Hidden Gem: Wheaton College

To continue our Hidden Gems series, we’re focusing on Wheaton College in Norton, MA (not to be confused with the Christian liberal arts Wheaton College in Wheaton, OH). Wheaton is a liberal arts school of about 1,600 students. It’s beautiful, it’s in a great location, and we want to shed some light on it for you. Wheaton made the news recently with the college’s announcement of its Refugee Scholarship, so you might be familiar with the name already.

We spoke to a number of Wheaton students who had a lot to share about their school. We’re going to focus on a few things in particular that make Wheaton unique: class size, their “Connections” requirement, and its strong female-centric history.

While Wheaton has a similarly sized undergraduate population to many other small liberal arts schools, what stands out is their average class size (15-20 students) and teacher to student ratio (11:1).

“You get to know your professors so well, but even more, you end up getting to know your classmates quicker than a lot of my other friends did at other schools.” said one alumnus. “Because classes are tiny and campus is small, there’s a lot of in-class and out-of-class overlap which is nice. It’s not so formal.” The size makes for a campus where you know a good portion of your classmates but still find spaces that are your own.

A main goal at Wheaton is to help students link academic content across disciplines, which brings us to their “connections” requirement. It’s sort of like their version of a core curriculum. Students are required to take two two-course connections (four courses total that span departments) or a set of three connected courses. For example, students can take the class “Genes in Context” which links the two courses: Computer Science 242 (DNA) with Philosophy 111 (Ethics) or “Food” linking: an anthropology and science course. Students also choose a First-Year seminar from across 25 different topics and are encouraged to choose a topic outside of their intended major or focus. They also have the opportunity to propose their own Connections courses for faculty approval.

Now, for feminism. Wheaton was an all-female institution until 1988, when the college began to admit men. This makes it one of the most recent schools to become co-ed in the U.S. It was founded as a women’s seminary in 1984. It remains one of the oldest higher education institutions for women in the U.S. Wheaton’s first female president was inaugurated in 1975. The college has been recognized on multiple occasions as being at the forefront of developing a gender-balanced curriculum on a college campus. The gender ratio is currently 65:35 women to men, which is definitely something to keep in mind when applying, though isn’t really a drastic enough ratio to feel, in the opinion of the alums we spoke to.

“It’s sort of a general thing that everyone knows, that Wheaton became co-ed pretty recently.” said an alumnus. “But you can’t really tell. I’m a proud feminist, but the gender ratio isn’t something that you notice on a day-to-day basis. Men, don’t be scared to apply.”  

Though not a main focus of this article, it’s worth mentioning that Wheaton’s campus is 385 acres and truly picturesque. Campus has two halves, separated by Peacock Pond. Fun fact: it’s the only heated duck pond in the U.S. that is situated on a college campus. Unlike other schools in Massachusetts, the closest city is Providence rather than Boston. This results in a varied social scene and gives students unique access to classes at Brown.

“I applied and was able to take a couple of classes at Brown while I was at Wheaton, which was really useful.” said an alumnus that we spoke to. Every semester there is a selection of courses offered at Brown available for Wheaton students to apply to take. Students can also take courses through the Boston Marine Studies Consortium, as well as Bridgewater State College, Bristol Community College, Cape Cod Community College, Dean College, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Massasoit Community College, Stonehill College, and University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

Wheaton College is a school that is beloved by its alums and faculty alike--it’s a wonderful place to go to college, and we have a number of students who are incredibly happy there. We’d be happy to talk through your college list with you if you have any questions at all about where Wheaton would fall on your list. Let us know.