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  • Writer's pictureNancy Adis

Warren Wilson - A Work College Where ALL Students Reduce Costs By Working!

There are plenty of students who work part-time jobs while attending college full-time and others who work full-time while attending college part-time, but have you heard about the ten Work Colleges approved by the U.S. Department of Education? At these four-year, degree granting institutions, all residential students work every semester of their studies to help pay down their college costs while gaining valuable hands-on experience and fostering an ethic of service.

I visited Warren Wilson College near Asheville, N.C. to learn more about what they offer and why students choose to attend college there. At this small liberal arts college of about 800 students there is a focus on social responsibility, asking bold questions, and making a difference in the world. Students who choose to study here are interested in combining learning with work and service to the community, as well as financing their education with less debt. Warren Wilson offers 44 programs of study in a variety of academic areas, small classes (10:1 student-to-teacher ratio), and a focus on fostering students’ communication skills, analytical thinking, and initiative through work crew experiences.

The beautiful 1,135-acre campus in the Blue Ridge Mountains has both woods and farmland, an outdoorsy feel, and a nature-loving vibe. Some of the students choose to work on the campus farm which supplies sustainably-produced ingredients for campus dining and serves as a learning lab for pre-vet students. They have over 70 student work crews which support all aspects of campus operations — everything from mechanical services to technical support, library research to raising cattle, and harvesting timber to recycling. Intentional steps are taken to help students manage and balance academics, work, and service activities.

Warren Wilson is a tight knit community where students, faculty, and staff learn, live, work, and play together. I was impressed with the many unique aspects to this school; so many that I cannot even begin to mention them all – from the 25 miles of hiking trails to the student-run vegan café (sourced by their own campus gardens), the many sports (nationally ranked cycling team!) and clubs (student-run circus) to the art that is everywhere; I think you are going to want to check out their website.

Another facet of all Work Colleges is that students are evaluated, receive constructive advice, and get guidance on their work and career preparation. The network of professors, supervisors, and career counselors can help students to build connections and make plans for their future career and job search. At Warren Wilson, 98% of students say that they were prepared for the meaningful careers they are pursuing and 65% go on to pursue more education after their bachelor's degree. If you are looking for Return on Investment, those are some great outcomes.

I also want to mention that 100% of Warren Wilson students receive some form of financial aid. In addition to the work crew wages earned to pay down tuition, there are both need and merit based scholarships – including two free tuition programs. Admissions is test-optional and they welcome students from non-traditional backgrounds like homeschoolers, project-based learning schools, and students returning from Gap Year experiences.

While Work Colleges may not be a good fit for every student, they offer some great experiences and skills for those students looking for an education that “goes beyond the classroom!” At Confident College Planning we help students and families find the colleges and universities which match up best with their interests and experiences by supporting clients with college list development, application steps, and essay formation and editing. There are many options out there and we can help minimize the stress often felt during the college selection process by taking a planful approach. Email me at to have a conversation about ways I can help!

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