Introduction: Roger Williams University (RI)

Recently, I was the only college advisor in New Jersey to attend a spring counselor’s event at Roger Williams University. I’ll report here on the experience, and also invite you to check out a Pinterest page that I made for this school. 

With a beautiful waterfront campus, over 50 majors and a mid-sized (4,500 undergraduate) student body, Roger Williams University is an attractive alternative to a state university. You can enter this school as a freshman and leave with an advanced degree in several subjects including Architecture, Business, Construction Management, Criminal Justice and Law, among other options. If you do you can save a year towards the costs of the advanced degree. 

How competitive is Roger Williams? 

Approximately 82 percent of those who applied to be part of the class of 2021 were accepted, as were nearly 90 percent of those who applied Early Action. The average GPA was a 3.3. SAT scores for the middle 50 percent ranged between 1090 and 1250. For the ACT Composite the range was 23 to 28. This school is test optional for all majors, excluding Education. Even prospective architects, accountants, engineers and forensic scientists do not need to submit scores.

Architecture admissions are more competitive. Few schools in New England offer the degree. Wentworth Institute of Technology, based in Boston near Fenway Park, is Roger William’s most likely competition for these students. The Architecture degree is offered by only one state university in New England (U-Mass-Amherst) and only two in New York  (City College of New York and SUNY-University at Buffalo). Other schools that offer the education are more selective (Cornell, MIT, Northeastern, Princeton, Syracuse) and likely more expensive.  

Roger Williams also has little competition versus other schools for the majors in Construction Management and Forensic Science. Be warned: Forensic Science may sound glamorous on TV, but it is a true science with a lot of chemistry. If you dreaded Chemistry in high school, but want to solve crimes, a Criminal Justice degree might be the better choice. 

Is Roger Williams a good value for the money?

Cost-wise the Roger Williams experience competes well versus non-resident charges at a state school. Scholarships make it a better value, as long as you can keep them. Beginning this fall the university’s merit scholarships renew all four years for students as long as the student remains in good academic standing.  Students who achieve a minimum overall 3.6 GPA or higher at the end of the academic year receive an additional $1,000 towards the following year’s tuition. But unless a student qualifies for the full tuition award, Roger Williams is not likely to cost less than attending the state university in your home state.  

What about the academics?

The university tries to combine the strengths of a small liberal arts college, specifically the academic advising and curriculum flexibility with the availability of several popular pre-professional majors. The university supports student success not only through an aggressive tutoring and tracking operation, but also by having approximately half of the incoming students in living-learning communities. The administration expects freshman retention to improve to 89 percent for the class that just finished its first year in May. More recently the rate has averaged 81 percent.

Roger Williams takes a different approach to general education than any school I have visited. It’s a blend of cross-disciplinary core courses that everyone takes and a required five-course concentration in a liberal arts major. An engineer might have a minor in Mathematics, a science, social science or language. Same for a student in Architecture, Business or Criminal Justice, which have their own separate schools. 

Liberal arts majors actually have fewer options for a minor. Roger Williams has two schools of arts and science: one for humanities and communication arts, the other for social and natural sciences. If you have a major in one of these schools, you must choose a minor in the other. But no matter your major, the school is supportive if you want to have a second major or more than one minor. With the exception of Architecture, where a student has to dive into the curriculum as a freshman, the university makes it fairly easy for students to change majors, even into Business or Engineering programs. Virtually any major can also be a minor. 

And what about the community?

Roger Williams was built up from a deactivated Nike missile site during the 1970’s. Most of the buildings were designed much later as the student body grew and the university added degree programs including a law school. One point of lore: the statute of Roger Williams at the center of campus is an “educated guess.” It has the face of baseball legend Ted Williams atop the body of educator/scientist/patriot Benjamin Franklin. There were no paintings or photos of Roger Williams to base a statue. 

I really liked this modern campus, which will dedicate a new building for the Construction Management program next fall. You can walk end to end in less than 15 minutes. I saw only one building that I did not consider attractive. Unfortunately, it was the freshman residence hall on the tour. The residence hall room looked just like a sterile cinder block space that I would expect to find at a less expensive school. But the upper-class halls and honors housing will live up to the ambiance of the rest of the campus. The university also works with Bon Appetit, best in the college dining hall business.

Roger Williams has no football or fraternities, but the location forces most of the social life onto the campus. It’s really nice to invite the campus community to events when your campus is a lakefront peninsula, unless its bitter cold. Bristol is a quaint, but small town, more tourist oriented than student centered. Newport is really nice, but you really need a car to get there, and the drive along RI 144 is not easy at rush hour. If you like what you see when you come here, make friends quickly with people who have cars, unless you bring one yourself. Sadly, the most common compliant that I heard from students was that on campus parking was tight.

Can students find rewarding work?

Roger Williams has a community relations operation that would be the envy of larger schools. Government agencies and non-profits near campus contact the school with proposals for student/faculty consulting projects, choosing 60 to 80 for the upcoming academic year. Over half of the Class of 2019 took part in these projects. The school is also quite helpful at arranging paid and credit-bearing internships. The location, close to Providence, Rhode Island’s largest city and state capital, helps, as long as students have a way to get there. 

Nearly 27,000 Roger Williams alumni are registered on LinkedInc.com, just over a quarter based in and around Providence. Over 6,700 hail from the Greater Boston area while over 4,000 are based and around New York City. Given that most of the students came from these areas before starting college, the school is well networked.  

Overall Impressions

Roger Williams University is a good school for a B/B+ high school student who is interested in the pre-professional majors, but does not want to experience the crowded introductory courses that they are likely to see at a larger school. The student who comes here ready to work and carries the momentum forward may end up working alongside people who got into more selective colleges and be no less competent. 

There will always be a demand for a school like Roger Williams. Proof is in the numbers: the university got 1,480 deposits before May 1. That was 30 more than needed to fill next year’s freshman class. 

Report Card: Roger Williams University

  • Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: B/B
  • Freshman Retention: B+
  • Costs: B
  • Curriculum: A
  • Community: B+
  • Comforts: B+
  • Connections: A (Boston/New York/Providence)/C (elsewhere)

Need help to consider and compare colleges? Contact me at stuart@educatedquest.com or call me at 609-406-0062.