago

This is pretty surreal, and feels like the beginning of a script for a Hollywood movie.

sdwr2 days ago

So weird, but so believable.

w10-12 days ago

Much about this seems implausible. Classes are in the morning, not work. No applicant would be left alone to work - why? It's rare to have en-banc candidate interviews, and then only with the ~10-member applications committee. Also, the posting is 15 years out of date; after 7 student-generations, it can say little about Deep Springs today. But possibly it was true.

Deep Springs gives the 24 2-year students all the responsibility: to pick faculty and students, to actually run the ranch, and to govern themselves.

Part of that is ensuring each generation of students decides for themselves: practices survive only if the current generation adopts them.

Another part is that people commit to taking you seriously; i.e., you will be held responsible for your bullshit (er: taken at your word), e.g., "the people who read this essay at the school thought my idea was groundbreaking" means "The most interesting thing was this essay, so they went with it."

Another part is the "isolation" policy: students don't leave during term, and more generally avoid outside influences (the internet has been a big issue, obviously). The goal is for you, together only with the people you have with you, to take full responsibility, and gain full authority, using what you have at hand.

As a consequence, outside interest is Deep Springs, while necessary for the validation to recruit good students, is mostly discouraged -- to avoid influencing how the current students decide how to run things, and certainly to avoid visitors or internet conflagrations.

It's extremely rare for students to have this combination of freedom and responsibility and feedback. It should be replicated. It's almost always life-changing. So if you know any brilliant, caring, and productive people about to start college, please ask them to consider Deep Springs.

Otherwise, please forget about it :)

aidenn02 days ago

> Also, the posting is 15 years out of date; after 7 student-generations, it can say little about Deep Springs today. But possibly it was true.

36 years and 18 student generations; author visited in 1988.

> Another part is the "isolation" policy: students don't leave during term, and more generally avoid outside influences (the internet has been a big issue, obviously). The goal is for you, together only with the people you have with you, to take full responsibility, and gain full authority, using what you have at hand.

Sounds like a cult.

reaperman2 days ago

> It's extremely rare for students to have this combination of freedom and...

Yes, "freedom" is a strange word to describe a place where students have so much control over others -- whether they can visit their girlfriends or not. It does sound rather cultish.

S_Bear2 days ago

That was not the Harrison Barnes I was expecting. I spent a good few minutes figuring out why he'd be checking out a college with no D1 basketball program.

hscontinuity2 days ago

There is immutable self reflection in the author's account of his experience/s. That reflection also leads to immutable knowledge of self, in general. The lesson is hammering the nail not only on the head, but purely, intently, and straight.

Be who you are, or who you want to be. Do not trust the images of conformity around you, for they wear a mask more often than not.

Raise your own awareness - something often lacking our everyday experiences, for all of us.

aqirax2 days ago

I made it to the final interview round in 2018 (1 of ~50). It was a delightful experience, though I was a little heartbroken when I didn't make it in. It was also the first year they were accepting women, which I suppose cut my odds in half. I believe their plan was half women this year, then all women next year, and then leave it up to the student body for future classes, but I'm not certain if they put that in place.

Some anecdotes:

The application process was intense. I wrote 4 essays for the first round, then four more for the second (and an extra one at the college), plus several other smaller prompts and questions. Each essay was 2-3 pages. The essay topics weren't easy either: "In what ways do your actions escape the boundaries of your intentions?" was one I remember in particular. They were enjoyable prompts, just difficult, but I think I did fairly well with them.

They paid for my flights. It was the first time I had ever flown.

At the airport I chatted with the other nervous applicants. We took a long, winding bus ride into Bishop. The driver took a good look at us and said "Ah, must be that time of year again" when we all climbed aboard. We were dropped off at a Walmart parking lot, and got picked up a couple hours later by a student in a large white pickup truck.

The sun had set, so we couldn't see anything. We drove through a very narrow pass carved through some mountains, you could see the layers of rock in the truck's headlights. The student honked three times since it was only one car wide. When we arrived we were directed to a dusty attic to drop off our things, and then told to be ready to work at 6am. We all split up and wandered around aimlessly. The attic had a calendar with cowboy pinups on the wall, and was filled with musty old magazines and random bits and bobs. I loved their music room, with hundreds of old records and CDs and cassettes, as well as the smoking porch, which they endearingly called the "Smo'po' ". I was slightly surprised that so many students smoked. The conversations they had were interesting and rich. There was no small talk, only waxing poetic with a pack of marlboros. I wandered into the dining hall where students were cleaning up dinner. The kitchen was loud, two giant amps spewed Taylor Swift while somebody sprayed off plates with an industrial(?) washer.

