When Kenyon College founder Bishop Philander Chase first smoked the ham (smoked
the what?!?), he had no idea what he was getting himself into.
It was the late 1820s and the location was Gambier, Ohio. The dinner Bishop Chase held
that night for the handful of young men recently enrolled at this, the Bishop’s fledgling college,
would be the first of many intimate meals taken on this Midwestern hilltop. Today, 1,600 students
from all over the world inhabit Kenyon, and as any current student will proclaim, intimate
meals on the hilltop continue.
Kenyon, one of the strongest small liberal arts colleges in America, is a place where tradition
and innovation constantly renegotiate their boundaries; a place where a professor of classics
can attain the rock star status not seen since life in Ancient Greece; a place where “learning
in the company of friends” is not only reality, it is a bona fide credo.
Nearly eighty percent of students at Kenyon come from outside the state of Ohio. A roommate
is more likely to hail from Boston than from Cincinnati. Students at Kenyon are an eclectic
group, and the college does an excellent job of providing for its unique community. A vigorous
and varied social life exists on the 1,000-acre campus, which stretches throughout the rolling
hills and quaint farm towns of Knox County, Ohio. The city of Columbus sits forty-five minutes to
the south, offering up the closest urban experience for students. And while taking advantage of
the art museums, good ethnic food, and international airport located in the city is always tempting,
Columbus is not a place students go on even a weekly basis. Students happily call the town
of Gambier their home. Campus life is self-contained, and Kenyon is committed to funding the
kind of intellectual and social activities that effectively pierce the serenity of the mid-Ohio calm.
Thoreau would have loved this place. Instead of using Walden Pond for leisurely walks
and self-meditation, students make do with the nationally recognized Kokosing River and the
surrounding Kokosing Valley, which serve as the natural centerpiece of Kenyon’s strong environmental
science program. To boost the quality of science research and instruction available
to its undergraduates, Kenyon recently constructed a multimillion dollar science complex on
campus. Both the natural surrounding and the man-made facilities that now exist demonstrate
a strong commitment to science education at Kenyon. This has led to a host of multimillion dollar
research grants from the likes of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National
Science Foundation, intended to promote collaborative research among students and faculty.
But of course, labs are not for everyone. In that case . . . there’s always English. Nearly
thirty percent of Kenyon students call the English department home, and for good reason;
Kenyon’s literary tradition dates to the 1940s and 1950s, when Kenyon served as the birthplace
of modern literary criticism. The father of this movement, poet and critic John Crowe Ransom,
as well as other imposing figures in the literary world, such as Peter Taylor ’40, Robert Lowell
’40, and E. L. Doctorow ’52, all figure prominently in Kenyon’s contributions to modern literature.
One of the many legacies of this storied group of English giants can be seen in the Kenyon
Review, one of the nation’s foremost literary journals, known throughout the world for publishing
the next generation of literary figures well before major publishers lavish them with book
deals. The real plus for students is that the Review hires a number of interested students to
assist with the publication of the journal. As one may imagine, this is a coveted position for any
student seeking a future in the world of writing, and it’s available only to Kenyon students.
As a liberal arts and science college dedicated to the intellectual and personal stimulation
of undergraduates, Kenyon works hard to ensure that students are happy. In doing so, the
institution places an emphasis on hiring staff and faculty who are committed to the college well
beyond their standard nine-to-five work day. Kenyon faculty and staff members can often be
seen attending football and basketball games with their spouses and children on the weekends,
leading extra study sessions in the evenings prior to midterm exams, and attending the myriad
lectures, concerts, and panel discussions held for students throughout the year. If Kenyon is
about anything, it is about engagement on that most personal of levels: the human level.
Kenyon is an institution where tradition still
holds a coveted place in the hierarchy of things. The college
does its best to ensure that matriculants understand
that they are part of something bigger and more
profound than themselves. Kenyon does pomp and circumstance
very well. Kenyon maintains its modern sensibilities,
but it does not mind being old fashioned if the
reasons are warranted. It blends what it had with what
it has. It constantly reminds students that life is not
about having the right answers but about asking the
right questions. It will turn the eighteen-year-old mind
inside and out until it has been thoroughly cleansed of
everything that it thought was true.
Kenyon is not a place for intellectual sponges.
Do not attend a class just to soak up a professor’s
thoughts from the back of the classroom. Do not think
that the dictionary, the thesaurus, or the lab coat are anathema to an education. Hiding is not
an option. Be prepared to speak up. Be prepared to attend dinner in the home of a professor.
Come equipped to argue over the finer points of things like Western values, nanotechnology,
and the 2008 election. And don’t worry, you’ll find someone who knows a little about them
all . . . guaranteed.
