I was told Whitman's academics were rigorous. And that's what I got. A rigorous academic experience that has my mind engaged every single day. The professors are excited to talk about what they're talking about. They are excited for class every day (even at 8:00am...its crazy). The students here are happy to be going to class, excited to learn what professors have to say. The topic of conversation at dinner often is centered around something discussed in class earlier that day (though not necessarily always...we talk about other things too, don't worry). Students are not cut throat at Whitman. While we all strive for excellence in our academics, we all have each other's backs too. I was in beginning chemistry my freshman year, and I was struggling a lot. I was meeting with my professor every week and had a tutor (oh wow....Whitman offers free tutoring for any subject!!!) and still wasn't getting it. And some of my friends in my section in my residence hall were taking chemistry too and were understanding it. They would walk by my door and notice I was working on chemistry and offer to help since they knew how much I was struggling. Almost every other night a couple of them would be working with me for hours on end to not only get their homework finished, but also to make sure I got it done and understood it. It is such a great academic environment when all the students work together to succeed. Finally, the Professors are always available for help and are always happy to give you that help! I can't emphasize this enough. Some will invite you to their house, others will go out to coffee with you, and others will simply extend their office hours. They want to make sure each student understands what they are teaching, because they believe that what they are teaching is important and LOVE what they are teaching and want to transmit their passion to their students. Simply, amazing.
Class size at Whitman is always small, ranging from as few as six students to as many as forty (in an intro level science class for example), but most are around fifteen. This means your professors really get to know all of the students, and they notice if you're missing from class. This could be bad if you intend to skip a lot, sometimes attendance can affect grades, but it also means that they can give each student a ton of attention. Some professors bribe students (with extra credit, candy, etc.) to come to their office hours to discuss papers before you even write them, others schedule special one on one editing sessions to go over your paper before you even turn it in. The classes themselves are hard, but manageable and definitely worth the hard work. A lot of classes are also discussion based, which means you get the chance to speak up a lot, ask all sorts of questions and participate a bunch (which is handy for staying awake in early morning classes). Also, because of the liberal arts aspect of the curriculum, which requires you to take classes in multiple areas instead of specific classes, you get to really explore and find out what you like. I knew I wanted to be an English major from the start, but because of distribution requirements, I found out that I love our Astronomy department and have decided to minor in it!
As for academics, Whitman is a very good school with tough classes (and some not-so-tough classes), but there isn't a really competitive atmosphere--it's more laid back and less high strung. Class sizes are on the smaller side (about 15 students) which is excellent. Professors are very attentive and try to learn your name during the first week or two of classes. You can email a professor any time and expect a prompt replay back. Another great aspect of Whitman academics is office hours--professors hold weekly office hours where students can ask questions or just talk. Students here are intelligent so you are definitely exposed to some very intellectual conversations. My group of friends loves just hanging out and talking. I'm a music major and I have to say that I absolutely LOVE the department. All of the professors are extremely knowledgeable in there areas (some of my favorite classes at Whitman have been music history courses). Chorale is awesome. It is a 100-person choir directed by Dr. Bode (fabulous). I've heard not-so-great things about the orchestra, but as a singer, Chorale is fun and challenging.
Every professor I’ve had at Whitman has known my name (and my major, hometown, and extracurricular interests, most probably). Many of them will meet with students for a meal instead of just going to office hours, or have a class over for dinner around midterms or finals. I babysit and dog-sit for a number of my professors, and they come to the shows at the theater, choir concerts, sporting events, and concerts on campus. You get used to seeing professors as whole people, not just professors, and they see students as whole people with lives outside the classroom. Going to class is key, and class participation is usually of paramount importance and counts towards final grades in many classes. Students tend to be far more collaborative than competitive, and share ideas with one another, offer help in areas where they are strong, and ask one another for help in areas where they are weak. Learning for learning's sake is encouraged, as is both depth (in your major department) and breadth (drawing from other areas) of knowledge.
