First Impressions: Kenyon College (OH)
Kenyon College was the last school that I visited during my post-pandemic journey through Ohio. A very selective liberal arts college with 1,800 undergrads, it was the smallest school that I visited. However, thanks to the admissions team, I met more Kenyon students than I would have expected to meet in July. That gave me a bigger picture of the school than I’d planned for. I also collected several pictures on Pinterest for you. I have to thank the admissions team for the photo that you see up top.
Kenyon was founded in 1824, nine years before Oberlin. It’s the oldest college in Ohio.
It was an all-male school until 1969. But today women represent 57 percent of the student body. Kenyon is located in Gambier, an isolated small town that’s about 40 miles from Columbus. Depending on how you view colleges, this can be a strength or weakness. The community and college melt together almost seamlessly. But there is not a large selection of places to dine or seek entertainment off campus, unless you have access to a car. However, there are plenty of places to go for a bike ride, run or walk when you want peace and quiet. Not to mention that there are many colleges on the both coasts and the Midwest that are further from a major city than Kenyon.
Kenyon’s campus is over 1,000 acres, huge for a private liberal arts school.
There’s a long ‘Middle-Path’ through campus with the downtown at the middle of everything. Two other unusual features of this campus are the bookstore and the lack of a student center. Kenyon’s bookstore is located downtown, and it is the oldest independent bookstore operated by a college in the US. The bookstore and the Pearce Dining Hall, which bears some resemblance to Hogwarts, are campus social centers that substitute for a student center. The theatre facilities are large for a small college, but appear to be showing their age. However, residence halls and other campus buildings have an eclectic mix of Gothic and modern designs that you would only find at a school with some history behind it. Chalmers Library, which will open this fall, is especially impressive.
The most mind-blowing building I saw on my visit was the Lowry Center for athletics. The facilities would be the envy of athletic directors at many D-1 schools. Kenyon plays 20 varsity sports as well as club sports. About a third of the student body are varsity athletes. Swimming and diving are the most successful sports with 33 NCAA Division 3 titles. Few schools have that level of success in any sport.
Kenyon is a true liberal arts school.
You won’t find a business or computer science major, but you will find a selection of ten foreign languages. The most popular majors are English, Music, Psychology, Political Science, Drama and Biology. Thirty percent of Kenyon students major in Math or the sciences. The school makes it fairly easy to double-dip a general education requirement to fulfill a minor or second major. There are over 50 majors, minors and concentrations available. The research, study abroad, and career development resources are quite impressive for a small school. About half of the students will go abroad during their time at Kenyon. No classes are held between 4:00 PM and 7:00 PM so that athletes may practice their sport, and everyone gets time for dinner.
Kenyon retained 88 percent of the class that arrived in 2019. But the college had higher freshman retention rates before the pandemic. The best class to look at might be the Class of 2018. Ninety-three percent of the class returned for their sophomore year. Eighty-six percent graduated on time. That’s better than many schools with more famous names.
Kenyon is considered most seriously by students who know that they want a liberal arts education.
It is cross-shopped against more selective liberal arts schools in New England and the Midwest (Grinnell, Carleton). It is also considered against other liberal arts colleges in Ohio, specifically the College of Wooster, Denison and Oberlin. Honors colleges at larger public universities have also become competition, though they are part of much larger campus communities. You’re unlikely to have any class with more than 30 students at Kenyon. But that can easily happen within a public honors college.
Getting into Kenyon is not as difficult as it is to get into a school such as Amherst or Williams.
The college accepted 37 percent of the students who applied to be in last year’s freshman class. However, the acceptance rate for those who applied Early Decision was 62 percent.
If you visit this school, have achieved in a rigorous academic program, and fell in love with the community, apply Early Decision. Students who were admitted on that route comprised 57 percent of last year’s freshman class. Kenyon went test optional for this past cycle, and will be for the next one. However, the school will place importance on the scores if you submit them. The average SAT for last year’s entering class was a 1360 and the average ACT Composite was a 32. These scores have been rising since 2002.
Kenyon admissions are need-aware. However, the college meets 100 percent of demonstrated need.
Over half of last year’s freshman class received need-based scholarships that averaged over $41,000. Just under a third received merit awards that averaged over $14,000. Over sixty percent of the students who graduated in 2019 had no student loan debt. Those who borrowed owed, on average, just over $23,000. That’s $4,000 less than the maximum they could borrow from the Federal Student Loan program. You have to fill out the CSS Profile as well as the FAFSA. But it’s possible that Kenyon could turn out to be less expensive than many other public or private options.
Kenyon’s social life is campus based.
Kenyon might be less than an hour from Columbus, but the students I met do not trek often to the big city. They stay on campus. Mt. Vernon, less than five miles away, has many of the popular chain restaurants. About a quarter of the students are involved in Greek life. However, even the fraternity and sorority members live in on campus housing, and they don’t always live together. The campus bonds around its own events as well as a First-Year Sing and a Senior Sing. Freshmen sign a Matriculation Book on Founder’s Day, celebrated campus-wide. Then they look for the signatures of the more notable alumni.
Kenyon has been known as the ‘Writer’s College’ since 1939.
Poet John Crowe Ransom became the first editor of the longstanding Kenyon Review. Authors John Green and EL Doctorow are Kenyon alumni. P.F Kluge, a Kenyon alum who wrote Eddie and the Cruisers, which later became a movie starring Tom Berenger, also wrote Alma Mater, a book about his teaching experiences at Kenyon.
Kenyon could also be the ‘Actors College’. Paul Newman and Allison Janney are alumni, too. Kenyon has also produced a US President, Rutherford B. Hayes, who lost the popular vote in 1876 but won the Electoral College after a Congressional commission awarded him 20 disputed electoral votes. Hayes could also be regarded as the president who ended Reconstruction in the South after pulling Federal troops out of South Carolina and Louisiana. And while Kenyon is a D-3 basketball school, Marquette basketball coach Shaka Smart is also an alum. Considering the small undergraduate population of the school, Kenyon has large alumni communities in/around New York (2,400 alumni), Washington DC (1,100), Columbus (1,000) and Boston (800) registered in LinkedIn.com.
Kenyon College has the resources and connections to take anyone to where they want to go. I personally liked the campus and was quite impressed by the students that I met. There was no “typical Kenyon student” in the group. However, I strongly recommend a campus visit for as long as you can possibly do on the first day. You have to get to know the town as well as the college. Other liberal arts schools have larger communities around them, though many are no closer to a major city than Kenyon.
Report Card: Kenyon College
- Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rate: A/A
- Freshman Retention: A
- Costs: A
- Curriculum: A
- Community: B+
- Comforts: B+
- Connections: A
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