Whitman v. Willamette v. Occidental

My son is a good student. 1400 SAT, 3.96 GPA, 4.37 Adj GPA. He is undecided on major, but drawn to Aerospace/Mechanical Engineering, and Cognitive/Neuroscience. He is a good writer and a highly sensitive kind young man. To my mind he still has some exploring to do, so I am drawn to the Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL) approach at this time.

The goal is not to have any significant debt at the end of undergrad. Personally, I love Whitman, but suspect they will not offer much in the way of merit or need.

What are the salient differences between these institutions, philosophy, experience, and aid packages?

My son is also considering Willamette and Occidental. I am wondering @CHRuane if you got additional research on the schools (and given the Jan 2020 date wondering if he has enrolled somewhere already).

We have not looked much at Whitman thus far, mainly due to location. But he LOVED Willamette when he visited and liked Oxy. Curious to hear what you have learned about the schools.

Some of our main thinking on the differences:

  • Oxy seems to have a better reputation overall than Willamette
  • The vibe and environment at Willamette seemed more friendly and positive than Oxy.
  • Oxy being in LA has pros and cons in our minds. Pro is more to do if you choose to, but I am wondering if it creates a less cohesive and tight student body— do students go off on their own (or with their hometown/local friend groups)? Might Willamette have more of a tightknit student body?
  • The area just off campus: At Willamette we liked the little downtown of Salem with lots of shops and restaurants. Just two blocks from campus. At Oxy, we walked toward York Ave and were to be honest a bit taken aback- wasn’t very nice. About 50 malt liquor bottles strewn about the corner just 2 blocks from campus. I think the other side of campus was better but it gave us pause.
  • Willamette: am a little concerned about financial viability of the school as they lose enrollment- have read several articles on this.

Since our kids have similar schools on their list, would love to share notes!

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I bookmarked a thread that mentioned financial viability. Feedback on PNW schools - #13 by Buckythedog

I have not been to Oxy, but visited Whitman and Willamette and my kid very much preferred Whitman.

Whitman is a few blocks from charming downtown Walla Walla. The shops, etc., cater to the winery/tourism visitors, so not all are budget-friendly for students, however. And Walla Walla is certainly remote. But the campus is beautiful and the students we met were welcoming, down-to-earth, and smart. Because Whitman doesn’t have any graduate programs, it very much feels like a classic LAC, whereas Willamette is a bit of a hybrid and seemed to be a mix of traditional liberal arts-oriented students and pre-professional types.

Willamette is situated between the Capitol building, courthouse, and hospital. While convenient for internships, there is also a significant population of transients near the courthouse and hospital. My kid said she’d feel a lot safer going for a run at Whitman compared to Willamette. The people we met were a bit quirkier and varied than the Whitman students and my kid was a little less certain of finding like-minded friends.

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These are 3 schools my D was considering as well. She ultimately did not apply to Whitman or Oxy due to their geographic locations. She does not want to live in So Cal or the middle of Washington. In hindsight, I think we should have still visited them. They are excellent schools.

On our visits to Oregon D looked at several schools. We were surprised that Willamette stood out the most because we had been told Salem was not an ideal location for young people. It turns out the location between Eugene/Corvallis and Portland is a plus for her. We also like that the school is walking distance to the town of Salem. Lots of coffee shops, stores, etc. Most of the LACs we looked at have been more isolated in residential neighborhoods. For us the safety concern isn’t more than a large city or metro area, actually less of a concern than LA, SF, etc.

In terms of financial health of Willamette, I had read about this in Forbes several years ago. I had also read a similar concern about Whitman elsewhere. I’m not sure that is the case now because Willamette decreased their tuition this year by 20%. That brings it down from 55K to 45K. All of the other LACs we have looked at are between 53-57K. In addition, Willamette gave some very generous merit aid. I can’t speak to the other schools, but my guess is they give good merit aid as well.