In the morning, I learned how to milk cows with another applicant, a girl who talked about Aristotle the whole time (just to impress the students, I think). Two buckets later and we watched the sun rise over the ranch. Again, we arrived in the dark, so this was the first time I was seeing everything. It was brilliant, like nectar pouring over the mountain sides. The whole valley opened up, much larger than I expected, almost swallowing me whole. The campus itself, just a handful of buildings, was now a small speck in the distance.

I did very poorly in the interview. In the application they ask you to list every book you've read in the last year, and whether it was for class or personal enjoyment. I did dual enrollment and was about to receive my Associates in highschool, and pretty much only took math classes (I wanted to be/currently am an OR scientist), and I never read much outside of my lit classes. They asked why, claiming that reading was a particularly important skill for this school. I gave a mild response, but said that recently I had started reading a lot more, and pulled out a copy of Tristram Shandy. The president of the college was one of my interviewers, and his eyes lit up. He asked me why I was interested in the book, and I said something along the lines of "I heard it was incredibly boring." His face immediately turned sour, and said "Well, it's also incredibly funny." What I really meant was that it's about the monotony of everyday life, which seemed interesting given that most books I enjoyed were fantasy and sci-fi. But I was fairly nervous and starstruck at the moment, and didn't express myself very well. I never finished the book.

Later in the day I helped a student load hay bales into a truck and distribute them around to various stables and pens. I had an interesting conversation him. He said that the biggest reason he came to Deep Springs was because he wanted to escape his drug and alcohol use. He was lean and tan, with short black hair, and wore a grimy white t-shirt and jeans. He was the "gopher hunter" (though I think it had a more prestigious name), and told me all about the ins and outs of the art of gopher hunting.

During lunch I spoke with several other students. One, from India and had attended a famous international school (whose name I unfortunately don't remember, but apparently has had many alumni attend Deep Springs), was the most well-spoken person I've ever met. Everything he said was eloquent and precise, in a way I can't quite describe. He somehow chose the optimal words for every sentence, leaving his audience with no room (or need) for interpretation, you simply understood exactly what he meant in an unsettling vivid way. I wish I could remember something that he said. After lunch, I sat in on a philosophy class. They were discussing an Ayn Rand text they had read the previous week. I tried to ask questions and participate, though not having read the text made it difficult. If only it was a diffeq class!

The next day I went on a hike with another applicant into the mountains. He was Bulgarian, with a thick beard and a puffy sweater, and spoke with a heavy accent. We made lots of jokes and talked a lot about what we'd imagine life would be like here.

When I got back, I wrote another essay, though I don't remember the exact topic. A student brought me up to a nearby house on a hill, and gave me a printed prompt and several sheets of paper and a pen. I asked what this building was for, as it was rather empty, just a table and a few beds. He said that sometimes students sleep in this house, and I asked why. He had slept there last night, because he was sick. I said I hope he's feeling better, to with he replied "Yes, though it was more of an emotional sickness than physical one." I didn't ask any other questions, though I wish I did.

We all took another winding bus ride through the mountains back to the airport, though we were rather silent this time. I flew back out and eagerly awaited to hear back from them. It was my first choice for school. I was crestfallen when I got rejected, and heavily considered reapplying next year. But the application process was so long and intense, and I was so busy with applying for internships and completing upper level courses, I couldn't muster the energy to do it. I regret it less each year.

rashkov23 hours ago

Thanks for writing this up, super interesting!

AtlasBarfed2 days ago


You should neither trust outward appearances, nor let them intimidate you. There is always a discord between the appearance that a person or organization projects, and their actual nature. For this reason, always be careful about the people and organizations in whom you place your trust.


About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is the Founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter himself. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in a search and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.


Also, guy is excessively obsessed with people's personal sex lives, and seems to try to match people to caricatures and archetypes. He seems to have problems appreciating complexity and things that aren't white and black.

A lot of extremely smart people are like this with social aspects, because they become entrenched in proof/disproof and absolute right and wrong points from excessive academic achievement.

No wonder the guy a) was fascinated with an extreme cult college where extreme academics with poor social skills seem to go, and b) is obsessed with Las Vegas.

I recall reading a Catcher in the Rye which is popular precisely because of stunted/novice social development narrative perspective (protaganist is a teenager) identifying everyone as "phonies". Same vibe here.

thsksbd2 days ago

This has all the trappings to be miserably boring. The story is long. In the middle of nowhere. Filled with weirdo boys cosplaying as yeoman intellectuals.

I figured the story would take a dark turn, like a horror flick.

Au contraire! This is a story about a bunch of self righteous pricks whose peckers get antibiotic resistant STDs.

This was great, thank you. (The moral lesson is interesting too but I don't want to spoil it)