Ugly and run-down campus

Welcome to the East Coast! :slight_smile:

I am going to guess that since you referred to the East Coast, you may not be from that area? As someone who lives in CT, I can promise you two things:

  1. Since everything was built a long time ago, when things were smaller and older, you get that vibe from a lot of places, ranging from Syracuse to WPI to in this case Wesleyan. Many of these colleges were not built with the “college town” arriving later around it, they were built next to a thriving and dominant NE city (Syracuse, Worcester, and Hartford in this case). Many West Coast and Southern schools were built 100 years later, with an entirely different mindset (large, pretty campus first, academics second). In NE, it was all about small, cramped dorms where the only thing that mattered was the education (and churches!). Some schools have done a better job than others with their buildings and their campus overhauls. Wesleyan is very small (3000 students, in comparison, my children go to a HS in CT with 2200 students), and so it is likely harder for them to grow and build out quickly.

  2. Everything looks nasty in February and March, even early April. I have to remind my kids of this when we tour schools in the Northeast. Places bloom in mid April and by May they can be gorgeous. Same is true for the Fall, as it’s nice weather, very attractive through November, and then we go into that “time of year you don’t want to tour” between December and March.

Wesleyan is a fantastic school, and like many East Coast schools, academically rigorous. West coast is known for being easier to get “A” grades, East Coast not as much, but it will be rewarding in that job prospects will be strong.

Ironically, we are going through a similar debate right now. D2 was accepted to RPI and WPI, excellent engineering schools, but similar campus situations. Not terrible by any means, but old, and old/small dorms. Especially for freshman. Meanwhile, she is also going to take a look at Purdue, Virginia Tech, and Michigan State (visiting all 3 for the first time next week), which all have huge campuses, a wide variety of dorms, and so forth. She knows deep down that the academics are strong in the engineering schools here on the East Coast. We shall see where she ends up picking!


OP, one of our collegekids went to Vassar. It is a beautiful campus- but her dorm room 1st year was the smallest double I have ever seen anywhere. It is hard to exaggerate how small that room was- but it turned out to be the least important part of her experience- she was in the right place for her.

Another collegekid went to Oxford. Unlike @HazeGrey’s son, her 1st year room was in the single ugliest 1960’s building I have ever seen. The bathrooms were all on the top floor (up a spiral staircase). The building was so bad that it was torn down the year she finished. But the friends she made on that hall are still best friends. It turned out to be the least important part of her experience.

I could go on with the other collegekid’s experiences- but the tl;dr version is: most colleges have some unfortunate buildings -usually very specific to the era in which they were built! -and it has little (if any) impact on the overall experience.

IMO, pushing a kid who instinctively felt that Swat was too intense to go there because you were more impressed with the drive- is way more likely to have a negative impact on your son than a less than Instagram-ready dorm*.

Don’t think of the $$ as buying housing- think of it as buying access to the profs and peers: those will be what your son keeps from his college experience.

*both of the collegekids above refused to apply to Swat b/c it seemed too intense to them


I’m on #4 and #5 deciding on colleges, my first 3 attended public east coast universities. The 2 oldest lived in some pretty crappy dorms, the crappier they are, the more fun they are. #3 was in a beautiful honors dorm, forced triple, no dressers for them. She loved every minute.


This type of behavior (which is nothing new - I remember seeing the same kind of drunken, rip out the water cooler behavior at my Ivy in the late '70’s) is just appalling. And yet, your daughter was NOT renting an off-campus house, where all the residents were equally and individually responsible for the entire rent and the entire cost of damages! She was renting in a supervised dormitory. She (and you) had no more responsibility for those damages than if vandalism had occurred in a hotel where she was staying. Usually, per-square-foot charges in dormitories are the highest rate for rental housing in a city, higher than the ritziest luxury apartments. The cost of putting in security cameras to prevent such damage, and to identify those responsible, would be far, far less than the repairs involved. I am very surprised that some attorney parent didn’t fight this “collective guilt” penalty, even though the leases were individual.

I suspected you were talking about Wesleyan because we were similarly underwhelmed after visiting. In fact, it fell off the list completely after being D19’s top choice. No question the academics are excellent but she just could not see herself in Middletown.

In contrast, Swarthmore, a beautiful campus that made me wish I was a coed again, didn’t excite her either. She said the single dining hall felt too much like high school (“I don’t want to see everyone I know every time I eat dinner”).

Older dorms can be charming, as @HazeGrey’s post illustrates, but sometimes they’re just rundown. Ultimately, it’s up to you whether the latter is a deal breaker, but some unfamiliarity/discomfort is an expected part of the college experience. If the college ticks a lot of other boxes, then it would be hasty to cross it off the list completely.


We also saw a few bad dorm rooms at Hamilton. D19 did a camp at Williams, and stayed in an old dorm…literally there were bathroom tiles missing, and giant holes where the sink plumbing connected into the walls.

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“Many West Coast and Southern schools were built 100 years later, with an entirely different mindset (large, pretty campus first, academics second).”

Ever been to UNC-Chapel Hill? Or Duke? Or UVa? Or William & Mary? Or Vanderbilt?


I guess you never looked into Caltech or Harvey Mudd.


This is one of the more entertaining conversations I’ve seen here.

Nearly all dorms are less than expected for the money spent. The OP post about Swat being beautiful in every way had me laughing. Let’s just say that 100+ year old stone buildings have their own issues that might help the Motel 6 feel comfortable.

