- Class: Sophomore
- Major: Anthropology
- Gender: M
- High School: Charlottesville High School
- Transfer Student: N
Compared to your Stanfords or Dukes, Wash U is a relative newcomer to that privileged bunch that turns away the bulk of its applicants. ESPN broadcasters donÕt name-drop our basketball players and no one goes to St. Louis for its weather; a lot people donÕt even know that Washington University in St. Louis is, in fact, in St. Louis. But there is definitely a sense around here that Wash U is a school on the rise and its cool to be part of that. The school is flush with money; the administration has spent millions on constructing new buildings and recruiting world-renowned faculty. We now have dorms that have more in common with the lodging at Disneyland than a traditional college dorm. You can order crepes at our dining halls or take advantage of abundant funding for student groups and projects. I doubt I am the only one, however, who wonders whether these perks really justify a $50,000 a year price tag. Sometimes it seems as though the administration lavishes more money and attention on its buildings than its students. Wash U, like much of its competition, charges for everything: to use the Internet, to print at the library, to use outdated exercise facilities. The nicest dorms cost over $1,000 a month in rent and you can expect to pay $6 or $7 for the convenience of buying a box of cereal on campus. In its defense, the administration has begun to address some of these issues by bundling some fees into room and board. Increasingly, however, the people in charge seem slow to respond to the issues students have with current policies. This spring, for instance, the Chancellor refused an offer from Barack Obama to speak on campus for free on the weekend before Super Tuesday on the grounds that doing so would be a costly distraction and require the school to host any presidential candidate who wished to speak here. A lot of students thought this was a pretty flimsy excuse, especially in light of the fact that the College Republicans brought Mike Huccabee on campus last spring and paid Alberto Gonzales $35,000 for a half-hour speech this winter. For the most part, however, students are really happy to be at Wash U. The size of the school is perfect; intimate enough to see people you know everywhere you go, large enough to constantly meet new people. And despite all of the facility improvements and stellar academics, itÕs the people that make Wash U a stellar place. True ***s are a rare breed on campus. Almost everyone is approachable and friendly in a Midwestern sort of way. School spirit is difficult when you play DIII sports and you share part of your name with a dozen other schools, but people bond easily enough through their freshmen floor, mutual friends, extracurriculars, and Greek life.
On any given Freshmen floor, at least a third of the students are pre-meds, a number that quickly drops as students learn that even the brightest students sometimes donÕt score above a 50 on their exams. Architecture students have been known to carry their sleeping bags to studio to nab a couple of hours of sleep in between projects and engineering students are at the library when theyÕre not playing Halo. Those of us in the social sciences, humanities, or business school generally have less work, but thereÕs no getting around the fact that academics here are very challenging. WhatÕs more remarkable is how sane and fun Wash U students stay despite the rigger of their academic schedule. One of the perks of going to a well-endowed private school is that despite its size, Wash U lavishes personal attention on all of its students. Even in the larger, intro-level lectures, the school provides all sorts of support: plentiful office hours, numerous TAÕs, Peer-Led Team Learning Groups (PLTLÕs), pre-exam study sessions, help desks for writing, and even residential academic advisors that live in the dorms. The quality of teaching varies, but the school makes teacher evaluations from past terms available to students and its easy to find good professors provided you do your research before enrolling. All students in the school of Arts & Sciences have to take Writing I, a class that gets at best mixed reviews from students. You do things like writing essays analyzing advertisements; the quality of the class depends entirely on the TA. Because I chose to enroll in Text & Tradition, one of several specialized treks available to freshmen culminating in a minor in the humanities, my Writing I class was phenomenal. We did everything from watching and analyzing Mike Huckabee speak on campus to studying Sartre and existentialism. My class was probably the exception; we bonded so well that we felt compelled to get sloppy off Yellow Tail, cheap cheese, and Greek mythology one Friday night before heading off to more conventional parties. Artsci students also must navigate the messy cluster system. The clusters are supposed to provide some breadth of study by requiring students take several related classes in a particular field, but more often than not students find the system needlessly bureaucratic and even a waste of their time. Students in other schools donÕt have these problems because their schedule is more or less set in stone. Getting dual degrees across schools, however, is really easy; people often come to Wash U to do ridiculous things like pair a physics degree with an art major. Double majors are absurdly popular, as is taking way too many classes; only at Wash U can you take fifteen credits towards one major and minor and feel a little bit like an underachiever. That said, this is still college and people still manage to have a really good time; even the library is social.
The average Wash U guy is white, charmingly awkward, listens to Guster and wears sweatshirts and jeans everywhere. Girls are approachable, social, and either wear North Face and Uggs or jeans and a sweater around campus. These are huge generalizations, of course; Wash U students come from all walks of life, from socioeconmic backgrounds, blah blah blah. The reality is that the student body is a lot more homogenous than it should be. The Class of 2010 had the most African-Americans in school history, which seems impressive until you read that a total of 91 black students enrolled in my class (although that is a huge improvement over the previous yearsÕ 76). There are almost no Hispanic students on campus either. Even if you take off the racial lens, it doesnÕt take long to realize that Wash U students are almost all middle or upper class, left-leaning but politically apathetic pre-professionals. This is not to say that everyone comes from the same background or that there arenÕt thousands of unique students with their own stories to tell. ItÕs just that you can only complain so much about the speed of internet or the lack of a good on-campus franchise eatery before the word ÒshelteredÓ crops up. I think what is really missing is some spontaneity in campus life. Sometimes I feel that students have micromanaged their lives to the point that, say, an impromptu trip to Chicago or even getting painted up for a basketball game are out of the question. All the same, the students are this schoolÕs biggest asset. ItÕs just as easy to talk to Coach-handbaged sorority girls as KWUR New Wave DJÕs. There is a surprising amount of cross-pollination; the point guard of the basketball team might be the most insightful guy in your Shakespeare class and could sing in acappella on weekends. Most people here are at least a little bit awkward and almost everyone is outgoing and social, to the point that privacy becomes an issue; people hang out going to class, at the library, at the gym, doing homework, and partying. Still, if youÕre shy, you should know that the best thing you can do at Wash U is to make yourself vulnerable: join a new club, act in a play, rush a sorority or fraternity, or play a club sport. Despite Wash UÕs relatively homogenous racial make-up, the various cultural groups on campus are particularly strong. Most put on cultural shows that are pretty popular such as Ashoka or the Lunar New Year Festival. Some of these groups, particularly ones with lots of international students, can be really cliquey.
The Best Things
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The Wash U bubble