Help! Wesleyan vs Kenyon

Hi everyone, I am really struggling with my final decision of Wesleyan University vs Kenyon College. The biggest factor right now is that Kenyon offered me a scholarship that would lower the overall cost of attendance to $50k per year, while Wesleyan remains at about $80k. Would the money saved be worth it, or would the advantages Wesleyan has in terms of prestige, location, and network benefit me most in the long run? I should note that I wouldn’t go into debt if I went to Wesleyan; however, I would have a lot less money saved if I wanted to go to graduate school, which is a significant possibility. Some things I’m taking into consideration:

  • I am not quite sure what I want to major in, which is why a broad liberal-arts education appeals to me. Would either school be significantly better for the fields of journalism, politics, or economics?
  • My biggest concern about Wesleyan besides the money is the culture of activism. Kenyon is obviously liberal but I didn’t get the impression that the social justice scene dominated campus like it seems to at Wesleyan. Would I fit in as a moderate to conservative person at Wes?
  • I love the focus on writing at Kenyon and all the student-run publications. Wesleyan has a lot more prominent alumni, however. Is the value of Kenyon education at the same level?
  • LACs are often known regionally and I’m not sure if a school in Ohio like Kenyon would give me the same opportunities on the East Coast as Wesleyan, which is well known in the area.
  • Any info on the overall vibe of the campus? All the Kenyon students I’ve talked to have been incredibly friendly people, and I felt very welcome when I visited campus. Unfortunately, Wesleyan didn’t allow visits this year, so I don’t feel like I have quite as much of a grasp on the student culture/friendliness.
  • Wesleyan seems great in terms of top graduate school placement, certainly better than Kenyon.

Any input would be appreciated! Thank you so much for your help!!

Kenyon increasingly has been developing a national reputation. A lot of students and alumni come from the East Coast.

If small town living appeals to you, I’d follow the money. Think about what you or your family could do with an extra $120K.

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That’s a pretty big price difference, and nothing you’ve listed really justifies spending $120K more. Kenyon is a fantastic school and is not just a regionally known LAC. I personally can name more alumni from Kenyon than Wesleyan, but that’s probably bc my D was accepted there and I paid more attention to it. But regardless, there are plenty of prominent alumni in the fields you mentioned and I don’t think attending hinders your opportunities in any way.

Good luck!

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People who matter -employers - know Kenyon. I didn’t know many LACs before our search with our first child, but I’d heard of Kenyon as it is home to one of the most prominent literary magazines in the country, The Kenyon Review. Students can get internships there, I believe. I really wanted our D to apply, as she loves writing. but she wanted more of a city location. She visited Wesleyan (it wasn’t for her) but she didn’t think that location was anything to rave about either.

Have you looked at both of the school’s internship programs and career centers? Student outcomes data?

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I don’t put too much stock in famous alumni, but Kenyon has a lot to crow about: Paul Newman, Alison Janney, John Green, E.L. Doctorow, to name a few.

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Thank you so much for your replies everyone, I am definitely leaning towards Kenyon just for the $120k, and I honestly love the school even without that consideration. I should note, though, that that money is tied up to be used only for education purposes. So I could spend a lot on a more prestigious school (Wesleyan), save it for grad school, or save it for my future kids’ education.

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I just heard about this, but apparently if you get a merit scholarship, you can use your 529 $ for anything without penalty, but have to pay taxes on the earnings.

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So, my daughter is a freshman at Kenyon, and she loves it so much that I’ve become an annoying cheerleader for Kenyon on this forum :). She only applied to Midwestern LACs, partly because of convenience (we live in the Midwest) and partly because we needed merit, so I can’t comment on Wesleyan (although I heard it’s a great school). We’re very impressed with Kenyon and the level of education she’s receiving (to give you some context, I did my Ph.D. at Columbia and am a professor at a large research state university, so I’ve seen different types of schools). I can answer more specific questions (just pm me), but in general, Kenyon has been great for her at every level, from academic to social and creative.

As for prestige, I realize that Wesleyan may be better known on the East Coast, but I know a bunch of NYC families whose kids are at Kenyon. Kenyon is ranked only 8 spots behind Wesleyan in the US News ranking, if this is a concern (but those ranking systems are problematic anyway). We turned down a higher ranked LAC (top 15) for a better financial and academic fit at Kenyon–I really think these colleges are of a similar caliber.

I realize that you don’t need to borrow to afford Wesleyan, but if you like Kenyon anyway, I’d definitely save the money for future pursuits (even if you get into a funded Ph.D. program, there are many additional expenses as a graduate students).

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Also, yes, definitely a very warm and friendly community there. As for the career opportunities, it’s too early for us to tell, but we do get a weekly email from their Career Services with various opportunities, from jobs to internships all over the country (including the “Kenyon connection” info–opportunities listed specifically by Kenyon alums, parents, etc.). They recently sent us a short piece about a 2020 (I believe) graduate who landed a full-time job at New York Times thanks to her strong writing skills and an alum connection.

