At home, we have a college map up on the wall in the hallway. Before this trip it was nothing more than a sad, sorry reminder of everything I was not doing to work for my future (this series just became a whole lot more ironic), but when the trip became a possibility, it was my travel guide. Somehow, a school in North Carolina called Wake Forest fell in with the Dukes and Vanderbilts, and when Dad and I rolled in to Winston-Salem, all I could think about was how pointless this stop was. The first thing I thought of when someone mentioned Wake was Tim Duncan, and he was a crybaby.
I think most guys have had that experience where there is that one girl in your class who was always kind of “just there” until one day you turn around and you think, “Woah, when did she become so hot?” (Oh, is that just me? Yikes). Wake Forest is like that girl. Something I had had virtually no interest in became one of my favorite schools so far.
The first thing I noticed was the campus. Wake is set a little bit apart from Winston-Salem, and the result is a happy medium between a city environment and a forest environment. There is the traditional Southern-style architecture that we had seen at William & Mary and University of Virginia, but the difference here is that everything looks like it was built yesterday. You have the huge lawns, the high steeples, it is all there.
The visitor’s center was where our info-sesh was held, so I geared up for the standard numbers-crunch that was sure to be involved. Fortunately, the presenter focused more on campus vibe than hard numbers, so the end result was a surprisingly interesting schpeel. The first thing is that Wake Forest is clearly not looking for a bunch of superstars like a Duke or a Stanford would. They like smart kids, for sure, but things like grades and test scores take a back seat to your letters of recommendation and essays. This is because Wake Forest is all about class.
Consider that Tim Duncan and Chris Paul are probably the two most athletically successful people in the history of the school, and you can see what I am talking about. Neither of these guys was a freak of nature coming out of high school, but Wake was able to take both of these talented young caterpillars and morph them into a couple of badass butterflies (Yes, I realize how lame that was. If you can do better, leave a comment). This is their goal: find people who have the potential to be stars, and make them stars.
This might not make a lot of sense to the mind of an athlete. After all, you want the people who are already immortal in their sport. However, Wake sees these people as potential class-cutters who would sooner go to a party than grab some rest the night before a game. Those parties can sometimes result in, shall we say, unfortunate situations, and Wake wants no part of that. To date, Wake has had zero athletic-related scandals across all of their programs. That is character, my friends. That is class.
This class leads to a distinctly Southern vibe of enormous hospitality. Everyone was pleasant to my father and I, even when we took a couple of unauthorized detours and customized our tour a little bit (We had to see the dining hall, and it was worth it. The place was excellent). Everything here comes back to your genuine sense of integrity, honor, and character. Above all, Wake wants a bunch of well-rounded, dedicated kids. It was a very welcome change from the geek-seekers you sometimes see out on the East coast.
The worst thing about Wake was, weirdly, a person. When you go on these college visits, I cannot stress enough how important it is to put yourself in a group with a good tour guide. Our guide was stereotypically comparable to a zombie, but I would have honestly preferred it if she ate my brain at the beginning of the tour instead of steadily eroding it away with her dull words and lack of personality. She was from Winston-Salem, she lived off-campus (probably with her equally boring parents), she did not go to any of the sports games (cringe), and she did not eat lunch in the main dining hall, which I have already said was awesome (Hear that banging noise? That is my face hitting the keyboard repeatedly). She made my father angry to the point where I was glad he kept his distance to take pictures; he looked like a bull that was being teased by a matador. When we figured out what a drone she was, we started to break away from the guided portions and explore on our own, which was much more enjoyable.
