Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Take 2)
I love “looping back” to schools after a few years to remind myself of what’s going on there as well as seeing what’s new. The nice thing about WPI is their consistency – with a willingness to grow! One my original trip, 2 other counselors and I sat in on the regular info session and tour offered to all visiting families. This time, I was with a group of 26 international students learning about their college options. Much of what I heard about the curriculum and the “WPI Plan” was the same as 5 years ago, but I got a broader perspective of the international experience on campus as well as finding out about some new programs/majors being offered.
Just about 11% of the 4500 undergrads are international citizens. An Iranian student helped give the information session, and students from Japan, Vietnam, and Kenya spoke on the student panel. They also showed a great YouTube video (produced entirely by international students) on the International Experience at WPI. “For such a small school, I love how much I can do and get the most out of the experiences.”
Computer Related fields are the next largest concentration at WPI; these are housed within the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Data Science is the newest major (starting fall 2019); Interactive Media and Game Development and Bioinformatics are also relatively new. Students can earn a Concentration in AI as part of CompSci major. They offer multiple math tracks including Applied, Actuarial, Financial, and Industrial Mathematics, Math Sciences, and Math for Educators.
There’s lots of academic and social support. Admissions is test-optional because they know that these exams don’t measure creativity and problem-solving ability. They want people who can work in a team and who are passionate about math and science since they’re taking those classes from the beginning.
WPI Plan: It’s what makes it unique; they implemented in 1971. It has 4 parts:
- The Academic Calendar is divided into four 7-week terms; students take 3 classes each term. Summer is almost 4 months long, giving students more time for internships. Students only need 45 credits to graduate (equivalent to 15 terms) but most will complete 48 (16 terms) by graduation.
- Non-punitive grading policy: students earn A, B, C, or NR (no record). They want students to feel more comfortable challenging themselves with classes they may not have taken otherwise. If they get a grade lower than a C in a class needed for the major, they need to retake it (“Who wants to drive over a bridge built by an engineer who didn’t pass some of their classes?”). There is also no + or – in the system so people don’t compete over points; it creates a more collaborative environment.
They offer a Flexible Curriculum: “We Advise, You Decide.” There are no pre-requisites, only recommendations.
- Project-based curriculum (it’s worth checking out the YouTube video Innovate Everything)
- 1st year: Great Problems Seminar: Students look at a world-wide problem (like water shortage) and try to solve it.
- 2nd year: Humanities and Arts: All students have to take 6 courses in a concentration within the Humanities or Arts, 1 of which is an immersive project.
- 3rd year: Interactive Qualifying Project. Students work with a community, NGO, or company. They come up with a project that will help the community such as making a hospital more accessible for hearing and visually impaired people.
- 4th year: Major Qualifying Project, equivalent to a capstone or thesis for the major. This is a 3-course equivalent (FT for 1 term or PT for 3 terms). All students get a $5000 global scholarship to help cover travel and project costs. They have 40+ project centers around the world.
WPI boasts a retention rate of 95%, well over the national average. They take excellent care of students, starting with almost all freshman (97%) living on campus which is proven to help students succeed academically and socially. They have more than 200 clubs; the rep said, “We have plenty of more serious clubs like math club – there are 5 of those – but also a lot of fun things like Underwater Hockey and 2 cheese clubs, 1 for making and 1 for eating. Worcester itself is the 2nd largest city in New England and ranked 9th (by Forbes) Most Livable City with easy access to Boston, NYC, beaches, and Skiing. With 12 area colleges, there are over 38,000 area college students so local establishments cater to them well.