Whitman has a strong academic environment, and if you want intellectual stimulation, this is the place to be. The professors are very close to the students and the college president has no problems talking to us. Intellectual conversations happen everywhere all the time. Students are more cooperative than competitive. The science and math department in general is very theory based, so don't expect to do a lot of research (though they are slowly improving in this respect). The math and astronomy departments are excellent. There also isn't much computer programing to be had, so you will have to learn that on your own or by taking a summer class somewhere else. This school is NOT geared towards getting a job or getting into Grad. school. They are geared toward learning. Consequently, even though I learned a lot, I now have no idea what to do after I graduate. This school is the opposite of a research university. (aka, small, theory based (not applied)).
Classes at Whitman are small and intimate - an average class size of 15. Your professor will know your name and hope that you participate in discussion, as will your classmates. Although there are those students who prefer to quietly listen, they are not as numerous as they might be elsewhere. Courses tend to be challenging. You will spend most of your waking hours during the week either doing work or thinking about doing it. However, professors are always available when you get stuck. The time you spend on work is usually rewarding, especially if you choose classes that interest you. Whitman students learn quickly how to prioritize their time so that fun doesn't get sacrificed in favor of tomorrow's homework. Overall, a Whitman education is not geared toward getting a job. Students are here to learn for the sake of learning, a pursuit that usually makes them excellent graduate school candidates and well rounded individuals later in life.
All of my professors know both my first and last name, I've been to two of my professors houses and I email back and forth with most of them on a regular basis -- and I'm only a freshman! My favorite class was our freshman seminar, called Core. My teacher was great, and the discussions we had in class were eye-opening. But the best thing about Core is that everyone has teachers that are experts in different subjects, which makes it all the more interesting when you go back to the dorms and talk to your friends about their different experiences in Core. Class participation is high and people study quite a bit, since you really need to in order to be successful here! It's very academically strenuous! The academic requirements are very generous, and very easy to fill, but it's important to the Whitman administration that we get a well-rounded education (rather than cater to whatever pre-professional track you're headed towards).
Professors are incredibly accessible. Just this past semester, three of my professors invited students to their homes for a culminating class period with snacks and talks. I hang out with my professors in their offices as well as out on the town in coffee shops and restraunts, and they have been so receptive to giving one on one attention and advice. Another hugely positive aspect of our academic life here at Whitman is that students really collaborate with each other. I've heard horror stories about other schools where, say, law students will rip pages out of library books so that only they can access certain materials. Here, it's the opposite-- my friends and I swap library books and printed resources all the time, and people collaborate to make sure that each person's work is the best work possible. I think we learn a lot more that way, and it makes for better, more well-rounded, and kinder human beings, to boot.
I love Whitman's academic life. All of my professors know me by name, and this has been true so far in all the classes I've taken at Whitman. It's super easy to go to a professor for extra help, and fun when you can wave to your professors from across Ankeny Field. I would say that Whitman students are driven and motivated academically, but not too competitive. Everyone supports each other in their academic pursuits. I absolutely LOVE the psychology major--I am so excited to take more upper level classes in the field! While it is one of the departments that seems to currently be lacking in professors and courses, I can still find amazing classes to take with really top-notch professors. The way Whitman is structured, you're going to learn a lot no matter what, and you can use this learning in whichever way you prefer--to get you straight into the job market, or simply to learn for the sake or learning.
Depending on what classes you take, it may be a manageable or brutal semester. It is a good idea not to overload on classes during your first semester; it'll make the transition from previous schools to Whitman College smoother, But once you get the hang of your classes, take advantage of the vast array of classes Whitman has to offer next semester! Upon entering Whitman, my cousin gave me this advice, "Work hard THEN play hard." And this is true at Whitman. If you work hard, the classes you take won't be bad, and your weekends would be free. As for the academic setting in general--I think I've been really blessed. I've had great professors so far. I know others who did not fare as well, but this is to be expected. Other students are really nice, and the environment is more cooperative than competitive. Moreover, everyone works hard and does their part--it's really different than high school.