With a Knox education, there is no problem getting into graduate school— 65 percent of students are in graduate school within five years of graduation, according to the Knox website. But does Knox’s “freedom to flourish” allow students to flourish once they have their baccalaureate?
“I feel like they prepared me pretty well,” Katherine Williams, ’10 said. A current master’s student at the University of Missouri-Columbia with the intent of eventually earning her Ph.D, Williams majored in mathematics and minored in art during her time at Knox.
For Williams, the shift from an undergraduate to a graduate program was easy, thanks to the academic preparation she received at Knox.
“Much of the stuff I’m doing now [in my master’s] is just review,” she said. Williams’ biggest problem was not inadequate knowledge but rather the fact she took many advanced mathematics courses so early in her education, so some of her skills are now a bit rusty.
Larissa Roy, ’08, had a similar experience. Rather than enroll directly in a master’s program, she went to the University of Illinois to first earn her teaching license, something she would not have been able to do in less than two years if she remained at Knox.
“Academically speaking, it’s easy after Knox,” Roy said. “I miss being challenged.”
Williams noted that skills she had learned while conducting undergraduate research translated into the work on her master’s.
Although the specific topic of her research has not come up in her program, she felt she was better able to “look at resources and be able to go through them.”
Roy also valued the research skills gained through independent research. Double majoring in biology and creative writing, Roy conducted a research project and put together a writing portfolio during her senior year at Knox.
“I had never written a research paper of that magnitude before,” she said. “I could kind of see how I could improve on that in the future.”
Knox prides itself on such undergraduate research opportunities—according to its website, over 85 percent of students will complete independent studies or research before they graduate. Sandra Mehl, Director of the Center for Research and Advanced Study, felt it was a direct factor in the high percentage of students going on to graduate school.
“The independent research and scholarship that happens does attract the attention of graduate school,” she said.
Makenzi Crouch, ’10, wasn’t so sure. “I received my acceptance [to graduate school] long before I produced anything for my honors,” she said. A major in creative writing, Crouch is currently studying Shakespeare at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and did an honors project on “Titus Andronicus,” a Shakespeare tragedy, her senior year at Knox.
Crouch viewed the experience as providing an accurate picture of the realities of graduate school.
“What it does prepare you for is the long hours of loneliness and isolation and the vast amount of time you have to spend in writing and reading on your own,” she said.
Mehl emphasized the importance of the academic skills gained through independent research rather than the specific topic of study, noting that students from other schools often don’t know how to network and make connections with a potential mentor. Knox students, she felt, are “much more prepared to handle graduate school than other undergraduate students.”
Part of this preparation, Mehl said, came from the general nature of a liberal arts philosophy. “Most Ph.D. seem to benefit from a liberal arts degree,” she said. “I think Knox is perfectly designed for students who want to explore every interest.”
Roy agreed with Mehl’s assessment, especially after seeing the structure at a larger university. At Knox, she said, “I could pursue the creative writing/biology double major—I really did have the freedom to do that.” During her time at the University of Illinois, however, trying to take electives not relevant to her majors required an additional semester of study.
Due to the specificity of graduate school, however, Crouch felt she would have benefited from even greater amounts of cross-major courses.
“Having gone from a Creative Writing major into a Shakespeare studies program, I found myself deficient in literary theory,” she said.
Overall, however, students were satisfied with the preparation they had received at Knox.
“I’ve already found myself using some of the skills that come from senior research,” Williams said.