Swat’s not alone. The Hamilton pictures above look great, but the quad we saw on the tour was horrible. The “dark side” dorm wasn’t much better. Bowdoin looks great…until you realize it’s a year at best and then you migrate into less palatial surrounds. In the end…they’re all roughly the same.

Pick the curriculum…pick the kids…hell, pick the prestige…but don’t pick based on the dorms.


I haven’t been there, but know very well of them. That’s why I said West Coast and South (I consider all of those the South, although I know some in the deep South may not). Virginia and further down, where land was more spacious, flat, and plantation style was the common.

My point was that in the Northeast, things were very different historically.

We pushed them on that very issue and were told because it is very explicitly laid out in the housing contract we all signed, we were obligated to pay up. Her floor didn’t have their version of an RA in the fall because of Covid. We even went after their decision to leave a floor of first year students with no supervision and they didn’t budge.

That is really too bad. Pay insanely high rates for housing, because of the supposed services (like an RA) that were to be provided, but were not, and then be held collectively responsible for the vandalism of a few that occurred because teenagers were left unsupervised. So frustrating.

I spent a couple of months in the animal house environment of an overcrowded, primitive dorm in the ostensibly most desirable area of my Ivy, freshman year, and moved out by October into the newest, largest double room, warm collegiate environment dorm on campus. After that first year, never lived in the dorms again as a paying customer. They were SUCH a rip-off. But I had street smarts, and was paying my own living expenses. I would not ever let my suburban-raised kids live in the kind of places I lived in off campus - they were just too dangerous.

I like most of this post in general, but that statement makes no sense.


Well, all I can say is, people sure seem to either love or hate mid-century modern architecture. I happen to love the sleek styling and large expanses of natural and man-made materials. Wesleyan’s Foss Hill dormitories (their formal name) were designed by Wesleyan alum, Charles Warner Charles H. Warner Jr. architectural records, 1940s-1990s | Avery Drawings & Archives Collections | Columbia University Libraries Finding Aids . They were phased in beginning in 1956 and completed in 1962 and were considered at the time the very epitome of luxurious student housing, among the first to incorporate student lounges, foyers and sliding glass windows in their design. Their use of inter-connected underground concrete basements as a way to anchor them to the cliff side of a winding New England hill was also considered innovative at the time.

But, many of Foss Hill’s critics seem to focus on their exterior balconies. They make them look like motels - or, so they say. That many students consider those balconies to be among “the hills” biggest draws doesn’t quite enter into the calculation. Spring time arrives relatively early in Middletown (compared to the rest of New England) and what can compare to a sunny afternoon spent on your own balcony?

For comparison’s sake, here’s what Amherst was building in 1958:


@ORivygrad A couple of things that might help

My best friend from HS and college has lived in Middletown for 20+ years and his spouse is a prof at Wes. My kids had zero interest in the school but I’m there about once a year and a lot of the conversations are connected to the school.

It’s a great school and I love Middletown for college. It has just the right amount of food/shopping on the main street and it’s a safe town.

The academics are solid, and you are right about the grading. The profs talk often about the pressure for students to end up with A’s. This means they make a big effort to engage/teach so the students get A’s. Great for pre med students IMHO.

As for the housing, If your S doesn’t care then let it go. He will only live there for 1 year.

I get that you are spending $200k and it’s tough to justify when you see housing like Wes has, but he’s going to get a really good education and an environment where he can mature into something great.


Well when you put it like that…

My curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to take a spin over to and look at the dorms. Motel 6…sure…but it may be the nicest laundry room ever for a college.


This was based off higher SAT scores and lower GPAs in Northeast High Schools, and the opposite in West Coast. Grade inflation is an issue everywhere, and it has affected some areas of the country more than others.

Top private schools are aware of this disparity, and factor it in. But we’ve seen cases where state schools (like U of Utah) just use a basic GPA approach, where they get a ton of kids from the WUE with perfect 4.0 averages, and rule out a truly talented east coast kid with a 3.9, who is likely the better candidate. In these parts, a 4.0 unweighted is exceptionally rare (less so west coast), and those kids here with a near 4.0 go on to the top 10 schools.

Some of this may be anecdotal, of course, but basing a chunk of it on how difficult it is here for higher SAT scoring kids to get A’s here.

This all makes sense since every state has its own approach to things like grading, so you will inevitably get disparity. Such as Florida, for having very high GPAs with SAT scores that do not match. Easier to get A’s there.

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I think they were addressing your comment about schools in the South being built 100 years later.

UNC, UVA, W&M, UofSC for example all pre-date Wesleyan.

Old East at UNC is the oldest public university building in the US. Built 1793. Wesleyan was founded in 1831.

BTW the south campus dorms at UNC also look like a Motel 6 (built in the 1960s), but people don’t go to UNC for the housing either. The old part of campus is beautiful though.

But does the laundry room have dryers and washers in proportion to the amount of time each takes?

Some decades ago, the typical college dorm dryers took about twice as long to dry a load of laundry as it took the washers to finish a wash cycle. But the laundry rooms typically had the same number of each, instead of having twice as many dryers as washers, which would be a more optimal setup.


HS GPA differences may be illusions in many cases, because some high schools have more exaggerated weighting schemes than others, although the HS GPAs may become the same after being recalculated unweighted or with a standardized weighting system.