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I’m east coast born and bred – and Kenyon has always been highly regarded. Back in the dark ages in my high school days (a/k/a the '70s), Kenyon and Oberlin were the only LACs beyond the east coast that anyone at my private school considered. So if it were my student, I would remove that concern about prestige and recognition entirely from the decision and focus on finances and fit.

Finances – the $120k saved at Kenyon would fund unpaid internships and all kinds of extra educational opportunities. Grad school can mean lots of different things, but Masters programs are often full pay and may be expected in some fields after a few years in the work place. Having an extra $120k saved from undergrad could relieve the pressure for someone in their mid-20s who realizes they need a Masters to advance in their field. Ph.Ds are different in that, if it is not fully funded by the university, that is a signal that the student is not a priority for the department and really should not be going there.

Fit – these are different experiences in terms of size and location. Kenyon is beautiful and Gambier charming, though more remote from other sources of entertainment. Wes has a larger student body and Middletown is certainly less bucolic, though more accessible from the east coast generally.

No “wrong” answer here, just the better choice for the OP – congrats!

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I’d include Rutherford B. Hayes in my shortlist of prominent Kenyon alumni.

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That’s because Wes has about twice the percentage of African-American students that Kenyon has. In fact, it is more racially and ethnically diverse than Kenyon generally. According to College Factual, Wesleyan is 55% white while Kenyon is more than 70%.

Perhaps, it’s unfair to explain social justice activism solely as a by-product of race, but IMO there’s at least a correlation. And, while we’re on the subject of correlations, I don’t think it’s any accident that colleges that spend a lot of merit money on luring middle-class students with high stats tend to have the lowest numbers of poor students in attendance (oops, I guess that’s my SJW bona fides showing.)

2020 Liberal Arts Colleges Ranking | Washington Monthly

Undergraduate Ethnic Diversity at Kenyon College (collegefactual.com)

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Wesleyan has 3000 undergraduates. Kenyon has 1700. I would say, that despite the disparities in race and socio-economic class between the two, the chances are good that you will find your peep at either place.

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Another vote for Kenyon here! Our D just committed and is thrilled to be heading to Gambier in the fall. Kenyon is nationally known, with many notable alumni (many listed in the comments above). The two metro areas where the greatest number of current Kenyon students come from are NYC and LA. You seem to have an interest in writing, and you really can’t beat Kenyon in that arena.

Our D was struggling to decide among three wonderful schools (including a slightly higher ranked, full-pay option), but after visiting that gorgeous campus, then connecting with a professor and a couple of students who were so kind and welcoming, she knew it was the right place for her. Merit money wasn’t her reason for choosing Kenyon, but I assure you (from the parent perspective), it is a significant benefit! I believe she will appreciate it later, to continue her education or, (with a tax penalty, as others have mentioned), for other reasons.

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Thank you, everyone - I just committed to Kenyon!

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Congrats! You won’t regret it.

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Congratulations! Best of luck at Kenyon!

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My $0.02, having had one child who was anything but stridently political graduate from Wesleyan, I’ll say (as I often do) that there are few things more over-blown than Wesleyan’s reputation for activism.

It’s not a quiet campus and, as my D would say, BIG opinions about everything are in plentiful supply. That said, every day life there is not like a 1960s-era Berkeley time capsule. Kenyon may be quieter … I don’t know … but I’ve always thought the ‘activism’ phobia to be a poor, poor basis on which to make a decision to not attend Wesleyan. Plenty of New England (and other) conservative bro culture at Wes, and the kids at Middlebury, Williams and Amherst get wound up about things too. There is chatter in some circles that things incubate and develop as issues of the day a bit earlier at Wes than at many of its peers; but eventually these things show up elsewhere.

I’ve heard Kenyon is beautiful. One of my other kids was recruited by their soccer coach but we never made it out that way. I guess she didn’t see herself in Ohio.

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Prominent, but not exactly one to be proud of.

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Sounds like the OP weighed all the factors and made a choice that worked best for her. My own D is considering these and other LACs and I just wanted to raise one issue in that post for those making similar choices.

The OP wrote that “Wesleyan seems great in terms of top graduate school placement, certainly better than Kenyon.” I would be careful in making such judgments and not sure what the data source was for the statement.

In our case, my D wants a small prestigious LAC but was worried about which would best support her plans to attend graduate school in biology with a focus on wildlife. She knows Cornell and Michigan are the best in the country for that field and so I took the time to chart for her the more than 100 undergrad schools that their current grad students came from (thank you Cornell website for making that very easy but fewer kudos for UM where I had to google search in some cases :-).

D was shocked that there were not that many highly selective schools (even the largest) among the list and only 1 (Yale) had more than 1 student. Whereas the #1 sources at that point in time with 3 were the University of Cincinnati and tiny Lake Forest College. My point is not to advocate for either of those decent schools, but rather the whole idea that the prestige of an undergrad program for graduate placement is either that important or measurable. Professional and doctoral programs know what they want in individuals and seem less concerned with whether your undergrad school was top 25 or not.

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