Wofford College (visited 2/25/20)
If you’re looking for the smaller academic environment located in a small city and with DI sports and big-school school spirit, check this place out. “Wofford is unique for our area,” said a rep. “If you want a liberal arts northeast college feel but in the south, we can do that. If you’re interested in school spirit and that balance of having popular sports but on a small campus, we can do that. You can have the rah-rah game day experience without being lost in the crowd.” One of the tour guides echoed that: “About 20% of students are on varsity teams. We compete at a high level and are on TV, but you also know the students you’re cheering for on the court.” The other tour guide said that she loved the school spirit here: “You’ll see the terrier everywhere!” (As a side note, they also have an Equestrian Club – not NCAA – which is “not highly competitive, but active”).
I’d wanted to see Wofford ever since a student had her heart set on it several years ago. I see why. They’re doing something right with an 89% retention rate and an 81% 4-year graduation rate (well above the national average, even compared to the 6-year rate). This solely undergrad, highly residential campus currently has 1725 students. The rep shared that they may expand by a bit over the next few years but will cap at 1800. Campus is beautiful and well maintained, people are incredibly friendly, and students seem genuinely happy and are making the most of their experiences.
Wofford takes care of its students (and they take care of visitors – I can’t tell you how far good signage goes to help new people navigate; it makes a huge different when people feel welcome on campus and aren’t feeling lost). There are multiple ways for students get involved and feel connected to at least one group, but many are involved in multiple ways. They start off with a 5-day new student Orientation with a field day, Summit Adventure, community service, and more. The president makes a point of spending time with students, including randomly picking 12 names every month for dinner at the president’s house. One tour guide said that she got picked her first month on campus. “That was a bit daunting, but it was a great experience!
They offer an impressive array of academic choices for a school of this size, and because classes are smaller, students are more engaged. “As professors, we talk less and ask students to do more.” The majors are fairly standard for a smaller liberal arts school (with the exception of Chinese, Intercultural Studies, and Business Econ). What really impressed me were the Concentrations which includes areas such as Medicine and the Liberal Arts, Middle Eastern/North African Studies, 19th Century Studies, and Computational Science. The tour guide told us that language majors/classes are the 2nd most popular on campus; this shows up on the types of majors and minors the school offers, many of which incorporate language study into the major, even if they aren’t strictly majoring in that language. All students must take a language class (they can’t test out) but they offer a lot of options, includes more unusual languages like Arabic and Chinese.
They’ve been running an Interim Session (like a J-term) since the early ‘70s, so they have this down to a science. “Having it incorporated it so well into the calendar is great,” said one of the students. Students take advantage of this time to complete internships, take travel courses, do research, take a class to get ahead or just for fun, and more. They offer traditional classes as well as things like knitting or sustainable fashion, furniture design, craft brewing, and fiction telling through LEGOS and stop-action animation. For those wanting to get off campus, they often get linked with someone in the strong alumni base. “People are all over. DC, Charlotte, Atlanta, and other cities are teaming with alum who want to help current students with shadowing or internship experiences.”
Almost all students (about 95%) live on campus all 4 years, including local students. That speaks volumes about the community and the dorms. Seniors live in apartments in small houses clustered around a small quad that has a village feel to it. Although almost 50% of students get involved in Greek Life, there’s no Greek housing, so students do stay relatively integrated into the dorms and have diverse friend groups. They’ve recently built a beautiful Greek Village, but the houses are social/meeting spaces rather than residential. Frat houses are open Thursday through Saturday to Wofford students who are at least 18 years old. These become good places for the community to come together. The tour guides rated campus food as 8 and 9 out of 10. They said that people particularly loved the pancakes and the smoothies. Also, some local restaurants take flex bucks. One guide raved about “Miss Cathy’s” (“That’s not its real name; it’s just what everyone calls it because she runs it,” the guide said) which provides bagged lunches with a hot and cold option. “She knows who you are and your order by the end of the week.” They like that they can do a grab-n-go between classes; this is the first school I’ve seen that offers this (or at least the first that let us know that it was an option).
I was a bit disappointed in one of the tour guides who seemed less able to answer questions. For example, she wasn’t able to tell me what she thought the best change had been since she arrived on campus (she was a senior, so she had 3.5 years of experience to talk about) – she gave me a vague, generic answer that change was happening all the time and rattled off a few new buildings. It’s good to know that Wofford is serious about keeping up with the needs of the college for space (they’re putting up a new dorm, for example), but it didn’t personalize the experience or give much other insight into the student experience. She also seemed surprised that I asked about traditions on campus and said she’d have to think about that (which is weird: I could tell people about traditions at my alma mater by the time I finished the 3-day orientation!). The other tour guide, a first-year student, stepped up and told me about a bunch of things:
- First 54: Wofford plans activities every day for the first 54 days of school; this acknowledges that they started in 1854.
- Tailgating: They’ve been listed in the top 10 of small schools with big tailgaiting traditions.
- They also liked that they bring carnivals, food trucks, and other fun things onto campus.
Wofford is test-optional, and they only take the Common App. There are a few specific scholarships that require test scores, but students will be given full consideration for general merit aid without standardized testing. Their acceptance rate varies greatly between applications types: about 90% in Early Decision, 60% in Early Action, and about 30% in Regular.