Wesleyan University (visited 3/20/14)
Wesleyan did a great job of integrating the students’ voices into the info session. Nel, who plays woman’s varsity ice hockey and writes for newspaper, helped run the session. When it was time to break up for the tours, the admissions rep suggested that families split up to take different tours. I toured with a sophomore from Kathmandu who moved to NYC when she was young. She’s majoring in government and SE Asian studies, is active in MUN, the newspaper, and ultimate Frisbee.
Wesleyan has 2800 undergrads and about 200 grad students, mostly in the sciences. All undergraduate classes are taught by professors, but TAs may do practice sessions (especially helpful in language classes). Because there are so few grad students, undergrads have easy access to research opportunities. Almost half of students co-author papers and get published before graduation. My tour guide’s largest and smallest classes were 200 (Intro to Physics) and 9 (Japanese). Another tour guide’s smallest class had 3 students (a history class). Her favorite class was Tsunami Painting. She chose Wesleyan because of the open curriculum, the diversity, and people’s passions for majors. Academics are “do-ably competitive.”
Wesleyan has a “100% open curriculum” with no core requirements. However, there is a “general expectation” that students will leave being well rounded. While not required, 80% of students will fulfill the suggestion that they take 3 classes each in Social/ Behavioral, Arts/ Humanities, and Physical/ Natural areas. The students we talked to like this system: they’re encouraged to leave their comfort zone, but they’re taking classes with people who want to be in them rather than those who are being forced to fulfill a requirement. They want students to feel comfortable taking risks, and provide classes understanding that not everyone has an interest or strength in certain areas For example, they have a section of science classes for non-science majors, including “Physics for Future Presidents.”
With more than 900 courses offered every semester, the students said that choosing classes was really difficult!! Students need 32 classes to graduate; an average major requires 12-14. There are forty-four majors plus the University Major (create your own), and students don’t declare until sophomore year. Wesleyan introduced minors 2 years ago because of student interest. There are currently 13 with more on the way. They also offer Certificates (essentially interdisciplinary minors). It’s easy to combine interests: one student is a Math and Dance double major – her final recital was choreographed using calc equations. Wesleyan gives students an option to complete a Master’s in a tuition-free 5th year if they’re also researching. Students interested in Engineering can complete a 3-2 with Cal Tech, Dartmouth, or Columbia. Alternatively, students who would like to graduate more quickly can take advantage of the newly established Winter Term offered during the 6-week inter-session.
Wesleyan and Middletown (pop. 50,000) have a symbiotic relationship. There are plenty of restaurants, pubs, stores, parks (Miller Pond is particularly popular), and other things you’d expect in a college town. Students also give back to the community: 80% of students do community service. Townies use the campus library, are welcome at symposiums and other campus events, etc. Most unusual, they have combined town-gown potlucks every two weeks, alternating between campus and Town Hall. When students want to venture further out, they go to Hartford (30 minutes away), New York City (90 minutes), or Boston (2 hours). However, “this isn’t a suitcase school.”
About 50% of students study abroad starting as early as 2nd semester freshmen year. There are 150 pre-approved programs including language immersion, research, and community service. Credits are guaranteed to transfer and financial-aid follows students. Four of the programs are run directly by Wesleyan with at least 1 Wesleyan professor accompanying students.
Participation in Greek Life hovers around 10%, including students involved in one of the two coed “fraternities,” Alpha Delt (Literary Society) and Ecclectic (Music Society). Alpha Delt has Star and Crescent, a restaurant, in their basement.
The university uses a “progressive” housing system: freshmen live in dorms; sophomores live in dorms or Program Houses (Cooking, Buddhist, or International Houses, for example); Juniors in either of these or in 2- or 4-people apartments; and Seniors in any of these options or Senior Houses. As they get older, they have increased independence. Seniors in houses have to shovel the walks, buy their own toilet paper, etc. There’s an on-campus grocery store which will take points from their ID card.
One section of campus, the Center for Art, is made out of gray cinderblock-like material. The architecture is dreary and stark, contrary to the rest of campus (although there are several part of campus that have buildings that just don’t fit including a small glass structure between the Chapel and Theater). The Center for Art is an “iceberg structure;” the visible section above ground is replicated below, and it’s all connected with tunnels. Dance, music, art, and art history are all in this area. The “92 Theater” is a student-run theater. An additional theater is used to host film series; movies cost $5, and students vote on what gets shown. The original Chapel still stands on the grounds, but the university is now non-denominational. There are a variety of religious leaders available to interested students.
The Observatory overlooks Fass Hill, the social hub of campus and where things like Spring Fling is held. The telescope is “2 inches larger than Amherst’s,” bragged our tour guide. It’s open to the public on Wednesdays, and they give out Starbursts and Milky Ways! The architect of the Lincoln Memorial designed the library. The front is original but as the school grew, they added to the back for more study spaces; this overlooks the quad. They even provide sleeping pods for people needing study breaks!
Students say that the administration is receptive to student ideas. The President is visible and accessible to students, including walking his dogs around campus and teaching a class.