Northwest College Guide: Willamette University

by Heather Larson & Nancy Mueller | Photo © University of Oregon

Willamette University – Salem, OR,
Number of Students: 2,750-3,000
Top Programs: Politics, Biology, Psychology, Rhetoric
Tuition: $43,760

Students attending Willamette are treated to a liberal arts education in the center of Salem, the capital city of Oregon. Average class size remains small at around 15 and even popular introductory courses usually don’t have more than 30 students. Willamette is frequently honored for a wide array of accomplishments. Two professors won Fulbright awards for 2012-13, and 15 students and alumni have received Fulbright grants in the past five years.

In Salem, you can tour one of the few Capitols in the United States without a dome. Instead, it has a modern Greek design crowned with a drum tower topped by a gilded bronze statue called the Golden Pioneer, representing all early pioneers in Oregon. Take the add-on tower tour and you’ll climb 121 steps of marble, concrete and metal plus navigate several catwalks and ramps.

At the Historic Deepwood Estate, explore formal gardens created by the Northwest’s first female landscape firm, Lord & Shryver. Delight in the boxwood gardens, English tea house garden and trails brilliant with native plants. For more information about visiting Salem, go to

Visiting Parents
Lodging: Grand Hotel, Oregon Garden Resort in Silverton, Shilo Inn Suites Hotel
Attractions: Salem’s Riverfront Park, Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, Martha Springer Botanical Garden, Hallie Ford Museum of Art (on campus), Mt. Angel Glockenspiel
Dining: Croissant & Company, Adam’s Rib Smoke House, Wild Pear Restaurant, Word of Mouth, Gerry Frank’s Konditorei (spectacular desserts), Andaluz, Bentley’s Grill
Shopping: Bush Barn Art Center, Double H Western Wear, Apples to Oranges, Lancaster Mall

With a population of about 156,000, Salem is the third largest city in Oregon. Located in the Willamette Valley, which is known as one of the most richly fertile areas in the world. The area is home to the majority of Oregon’s wineries, plant nurseries and berry fields. Superior vegetables, high-yielding corn, grass seeds and hazelnuts that dominate the world market all grow here.

That’s why so many ornamental gardens have sprouted up. The Capitol grounds display giant sequoias, magnolias and elms. Between the capitol and the state executive building, Willson Park showcases lush lawns, cedars, blue spruces, mountain ashes and dogwoods. On campus, the Martha Springer Botanical Garden features areas dedicated to edible plants and Oregon natives.

Some of the state’s best wine comes from a few miles away. St. Innocent Winery not only bottles good wine, but also farms sustainably. Firesteed Cellars sells some of the most affordable, yet delicious wines. Then there’s Willamette Valley Vineyards to the south, a destination in itself.

Riverfront Park, a mainstay of downtown Salem, encourages walking, but also houses the Salem Carousel built in the late 1990s. The stern-wheeler Willamette Queen, docked here, takes excursions along the Willamette River. You can buy a ticket for a dinner or brunch cruise or a lower-cost one where food isn’t served. A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village houses the Toy Hall of Fame and other restored Victorian buildings.

Ten miles east of Salem, Silverton’s claim to fame is the Oregon Garden. Eighty verdant acres surround a Frank-Lloyd-Wright-designed home the Gordon House, the only one of its kind in Oregon. Fun educational events are held throughout the year on site.

Student Life
Medical Services: Bishop Wellness Center (on campus), Salem Hospital (off campus)
Student Hangouts: The Bistro (student-run coffee house), Maggo’s Sports Bar & Grill, Ram Restaurant & Brewery
Cheap Eats: Goudy Commons (on campus), Muchas Gracias, Best Little Roadhouse, Sassy Onion, Straight from New York Pizza

The Bearcats compete in the NCAA Division III of the Northwest Conference (nine men’s sports and 10 women’s sports), including baseball, basketball, football, soccer and more for men; basketball, cross country, golf, rowing and more for women. Willamette also has a hefty intramural program where the officials and supervisors are all current students. Team sportsmanship in intramurals is highly emphasized. After every game it is assessed and in order to play in the playoffs each player must retain a certain rating.

What students like most about Willamette is the close-knit community, says a University spokesperson. Cliques are frowned upon, and the school welcomes a diversity people with varied interests.

Students either stay on campus over the weekends or travel to Portland or Seattle. Those that don’t leave may be involved in one of the more than 100 clubs available to them. One of the most popular, the Outdoors Club, plans hikes, camp outs and nature trips. You can even start your own club if nothing already in place appeals to you. All you need are at least 10 people to sign a petition for your new club.

Everyone at Willamette works hard to reduce waste and be more sustainable. Leftover food at Goudy Commons is donated to Union Gospel Mission and Women at the Well Grace House as part of the national Food Recovery Network movement.