The Colleges of Worcester, Massachusetts

About forty miles west of Boston, past Framingham, the starting line for the Boston Marathon, right off the I-90, is Worcester, Massachusetts. Contained in this town of 168,000 citizens are 38,000 students attending nine schools. While it’s not Boston, it shares in Boston’s rich fabric of higher educational institutions, including the medical school for the University of Massachusetts, and a branch of MCPHS (the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences), whose main campus is in Boston.

While many Bostonians might consider Worcester as a rural suburb, it is the second largest city in New England, and geographically is in central Massachusetts, in the ‘heart of the Commonwealth’. Worcester played its part in the Revolutionary War as the central patriot ammunition stockpile in 1775, which engaged the interest of British General Thomas Gage, the commander-in-chief of British forces during the early days of the Revolutionary War.  It was also one of the original industrial mill towns: a perfect place to view Victorian-era mill architecture. Moreover, like Rome, Worcester is built around 7 hills.

Holy Cross, a Jesuit school, is on one of the hills. Its 174-acre undergraduate only campus is a registered arboretum, having won many prizes for the best-designed campus in the country. Among its eclectic mix of classical, Victorian and modern buildings are 2,930 students all of whom participate in Montserrat, which features small full-year seminars, crossing six clusters dealing with science, philosophy, mathematics: ‘core human questions.’

Yet, what sets Holy Cross apart is the collaborative nature of the classes and the support of the community to encourage the best performance from each student through the mentorships of professors and even through ‘community-based-learning courses’. Emblematic of the synergy Crusader students derive from the campus is the school’s participation in Division I athletics with schools many times its size. Holy Cross wins often and convincingly.

On a separate hill bordering two parks and the historic Highland Street District is Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) on its compact 95-acre campus. While the school is a third the size of MIT, WPI contains around 4,500 undergraduates. It is a dynamic, project-based, humanistic engineering school, whose hallmark is to train students in collaboration and teamwork reflecting the nature of engineering practice today. Just opened to enable more experiential learning is the $49 million Foisie Innovation Studio with ‘high-tech classrooms, makerspaces, and labs.’

First year students have the option of joining the Great Problems Seminar, then, as upper classmen,  honing one’s capabilities among peers in the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), and the capstone Major Qualifying Project (MQP) involving corporate, government and nonprofit sponsors. Interestingly, along the way hundreds of students participate in one of the largest dramatic and musical programs in the world of technology universities. WPI is concerned with its students’ whole being.

Smack dab in the gritty Main South section of Worcester is Clark University.  Its 50-acre campus contains 2,300 undergraduates, numerous restored Victorian residences, and the vaunted Robert Hutchings Goddard Library, named after the father of rocketry. Clark’s Liberal Education and Effective Practice (LEEP) model combines a liberal arts curriculum with the real-world application, First-Year-Intensive seminars, distribution requirements, and a culminating Capstone project.

If you have any interest at all in geography, Clark produces more PhDs in this field than anywhere in the US, including 5 who are members of the National Academy of Sciences. In psychology, Clark is the only campus in North America where Sigmund Freud lectured: his statue stands in the middle of campus. Furthermore, it is the birthplace of the American Psychological Association, and the place which identified adolescence as separate from childhood. Lastly, about a quarter of Clarks’ graduating seniors take accelerated BA/MA programs allowing a fifth-year tuition free to gain a Master’s.

If, on a college tour, you find yourself in Boston, don’t hesitate to extend your visit with a day to Worcester. It’s just an hour down the road, but what a world of difference that hour might make.