Wake Forest doesn’t just walk students through hypotheticals; they make connections that open doors. For example, career coaches at Wake are divided by major and industry. Dr. Katharine S. Brooks, executive director of the Office of Personal and Career Development, explains that this is “so that students who come in for a specific major or are interested in a specific industry will know they have a coach they can go to that is specialized in that area (non-profit field, education, business, etc.).” She tells this story: “Our STEM majors coach focuses exclusively on students studying in the science, technology, math areas—at Wake, that’s over 900 students. He ran a program this year for the first time that was a STEM Slam—an informal gathering of employers and students in the STEM fields that was a chance for students to ask individual questions. It was not like a formal career fair where you have to go in prepared to ask the right questions. This was meant as a conversation. Out of that event came sixty different job opportunities from companies we had not previously dealt with in our recruiting process. Some students were given interviews immediately.”
“Students are starting as first years and sophomores and building their own futures,” counseling professor Heidi Robinson explains. “They are entrepreneurs of their own careers.” A communications major we talked to confirms the school’s focus on the future: “The career center is nationally known to be one of the best, and for a school this size, that’s incredible. The resources that are available there almost guarantee you the best internships and jobs.” This is not hyperbole: by six months after graduation, 98 percent of the class of 2014 were either employed or in graduate school. And it’s not an accident either. Throughout their Wake Forest education, students learn how to connect their academic disciplines to possible careers, while faculty connect them to experiential learning opportunities like internships and academic research. Students at Wake Forest don’t just get a great education; personal and career development is a mission-critical component of their college experience.
The school’s radical rethinking of the college to career experience, veering from the outdated notion of “career services” into a comprehensive and holistic four-year approach, has made it a national leader in this field, enthusiastically covered by national news and higher education media. The program of for-credit College-to-Career courses better prepares students for life and work after college, in a variety of ways. Students interested in launching a business are provided support and resources via the Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship. The Mentoring Resource Center supports a culture of mentoring on campus. Personal and professional relationships are facilitated with Wake Forest alumni, who can provide guidance for post-collegiate success. And the University Employer Relations office uses state-of-the-art recruiting facilities to build bridges from students in all disciplines to the employers who can make their careers happen. And those bridges are built by faculty coaches who know how and where to construct them. According to the school, these career coaches “can help you identify your strengths and talents, create the stories you will tell at interviews and in your ‘elevator pitch’, refine and improve your résumé and cover letter, get you ready for your upcoming interview, assist you in clarifying your career plans and job search, and help you find an internship or other ways to gain experience.” The program offers countless opportunities for self-assessment—of one’s values, interests, personality, and skills, via a potent combination of research and exploration. In the process, Professor Robinson says, the two most frequently posed questions are tackled and answered: “What are the options? How do I get real information that’s helpful to me?” Wake comes in at number ten on The Princeton’s Review’s 2016 ranking list for Best Career Services, reported in 2016 edition of The Best 380 Colleges, and number twenty-three on the 2015 ranking list for Best Schools for Internships, reported in the 2015 edition of Colleges That Pay You Back.
“Wake Forest fosters an environment of critical thinking, self-evaluation, and self-development,” a religious studies major tells us, and much of that work is done in the school’s excellent leadership courses. Take, for example, a course called Design Thinking and High Performance Teams, where students work in groups on consulting projects with high-profile clients. “ We use design-thinking as the structure for problem-solving,” Professor Williams explains, “ but we pull in the richness of liberal arts to get better depth in each of the steps of the design thinking process.” The setting is in a classroom, but the experience is real-world; previous teams have worked on projects with executives from Apple, Cisco Systems, Google Education, and Deloitte.
Also noteworthy is Catalyst Scholars, an immersion leadership course that takes high-potential sophomores on an intellectual journey to develop creative and critical reasoning, problem analysis and problem solving, design thinking, team building, communication, and presentation skills. The aim is to make each student’s skill set adaptable to their circumstance. Professor Williams learned this from her own experience; graduating as an English major, she had to learn “how to translate this wonderful liberal arts experience and use all those great processes and readings in the everyday world. That’s what Catalyst Scholars program is doing.”
And when students are ready to get out of the classroom—way out of the classroom—they can try Individuals and Dynamics in Global Organizations. This summer abroad experience sends students around the world, to destinations like London, Paris, Edinburgh, and Barcelona, to meet and learn from those who are prospering and leading from the global stage. This focus on leadership is deliberate, particularly for 21st century students. “As millennial students graduate,” Professor Williams says, “they are entering a place in the world where it’s not good enough to just have great ideas—you have to be able to implement them.”
“The positive relationships between faculty and students are a hallmark of the Wake Forest University education,” says Professor Sloan. “Students enjoy a suite of opportunities to embrace mentored research and learning beyond the classroom.” Indeed, the most common comment among the students we surveyed was praise for the “fantastic professors—devoted to their students, very accessible, and passionate about what they do,” according to an English major. Much of that accessibility is thanks to Wake Forest’s student to faculty ratio: an astonishing 11:1. “The classes are small in size,” a health and exercise science major explains, “So the academic setting feels very intimate, making it easier to connect on a personal level with professors.” In fact, 57 percent of undergraduate classes boast fewer than twenty students—and a mere 1 percent of Wake Forest’s classes have more than fifty students on the attendance rolls. That’s an extremely low percentage among top tier schools. And in those classrooms, professors, not graduate students, are the primary instructors. In fact, all classes (with the exception of health classes and some laboratory sections) are taught by faculty members rather than teaching assistants. At some schools, this would be exceptional; for Wake Forest’s faculty, it’s part of the job. “It would be hard to imagine professors who cared more about their students both inside and outside of the classroom,” a business and enterprise management major tells us, and a communications major sums up much of the feedback we received about the faculty: “They love what they do and it shows.”