Getting To Know The College of Wooster (OH)-Again
I visited the College of Wooster nine years ago as part of a trip to three ‘Ohio Six’ schools. Aside from accidentally locking my keys in my car, I really enjoyed this visit. Located about an hour’s drive from Cleveland, the College of Wooster has just under 2,000 undergrads. Everyone, regardless of their GPA, does independent research during their junior and senior years.
I had a special opportunity to “zoom” with Cathy Finks, executive director for admissions, and two seniors, Doug Morris, a aspiring physician and Rachel Osterhouse, an aspiring attorney. Please listen now!
I’ve updated my Pinterest page that showcases this beautiful campus and the surrounding community. The College of Wooster is not only one of the Colleges That Change Lives; it also the only college that New York Times columnist Ron Leiber dedicated a full chapter in his book: The Price You Pay For College. There’s more to unpack about the College of Wooster, so read on!
Leiber’s book, and the virtual information session I attended, mention that independent study, aka in Wooster-talk, ‘IS’, has been part of the college’s special sauce since 1947. A structured, mentored approach towards a journey to complete the equal of a graduate thesis will help a bright person not only go on to further education, but also into employment where they can further their interests. It’s tough sell to a high school senior, unless she knows someone who has also been through it. You might write a longer paper or use equipment or materials that you could need use in high school to complete a project that might take you towards your future. Then you have to defend your work. That can appear quite intimidating.
Through IS, I can imagine an English major emerging from Wooster with a novel, a STEM major leaving with intellectual property or social scientists having business plans for entrepreneurial ventures or investment strategies. However, with great academic power comes great responsibility, even though the faculty and the career center will help you handle it.
The college does not expect you to leap from high school to IS in a single bound.
The structured approach begins where you learn research tools and methods and develop critical thinking and writing skills in a freshman seminar. During the sophomore year you take a writing course that should be in your intended major. Even the math department has a writing course. Junior year has a one-semester independent study that could be, or might not be, the launch for your senior year independent study. Senior year independent study goes two semesters. The College of Wooster requires only four courses per term to earn a degree. So you have more time for Independent study than you would at a school that has a five-course load.
Wooster’s approach appears to work for the students the college attracts.
Private liberal arts colleges tend to lose a higher percentage of a freshman class than most larger public colleges. This is mainly because of costs as well as the unique academic approaches and campus cultures of these schools. From 2010-11 to 2019-20 Wooster retained between 85 and 90 percent of their freshman class. Seventy percent of the students who entered in 2014, the last year data was available, graduated on time. That’s quite good compared to schools that have nothing like a Wooster IS requirement.
I would have expected a school with Wooster’s IS requirement to have few majors.
The College of Wooster has 41 majors and 46 minors. I have visited other liberal arts colleges that offered more, mainly because they had more students or more resources. However, the college also has eight Pathways that cut across academic departments. There are some academic opportunities that are tough to find at other selective liberal arts colleges include Communication Sciences and Disorders, Environmental Geosciences, Global Media and Digital Studies and Music Therapy. You can also earn credentials for licensure to teach in elementary or secondary schools. Those who love music, but prefer not to attend a conservatory might like the options to study not only Music or Music Therapy, but also Music Education. About a third of the Wooster student body is engaged in music for academics and/or extracurriculars. This school has as many musicians as it does athletes.
Among schools that I have personally visited, the College of Wooster felt most similar to Connecticut College.
Both schools have optional academic pathways, offer internship stipends, encourage independent study, have a moderate to liberal vibe and more of a campus-based social life. Both are located within a bike ride or short car trip from a downtown that has some eclectic shopping and dining options for college students, though Wooster is a more family oriented community than New London.
The most important similarity is the ties between the career development center and the academic departments. They support each other to help you find meaningful courses, internship and study abroad experiences to help you complete your IS as well as your degree and also to move on for life after college.
But aside from different settings, these schools take different approaches to financial aid. Connecticut College awards aid based on need. The College of Wooster offers merit and need-based awards.
The College of Wooster has some generous merit awards.
The largest merit awards, the Dean’s Scholarship and the Allen Scholarship, will cover well over half of the estimated total cost of attendance. Awards for academic achievement and the performing arts are stackable. However, while the college can be quite generous to its neediest and most talented students, the average debt for 2020 graduates who had to take out loans exceeded $31,000. That’s $4,000 more than the maximum they could borrow over four years through the Federal Student Loan Program.
The College of Wooster might turn out to be less expensive than Neighboring State U for many students. It might even cost less than Home State U for the neediest. But if you come from Ohio, as one-third of Wooster students do, the honors college at a state school will be less expensive most of the time, presuming that you can get in.
The College of Wooster offers a fair shot at an honors level education.
Wooster accepted 65 percent of all applicants for the Class of 2024. Among those accepted, just under a fifth, a class of 530, deposited for the fall. Sixty-three percent of those who applied Early Decision were accepted. But they represented less than a quarter of the class. Test-optional before my first visit, Wooster treats test scores as Considered. Among those in the Class of 2024 who submitted scores, the middle 50 percent who took the SAT scored between 1160 and 1350. For those who submitted ACT scores, the middle 50 percent for the Composite was between 24 and 31.
It’s easier to get into Wooster than the honors colleges at Penn State or Ohio State. But you might get a better education, because the whole college is built around an honors college approach to small classes and Independent study whether you have a perfect GPA or maintaining good academic standing.
If you like what you read about the College of Wooster, visit before you apply and bring good questions with you. This school considers interviews and demonstrated interest to be Important when considering candidates.
Spirit and sports are a little different at Wooster than other liberal arts colleges.
About a third of Wooster students are athletes at a school that competes in 21 NCAA D-3 varsity sports. When I visited this school the first time, I was most impressed with the golf course, though the other facilities are well maintained. The athletics home page has this statement: Wooster’s ranked in the top-five in the NCAA (all divisions) for most NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship recipients two times in the last four academic years.
It’s really nice to see a school that is not ultra-selective make such a proud statement about their student-athletes. Greek life is not as popular as it is at Denison, the last school I reviewed, attracting less than 15 percent of the men and a fifth of the women.
The geographic diversity of the alumni base might concern some.
Over 3,500 of the 16,300 Wooster alumni registered in LinkedIn.com live and work in the Cleveland and Columbus metro areas. However, there are also 1,000 alumni based in and around Washington DC and almost that number in the New York metro area. The Chicago and Boston metro areas are each home to around 700 alumni. This school had the same percentage of alumni from outside Ohio (around two-thirds) in 2010-11 as it does now. I realize that it may be tough to recruit Pennsylvania, a state with more liberal arts colleges than any other, as well as New England, New Jersey or New York. But the IS approach at Wooster stands out among the schools in any of these places.
I really like the academic approach to the College of Wooster and I also liked the campus. It felt like an expensive college with a lot of history. The students that I met when I visited and in my Zoom interview were bright but also down to earth. They were well prepared for work as well as further education. But I also felt that it helped to have some idea of a possible major, maybe two before committing to this school. The faculty wants you to be in a position to start on a graduate-level thesis or complete an artistic project in less than three years. It really helps to enter Wooster with some intellectual curiosity before going on that journey.
If you are curious about Wooster take two visits, one to gather your impressions and talk with students and admissions staff, the other to get to know who your future classmates might be. I would want to know why they applied, too. The retention and graduation rates showed that most of the past freshmen knew what they were getting into. It also shows that most of them were not kicking themselves for not choosing a more selective college.
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