One of the things that people seem to hear about Wake is the Greek life. I will say it right now: I could care less about joining a fraternity. It just does not interest me. That being said, our guide put a huge emphasis on how central Greek life is to the social scene at Wake. I was worried. My father told me to think nothing of it. So I worried even more. Cover me in lame sauce, but I would rather have my circle of friends center around sports or something rather than beer. My father, who had come away just as impressed as I was, would have sooner gone through high school all over again than see me take anything Mrs. Robocop had to say seriously, so he lead me back into the visitor’s center to find another perspective. We found a former student, who completely slapped down what our guide had said. She explained that all parties were open to everybody, and that Wake’s welcoming approach to all aspects of campus life made sure that there was no rift between Greeks and GDI’s (non-Greeks). To show that numbers can be somewhat misleading, the high percentages are negated by a tendency of members to live in the dorms rather than the houses.
Speaking of dorms, Wake has some quality residence halls. Each one has a large common area (We went in a freshman dorm, and it had a pool table, leather armchairs, and a rec room; a freshman dorm, ladies and gentlemen), fairly spacious rooms, and clean, adequately-large bathrooms. Anyone would be comfortable living there, I can promise that.
What Jumped out at Wake Forest:
The number one thing is the vibe. Everyone here seems loose, welcoming, and friendly. Wake says they want kids with character and personality, and aside from one android of a junior, they have them. This is a Southern school with a definite sense of community and togetherness among its perfectly-sized student body of 4400.
If you were worried about the lack of 5-star athletic prowess compromising competitiveness, put your mind at ease, sports fan. Wake competes in the exciting ACC, and with a mascot like the Demon Deacons (Stop for a second and think about the badassery in those two words. Makes a guy want to fist pump), you will find no lack of athletic spirit and enthusiasm.
The library was pretty high-class as well, and it might please you to know that the building is also home to a 24-hour Starbucks. If you like the morning paper with your coffee, Wake is home to the Old Gold & Black, a weekly student publication that is apparently very popular. If you want to know how good of a read it is, consider that I read it cover to cover. For a journalism kind of guy like me, it was a definite plus to see the kind of quality that was put into the paper.
On-campus dining and the residence halls combined to make an environment that was looking to bring its students closer to home rather than push them out into Winston-Salem. As Wake requires on-campus residence for three years, this is lucky. I felt like it would take a lot of effort to miss living in an apartment or something along those lines in the city.
Not that Winston-Salem is a bad town or anything. I actually thought it was one of the best surrounding communities I had seen thus far. There was a solid main drag with plenty of restaurants and bars. The artsy kids had plenty of galleries and theaters to choose from, and sports-junkies (hate the word “jocks”) have a minor-league baseball team to watch locally, as well as the options in nearby Charlotte, Durham, and Davidson.
Another thing that you might hear about Wake is the preppy mold that the student body fits within. Right from the start of the visit, these guys were out to debunk that stereotype. The diversity of Wake was heavily emphasized. They require students from every county of North Carolina, and their national representation is more varied than what people have been led to think. Wake has sought to be rid of the New England prep-school tag, and they are adamant to show how they have made an active effort to pull away from a Northeastern demographic and are looking at applicants on a broader scale.
Wake Forest went from the bottom of my college radar to smack in the middle. This place was extremely impressive, and a few quirks aside regarding Greek life, I can see myself going here. A great newspaper, club water polo, solid sports programs, and an exciting town in Winston-Salem are some positives that will play serious roles in the decision-making process. For me right now, this is a top-3 school. Period.
As much as I wanted to stay and give our guide the performance review of her life, Dad and I had to zoom off to Davidson. I was ready to bet a hundred bucks that some kiss-ass was going to drop Stephen Curry’s name all over the place down there. I had the award ready.
Oh, and Wake Forest’s winner? One kid wore a bowtie, the kiss-ass award equivalent of HGH. Had to hand it to him.
Me about to have my innocent little mind completely blown.
This, my friends, is the main dining hall. Look at it. Look at it.
This is the first of many embarrassing captions where I cannot remember for the life of me what building it is. Just thought it looked cool, to be honest.
A common area in one of the dorms.
I am always scared to put church pictures. It looks cool from the outside, so if you do not want to, you do not have to go inside. Breathe easy, now.
Questions or additional comments about WF? Share them in the comment section! I’m sitting on everything from hard numbers to more detailed information, so feel free.