First Impressions: Case Western Reserve University (OH)
Selective private research universities rarely go big with aggressive marketing. Case Western Reserve University is the exception. I have never seen a school like Case send such nice marketing materials shortly after signing up for a campus tour. Thanks to these materials, as well as some pre-visit prep, there’s one thing I learned in advance: few research universities are “exactly like” this one.
I made a Pinterest page to give you a look at this campus. My friend and professional colleague, Bridget Hotrum, gave me the photo above after the connection between my phone and computer let me down. And now I invite you to read my recap of Case Western.
Case Western gets on a lot of lists because of its near-Ivy or Ivy-like stature (choose the word pairing you like).
But Case does not usually end up as the first choice. While the number of applications rose from 18,400 in 2013 to more than 29,000 in 2020, the yield, the percentage of accepted students who deposit, never exceeded 18 percent. That surprises me, given how much Case Western offers to those who deposit. Only an open-curriculum school like Brown or Rochester offers more flexibility.
However, Case Western has become far more global than it was over a decade ago. Once overwhelmingly dominated by Ohio residents, Case now gets three quarters of its students from other states and about 15 percent from other nations. In addition, Case committed to three years of test-optional admissions, starting with the cycle that just concluded. Forty percent of the entering freshman class applied test optional. That surprised me given Case’s near-Ivy/Ivy-like stature.
What do I mean by “near Ivy” or “Ivy-like” schools?
To me these are schools whose entering freshmen have an Ivy-like statistical profile (4.0+ GPA, 1400+ SAT or 32+ ACT), have fewer than 10,000 undergrads, produce candidates for doctoral and professional degrees, including the MD, and have no religious affiliation. They’re also located within, or close to, a major city. If you look at the members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), which Case is a member, you’ll recognize these schools.
You might also notice that these schools have different sports profiles. The Ivies are D-I in every sport, though they do not award athletic scholarships. Other schools such as Duke, Northwestern, Rice, Stanford, Tulane and Vanderbilt do. Case Western competes in Division III athletes along with Brandeis, Cal Tech, Carnegie Mellon, Chicago, Emory, Johns Hopkins (except D-I Lacrosse), MIT, Rochester, Tufts and Wash U. The school competes against several of these schools in the University Athletic Association (UAA). If you come to Case, you get the chance to root against some schools that might have denied you admission when you applied from high school. Some might be happy to find that in a sports program.
Depending on the intended major these schools get cross-shopped in different combinations.
A prospective engineer or hopeful MD might look at Case vs. Johns Hopkins, MIT, Tufts or Rochester, among others. A liberal arts or Nursing major might consider Case vs. Emory. Someone looking for an undergraduate business program with an opportunity to study finance might also look at Carnegie Mellon, Emory, Rice, Wash U. or Tulane. Most other private Ivy-likes/near-Ivies do not offer a nursing degree. Nor do most offer an undergraduate business degree, or they offer only a general business or business economics program.
I can think of only one school among the most selective urban private universities that I have visited that overlaps with Case in virtually every academic program: the University of Pennsylvania.
Case Western tries to help with affordability.
Case estimated a total cost of attendance of $74,100 for the coming academic year. That includes the charges that you see on the bill (tuition and fees, room and board) and the off-the-bill expenses that families must make such as books and transportation. But the university tries to meet full need for all freshmen who it believes to have demonstrated need.
Most other Ivy-like/near-Ivy schools do not have similar access to need-based and merit-based awards. At Case Western the average need-based scholarship was nearly $38,000 for the freshmen who arrived last fall. Case also awarded merit scholarships to just over a third of the class. Those averaged over $23,000. But while nearly 60 percent of 2020 graduates had no student loan debt, the average borrower owed over $30,000. That’s $3,000 more than the maximum they could borrow over four years through the Federal Student Loan program.
Case Western has a much shorter history as a university than other AAU schools.
It was created in 1967 from a federation of two neighboring schools. Western Reserve College, the liberal arts school, opened its doors in nearby Hudson, Ohio in 1826 and moved to Cleveland in 1882. The Case School of Applied Science (later Case Institute of Technology) opened its doors around the same time. Both schools collaborated to expand a shared campus. They did not formally restructure their academic programs and degree granting schools into a single university until 1992. Today, Case Western has approximately 5,200 undergraduates and over 6,000 graduate and professional students. Among the Ivies only Dartmouth has fewer undergrads. Among near Ivy/Ivy-like research universities that are member in the prestigious Association of American Universities, only Cal Tech, Brandeis and Rice have fewer undergrads.
Aside from granting undergrad business and nursing degrees, what makes Case stand out among near-Ivies?
Case Western offers several accelerated pathways to advanced degrees and combined programs that you don’t find at most other Ivies and near-Ivies/Ivy-like schools. There’s also an opportunity to go on an eight-year journey into medical school or dental school, if you meet some tough conditions during and after admissions. There’s likely to be more access to research opportunities because there are fewer graduate students than you’ll find at larger schools such as BU, NYU, Cornell or Penn. To date, nearly 90 percent of the undergraduate student body is engaged in research.
