Wheaton College (IL)

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Still a Great Bargain

Dec 14, 2000 (Updated Jun 27, 2001)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:good deal overall

Cons:could stand expansion and extension

The Bottom Line: It is an outstanding bargain, a great value. However, it could stand improvement and seems to be making strides towards more fully meeting student need.


When I was considering which college to go to, it actually would have costed me a similar amount to go to Berkeley as a California resident as it did for me to attend Wheaton (after taking into account scholarships). That fact was due both to the increase in the cost to attend UC Berkeley (partially due to cuts in California state funding) as well as the very good bargain that Wheaton is. Bargain or not though, it is still a sizable sum of money, a major investment

Wheaton has been recognized as an extraordinary value. In 1997, U.S. News & World Report ranked Wheaton third among all national liberal arts colleges in Best Value Sticker Price. Money magazine ranked Wheaton 34th among all four-year colleges in the United States. Edward Fiske, the Education Editor of the New York Times, said of Wheaton in his publication The Best Buys in College Education, "when the high quality of its educational program is factored in, Wheaton's costs place it at the top end of college bargains."

Wheaton also compares favorably with private, peer institutions nation-wide. For example, the 1998-1999 figures from the Illinois Board of Higher Education compare Wheaton's cost (tuition, room & board) with peer National Liberal Arts colleges. Wheaton's total of $19,270 is far below institutions such as Middlebury (in Vermont), Wesleyan (Connecticut), Colgate (New York), Williams (Massachusetts), and Trinity (Connecticut)--all of which top $30,000. Occidental (California) costs 27,746, while Bucknell (Pennsylvania) comes out at a very similar $27,360.

Nonetheless, a sizable percentage (48%) go into debt as tuition has edged upward, mainly to raise faculty compensation to the 70th percentile of professors nationwide. The average indebtedness of the class of 2000 stood at $14,698. Of greater concern is that only 17% of undergraduates have their financial need fully met (according to the U.S. News and World Report 2001 rankings issue).

Conveniently, as is becoming more common, one can apply for financial aid on-line. The home page for Wheaton financial aid is: http://www.wheaton.edu/finaid/index.html At this site, one can find information to get the financial aid ball rolling. It also includes links to other websites that may be useful.

Wheaton also does not have large merit-based scholarships. The biggest academic scholarship is the Presidential Honors scholarship. When I attended, it awarded $1000/yr. for those whose SAT exceeded 1400 and unweighted G.P.A. was higher than 3.6. It was renewed each year for those who maintained their G.P.A. over 3.0. I've spoken with one of the Vice-Presidents about bolstering merit scholarships. We'll see what, if anything, happens.

In conjunction with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, Wheaton also awards National Merit Scholarships. Indeed, the entering class of 1999 ranked in the Top Ten among all colleges and universities in the nation just behind Yale and MIT in the percentage of National Merit Scholars.

The Conservatory of Music has scholarships that exceed the largest academic scholarships. Auditions and sample tapes factor into admissions as well as scholarships.

For international graduate students, there are a number of Billy Graham Scholarships that are quite generous. Typically, these go to those who are already leaders with significant experience who will return to their respective countries.

There are a host of other scholarships/financial aid that have specific conditions that need to be fulfilled. For example, there is help particularly for the children of missionaries, students who are in specific programs such as the Human Needs and Global Resources program, a student who excels in biology, etc.

Various work-study options exist as well. This is separate from campus jobs, which run a gamut from teaching assistant to dining hall worker. My understanding is that work-study pays more than working on campus apart from work-study. Working without work-study generally pulls in a small hourly wage. It can, nonetheless, be good experience.

For example, I worked as a student assistant for 3 different professors during my time at Wheaton. My duties included grading exams, coordinating aspects of an academic conference, serving on a Faculty Steering Committee, and even substitute lecturing. Overall, the experience was worthwhile apart from the relatively meager pay.

I point out that the financial situation can improve despite the fact that I myself graduated with my B.A. (thankfully!) debt-free. A portion of the most recent capital campaign, the New Century Challenge, is going towards helping students. So the financial aid situation is improving and I would like to think will continue to help students more.

For my M.A., I rang up $8500 in debt through a subsidized Stafford loan. I did get the maximum available grants, which helped reduce my debt load. One bargain for graduate students is to serve as a Graduate Resident Assistant. The package includes free room & board, a partial tuition waiver, and stipend.

Finances should not be controlling--I have seen and heard of many Wheaton friends with tight finances make it through. Providence will make a way if one does best by attending.

On a different financial note, Wheaton's growing endowment stands at around a quarter billion (about 260 million) dollars. While large (it's among the Top 130 endowments in the country), this endowment is less than some other top-tier national liberal arts colleges.

Wheaton is cautious financially and does not accept any direct government funding. The concern is that government funding today can mean government control tomorrow. This does not exclude students from receiving financial aid directly from the government. Loans like Staffords, Perkins, etc. are still available to students.

If one would like to endow a scholarship, it takes a minimum of $5000. If one would like to become a Wheaton Associate, it takes $1000/year. Endowed Chairs for a faculty member typically cost 1.5-2 million to start. There are certainly many areas of Wheaton where generous philanthropy could help this frugal institution that has stewarded its resources well for over 140 years.

Overall, while the financial aid/scholarship program has room for improvement, Wheaton is still a great deal, a bargain in the world of higher education. There's a lot of bang for the buck, and it is well worth it if Wheaton is where you're called to attend. It's the lone top-tier National Liberal Arts College (according to U.S. News and other studies) that seeks to be a thoroughgoing Christian institution. So if that's what you're looking for, Wheaton is it.


Recommend this product? Yes


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