From my experience there are two extremes of college types - one being academically oriented and the other being "life" oriented.
Academically oriented schools value academics as their priority. They value research works and advancement towards the "truth". Life oriented schools, on the other hand, value students' lives before and after graduation, and tend to prioritize professional schools such as institutes for business, law, and medicine.
Wake is definitely closer to the latter although these days the incoming freshmen classes tend to lean toward the middle of the spectrum. However, I have seen so many academically oriented students leaving wake after their first year, disappointed both at the academic atmosphere of the university overall and the lack of academic social scene on campus.
Wake Forest is a good school with caring teachers and personal attention. However, for some students, academic life is not over upon graduation.
While the personal attention is good, it is often not enough if you want to become a scholar some day in the future. I am sure many parents are caring and nurturing, but the reason they send children to schools (the external source of education) is that with their limited knowledge they cannot adequtely educate their children towards the utmost fulfillment of their potentials by themselves.
Likewise, Wake Forest provides a very good environment for most college student for the purposes of having a good life in school and after graduation. But the small fraction of students' needs (potential scholars) do not get fed because of the way Wake Forest is.
For example, if John Nash did not go to Carnegie Institute of Technology and did not interact with the brilliant minds of his time, he might not have had the opportunity to rise as star mathematician after graduating from college. If Richard Feynman did not have a chance to interact with the physicists who tried to solve the greatest problems of that time, he could have become a good high school teacher instead of a nobel prize winning scholar (for he was really good at teaching physics anyways).
The problem stems from the fact that Wake Forest does not have PhD granting institutions in core areas that are in need of research such as Mathematics, Psychology, Economics, etc. Even for the departments with PhD programs such as Physics and Biology, they are not ranked as high as one would expect from a university of its stature. This means that the faculty members, although caring and remembering students' names, are not the forerunner of research in their respective areas (i.e. not cutting edge).
This is problematic for practical reasons as well. In order to get admitted to top PhD programs in the nation, you need at least 2-3 letters of reccommendation from known scholars, which is not easy at a school with unknown professors who devote most of their time in teaching.
(Also Wake does seem to exhibit grade deflation which can be a tough burden to overcome if you are seeking admission to top graduate schools, but that's a different issue)
My advice is that if you are academically oriented (i.e. want to get your PhD's after graduation) take a look at some other universities that are more academically oriented than Wake Forest such as Carnegie Mellon, Duke, NYU, Boston University, Wesleyan University, most Ivy League Schools among many. Meet the great minds, meet the very person who came up with the ideas you admire, talk to them and learn from them. Wake is not the place where you can do these things.
I was one of those students who clearly desired to be either a mathematician or a physicist. I wanted to contribute to the academia, interact with the great minds of our times, and serve the humanity through the pursuit of knowledge: pro humanitate - wake forest's often misinterpretted motto. Heed my advice, future scholars, and you will thank me later.
I have to politely disagree with the idea that you should go to a "research school" if you are inclined towards an academic career. If anything, a small college environment will allow you to cultivate better relationships with your professors, which will translate into better recommendations.
Currently, I work in the admissions office of a small, liberal arts college and the research opportunities we offer are amazing. Sure, we do not have a graduate school affiliated with us and are in a rural location. Our students are able to research 1 on 1 with professors, and oftentimes are conducting graduate-level research. There are no graduate students to "compete" with for a professor's time or institutional resources. As a result of this, we place EXTREMELY well for graduate school and medical school. Sure, the professors may be "unknown" to you, but to the people that matter (graduate school deans), they will know what our degree is worth.
Do you know what school produces the most eventual science PhDs per capita? Oberlin. A little school, outside of Cleveland that is more known for its conservatory.
Also, I am curious why you threw Wesleyan into the mix of those schools? It is a small, liberal arts college and clearly the outlier of the group.
This is not meant to savage you, Hucmenzu, but this post illustrates a reoccurring problem on College Confidential--people saying things as gospel when they really don't know what they are talking about.