More interesting, Case Western might be ‘pre-health heaven’
One-sixth of Case Western freshmen enter on a pre-med/pre-health journey. If your motivations take you towards medicine or nursing, there might not be a better university to follow through with them. Case Western’s hospital as well as the nearby Cleveland Clinic and the VA Hospital offer easier access to more shadowing opportunities than you might find at any other Ivy-like/near-Ivy/real Ivy school. The nursing program puts students into clinical rotations in their very first semester. Pre-med and nursing students are also encouraged to become nursing assistants to help them shadow and accumulate hours and and experience in the hospital settings. As mentioned before, Case Western also offers a path from the Bachelors to the MD. I learned that 3,000 candidates applied for only 20 to 25 slots.
Regardless of major, the students seem happy with their choice.
Case has retained at least 92 percent of every freshman class it has admitted since 2012-13. Just over two-thirds of the classes that have entered and graduated since then finished in four years. That’s a little lower than some other near-Ivy/Ivy-like/Ivy League schools. However, a third of the engineering students opt for cooperative education, which adds an extra year towards a degree, but also provides invaluable work experience. Not to mention that the school makes it easier to stick around and go on to an advanced degree. You’ll have some large classes at the start, especially in the introductory courses in Biology, Chemistry and Psychology. Eighteen percent of classes taught at Case last year had over 40 students. Four percent had more than 100. At Penn, a larger school, these numbers were 12 percent and three percent.
One thing I also learned: while Case admits students to the university at large vs. a major, incoming students do not deviate far from their academic intentions. Virtually every Nursing student will finish in Nursing. Prospective engineers finish in engineering or another science, though they might add a second liberal arts major or an unexpected minor. Or they might major outside of STEM, but stay with a STEM minor. The same is true for business students. While Case will expect excellence across all subjects on a high school transcript, it will actually admit you into any major, through their single-door policy, presuming you are ready to do the work.
Case has an actual campus with green space versus being a cluster of buildings.
Among urban campuses I have visited it reminded me most of Penn. It has an eclectic mix of architecture, abundant green space as well as immediate access to museums and performing arts. Prior to the pandemic Case housed 80 percent of its undergraduate student body, including 97 percent of the freshmen. Thankfully, you won’t pay anywhere close to the rent that you’d pay in Boston or New York if you move off, and you’ll have a lots of choices. Greek life attracts more than a third of the undergraduate student body, high for a school this size.
This is not a school that bonds around spirit and sports, but it does support six campus-wide events. However, aside from choosing your clubs and organizations, or checking out entertainers and speakers, the city is more likely to be your campus, because everything is so accessible.
Cleveland is a college town, but it’s not like Boston or New York or even Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.
There’s plenty for college students to do and less competition for medical shadowing or internships than you will find in those cities. I read complaints about cold weather and rain in student reviews. But you’ll take plenty of similar rough walks in Boston, Chicago or New York from December through the beginning of March. The major difference between Cleveland vs. other cities that host a school like Case is that those cities have several more colleges, and many more college students. If you’re hoping to meet up with people from other schools at bars and clubs around a city, Case might not be your place.
The university has been the impetus for University Circle, Cleveland’s major cultural district. If you’ve spent a lot of time in New York City, imagine the Lincoln Center neighborhood smacked next to Arthur Avenue (by Fordham) or Little Italy in Manhattan next to a true college campus and medical complex. It looks and feels quite livable, even on a student budget. Parents will have no problem finding nice places to eat, stay and tour while visiting their son or daughter at Case. Want to venture further? Playhouse Square is the nation’s second-largest theatre district, after Broadway in New York City. Cleveland Browns tickets might be getting hard to come by as they start to win. But professional baseball and basketball tickets are easy to get. And if you love music you must check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Connections to post-graduate destinations vary.
I found that 61,500 Case Western alumni were registered in LinkedIn.com. That’s a small base than you’ll find at virtually any other near-Ivy/Ivy-like school aside from Rice or Rochester. If there’s a negative to Case versus some of its kin, this is it. But outside of Cleveland Case Western has nearly 3,300 alumni in the New York metro area, over 2,300 in/around San Francisco and over 1,500 in/around Boston, Chicago and Washington DC.
The size and geography of the alumni base might matter less in some disciplines, especially the health professions, because of the reputation of the university and the Cleveland Clinic. But while Cleveland has extremely viable financial and health care sectors and has a growing technology sector, its economy and job market are not even the largest in Ohio. However, it’s also reasonable to believe that Case students come to like the city enough to remain there as alumni. That’s tells me something good about Cleveland, considering that nearly 90 percent of Case Western’s undergraduate student body comes from other states or countries.
I recommend Case Western to anyone who harbors Ivy League ambitions, unless they cared about meeting people from other colleges or wanted a high-profile college sports program. It has the academics and facilities to help any exceptionally bright and highly motivated person get to where they want to go. But unlike a school such as Northwestern, it’s alumni base as not as national or international as other near-Ivy/Ivy-like schools.
Report Card: Case Western Reserve University
- 4-Year/6-Year Graduation Rates: A/A
- Freshman Retention: A
- Costs: B
- Curriculum: A
- Community: A
- Comforts: A
- Connections: A (Cleveland/SF/NYC)/B (elsewhere)
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