It is a place where students engage the community in an attempt both to add to it and
to leave their mark. Kenyon celebrates the individual, and it encourages everyone to live an
examined life. The Ohio calm will allow plenty of time for contemplation, relaxation, and maturation.
Kenyon wants students in the classrooms and the laboratories by day and in the lecture
halls, concert halls, and theatres by night. Kenyon is a place where putting forth great
effort will meet with great reward. It remains a place where the students, the buildings, and
the weather constantly change, but where the questions people ask do not. Kenyon College is
a small place that likes to think big.
Academic offerings at Kenyon are broad and far-reaching. It is common for first-year students
to sample many academic disciplines before deciding on a major. By the end of the second
year, all students will have settled into a particular department and declared a major or
two. But after choosing a specialty, professors expect students to draw from the various traditions,
disciplines, and research projects conducted in more disparate academic areas when
speaking up in class. Talk about Boaz in Playwriting 101. Talk about Lincoln in an English seminar.
Talk about Pythagoras in a human sculpture class. Others will relate, connections will be
made, and professors will smile.
Learning in the Company of Friends
The academic environment at Kenyon is a synaptic fireworks show. Kenyon is truly a
place where students are not intimidated from talking philosophy in the lunch line and
bioethics in the math lab. Interdisciplinary studies have seen an explosion of growth in the
last few years, with programs such as scientific computing, law and society, and international
studies, which allow students to pursue work at the intersection of multiple disciplines
simultaneously. With a ten-to-one student-to-faculty ratio, a library with more than a
million volumes, and wireless access all over campus, doing homework is hardly a problem.
Professors at Kenyon are loath to assign anything but an essay. Let something be
stressed: at Kenyon you will learn how to write. Sure, there are some disciplines that will ask
Kenyon accepts the Common Application you to write less than others, but Kenyon’s philosophy is very clear: even math majors need to
communicate their theorems. In order to do that, they must learn the most basic art of communication:
writing. Regardless of the topic of the class, writing is an essential component of
doing well at Kenyon. It is very common to have at least two to three hours of homework for
every one hour of class time during the week. In some upper-level classes or for a seminar class
that meets only once a week, it might be three to four hours to every one hour of class. Kenyon
faculty expect students to come to class prepped and ready to engage, and one way to ensure
that this happens is to assign a lot of work between classes.
I remember very clearly that it was on September 7 of my sophomore year
that I decided to be a history major. Professor Reed Browning had just brought in
birthday cake for the celebration of the 467th birthday of Elizabeth I, and I thought,
wow, this guy is crazy, I want him to be my advisor. So, I majored in history.
A good many Kenyon professors are great lecturers, but most would cringe at the
thought that they would be known more for what they say rather than for what they
get their students to say. Most Kenyon faculty members realize mentorship is a large part
of the job description here. The classroom environment serves as an extension of the professor’s
office, and the college expects all professors to hold office hours at least twice a
week. Additionally, virtually all work well with e-mail, and responses are generally timely.
In addition to serving students in the classes that they teach, Kenyon faculty have advisees
who are majors in their particular department, as well as first-year students who are entering
the college without any clear direction.
Freshman advising takes up a large portion of a faculty member’s time in the very early
stages of every semester, but students are expected to make connections with a faculty advisor
if they need assistance during another part of the year. Faculty are always available, and students
are treated as adults. It’s quite well known that setting up a meeting on campus is as easy
as sending an e-mail. Professors will go out of their way to help. Kenyon faculty are teacherscholars
who uphold the teacher side first. They do not mind staying late after class. They do
not mind being stopped in the bookstore. Most do not even mind a phone call at their home at
10 P.M. They want their students to get this stuff. They don’t mind going the extra mile (or four)
to make it happen.
In addition to faculty advisors, freshmen on campus also receive an upper-class counselor.
These are current Kenyon sophomores or juniors who help acclimate new students.
They work in tandem with faculty advisors to get students enrolled in their first two semesters’
worth of classes. They also serve as an immediate social contact, helping introduce
newbies to the social scene and plugging them in to any activities that they might wish to
pursue. The upper-class counselor stays with a preselected group of four to six students for
their entire first year at the college, meeting with them periodically throughout the year to
check in on both academic and social concerns that new students may have.
