Reed is a strange place and, in my experience, was insular and depressing. I graduated from there in the mid-1990s. It's not a place that produces many professionals or thought leaders. Academics, yes, maybe. Also, maybe folks who go into alternative medicine, or beer-making, or computer programming, or organic food restaurants, or stacking books in libraries. But not a lot of people who go on and interact with the world and start or run businesses or invent things or go into politics or lead organizations or stand out socially in other ways. There are some of these, of course, but surprisingly few based on the quality and cost of the education (do something with this elite opportunity - don't just value how "intellectual" it all was!). Reviewing the Reed alumni directory and reading the Reed alumni notes brings this observation to life. The most famous "Reedie" was Steve Jobs but he wasn't really a Reedie -- he dropped out. Ask a Reedie to name another famous Reedie, I promise the person will be hard-pressed to say. (There was a physics professor at one point, also a Reed grad, who invented an important smoke detector circuit and made some money, but I honestly can't think of other Reedies like this -- I'm sure there are, but it sure ain't Harvard or MIT).
It's a place that promotes rigorous thinking, sure, and has a very traditional curriculum, but is also overly self-conscious about how iconoclastic it thinks itself to be (yet, when I was there, I frequently heard the phrase, "Reed is a place where you can learn how to learn" -- a notion invoked without irony or awareness of how cliched this is). While the school does not routinely disseminate report cards at the end of semester, the students ARE graded. I received a "B" in every class I took (and worked my ass off). Not an occasional B- or B+ or A or C+, even though these gradations did exist. I received a "B" only -- seems I was pegged early on as a "B" student and every professor just entered a grade consistent with my prior grades. There's something fishy about this (statistically-speaking, it's possible but not very likely that these consistent "B"s were accurate).
There were definitely too many drugs, and lots of talk about drugs as well (there was a drug called Bromo for awhile, really strong and scary stuff -- I never tried). The "bubble-like" nature of the place means there was not much talk about or engagement with the wider community. The place is green and pretty but is (and was) a bit run down. I walked through campus a couple years ago and saw broken basement windows, lots of cobwebs, stray litter blowing in the wind. There have been times in Reed's history when there have been an unusual number of student suicides. I don't know whether these have been proportionately greater in number than at other small, expensive liberal-arts colleges, but it's hard not to believe that without relevance are the near-constant drizzle, the prolonged winter darkness, the drugs, the pressure to study all the time, the isolated nature of the place, and the number of socially awkward kids the place attracts.
Yet, despite all this, Reed IS an excellent school. I got a good education, but would have been happier, I suspect, and received an equally good education at a more conventional school. Bottom line is that there are quite a large number of better schools from both an academic and balanced-life perspective (any Ivy League; most of the highly-ranked US News and World Report liberal arts colleges; and even lots of big state schools, many of which have liberal arts programs that try to create the feel of small college life if this is what you want). Obviously, some of this is just reflective of my individual experience -- maybe there were things I was dealing with during my college adolescent years. Of course there were happy times and friends, but somehow these just don't figure prominently in my memory. Other people clearly love the place. My life has been happy, fulfilling and successful, but the major reflection of my feeling about Reed is that I would never encourage any of my own children to go there.
Professors- A+ The professors are a huge asset to Reed. Ridiculously smart and well-versed in their field, approachable, want to help you succeed. You can get to know them very well and work closely with them if you want. It is not uncommon for them to host students for dinner at their house.
Curriculum- If you like liberal arts, A+. Reed is one of the most quintessentially liberal arts schools around with a very traditional humanities-based core curriculum and broad distribution requirements.
Classes- A. Challenging, discussion-based, small. Smart students who usually have interesting things to contribute, smart professors who are usually gifted at facilitating discussions. It is expected that you did the work and have something to contribute, even if you don't speak up much. In class, I almost never felt like my time was being wasted.
Registration- A. Easy online process, you can usually get into the classes you want before they fill up (except a few very popular PE classes). It's unheard of for someone to not graduate because they were unable to register for a certain class. (However, it does happen that people won't graduate because they never bothered to take PE or science classes in time).
Offerings- B+. Reed is a small college. Most departments don't have more than 10 professors. Therefore, the amount of class offerings can be smaller than at other schools. However, the variety is pretty good, and I feel like they cover the basics for most disciplines.
Workload- rigorous. Reed is a lot of work. Students spend the majority of their time in class or studying. The 3 hours outside of class studying per 1 hour inside of class is true. While students are still able to participate in extracurriculars and have a social life, they usually have to prioritize the important things because there isn't enough time to do it all. Successful students learn good time management and good study skills, and how to sustain work-life balance and set boundaries (which might mean that you don't do every last page of the reading and that is okay). Some students are academic masochists and love brutal workloads, others keep a good balance of more and less intense classes per semester and maintain a life outside of school. During the spring semesters of junior year (qual) and senior year (thesis), all bets are off.