This is the season when lots of families are visiting college campuses across the country — looking for the one that feels like the perfect match. Juniors start off slowly, and often with some hesitation. After all, they have plenty of time to play the field, checking out big campuses at which one can get happily lost in the crowd and small ones that promise supportive community. Seniors by now are often in the frantic stage (my daughter Sophie is a senior), trying to determine if they are really sure enough about a school to apply early decision. For parents and students alike, this can feel like a lot of pressure.
I love meeting with prospective students as I walk around campus. Their questions reveal something of their hopes for the future, and I am always interested in learning what they are looking for in a campus. I usually stress that Wesleyan isn’t for everybody, and that this is a place that values individuality, intellectual experimentation and cultural curiosity. Students who are interested in going beyond their comfort zone to meet new people, discover new fields of inquiry and learn from unexpected sources… these are the young people most likely to feel that sense of “match” with Wesleyan.
While Wesleyan has gotten significantly more selective over the last 8 years, the university has also made strong efforts to improve access. We’ve been actively seeking applicants from parts of the country that had not previously sent the university many students, and it includes making sure we meet full need without requiring heavy borrowing. Indeed, last year while significantly increasing our spending on financial aid, we expanded our “no loans” policy to include any student whose household income was under 60,000. Meeting full need with little required loans — those remain key elements of our approach to financial aid.
As students visit Wesleyan, I hope they get a strong sense of how we combine academic rigor with intellectual flexibility. I also hope they get a feel for the extraordinary student culture here: its compassionate solidarity, social engagement, and its supportive, inspiring ambiance.
Choosing the right college can feel overwhelming; its true importance lies in finding a place that will launch one into meaningful work, deep friendships and lifelong learning. When I wrote the following (the conclusion to my recent book Beyond the University), I was thinking of Wesleyan and the transformative education students can find here:
Through doubt, imagination, and hard work, students come to understand that they really can reshape themselves and their societies. Liberal education matters because by challenging the forces of conformity it promises to be relevant to our professional, personal and political lives. That relevance isn’t just about landing one’s first job; it emerges over the course of one’s working life. The free inquiry and experimentation of a reflexive, pragmatic education help us to think for ourselves, take responsibility for our beliefs and actions, and become better acquainted with our own desires, our own hopes. Liberal education matters far beyond the university because it increases our capacity to understand the world, contribute to it, and reshape ourselves. When it works, it never ends.