As if living in rural Ohio isn’t enough excitement, Kenyon also encourages students to
go to other places, meaning . . . Madrid, Nanjing, and Cairo, among others. Study
abroad, either in an international program or one located in the United States, is a popular
option for Kenyon students, and nearly fifty percent of them will choose to participate. In
addition to the 150 or so programs available to students, Kenyon runs three of its own programs
that are tremendously popular. They are the Kenyon-Honduras program in anthropology
and archaeology; the Kenyon-Exeter program, based in England and focusing on
English literature; and the Kenyon in Rome and Florence program, devoted to the study of
art history. Because the curriculum is developed by each department, and because the
courses are led by Kenyon faculty themselves (unlike the other abroad programs), majors
in the various departments frequently take advantage of these programs.
Most Popular Fields of Study
Kenyon has seen a meteoric rise in applications in the last five years, and, consequently,
it has had to become much more selective in its application process. Although the college now
accepts around thirty percent of its applicants, it would behoove prospective students to do
what Kenyon students already do best: be themselves.
Kenyon takes most of the typical things into consideration: scholastic record, extracurricular
activities, letters of recommendation, and SAT or ACT exam scores. So, in other words,
take hard classes, be a change agent, study for those standardized tests, and ask the teachers
who like you to write you a recommendation letter or two. Oh, and don’t miss the deadline. And
even then, there is no guarantee.
My Kenyon interviewer did not ask me whether I had taken calculus or
not, he asked me what I thought about why we study history and ‘what makes
history so special anyway?’ Honestly, I’d never thought of that before. I just studied
it because it was what the teacher told me to do, and I thought that’s what I
had to do. I realized then that Kenyon encourages students to think through even
the most basic assumptions about life. If this was the admission officer talking,
I couldn’t wait for the professors. I submitted my application a week later.
Kenyon admission officers work hard throughout the year to recruit and shape a class
that is diverse, inquisitive, talented, and earnest in their love of learning. Kenyon does not
admit students based on specific departmental requirements; rather, it seeks students with
wide-ranging intellectual curiosity. Students who do well in the admissions process at Kenyon
are able to demonstrate that they have both the intellectual stamina to succeed in a classroom
filled with discussion, and the social bravery to immerse themselves in a completely participatory
community. Most students who are admitted have exceeded the minimum admissions
requirements of four years of English and math, three years of foreign language, science and
social studies, and one year of fine arts coursework. Most students have also visited the campus,
either in the summer of their junior year or during the fall of their senior year, and many
students interview, either on campus, or with an alumnus in the many cities around the country
where they are offered.
My high school years brought a yearning to flee as far from home as possible,
and so initially I decided Kenyon wasn’t for me. That is, until I visited.
When I visited, I sat in on an English class with Ellen Mankoff, and the vibrant
discussion that she facilitated was amazing. This model of discussion mixed
with lecture was what really impressed me most. —Dayne Baughman, ’08
If students have done particularly stellar work in an area of the performing or creative
arts, the Admission Office will accept an arts supplement, such as slides or an audition tape for
voice or instrumental music. These are optional and will be used in the review process if submitted.
Kenyon pursues a holistic review process for its applicants. No stone is left unturned.
Admissions officers are committed to thinking about whether students will benefit from four
years in the Kenyon community and thus, “student fit” is an important X factor.
Quintessential Kenyon: Understanding Fit and Match
Kenyon students enjoy “the journey.” They appreciate what it takes to be successful in
life, and they know how to work hard to accomplish goals. But, they are not resume
chasers. Internships might be important to some, but figuring out a personal raison d’etre
is a far better use of time for most Kenyonites. They are thinkers of a grander sort; they are
intellectual altruists. Above all, they are smart, thoughtful, and usually willing to see Kafka
as just as good a potential roommate as their “buddy down the hall.” This sort of intellectual
thoughtfulness permeates the mind of every Kenyon student. It describes the physics
major and the philosophy major alike—these idiosyncrasies are well understood by Kenyon
admissions officers and they look for this “fit” in every applicant.
Visits are highly encouraged. Students interested
in applying in one of the two Early Decision
rounds of admission are strongly encouraged to visit
campus prior to submitting an application. During a
visit, prospective students can spend the night in the
residence halls, sit in on classes where they have a
particular curricular interest, have an interview,
and/or watch an in-season team practice their sport.
Kenyon admissions welcomes visitors all year round, and sponsors Visit Days programs during
select weekends in the fall and spring of every year.
Let’s face it, the cost of colleges like Kenyon can pose a challenge. The good news here
is that Kenyon places a high value on making it affordable. And yes, there are scholarships. And
yes, there are also loans.
The Financial Aid Office at Kenyon is a small, friendly office staffed with people who
understand the phrase “extenuating circumstances.” This is a good thing. It will mean that
financial matters will not be maddeningly bureaucratic. It will mean mom and dad will be able
to know someone’s first name, so that making “that call” will be a bit easier.
I feel that financial aid is one of the places where Kenyon really shines.
