So you've chosen a college in Seattle—or maybe you haven't.

Maybe you're here by default: Yale and Brown and Smith weren't impressed by your application so you're stuck at your third-string school in a hard, gray city instead of that charming, sun-dappled college town you dreamed about, the one with manicured lawns and only-slightly-less-manicured students and an aura of dignified fun and creative scholarship.

Luckily, you can, without much effort, ignore this city and pretend you're in a charming college town. Seattle has its own Seven Sisters—you may recall, or may even have been rejected by, the famous East Coast consortium: Vassar, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, et al.—each with its own sisterly identity. Seattle's are the University of Washington (the busty prima donna), Seattle University (the pretty, smart, sanctimonious one), Seattle Central Community College (the one in a middling rock band), Seattle Pacific University (the forgettable one), Cornish (the insufferably arty one), Art Institute of Seattle (the would-be arty one who will actually wind up designing price tags), and ITT Technical Institute (the one who keeps trying to convince you to host a Tupperware party).

From a street-level view, our colleges don't have much to do with our city. The University District has bars and cheap restaurants and used bookstores—so do other neighborhoods, which also have less college but more live music, theater, and art. But never mind that—you have the rest of your life to explore cities and their corrupting pleasures, and this city's schools happen to offer the old-fashioned collegiate spirit you've been pining for. College is the place to spend your time and someone's dollars—yours, your parents', or my tax money—in edifying reflection. Write for the student newspaper, lounge on the well-kept lawns, and browse the better libraries. Ignore the city and hop along the delightful archipelago of Seattle campuses.

University of Washington

The archetypal campus with grassy quadrangles, duck-infested fountains, and a disorienting mixture of modernist and collegiate-gothic architecture. The University of Washington is an enormous state school with all the enormous state-school stuff—overstuffed classes vs. a great library, a bureaucracy you could easily get lost and die in vs. heaps of resources to take advantage of. (And it's got the College Inn Pub, one of the finest bars for reading and conversation in the city.)

Huskies games are either a pleasure or a pain in the ass, depending on whether you prefer subsidized sports teams or free-flowing traffic. There are also medical centers, the city's best libraries, and billions of dollars in research funds and Department of Defense contracts, including a study to develop neural implants for monkeys that allow researchers to monitor their brain activity. As UW's Dr. Jaideep Mavoori was quoted saying in Harper's, "We believe we are the first to record neural activity from a monkey doing a somersault." The best part: This research is, in part, designed to help the Pentagon in its relentless quest to control the brains of sharks and turn them into deep-sea aquatic spies. That's right: the UW is working with the military to make cyborg sharks.

Geographical advantages: the Henry Art Gallery; the Salinger-era nostalgia of brick-and-ivy architecture; the aforementioned College Inn.

Seattle University

The Jesuit college with the heart of gold. According to alumni, the campus is nice (lawns, people—lawns), the library is tiny (notorious for gay cruising in its upper-tier bathrooms), and the food service is comparatively good. In a recent bid to raise its community profile, and the profile of its drama department, SU coaxed a well-regarded mid-level theater company called Empty Space to move into the university's brand-new theater, the first building in the college's history oriented toward the street, offering the outside world its face instead of its ass.

Alumni—even sin-loving, godless alumni—recommend attending a retreat hosted by the campus ministry. The themed retreats sound off-putting at first, but there's a good variety (Passover retreats, sexuality retreats, silent retreats) and the trips are a fine way to meet people, get out of the city, and reflect.

Geographical advantages: The Chapel of Saint Ignatius, wherein the walls of one room are coated with 600 pounds of beeswax; Capitol Hill.

Seattle Central Community College

The college of choice for ahead-of-schedule Running Start students, late bloomers, recent immigrants, and those looking to get some basic college credits on the cheap, conveniently located on Capitol Hill. SCCC also has robust American Sign Language, fashion, wood construction, and maritime programs, plus nearby Cal Anderson Park, which looks like a section of Legoland, and is the city's best approximation of a Continental oasis, with sparse, pruned trees, a wading pool, and flat grass. Bring a thermos of gin and tonics and let the croquet commence.

Geographical advantages: The Bonney-Watson funeral parlor, whose smoking crematorium stack serves as a daily memento mori that reminds passing students to graduate before it's too late.

Seattle Pacific University

Nobody knows anything about SPU. Not even its students—if they exist. It is (allegedly) a Christian university, located (allegedly) in the Fremont neighborhood, but even taxi drivers and police officers have difficulty remembering exactly where.

Cornish College of the Arts

If you're feeling charitable: An art school whose value has waxed and waned, and is now on the upswing, particularly in dance and theater. If you're feeling mean: An art school like most art schools—a place where hacks can hide for a couple of years and where the talented will spin their wheels and spend their (or somebody else's) money. Former teachers include Martha Graham, Morris Graves, and John Cage. Current teachers include Wade Madsen, Ellen Forney, and Sheila Daniels.

Geographical advantages: None—yet. Depends on what Paul Allen does with the nearby South Lake Union neighborhood.

Art Institute of Seattle

One should be suspicious of for-profit educational institutions, but AIS is like a friendly embassy in an oppressive country, drawing young, would-be artists from rural towns who didn't score the grades to attend any other college. Some will work hard and claw their way into graphic-design jobs. Some will not. In this, AIS should be breeding Marxist discontents, but because it is populated by aspiring artists, it has an air of existential despair. Case in point: The "creative solutions" link on the Art Institute's website has only this header: "Creative Solutions: Tips and Tactics from the Expert Faculty of the Art Institute of Seattle." The rest of the page is blank.

Geographical advantages: A few minutes' walk away, next to Puget Sound, freight trains rattle slowly north toward Canada and south toward Mexico. If your muse falls permanently silent, climb aboard and begin your life as rail-riding hobo.

ITT Technical Institute

Located in sunny Tukwila, our local branch of the ITT chain doesn't waste time with the liberal arts, but offers degrees exclusively in criminal justice, accounting, information-systems security, and business administration. English, anthropology, art history, and philosophy majors from other area institutions of higher learning are encouraged to drop by and rub elbows with their future managers.

Geographical advantages: Southcenter Mall; the roar of jets taking off from Boeing Field.