Getting To Know: Wake Forest University (NC)
Wake Forest University was the seventh stop on my North Carolina college tour. I took a lot of notes during a counselor information session and after our tour. I have dropped some photos of this beautiful campus up top and below and invite you to check out a Pinterest page.
Wake Forest is located in Winston-Salem, the fourth-largest city in North Carolina. The campus moved there from Wake Forest–the town–in 1956. However, if you check out the Southern architecture on the main campus, you might believe that the university has been here for a century longer.
Wake Forest has also opened a downtown campus to host the medical school as well as science and engineering programs. This is probably the most important economic development project in the city’s recent history. It will advance the business community as well as the STEM and MD programs. Downtown Winston Salem has a growing arts community, but I could not tell if it was well connected with the students at the university during the time I was in town or on campus.
It’s getting tougher to get in to Wake Forest.
Wake Forest’s acceptance rate has dropped from 32 percent for the Class of 2024 to 21 percent for the Class of 2026. About half of a class comes through Early Decision; the first round is a “rolling” process. About 40 percent of every class admitted since 2017 decided to enroll. That’s relatively high for a private university. It’s also high for a school that gets shopped versus Ivies and Ivy-like schools such as Duke or Vanderbilt.
The university has been test optional since 2009. In fact, the majority of the Class of 2025, the latest year that I could find data from the school, did not submit scores. The average scores are not quite Ivy or Ivy-like. But don’t be ashamed to submit them if you have double 700s–even if each score is “only 700”– or scored “only 30” on each section of the ACT.
Wake Forest draws quite well from around the US. At present, 86 percent of the undergraduates come from outside North Carolina; ten percent come from other countries.
This school is also called ‘Work Forest’.
That term is even embraced in the university’s print (below) and digital marketing.
There is a lot of pride in the rigor of the education, whether you choose a liberal arts major or one that is pre-professional.
Every student must take a liberal arts core, including those in the business and engineering majors. That includes a foreign language at the 200 level, a Fine Arts course and two semesters of health and wellness classes. However, it’s easy to double dip the divisional requirements towards a major or minor as well as satisfying requirements in Diversity and Quantitative Reasoning. There is also an option to apply to an Open Curriculum, which is more flexible, after enrolling. But faculty members must approve the student’s curriculum plan.
It’s very easy to graduate with a double major or multiple minors in Wake Forest College, the liberal arts college, or add an Entrepreneurship minor (there are no other business minors). However, prospective business and engineering students must clear some hurdles before getting into their major coursework. There is no direct admission to those programs from high school. I also recommend Wake Forest for those who would like to study in Europe. The university owns academic and residential properties in London, Rome and Venice. There are 28 university-unique study abroad and study-in-the-US programs run by the Center for Global Programs and Studies. Another nice bonus: the university offers a series of credit-bearing career development courses. Every Wake Forest student should take them, even if they plan to go on to further education after college.
Wake Forest is quite expensive.
The university has quoted an estimated cost of Attendance of nearly $88,000 for the next academic year. Merit-based awards are limited, but the university will try to meet 100 percent of demonstrated need.
In 2020-21, the latest year that I could find data from the school and College Navigator, the average freshman need-based scholarship covered 72 percent of the cost of attendance, provided that the school deemed you qualified for need-based aid. This came before jobs, non-university funds (like Pell Grants) and student loans kicked in. Less than 30 percent of the graduates in the Class of 2021 graduated with student loan debt. But the average debt among borrowers was over $36,000. That’s almost $10,000 more than the maximum a student may borrow from the Federal Student Loan Program.
When I see numbers like these, it shows me that Wake Forest does a lot to help their neediest students. However, they also show me that the university does an excellent job attracting families who can pay.
Greek life matters at Wake Forest
Over 30 percent of the men and more than 60 percent of the woman are members of social fraternities and sororities. These organizations are mixed into the residence life on campus. They do not own their own houses, but they can dominate a housing assignment list. I have been to only one other school where this was equally visible: Union College (NY).
Even if you don’t want to become engaged in Greek life, it helps to be a sports fan
With over 2,000 members, the Screamin’ Deacons, the student spirit organization, is the largest student group on campus, and they get the best seats for football and basketball games. They even have a reward points system for fan loyalty. It will be much easier to get seats for Wake Forest men’s basketball games than it would ever be at Duke or UNC-Chapel Hill.
Wake Forest is the smallest school to play in a Power Five football conference, though the Demon Deacons have had more recent gridiron success than many larger athletic programs. They have played in seven bowl games since 2016, winning five. Wake Forest has had more success in Men’s Basketball, Golf, Tennis and Soccer and Women’s Field Hockey. The basketball Demon Deacons have made 23 NCAA Tournament appearances though they have not won their conference title since 2003. The men’s golf and women’s field hockey teams are three-time national champions. This season, the baseball team earned the overall #1 seed for the College World Series tournament. That’s like Duke or Carolina taking the honor across all of the regional brackets in men’s basketball.
Basketball fans will know Wake Forest as the alma mater of Tim Duncan and Chris Paul . Golfers will know it as the alma mater of Arnold Palmer and Curtis Strange. I don’t know of another school that honors its golf legacy more than Wake Forest.
Among universities that I have visited in person or online, Wake Forest was most similar to Boston College and Villanova.
- All three schools graduate over 85 percent of a freshman class within four years
- Social and residence life iare very campus-based, though all three schools are near cities
- Each school has a geographically diverse alumni network
- These schools have attractive campuses around common architectural themes
- Curricula are very liberal arts focused, though Wake Forest has no required religion or philosophy courses
- Parking is really tight at all three schools
- All three claim easy access to beaches and outdoor recreation, but it takes longer to reach them from Wake Forest
Wake Forest even considers Boston College as a peer on some lists.
William and Mary is also considered a peer, although it is a public research university. I would not argue given what I know about academics at William & Mary. However, a Virginian would likely pay less to go to the state school.
The “Demon Deacon” mascot reminds me of the character on the Monopoly game box.
He is also a tough mascot to update artistically. The Deacon arrives on the field on a motorcycle for home football games.
I have no doubt that a recent Wake Forest graduate competes well for jobs and graduate/professional school admissions with graduates of Ivies as well as Ivy-like schools such as Duke. Like Boston College or Villanova, Wake Forest is a place where students work hard when they must work, and play hard when they want to take breaks from the work.
However, I also felt that students who were not athletes, artists or super-devoted to academics really needed to join the Greek system to get the most out of the campus life. Wake Forest ‘s main campus is on the outskirts of a city, but you cannot walk into town as you would at UNC-Chapel Hill, nor can you use mass transit as you might if you went to Boston College or Villanova. But it is not cheap to be an active in a fraternity or sorority. The university does help the neediest students to be in a position to cover costs, but Greek life is not regularly folded into the cost of attendance.
Report Card: Wake Forest University
- Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: A/A
- Freshman Retention: A
- Costs: B
- Community: A
- Curriculum: A
- Comforts: B+
- Connections: A
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