It was no more difficult applying for aid to study abroad than it was applying
for aid any other semester. The staff was most helpful, and answered all of my
many, many questions almost as quickly as I could ask them. In fact, there was
a problem with one of my loans being credited to Kenyon—the bank scheduled
disbursement weeks after I was set to leave for my study abroad in Spain—meaning
that I would not have access to the money once I was overseas. But I called,
and they were able to handle the problem in one afternoon and made sure that I
had access to the loan funds before I left. —Dayne Baughman,’08
Like most private colleges in America today, Kenyon sounds expensive. Total charges
this year were about $42,000. Kenyon does meet one hundred percent of a family’s demonstrated
financial need, which means that, after all the dust clears, if you need money to attend
Kenyon after mom and dad pony up their piece, then Kenyon will provide it in the form of a
financial aid package.
In fact, nearly half of Kenyon students receive need-based financial aid, and the average
package is about $30,000. U.S. residents must fill out two forms on-line: The Free Application
for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the CSSPROFILE, available from the College Board.
International students must fill out the International Student Financial Aid Form, also available
on the College Board web site.
Kenyon sponsors several of its own merit scholarship programs. The Kenyon Honors
Scholarship, the Kenyon Science Scholarship, and the Kenyon Trustee Scholarship are
all offered to students regardless of financial need. They range in dollar amounts from several
thousand dollars up to half tuition. Additionally, Kenyon sponsors the Distinguished Academic
Scholarships, which are separate and decent-sized merit scholarships awarded to students
who have demonstrated excellent leadership in high school. Kenyon is also one of the few
schools in the United States that offers aid to international students. There are different
forms that must be filled out, but Kenyon’s commitment to diversity is strong, and this commitment
manifests itself in many forms, including international student financial aid.
Bells, bells, bells, the tin tinabulation of the bells bells bells; —Edgar Allan Poe really gets Kenyon College
At five o’clock every Friday afternoon, the Kenyon peelers fill the air with sound. From
high atop the steeple of the only chapel on campus, a relic from the days when Kenyon held
close ties to the Episcopal Church, Kenyon students understand what it all means: The weekend
is finally here.
Social life at Kenyon is best described as organized chaos. The weekend is essentially
strung together via a patchwork of structured programming and spirited random
events, all coalescing to create what amounts to a whirlwind of young bodies flowing in and
out of campus buildings for a full forty-eight hours. After 4 P.M. on Sunday, though, it’s usually
And who says the middle of nowhere isn’t fun? A given weekend in Gambier might include
both a Chanticleer concert and a fraternity toga party, as well as a talk by Times of London
columnist Andrew Sullivan and a sold out performance of Marsha Norman’s play ’Night Mother.
The great thing about this is that the same students will attend all four events. Kenyon students
are an eclectic bunch, and they revel in the intellectual and social diversity that Kenyon’s generous
budgets allow. Whether it’s bringing in major political speakers like John Kerry, sponsoring
a weekend full of Diwali festivities, or paying for transportation to a community service
activity, Kenyon administration is sensitive to the fact that, because everyone lives on campus,
and, because it’s not easy to get into a major city, that social life must be well funded. And it is.
Kenyon offers so many opportunities to get involved and to take on leadership
responsibilities. What I loved about the activities at Kenyon is that you
could be involved in a bunch of things that had nothing to do with one another
and it was not only okay, it was celebrated. The clubs and activities are really
the lifeline of Kenyon.” —Taryn Myers, ’03
It’s Not All About Books: This Place Is Fun
Life on campus is helped along by the more than 150 clubs and organizations. Popular
clubs include many publications, such as The Kenyon Collegian, the college’s only
weekly newspaper; Persimmons, a creative writing journal; and The Observer, Kenyon’s
more right-leaning political journal. Music-based organizations such as the Kenyon Chamber
Singers and the ten other student music ensembles, including five strong a cappella groups,
are also favored, as are drama and dance groups such as the Fools On the Hill and the
Kenyon Musical Theater Society, and the community service clubs such as Circle K, Habitat
for Humanity, and APSO, the Appalachian People’s Service Organization, which sponsors a
major service-learning trip to that region every semester. The local volunteer fire department sponsors Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training to willing students and welcomes
students who obtain EMT certification as members of the local ambulance and fire
service. Student government is also a popular option. In addition to the First Year Council
and Upper Class Council, current students are invited to participate on Board of Trustee
committees, academic department student advisory boards, and administrative level committees
that examine everything from study abroad policy to student activities budgets.
