Few California high school students know of a small Jesuit liberal arts school located in the city of Worcester Massachusetts.
If their thoughts turn to Massachusetts colleges they might include the red bricks of Harvard, the eclectic mixture of buildings at MIT, the bucolic campuses of Amherst and Williams, or the alluring charms of Wellesley, Mount Holyoke or Smith. However, Worcester warrants consideration with its bevy of over 15 colleges including Worcester Polytechnic, Clark University, and, of course, Holy Cross.
Founded in 1843, Holy Cross is the oldest Catholic college in New England. With 2,900 undergraduates, and an admissions rate of 34%, Holy Cross has a freshman seminar program, Montserrat, which integrates topics and writing in small classes that build professor student collaboration. Its Honors Program is especially challenging, though it is limited to 36 students from each entering class, requiring a senior thesis which is published in house and presented at a year-end conference.
The 174-acre campus is a registered arboretum (something Holy Cross shares with Carleton, Haverford, and Swarthmore, to name a few).
Though Holy Cross is not a research university, it is part of the Worcester Consortium which includes 12 universities and colleges throughout the Worcester area including the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Beyond this, it offers a 3-2 dual engineering degree with Dartmouth and Columbia, and a 5-year BS/MBA program with Clark University.
Though Holy Cross has strong departments in English, history, economics, and accounting, the Political Science and Classics departments are probably among the finest in the country. All political science majors take introductory courses in American government, political philosophy, comparative politics, and international relations. The upper division courses are uniformly taught by outstanding faculty, such as Denise Schaeffer, who teaches a course in Political Philosophy. In the Rate My Professor website, one student wrote, “This woman is amazing. She's completely brilliant and got me interested in political philosophy when I thought I would hate it.” The 432 Holy Cross professors collectively earned a rating of 3.77 out of 5.0. Holy Cross’s Classics department is one of the strongest and largest in the country according to CollegeGuide.org. Two professors not only help students with their Latin and Greek, but take students during spring break to Italy to capture the glory of Rome first hand. The department even holds chariot races for local Worcester high school students.
Two things I admire about Holy Cross are its 95% freshman retention rate and its 89% 4-year graduation rate, which matches the graduation rates of Williams, Yale, Duke, Annapolis, and Columbia.
So, what does it take to gain admission into this impressive Jesuit liberal arts college? First, according to Ann McDermott (’79) the director of admissions, in her article in the New York Times, “How One Evaluates a Transcript,” your transcript must pass muster. Foremost, the admissions office is looking for candidates who have not tried to protect their GPAs by taking easy courses. Rather they want candidates who are not afraid of taking risks or even sacrificing a grade in the quest to quench a limitless curiosity.
In answer to the question is it better to get an “A” in a college preparatory (CP) course, instead of a “B” or possible “C” in an AP or IB HL course, she wants to see the ‘hard earned’ “C.” Challenge yourself in high school, and chances are you’ll do the same in college and beyond. That is the type of candidate Holy Cross seeks. The transcript will also show evidence that you’ve planned ahead: your course choices will allow you to build strengths across your education, leaving you with multiple options for potential majors and fields of exploration.
If you have the right stuff, and your transcript confirms your capabilities, you might be invited to become a Holy Cross Crusader and join in the next chariot race to become the new Ben-Hur of Worcester. That might make the 2500 mile trek to Worcester a racier adventure.