Warren Wilson is one of a kind in many ways

The Hamill Science Center at Warren Wilson College. Photo by Warren Wilson

No one would deny that Warren Wilson College is unique. In fact, its old advertising tagline was: “We’re not for everyone, but maybe you’re not everyone!”

Incoming President Lynn M. Morton. Photo by Warren Wilson

On July 1, Warren Wilson will welcome Lynn M. Morton, Ph.D., as its eighth president. The first woman to lead the school has spent the last 27 years of her career at Queens University in Charlotte, serving most recently as provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Current President Steven Solnick shared in a video on the school’s website: “We like dreamers at Warren Wilson College. I really think that if you can’t be a dreamer when you’re in college, when should you be? We’ve tried to create a college experience that really nurtures those dreams and gives our students the skills they need to act on them and to go out in the world and really make a difference.”

Warren Wilson, founded in 1894 as the Asheville Farm School, is the country’s only liberal arts college with a national student body and integrated work and service programs. The college’s foundation is based on its Triad: a blend of academics, work and service, or as one student described it, “Work for the hands, service for the heart and learning for the mind.”

Students work between 10-20 hours a week on one of more than 100 work crews performing essential functions for the college. These crews do all kinds of things, including installing plumbing, designing publications or harvesting timber, repairing campus bikes, raising grass-fed cattle or even updating global information systems.

The students are paid the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, and the amount is credited toward their tuition. The payoff for their work is much bigger than their salary. Students also assemble an impressive and eclectic set of practical and transferable professional skills by doing work with a real purpose – which offers a distinct advantage when applying for jobs or graduate school.

With nearly 900 students and an average class size of 14, professors get to know their students very well. Professors are engaged in their teaching and research, as well as with the student body. One student said, “It feels like you get a lot more integration with the faculty as people, as opposed to just talking heads.”

Other colleges may offer community service opportunities for their students, but at Warren Wilson, it is integrated into the core of the college experience. The community engagement commitment designed by students, faculty, staff and community partners provides students with opportunities to explore how to make a difference in the world and apply what they’re learning in the classroom and workplace.

Warren Wilson students congregate on campus in Asheville. File photo by the Charlotte Observer

How do students feel about their experience at Warren Wilson? Here’s what one student had to say on www.colleges.niche.com:

“Wilson is an amazing college. It’s on a beautiful campus, the academics can be quite rigorous, and the social atmosphere is lovely. I came here because this is a place where you can work one-on-one with the head of a department and get your work published as a sophomore. At other colleges, publishing is for the grad students and professors, and any help you put into their research and work, you won’t get the credit. Here at Wilson, you do.

“Wilson has been life-defining for me. For all its faults, Wilson is a once-in-a-lifetime experience I would never take back. I have learned so much about the world through my classes, my friends, and my work. I have been given leadership opportunities and taken on roles I never would have anticipated. The people I work with are absolutely amazing and give me hope for the world. Life at Wilson can sometimes be stressful, frustrating, or isolating, but it’s ultimately worth it. One of the big things has been the support of professors and supervisors. They have really invested in me and pushed me to be my best.”

And here’s a revealing quote from another student on www.unigo.com: “Finding the right college is hard to do. I was lucky enough to follow my brother’s footsteps and go to Warren Wilson College. I believe that the size of the college really is important. Sometimes small is better, you get more attention, respect, and you feel like you are part of a community. When I miss a class and I go to the dining hall, my professor is bound to be there asking me if I am ok, or why I wasn’t in class. When teachers know who you are and what you are interested in, it makes it much more rewarding to do well in their class. I would also suggest that prospective students visit the college with and without their parents. Make the extra investment to come back a second time and stay with a student on campus, it’s the only way that you can get a true glimpse of the social life on campus, which is extremely important.”


Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com