College is a balancing act. Over here, you’ve got your classes and your term papers and the whole scholarly pursuit thing. But over there, you’ve got the experiential, joie de varsity of college life, with its campus quirks and revered traditions and legal and semilegal extracurriculars. Devote yourself to the former, and you’ll miss out on the full experience. Pour yourself into the latter, and, well, your experience won’t last long.

So like well-rounded college kids, we attacked the topic of Pacific Northwest colleges from both sides: On page 92, we used statistics and anecdotal evidence on everything from freshman class size to student satisfaction with professors to rank the top 39 schools in Washington and Oregon. And starting on page 66, we give you an alum’s-eye-view of several of those schools, uncovering what makes them more than just “institutes of higher learning.” What we dug up was predictable (UW has a powerhouse research program? Get out!) and weird (Reed students fight over a 300-pound cement owl) and almost enough to make us want to reenroll. Almost.