10 Things to Know About the WPI Plan

WPI students know nothing’s impossible, something that’s instilled in them from day one through the WPI Plan. Established in 1970, the WPI Plan is nothing short of groundbreaking—a once traditional technological education redefined and restructured into a radically new, student-centered, project-based approach to learning. What began as a bold experiment in academia grew into an undergraduate learning experience rooted in both tradition and innovation that’s still evolving to this day. Through its distinct focus on project work, students learn how to learn, applying knowledge and skills from the classroom to real problems around the world.

1. We have seven-week terms

Instead of semesters, which are well suited for traditional coursework, a WPI academic year is made up of seven-week terms: four in the traditional academic year and two during an optional summer term. Taking three courses a term creates space for the cooperative, open-ended project work at the core of the WPI Plan. At the same time, fewer courses allows for more intensive engagement.

2. We advise—you decide

At WPI, you have the freedom—and the responsibility-- to choose the courses and experiences that best suit your goals and interests while still meeting rigorous degree requirements. Throughout the process, faculty and staff mentors offer guidance on how different choices could impact your career and your life. We help you ask the questions that are essential to plotting the path that makes the most sense for you.

3. There are no failing grades

When you’re accustomed to receiving consistently high marks, the notion of taking a course you might not ace can seem too risky. So WPI eliminated failing grades. We want the focus to be on learning, teamwork, and collaboration, not on competing. You earn A, B, C, or NR (No Record). This unique grading system encourages you to branch out, experiment, and cross disciplines—that’s where amazing things happen at WPI, and, ultimately, in your career.

4. It's Theory and Practice, not Theory then Practice.

Projects are the core of the WPI Plan. At any given time, almost everybody on campus—students and faculty—is working on at least one team project. A WPI project presents unstructured problems that require experience and imagination. Faculty advisors bring the experience. Students bring the imagination. And the whole team is immersed in exploring ways to solve a problem each member cares deeply about. Along the way you’ll expand your world view and gain career-launching professional experiences.

5. Jump-starting your problem-solving skills

An optional two-term course for first-year students, the Great Problems Seminar (GPS) gives you the chance to explore the complexity of one of the world’s most pressing problems, such as public health, water, food security, energy, or education. Led by faculty members from different disciplines—a mechanical engineer and a philosopher, for example—you and your teammates will take a small piece of the problem and devise a potential solution. The skills you develop will help you to be successful both in your future project work at WPI, and in your future career.

6. Changing the world requires understanding it

WPI believes well-rounded students will become better scientists, engineers, and business leaders. And being well-rounded requires an appreciation for how the study of history, philosophy, art, language, music, and theatre enriches your life. That’s the role of the Humanities & Arts (HUA) Requirement. You’ll explore the humanities and arts broadly, and then dive into one area in depth. It all leads to a culminating project involving original research or creative work.

7. One project, in particular, will be life-changing

Recognized as one of the most creative and effective innovations in technological higher education, the Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) requires that you delve into a problem that matters to real people on a topic that lies on the boundaries of science, technology, and society. Thousands of these projects have been completed for hundreds of sponsors, the majority at one of our many project centers across the United States and the globe.

8. You will be an expert in your field

A significant portion of your senior year at WPI is devoted to the Major Qualifying Project (MQP). Often completed in partnership with corporate sponsors, this capstone work in your major field requires you to demonstrate real-world research, design, and problem-solving skills. Top employers and graduate programs expect no less, and the WPI Plan sets you up to achieve this mastery. In turn, you'll be able to prove to employers that you know how to get things done.

9. You will become a globally aware citizen

Through WPI’s unique Global Projects Program thousands of students have gained global experiences since 1974. At more than 50 off-campus project centers—located as close as our home city of Worcester to locations across the globe—our students bring ingenious approaches to an astounding array of societal and technological challenges. Students call the global projects “life-changing.” They come to recognize global and cultural complexities, learn to strategically manage projects, and to communicate clearly with peers, local residents, and sponsors as they become immersed in a problem that really matters to real people.​

10. These nine words are ones to live by

Go to class. Do the work. Ask for help. This is advice you’ll hear from every corner of WPI. And if you take it, you will make it. From small classes to one-on-one interactions with peers, staff, and faculty members—there’s always someone ready and willing to help. Our distinctive first-year experience integrates academic, residential, and peer support systems to smooth the transition to college and brings 91 percent of the class back to campus for their second year. In the following years, faculty, staff, and peer mentors help you navigate your way through the WPI Plan.