Out of state, WSU lacks strong reputation

Despite large presence in Washington state culture, students from outside of Washington seem to have no idea that WSU exists



Washington state universities seem to be unknown to some American students. Without sports teams that are household names or academics that are renowned by a majority nationwide, students outside of Washington state are not familiar with us.


As an out-of-stater myself, I wanted to know what people thought of WSU — or if they knew of it at all. Most people, I figured, did not look through a book of every university in the country and narrow down where they wanted to apply first by program, then by state, and finally by city versus small town.

Warren Spears, current George Mason University student and resident of Leesburg, Virginia, said he might have heard something about universities in Washington state while applying for colleges but knows little about them.

Until I told him about WSU, Spears said he had not known about it at all. 

For Spears, he said an ideal campus is one that is not entirely class-focused. 

“While classes are very important, I think that extracurriculars and networking is really the meat of university,” Spears said.

Spears said that, because he views a campus as its own little community, he thinks the ideal campus would be self-contained.

For the most well-known universities nationally, Spears said he thinks of Harvard, Yale, or since he is interested in the arts, Juilliard. Despite growing up in New York, I had never heard of Juilliard even though it is located in New York City. 

While Spears said he usually does not hear anything explicitly negative about colleges, he typically can tell a college is not as great when you fail to hear good things. 

When it came down to choosing a university for himself, Spears picked George Mason University. I looked it up and saw the virtual tour — the campus looks great — but I know little about the school itself. 

“Location was a big factor, it’s driving distance from where I live currently,” Spears said. “Being accepted, I suppose, was a big factor as well. Mostly location and availability.” 

Spears said he heard about George Mason in part due to the proximity to where he lives, so when people spoke of where they were attending college, they would bring up George Mason.

As many non-Washingtonians think of Seattle when they think of Washington, Spears said he agrees that a university like UW would be more notable for people who are not local since it is in Seattle.

I know people from my high school that thought Seattle was the capital of Washington, not Olympia, so it makes sense. Same thing happens with New York though – New York City is not our capital, it’s Albany, but nobody really cares about Albany. 

Alexander Lane, currently living in upstate New York, said he only knew the abbreviation of the college — WSU — and that it was located in Washington. Prior to our conversation, he said he had never heard of WSU. 

Lane said he expects WSU to be on a private university level, not quite the same as the State University of New York schools. WSU is a public land-grant university, but I sort of understand his point. 

Paul Smith’s College and SUNY are the universities typically mentioned where Lane lives. Although some colleges in Albany are decently close by, Lane said nobody really talks about them. 

At the national level, as expected, the same schools keep popping up — Lane and Spears had similar picks.

Lane said that the most recognizable schools are “the big wig schools like Harvard, that a lot of people brag about.”

I think Lane is right when he says that unless people have a stellar experience, they do not go out of their way to talk about schools like WSU or the SUNY schools. 

Lane is uncertain, but said he feels like he has heard of UW in conversation before. Internationally, Lane thinks New York University is particularly popular or notable. I would have thought that either the schools like Harvard, Yale and Stanford would be notable, or schools like Oxford. 

Additionally, I was surprised that as a New Yorker, Lane did not mention Cornell University, which I often heard praised as a veterinary institution while living in New York. 

Joseph Keytack, resident of Birmingham, Alabama, also had not heard of WSU or UW before. In his local area, Keytack does not know of many notable universities.

“Sports are real big here, so I don’t know the names of the school, but I know the Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers; I don’t know much else,” Keytack said.

Keytack and I agree that, outside of sports, people seem not to talk about universities unless they are applying to them.

Keytack said most people he knows that went to college did it because of sports scholarships and just went wherever they could get money for their sport. 

All four of us do agree, however, that universities in popular cities like Seattle, New York City, Los Angeles, etc., are more likely to get more attention. 

Like the others, Keytack said he thinks Harvard and Yale are among the most well-known. 

All in all, I am not surprised most people outside of the Pacific Northwest are unaware of WSU. I still wish it was easier for people to explore colleges far outside of their state though. I am glad I came here, even if Pullman is far from a place I would want to spend my life — it’s too hot.