A Visit to Wake Forest University

It was a beautiful fall day in NC when I visited the Wake Forest campus. The trees had not yet turned dozens of shades of oranges and reds but the air had shed the weight of summer’s humidity. I stopped by Byrum Welcome Center to listen to the morning’s Information Session, hosted by Thomas Ray, Wake’s Coordinator of Diversity Admissions. Thomas is an alum and he maintains the passion of an undergrad for his alma mater. The takeaways from my visit are simple: Wake Forest could truly be a fit for a variety of different students. It is small enough to be manageable but large enough to provide a diversity of coursework and extracurricular activities.

Walking the campus, you can’t help but notice the gorgeous Georgian-style buildings. With 350 acres, it’s big but manageable on foot. While the university does have several graduate programs, the focus here is clearly on the undergraduate experience and the building are arranged to that end.

While the campus is beautiful, it’s the students who make this campus come to life. Although not mentioned during our info session, Greek life is a big part of the social scene at Wake Forest. 35% of men and 57% of women go Greek. The Student Involvement Fair is a great way to understand everything else that Wake offers from bass fishing and a cappella to Christian drama and sustainability.

Wake Forest’s motto, Pro Humanitate (For Humanity), is a calling for students to use their knowledge, talents and compassion to better the lives of others. That calling seems to permeate every aspect of the campus and the experience at Wake Forest. One in four undergrads participates in Wake N’ Shake, a 12-hour dance marathon that benefits cancer research ($336,000 was raised in March 2017). While wandering the campus, I stopped by a table where a student was encouraging people to sign up for Project Pumpkin, which provides a safe trick-or-treating option for area youth. This year’s theme is Heroes vs. Villains. Another popular option among students is a service mission program called Wake Alternative Break. During the week, students will focus on a social justice issue, engage in readings, reflections, and blogging and participate in direct service. Since 2003, students have “Hit the Bricks” around Hearn Plaza to raise money for the Brian Piccolo (Wake Forest ’65 and the subject of the multiple Emmy winning “Brian’s Song”) Cancer Research Fund which benefits the local Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Comprehensive Cancer Center.

We can’t talk about Wake without talking about sports. Wake is part of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and is one of the smallest school in the division. The school has 48 ACC Championships in 11 sports. Enthusiasm for Wake sports can be measured in toilet paper. Students, alumni and other fans take to “rolling the quad” to celebrate athletic victories. While Wake Forest is known nationally for their basketball success, the Demon Deacons have made waves in football as well; in 2007, they exceeded all expectations and earned a bid to the prestigious FedEx Orange Bowl. The men’s soccer team has appeared in the NCAA Tournament every year from 2011 to 2016.

During my conversations with students, several commented on how supportive and approachable the professors are. 99% of courses have < 25 students in the class. As a result, students form strong relationships with their professors. Those relationships are important to ensure a student’s success at the school that’s been dubbed “Work Forest”. The path will be challenging but students are supported from day one with multiple academic and peer advisors.

The liberal arts education offers courses across the humanities, literature, fine arts, social sciences and math and natural sciences. Students are required to take classes across all divisions as well as satisfy a cultural diversity requirement. There are 35 majors to choose from: accountancy, biology, art history, music in liberal arts and women’s, gender & sexuality studies to name a few.

In January 2017, Wake Forest debuted Wake Downtown, a 151,000-square-foot center (former R.J. Reynolds space) in downtown Winston-Salem, a 13-minute shuttle ride from Reynolda Campus. The space is dedicated to newly approved courses of study in engineering, biochemistry and molecular biology, and medicinal chemistry and drug discovery.

Going global is an integral to the Wake experience as well. 70% of the student body studies abroad at least once during their time at Wake. In addition to Wake Houses in London, Vienna and Venice, the school offers 400 programs in 200 cities. That global spirit can be felt on campus as well, with a 10% international student body and organizations like the African and Caribbean Students Association, which hosts an annual event full of cultural food, fashion and entertainment and Friendships Beyond Borders, which provides a community for international students by pairing them with upperclassmen in mentor relationships.

According to the campus student newspaper, Old Gold & Black, here’s what’s happening on campus:

  • “Rethinking Community” initiative: a series of conferences, dialogues, speakers, performances and events exploring the “polarized, diverse, virtual, and global” nature of life in the second decade of the 21st century
  • A new virtual reality class at Wake Downtown (http://wakedowntown.wfu.edu/)
  • Teach-ins facilitated campus discussions on Charlottesville
  • Orientation for first-year students, including the Convocation and Pros vs. Joes, which clearly succeeded in bonding the new students

Having worked with many Career Services offices in my time as a recruiter, without a doubt, The Office of Career and Professional Development at Wake Forest is among the best. The staff works hard to develop strong relationships with employers. In fact, there was a career fair going on in Benson Hall the day that I was there; there were approximately 80 companies in attendance. Career Treks offer students valuable opportunities to learn about companies, industries and careers in a personal setting. Students travel to Atlanta, DC, New York and San Francisco to engage with industry professionals, expand their networks, and increase their awareness of career possibilities. The office engages early with contact starting day one of freshman year. The results are clear: students understand how to engage with employers, how to write a strong resume and how to utilize their network; 98.5% of Wake Forest graduates are employed within six months of graduation.

Wake Forest University could be a good match if you are seeking a smaller school (but not too small), with strong academics, a support network from peers, professors and staff, and a deep commitment to enriching the lives of others.