Kenyon College, located in the small village of Gambier, Ohio, is a prestigious private liberal arts institution with a low acceptance rate. Incoming freshman have a fairly high average SAT, and 60% of these students came from the top ten percent of their high school class. It is a fairly small school, with less than 1,700 students. Kenyon gives grants, loans, and generous merit scholarships, resulting in an average net price of over $35,00, a fraction of college’s total sticker price.
College of Wooster, located just an hour away from Gambier in Wooster, Ohio, has roughly 2,000 students and a higher acceptance rate. The average SAT score is lower than Kenyon’s, and just under 50% of incoming Wooster students were in the top decile of their high school class. Wooster student pay, on average, over $27,000, much less than the total advertised cost. According to an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, estimated family contributions for Wooster students haven’t risen in years. “At the same time, the State of Ohio has cut financial aid for students by half.” This means that the college has continued to bridge the gap and save students money over the past few years.
Though Kenyon has the slight advantage academically, these two colleges are very similar in size, location, and cost. Through our annual Liberal Arts Colleges Student survey, current students from both Wooster and Kenyon gave us insight into some differentiating details.
A simple way to compare difficulty of academics at certain schools is to quantify the challenge presented to students.
At Kenyon College, 45% of the students said their workload was “difficult,” and the rest responded “very manageable” to “manageable.” Wooster students perceived their academics as slightly more challenging, as 60% of the students said the workload was “difficult, consuming most of their time,” and the remaining 40% answered “manageable.”
Over two thirds of Kenyon students said they study at least three hours every night, but nearly 90% of Wooster respondents answered in this way.
65% of Kenyon students described their academic environment as “collaborative” to “highly collaborative,” with the remainder responding “competitive” to “highly competitive.” At Wooster, over three quarters of the students believe their academic environment is “collaborative” to “highly collaborative,” and not one student responded “highly competitive.”
“Wooster provides a great sense of community to grow both academically and personally,” said one Wooster junior.
College of Wooster is also nationally recognized for its Independent Study Program, which allows students to conduct research on their own in an area of intellectual interest, accompanied by assistance from faculty and advisers. Starting the process as early as freshman year, students are challenged to think and work for themselves, preparing them for life beyond undergraduate education.
Said a Wooster sophomore, “The independent study program (though incredibly challenging) is an awesome opportunity to perform your own research and very useful in preparing for graduate school.”
“I am currently working on my Junior Independent Study Thesis project, which I will continue throughout next year. I work with my adviser weekly and get to do my own research. I am amazed at how prepared I feel to complete such a huge assignment. A Wooster Independent Student defines the dynamics of this school and demonstrates the caliber of academic work. Our Independent Study program at Wooster is comparable to a masters thesis,” said a Wooster junior.
So, despite perceptions created by looking at SAT scores of incoming high school seniors, the students at Wooster seem to have the more challenging academic workload, yet the more collaborative and supportive academic environment. This proves the old adage that it is unfair to judge a book by its cover – or a school by its students’ test scores.
Kenyon’s website provides impressive statistics regarding life “After Kenyon” and graduate schools or pre-professional programs. 99% of Kenyon students applying to business and law schools are accepted, and more than 90 percent of those with a grade-point average of 3.25 or higher are accepted at medical schools.
Through our research, we could not find the same kind of data for College of Wooster.
Of course, professors and other staff are an integral part of any student’s college experience, so we aimed to gather information about the faculty for prospective students to compare.
Over 95% of students from both schools said their non-teaching staff members are “helpful, friendly and accessible,” boasting of great student-faculty relationships.
40% of Kenyon students said they converse with their professors outside of the classroom about class topics on at least a weekly basis. However, Wooster trumps this number, with 65% of their students speaking with professors in this way at least once a week.
Regardless of the amount of out-of-class interaction, the professors were a highlight for both Kenyon and Wooster in the open-ended response sections of the survey.
“I love the professors! They are so smart, fun, and helpful. Even the ones that you may not love having class with (maybe you dislike their lecture style) are awesome people outside of the classroom,” said a Kenyon sophomore.
“The professors are amazing; you will find your role models and mentors here,” said one Wooster sophomore.
Kenyon does, however, have the advantage when it comes to advising. Each school assigns faculty advisers to freshman, then new ones once a student declares a major. However, Kenyon students were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with guidance from their advisers 100% of the time. Only 75% of Wooster students felt this way, and one out of 10 of them responded “unsatisfied” on this front.
Said a Kenyon sophomore, “[My adviser] challenges me to figure out not only what I want to do, but why I want to do it, which has been wonderful in helping me realize where my true passion lies.”
Both Kenyon and Wooster have the right to brag about fantastic professors and faculty, though it appears the Kenyon students receive slightly better academic guidance.
Both campuses are small and inclusive, with over 98% of the students at both Kenyon and Wooster living on campus. Therefore, housing and campus life should be important considerations for any prospective student.
Almost 80% of Kenyon students said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their housing situation. The dorms have been described by students as “spacious” with “amazing locations.”
Wooster, on the other hand, seemed to have some problems regarding their housing. Only 56% of the students were “satisfied” or “very satisfied,” and 20% said they were “not satisfied.”
“The housing situation is far less than ideal,” said a Wooster sophomore.
“Most students live on campus all four years. It is nice to be so close to everyone, but the dorms are certainly not luxury apartments,” said a Wooster junior.
A common complaint among Wooster students was the lack of air conditioning, as well as crowded dorms.
Kenyon clearly comes out on top in the area of housing. But the social and emotional environment is equally as important as the physical surroundings on a college campus. Over 80% of Kenyon respondents said that the sense of community on their campus was “strong” to “very strong,” and not one student reported that it was weak. Wooster students, however, only said “strong” to “very strong” 60% of the time, with almost 10% reporting a “weak” sense of community.