I appreciate your input, but I'd like to make certain things clear.
First of all, you seem to have missed my main points in the post above. I did NOT say that it is better to attend "research" universities for an academic career. I said "academically oriented" schools. I understand where your confusion is coming from. The reason I included Wesleyan is because Wesleyan is an academically oriented school. Despite being a small liberal arts college, it has decently ranked graduate programs in science and math. In my opinion, Wesleyan is one of few schools that truly combine the benefits of being a liberal arts college and being a research university. I have not heard of the academic atmosphere in Oberlin, but from the statistics I can imagine that the school itself and many of its students are academically oriented, meaning emphasizing research both for the undergrads and for its faculty members. And that is indeed what an academically oriented schools are like. Wake Forest, on the other hand, is where entrepreneurship and business, and careers in professional schools are emphasized, both by its students and its administrators. That is what is Wake Forest is "good" at.
Secondly, this is not about bashing liberal arts schools. This is not even about bashing "life" oriented schools either. As I said in my post, there are good things and bad things about both types of schools. However, if you are serious about getting an advanced degree and remaining in academia, it makes sense to go to programs that are geared towards careers in academics rather than careers in industry. You cannot deny that, when it comes to graduate school admissions, there are advantages in taking graduate level courses, doing undergraduate research, and getting recommendation letters from Nobel Prize winning scholars. And I wanted to let people know that Wake Forest is not an ideal place where you can do these things as an undergrad, coming from my experience as a student.
I am not disagreeing with you, wilmingtonwave, but I am simply stating that we are talking about two different things here. You are talking about the advantages of attending liberal arts colleges as opposed to research universities, where as I am talking about the advantages of attending schools that are academically oriented as opposed to career (or life) oriented. I especially agree with you on that the small college environment will lead to better relationships with the professors and ultimately better recommendation letters. It is shown that the admission rate for top grad programs is higher for the students coming from small private schools than for the students from public research universities. However, Wake is not the only place where you can get this experience. There are many academically oriented schools where professors care as much about their undergraduate students as Wake's professors do. In addition, Wake Forest is not that small. Some universities that have active researchers such as Duke, Rice (this is even smaller), and CMU have the similar size of student body as Wake Forest does. Even if this is not true, the current plan laid out for Wake Forest is to increase the student body (that's why they are building more dorms every year and let students take over faculty apartments) which will ultimately cancel out the advantages of being a small school.
Lastly, I am not simply saying these things based on nothing like you have rudely implied above. This is coming from my own experience at this school, talking to my peers, looking up admission statistics and talking to a professor in economics who specializes in econometrics and education.
Hucmanzu, please PM me. I have questions regarding your Wake experience. My son has been offered $$$ there, but he wants to study physics and math and has some misgivings about their program. He, also, isn't too keen on the Greek scene.
There are a lot of undergraduate students who apply and get the NSF scholarship. Sure, it's prestigious, and I know many of my peers who applied and didn't get it (most of whom are from Wake, ironically), but to point out one graduate student's achievement to justify Wake Forest's educational excellence is a little misguided in my opinion.
Also, you don't have to come up with the graduate student's achievement to boast the undergraduate physics department. Not that the graduate school is great at what it's doing: if you ask any Wake's physics student, in fact, not many would consider Wake's graduate school worth attending coming from an undergraduate institution of this caliber.
I think that at all schools, the incoming freshman class is what you call "life oriented." It is not uncommon at Wake (and many other good colleges) for 25% or more of the freshmen to be pre-med to say nothing of the pre-law or pre-business students (who are particularly numerous at Wake for obvious reasons).
In my experience, though, this changes somewhat throughout undergraduate school. I think that the majority of my friends from Wake went on to do things on the more academic side of the spectrum rather than the professional side.
