Wilkes University (visited 3/5/20)
Wilkes was a great surprise. Students who want a solid education in a medium-sized school on an attractive, well-maintained campus that’s integrated into the surrounding city without losing campus integrity, this could be the place for you. Wilkes offers a liberal arts education as well as great professional programs, and they do both well. “This is a place where you can make a stand for yourself, be known, double major in just about anything, get help if you want it, and figure things out. This might not be the place if you just want to hunker down, get a degree and get out. This is a place to shine.”
My tour guide was a local student who loved being here and told me some great stories about growing up around campus. She was a dual-enrolled student in high school which went a long way in helping her decide to come here. She loved the classes before she got here, and even got to know the president as a high school senior. “If he was that nice to someone who wasn’t even really a student yet, you can imagine what it’s like when you get here!”
This is an easily navigable, accessible campus across the street from the Susquehanna River. The central quad was redone in 2018. “They opened it up a bit, fixed up the sidewalks, put in more grass,” said the tour guide. There are some buildings across the streets into the city, but most of campus is relatively contained. Because of the location, there’s never a shortage of things to do. The student center had a multitude of posters advertising events, including 2 banners from the main activity boards with a list of upcoming events for the spring. Off campus, students can get discounted movie and bowling tickets (among other things), both located a block or two off campus.
They have some historic buildings in addition to new, renovated, or repurposed buildings. The university wants to preserve and renovate these buildings, my tour guide told me. Kirby, an old house complete with original murals, sits on one of the first plots of land in the city. Across the street from the main part of campus sits a high-rise apartment building; this had been Senior Living apartments, but is now owned by Wilkes and are now apartments for students (complete with balconies!). These usually house 3-4 students in 2 bedrooms. The Business building is new and has some impressive spaces including a Student Product Store: the school funds and sells student-developed merchandise; all profits are donated to charities!
“We have the flexibility and the advising to help you develop interests and follow passions and dreams,” said the rep. Wilkes is listed as having ‘More programs per student’ (it’s on a banner on campus, but I couldn’t find additional information when I searched the website) and they add more options every year according to the rep. My tour guide’s class sizes ranged from 6-100 students. “Bio lectures can be large,” said the tour guide. “All freshman are together for lecture but they’re split into smaller discussion and labs. It’s great because have a lot of exposure to the material.” She also told me that the curriculum is set up for student success (including a 90% matriculation rate to medical and other professional schools), and faculty members are highly accessible. “The English classes teach us how to use the library – this isn’t your high school library. They want to make sure we’re comfortable accessing everything that’s available to us.”
Engineering has been one of their longest standing (and one of the largest) majors, starting when this was still Wilkes College, Bucknell’s Junior College. They offer three specialties: electrical, environmental, mechanical (all accredited), Engineering Management, and 4+1 bioengineering where they can graduate in 5 years with a masters degree. “You can’t beat it,” said the rep. This is all done on campus so students don’t have to transfer like with a 3+2 program. Students get hands-on experience in the first year, and Lockheed Martin is nearby, providing easy access to internships as well as being an employer of many grads. Wilkes students know how to use the equipment; “not to speak bad of the big schools, but a lot of them have the GAs running the programs.” For admissions into an engineering major, they look for a 1080 SAT/21 ACT and a 3.25 GPA with higher grades in math and science. They recommend that students complete Pre-Calc in high school in order to take Calc 1 (a pre-req for many of the sciences) in first semester.
Nursing has the top NCLEX pass rate in northeast PA on the first try (around 98%). Incoming students can declare nursing as a major and can be admitted as long as they have at least a 1020 SAT/21ACT and a 3.3/88 GPA. Once in the program, they can continue as long as they meet the grades for each class. Wilkes doesn’t cap the number of students in the program but are strict with the standards. Students start clinicals in their 2nd semester of sophomore year, mostly at the local hospital 5 minutes away; another is less than 15 minutes away.
Their Pharmacy school was also a great surprise. It’s unusual to find a school this size – and one that doesn’t simply focus on health sciences – offer this. They offer an accelerated 6-year PharmD with a cap of 90 seats. This is a different application process with additional requirements such as 3rd rec letter and a special pharmacy essay; applicants will get the prompt through the app when they indicate they’re interested in the program. If they meet requirements for admission to the university, the Pharmacy department will review the applications and invite people to interview. Applicants need at least a 1080 SAT and a 3.0 (although usually they won’t be as competitive unless they’re above this).
The arts majors are also good. BFAs are offered in Musical Theater and Digital Design and Media Art (a BA option is available in DDMA) which combines graphic design, animation, game design, Virtual Reality, and website design. Some business students tack this on if they’re interested in branding, billboard design, etc., or Communication Studies will add it to focus on PR or marketing. All Communication students must complete 3 separate experiences with a co-curricular program like the radio station, the newspaper, or the TV station for a total of 3 credits. They also need to put in some hours for a grade for several classes. There’s a possibility to work with an on-campus PR agency, as well. Theater Arts and Theater Design and Tech are BA degrees, not BFA. Anyone can participate in productions, regardless of major. Music, Dance, and Studio Art are offered as minors.
There’s a 2-year residency requirement for students living more than 60 miles from campus, but they guarantee housing for all 4 years. About 70% of students do live on campus. They have a range of housing options, including 12 old mansions that house 10-50 people in doubles, triples, and quads. Freshmen are allowed to live in these as well as in more traditional suites or hall-style dorms. There are also apartments above the YMCA and the Vegan restaurant across from the Comm building. “You have to be pretty lucky to get those!” Usually housing is done by deposit date. Freshmen have unlimited meal plans; others get options. The food is good; I ate lunch in the dining hall on the 3rd floor of the student center. It has great views of the quad, and even though it was spring break with limited service, the food quality was excellent and there were students in the dining hall.
There’s some major school spirit here. “People definitely go to games!” said the tour guide. Football in particular gets packed. The stadium is located across the river, about a 10 minute walk over the bridge, but there are shuttles as well. (This is also where freshman can park if they bring a car; commuters and faculty get the parking spots closest to campus). Each sport team gets paired up with another team and is required to attend another team’s events, but people generally attend anyway. My tour guide is a golfer; she said that usually the golf teams support each other because it’s such a specific type of competition. “No one wants to be standing around for 6 hours watching people golf, particularly when you need to walk the whole course.”
There are some good athletic facilities on campus, but not enough, according to the tour guide. She’d like to see some money put into expanding these. There’s a good gym with a basketball court, a small gym, the hanging ropes course, etc, but no workout facilities for the students. They get memberships to the YMCA, about a block away from some of the res halls. She likes the facility, but would also like something that’s just for students.
Students are active around campus and in the community which makes sense since campus itself is integrated into the surrounding city. Events on campus are open to the community; performances and the art gallery are big draws – in fact, they bring some big deal exhibits to campus, including Andy Warhol and Picasso. Students volunteer at after-school programs which serves over 500 local students. The Wilkes Adventure Education group is a big deal; they have a hanging ropes course, rock climbing wall, etc. They do offer Air Force ROTC on campus; they’ve paired with King’s College (about 2 blocks away) which hosts Army ROTC.