Community is not something that’s restricted to only campus life. The area surrounding each of these colleges consists of small towns.
Almost 40% of Kenyon students said they have a “close” to “very close” relationship with the surrounding community of Gambier, whereas 30% of Wooster students said their relationship was “not close at all.”
In addition, Kenyon is home to the Kenyon Athletic Center, a spectacular building located on the Southeast side of campus. It includes an Olympic-size swimming pool, indoor track, two basketball courts, viewing theater, and more.
It is clear that, regarding campus life, Kenyon is the winner. With better housing, a strong sense of community, and positive interactions with the local town, Kenyon seems to create an overall better living experience for its students.
An overwhelming majority of both Kenyon and Wooster students said that their social life is centered mostly on campus, which makes sense considering their surroundings.
90% of Kenyon students said that college-planned events are attended by “many” or “most” students, whereas a third of Wooster respondents said only “some” people attend. This raises some concern about the social life at Wooster, because if it is entirely centered on-campus, yet only “some” people go to on-campus events, where does all the socializing happen?
This also brings up the question of alcohol’s role in the social scene on both campuses. The majority of students from both Kenyon and Wooster said that alcohol is “somewhat important” to the social life, though it appeared to be slightly less prevalent at the latter school.
About 25% of Kenyon students and 18% of Wooster students participate in Greek life, though this doesn’t seem to affect the importance of alcohol on campus as it does at other schools. Social gatherings and event held by Greek organizations at Kenyon are open to the whole campus, and the students involved do not live in separate housing, making the whole system very inclusive.
According to the students, there doesn’t seem to be many differences in the social scene. That is, however, until we dig a bit deeper.
The opportunity that students were given to share their comments proved to be extremely helpful in uncovering hidden insights.
Gambier, Ohio pretty much consists of the Kenyon campus, a post office, a coffee shop, and a few town houses. Other than that, it sits alone atop a beautiful hill. From a visit to campus, it would be easy for any prospective student to see that the campus is isolated. They may not fully understand the impact of this, unless they speak to current students.
“The isolation can make you feel trapped…And there are things to do, but the same things every week. You REALLY have to find the right group of people for you, which is doable but challenging. And if you don’t, too bad so sad,” said a Kenyon senior.
“I wish we had more interaction with the outside/local community and that it didn’t always feel like we were so separate from it. The socio-economic gap is a pretty big divider between the Kenyon Community and the Knox County/Mt. Vernon Community,” said a Kenyon sophomore.
“I miss having a real downtown with nice restaurants,” said a Kenyon senior.
It appears that this isolation affects the campus life, social scene, and overall experience of the Kenyon students. For the most part, we received negative comments regarding the isolation. However, that wasn’t always the case.
Said a Kenyon senior, “[I like] the isolation. It forces us to know one another and do things together because there is limited access to other things.”
So, if the isolation is something you wouldn’t mind living with, then Kenyon is a good place to be. Unless you aren’t the “Kenyon type.” We found a few student complaints that mentioned a “specific type” of person who thrives at Kenyon, without identification of the characteristics that would make them so.
“Because Gambier is in the middle of nowhere, you are pretty much always on campus and it can be tiring to always be surrounded by so much of the same culture if you aren’t exactly that Kenyon person,” said another Kenyon sophomore.
“I love Kenyon and it has helped me figure out myself in ways I wouldn’t have been able to at a larger school, and has given me opportunities that allow me stand out rather than get swept between the cracks/lost in the crowd. But if I had to do it over again, I don’t know if I would choose to come here. It takes a particular type of student to come to Kenyon and even more particular type of student to thrive here. I don’t thrive,” said a Kenyon senior.
It would seem that the “Kenyon type” is liberal, “nerdy,” and “hipster.” By no means are these qualities requirements of a Kenyon student, though maybe they could help someone thrive in this environment. Regardless, rereading these comments brought up similar, unprompted responses about this “kind of student,” and should be a consideration for prospective students.
No school is perfect, and Wooster also has its areas that need improvement. Specifically, there were many student comments concerning the school’s administration. In fact, when asked one thing they would change about their school, nearly 20% of students mentioned the administration in their open-ended responses.
“Many policies are too rigid and money plays a significant role in the changes the administration makes,” said one Wooster junior.
Although Wooster students reported that they were mostly satisfied with non-teaching staff, recurring complaints about the administration brings up an underlying problem, and possibly a little red flag for this school.
All the previous factors discussed can be compiled and evaluated in one simple question: Would you recommend this school to others?
We found out that just over 60% of Kenyon students and about 70% of Wooster would “definitely recommend their school to other students. Not one student from either college said they would not recommend it, which is impressive compared to other schools we’ve examined.
Clearly the students are mostly happy with their undergraduate experience, as over 90% of Kenyon students said they were “mostly satisfied” to “very satisfied” with their college life. The numbers were slightly lower on the Wooster side: less than 80% of students responded “mostly” to “very satisfied,” and nearly 10% said “unsatisfied.”
“I’m pursuing subjects that fascinate me and I’m discovering subjects I didn’t know I was interested in. And I can tell that I’ll be friends with my friends here for a long time,” said a Kenyon sophomore.
“Wooster is academically stimulating and there are plenty of activities to do on campus. [I feel like] part of the Wooster family,” said a Wooster junior.
Though more Wooster students would recommend their school, and Kenyon does come out slightly on top in regards to total satisfaction, we’ve come to the conclusion that both of these institutions could be a good choice for academically-oriented students. That is, of course, if they’re looking for small schools in rural Ohio.