As a side note, I also take slight offense at the idea that I have spent the last four years of my life not being academic--there is definitely such a thing as academic medicine, and the vast majority of students from Wake who go to medical school are going to med schools that emphasize academic research in some way. Following medical school, it's difficult to escape academic medicine for residency. So every medical student (despite being what you would label "life oriented") is looking at spending 7-11 years (depending on what they do their residency in) heavily involved in academic pursuits and research.
My point with the above example is not to show that I get my feathers ruffled easily, but to show that perhaps you need to reconsider what you consider academic versus professional. In many instances, there is not a whole lot of difference between the two.
I admit the labeling is problematic. I am sorry if my use of the word "academic" was offensive. Let's call the first group A and the second group B from now on. I was targeting those who want to pursue their PhD's in a traditional sense of pure academics (i.e. pure math vs applied math, physics vs engineering, economics vs business). And as you have mentioned, the divisions are not straightforward and clear. That's why I used the words "spectrum" and "extreme" in the first post if you know what I mean.
I do not mean to call the 7-11 years of medical school "unacademic" either. Yes, any student is academic at least temporarily when they are in school. But I still think there is a difference between those two kinds of schools (type A and B). Furthermore, I was talking about the undergraduate level of studying and the primary "goal" that is to be obtained by attending a school, not the entire 7-11 years of studying itself.
And isn't there a different between doctors who mainly practice their skills with their patients everyday and doctors or biologists who mainly publish papers and teach at universities? Isn't there a difference between a businessman who lead companies and a business academic or an economist who study human behaviors and the money flow? I am not saying one is better than the other. If all the medical students are motivated merely by the study of biology, I would label them "A" (again not to be offensive). But many medical students are also motivated by other things such as helping those who are in need of medical treatment, saving people's lives, etc which would be labeled as "B". And if there truly are the "A" type of students in medical schools trying to practice medicine in the future, I don't understand why the A type of students would not just become biologists then. Maybe you can explain it better since you are a medical student yourself? I am asking this because I am really curious, and I admire medical students and how devoted they are to saving human lives...as opposed to pure academics who live in their own world of books and labs.
Hucmenza is very on point with many of his comments. I graduated from Wake over a decade ago and I have watched much of what he has said come true. WFU is a good school but it certainly has some drawbacks too.
If you want a school full of nerds, Hucmenzu is right. Wake Forest is not the school for you. Wake has a very intelligent undergraduate student body, but I will concede for the sake of argument that not many students at Wake are intent on pursuing a PhD. Most are looking to either get either a MAC, MBA, JD, or MD degree after undergrad and then go into the work force.
I think the key mistake you make is assuming that one must be a PhD candidate to be a scholar. I respect those individuals who make careers in academia, but frankly, many of them have lost touch with reality. Many of my professors included. Wake's motto "Pro Humanitate" (For Humanity) is on point. The skills learned at Wake Forest transition fluidly into what you call "life oriented" vocations (by this designation you actually grant that the world of academia isn't real life).
Also, the Greek scene is big, but it's not SO big. People on CC only know what they've heard, or people from Wake who aren't involved in Greek life exaggerate it so they can have some climactic story of their college "warzone" experiences with fraternities and sororities. The Greek scene is a formidable scene on campus, but the plain fact of the matter is that over half of Wake students aren't involved in it. I'm not, and I have no problems with maintaining a happy social life. I have many friends in frats, and they never give me the "cold shoulder" because I'm not involved with the Greek scene.
If you isolate yourself in an academic bubble, you're going to have a bad college experience, and you're going to look for something to blame. The Greek system usually is the pinata that gets blindly beaten by malcontent students who honestly have no one to blame but themselves.
So, the simple fact is, academics isn't the end-all for life, and Wake recognizes that. They mold intelligent adults who are ready to take on challenges. Academics are very important, but Hucmenzu is right; if all you ever want to do with your life is academics, a liberal arts college like Wake might not be for you. I love Wake Forest, and I would go here again if I had to do it all over.