Minerva: a New Type of University - Atlas Academy

Minerva: a New Type of University

2022 11 14

Gabija Žukauskaitė

Minerva: a New Type of University

A Silicon Valley startup, founded by businessman Ben Nelson, Minerva University is a one-of-a-kind higher education institution that offers world-class education online. In 2021, only 1% of applicants were admitted to Minerva’s undergraduate program, making it one of the most selective universities in the world. According to WURI (World’s Universities with Real Impact) Ranking 2022, Minerva University is ranked No. 1 most innovative university in the world.

Disappointed by the fact that, nowadays, elite universities fail to teach their students to think critically and freely, Ben Nelson decided to reinvent higher education and establish a very different model of a prestigious higher education institution. At Minerva, there are no faculty buildings, and no campuses, which means that teaching takes place online. The study program itself is very holistic: not only it allows students to choose interdisciplinary modules from different fields, but also teaches portable skills such as problem solving or critical thinking.

As if this was not novel enough, throughout four years of study, all Minerva students spend a semester at each of the seven different vibrant world cities: San Francisco, Seoul, Berlin, Taipei, Hyderabad, Buenos Aires, and London. This mode of study allows students to immerse themselves in different cultures through location-based programming. In each city, students get a chance to work with local partners based on their career interests (business start-ups, tech companies, NGOs and more). Furthermore, a part of the curriculum requires engaging with local culture, completing assignments based on the city’s history and society.

A Current Student Shares Her Experience

We have asked our friend Austėja Ema Bazaraitė to answer a few questions about the program and share her experience of living on four different continents while studying. Austėja is a student from Lithuania, who successfully got into Minerva University in 2020 after studying the International Baccalaureate program at Vilnius Lyceum, and studying BA European and International Studies for a year at UCL. Currently, she double majors in Humanities Foundations and Politics.


As an IB program alumna with a top score in your class, you could have applied to the top Ivy League schools in the US or Oxbridge in the UK. Why have you chosen Minerva?

After studying for a year at UCL, I was disappointed by the quality of conventional higher education. Minerva was the only alternative, offering intentional studies that were fit for the 21st-century’s global world. I knew that all my courses would be useful, and that I would grow immensely as a person throughout the four years. Moreover, what really interested me was the personalized career support Minerva offers both throughout the degree years and after graduation. We have a chance to get mini-internships in each city we go to, and most students are on financial aid that includes a work-study position. In addition to this, I think Minerva’s community is exceptional. I am surrounded by interesting, ambitious people from all over the world, which support me and motivate me every day. 


How challenging was the experience of living in 7 different countries in four years?

So far, as a third-year student, I have lived in four cities (San Francisco, Seoul, Berlin, and currently Buenos Aires). I would say that changing locations and adapting to a new culture every four months is definitely not for everyone. It is exciting, but it requires a lot of individual effort – you need to get to know the culture of the city, find the best places to shop and eat, immerse yourself in activities, etc. To be fair, Minerva helps us to adapt in a smoother fashion: it provides information on how to best get around the city, organizes many city experiences and encourages us to become familiar with the city’s culture. Furthermore, an important fact to know is that Minerva always provides housing in each city, so we live with the same ~120 people in the same place all four years, which definitely makes it easier.


As Minerva’s teaching methods are primarily focused on transferable skills rather than theory, what courses have you had a chance to study so far?

Minerva’s learning model is based on the science of learning, which means that each course focuses on skills that you can apply later in your career rather than rote-learning the content. The first year is called the Foundation Year, when all students study the same four courses: Natural Sciences, Complex Systems, Computer Science, and Multimodal Communications. This allows each student to gain well-rounded skills in different areas. From then, we choose our major and minor, but we still have to choose electives outside our main department. A key difference from other universities is that Minerva doesn’t offer a wide range of courses: each department has only nine. However, each of those courses teaches essential, skills-based knowledge that you can apply later to any context.

Minerva has only online classes, conducted on a special platform called Forum. During the 1h 30min seminars, each student necessarily has to participate. The professor is there only to facilitate the discussion, the learning happens through discussion. We don’t have exams, but for each class, we have mandatory pre-class work. Furthermore, during each class, we have to write two gradable polls, so that either our written or oral participation receives a mark and feedback each time.


How does the admissions process to Minerva look like and what are the main admission requirements? 

The Minerva application is free as the university aims to be inclusive and accessible. The application can be divided into two parts: a test of logical thinking and a summary of your achievements. First, you need to complete five or six tests, created by Minerva, that test the way your mind works. Some tasks will test your creative thinking, some – mathematical problem-solving. As the tasks are constantly changed and don’t require any prior knowledge, there is no way to prepare for them. After the challenges, you are invited to share your four to six achievements. Minerva wants to see how you engage in your local community in a variety of ways – an achievement can be organizing an event, participating in an Olympiad, pushing yourself to complete a sports challenge and so on. The space for describing each achievement is limited, so you need to present key facts in a concise way. In contrast to other US universities, you don’t need to complete any standardized tests, provide recommendations or write extremely long essays.


What would be your advice for students who are considering applying to Minerva University?

Minerva is not for all. However, if you feel that the traditional model of education doesn’t quite satisfy you, if you are curious and want to challenge yourself and grow, then Minerva might be just the place for you. Don’t overthink the entire application process and just be yourself – that’s what Minerva wants to see after all. 

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