Nearly thirty percent of men and ten percent of women belong to a Greek organization
on campus. These fraternities and sororities are frequent sponsors of campus social
activities, and their parties are a fixture on the Friday night calendars of a majority of
Kenyon students. Because of the close-knit nature of the campus community, parties are
not usually exclusive, and the attitude is welcoming. Greeks at Kenyon view themselves not
as secret “skull and bones societies” (my apologies to Yale) but rather as clubs and
organizations just like any other on campus. While sometimes a bit cliquish in the dining
halls, the vast majority of fraternity brothers and sorority sisters do not maintain exclusive
ties with their organizations. Just like other Kenyon students, it is common to see frat boys
running with a diverse circle of friends and serving in leadership roles within the Kenyon
community that help to foster, rather than hinder, campus dialogue.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
There must be a word about fitness. The word is KAC. The Kenyon Athletic Center
opened in January 2006 to applause from the entire community. This behemoth of a
building is the center of the Kenyon athletic department. At the same time, it serves nearly
1,000 students who visit its 263,000 square feet of space every day for recreation and fitness
purposes. It’s kind of like a mothership with squash courts (and swimming pool, huge fitness
room, full indoor track . . . well, you get the idea).
Varsity athletes—men are the Lords and women are the Ladies—compete within the
North Coast Athletic Conference (Division III), the first conference in the country devoted to
giving equal emphasis to men’s and women’s sports. Approximately thirty percent of Kenyon’s
student body participates on the twenty-two varsity sports teams, while nearly thirty-five percent
more are involved in intramural competition. Kenyon leads all NCAA Division III institutions
with a total of fifty national championship trophies and ranks second with forty-seven
NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship award winners. Many of these championships belong to the
Kenyon swim team, which has dominated for over two decades. The men’s team has won
twenty-seven consecutive NCAA Division III national championships, and the women have won
twenty of the last twenty-two NCAA Division III national championships. And just in case anyone
is wondering, the average GPA of a Kenyon swimmer last year was nearly a 3.5.
There are many rites of passage at
Kenyon. One of them is learning and
singing the many Kenyon songs. They
are learned and sung first as freshmen,
and seniors must once again sing them
in front of family and friends at graduation ceremonies four years later. One of
the most familiar of those is “Kokosing
Old Kenyon, we are like Kokosing,
Obedient to some strange spell,
Which urges us from all reposing;
Farewell, Old Kenyon, Fare thee well.
And yet we are not like Kokosing,
Which beareth naught upon its swell
But foam of motion’s own composing
Farewell, Old Kenyon, Fare thee well.
But when we are far from Kokosing,
We still shall hear a calling bell,
When round us evening shades are
Farewell, Old Kenyon, Fare thee well.
And see a river like Kokosing,
In meadows sweet with asphodel,
When mem’ry dwells dear past
Farewell, Old Kenyon,
Fare thee well.
After leaving the somewhat coddled life on Gambier Hill, alumni are thrust into the real
world of quarterly performance evaluations and monthly rent payments, all of which seemed
completely unthinkable only six months earlier. Alumni quickly learn that Kenyon has taught
them many things, but that chief among them, it has taught them to think critically and to communicate
One of the best things about being an alumnus of Kenyon is that it means one is not
alone. The Kenyon alumni network includes over 15,000 other alums who are always eager to
help younger alumni find jobs, apartments, and internships. Nearly eighty percent of graduates
go directly into the workforce after graduation from Kenyon, while the rest go on to graduate
school. However, within five years of graduation from Kenyon, a full seventy percent of Kenyon
graduates reenter graduate school to work toward an advanced degree of some kind. Law, business,
and medical degrees are common; Ph.D. programs are very popular as well.
And for those who don’t work right away, there’s always travel. Kenyon is frequently
listed among the top ten Fulbright-producing colleges in the nation. In fact, in the last five
years, Kenyon students have been named Coro Fellows, Fulbright Fellows, Truman Fellows,
Marshall Scholars, Mellon Fellows, and Watson Fellows, allowing them to travel, teach, or
attend graduate school at little or no cost.
Jeff Bell, ’84, Corporate VP of Global
Marketing, Microsoft Corp.
Jim Borgman, ’76, Pulitzer Prize-winning
Editorial Cartoonist and Comic Strip
Carl Djerassi, ’43, Inventor of the Birth
E. L. Doctorow, ’52, Much Lauded Novelist
of Ragtime, Among Others
Rutherford B. Hayes, 1842, Nineteenth
President of the United States
Laura Hillenbrand, ’89, Author of
Seabiscuit, later made into a major
Allison Janney, ’82, Emmy-winning Actress
Harvey Lodish, ’62, Whitehead Institute for
Paul Newman ’49, Oscar-winning Actor