Washington & Lee University
BackgroundInterview Date:November 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2020
High School Experience: Public school in Blaine, WA with a graduating class of about 400 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First-Generation College Student: No
Extracurricular Activities: I’m in a fraternity, I’m on the club rugby team, I’m a member of the Sexual Health Awareness Group, I’m part of the Wind Ensemble, and I’m part of the alcohol awareness group called the Washingtonian Society.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
The Washingtonian Society has because it’s given me a group of friends who have similar perspectives on alcohol use and want to make a change in their alcohol use and patterns, and their patterns with all substances in general.
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
I usually have one to two labs per semester that happen on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Biology major also has a lot of 8:00 AM classes, but that’s just the nature of the major. We have tests about every two weeks and those make up the majority of the grade. Sometimes we have research papers, but we are given a long time to do them so they aren’t too bad.
Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
If someone’s falling behind, they will make sure there is one-on-one time. Since everybody knows each other and you’re almost on a first name basis with your professors, they’ll pull you aside after class and say they noticed that you’re struggling and tell you to come to office hours. They’re really good at reaching out to students.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
It’s more collaborative than competitive. When your school is this small, you know everybody, so it’s pretty easy to find someone who’s doing better than you and ask them for help, and everybody’s very willing to help you.
How accessible are your professors?
They’re incredibly accessible. Everyone has office hours and you can always get into the office hours or you can schedule times to meet outside of them. They’re fantastic about that.
What has been your favorite part of W&L so far academically?
Since it’s a liberal arts school, I can choose courses I never thought I’d take. I’m in a Religion course right now, and that’s something I didn’t know existed until I came here. I like that I can tailor the courses to what I want to learn. If you want to be very specific to what your future will be, you can. Like, I could take all Biology courses if I wanted to and I can also take a huge range of courses and still finish all of my requirements.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I originally came in thinking I was going to be pre-med, but I recently decided my path to be pre-dental. I don’t know if I’m happy with my choice. I enjoy the courses, but there are so many other options that I could have chosen. With the way it’s gone, I can’t complain too much because I’ve had a good time with the major.
On and Around Campus
Where did you live on and around campus?
Freshman: Gaines Hall with one roommate
Sophomore: My fraternity house in a single room but with about twenty other people in the house
Junior: Village townhouses with five other fraternity brothers
Senior: The Washingtonian House with three other people.
What has been your favorite living situation?
My current living situation. I love living in the Washingtonian House.
How was transitioning from your hometown in Washington to Lexington, VA?
In terms of location, the only difference has been the weather. The travel is annoying. But, I came from a small town and Lexington is also a really small town, so that hasn’t been too big of a shift.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
The safety is pretty good. We have public safety and they’re very good at monitoring the campus. There is also the Student Health Center which is a safe-haven. One of the big things on campus is there is a lot of alcohol use and it’s good to know that if you are in a situation where you need medical attention [because of alcohol], you can get that medical attention without fear of [legal consequences]. We have the blue light system that you can use if you need help too, so I always feel safe on campus.
Pros and cons of being in Lexington, VA?
Pros: (1) There are a lot of good coffee shops.
(2) There are beautiful views and great hikes everywhere.
Cons: (1) There’s not much to do. You can’t go to any big areas without at least a 40-minute drive. There’s not much to do in town and it’s hard to get places where there is stuff to do.
What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you participate in at Washington & Lee?
Nightlife-wise, there is not a bar scene but there is definitely a lot of partying that goes on. At night, my fraternity will have a party on Friday and Saturday night. I’ll usually go to that and hang out for a couple of hours. There are also non-drinking events that go on like music performances and stuff like that. Personally, I love going to cookouts during the day. My fraternity hosts a lot of them at our off-campus houses, so I’ll just go to that and hang out with friends. Sometimes, if it’s really nice out, we’ll go rafting down Maury River. Otherwise, hiking House Mountain or Spy Rock are two of my favorite things to do.
What is the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
Pretty much the only thing to do on weekend nights is going to Greek parties at off-campus houses. What’s nice is they’re really inclusive. If I go to a house that is not my fraternity’s, I’m not going to get kicked out, so there is an attitude where you just go where you want. [About 74% of students are involved in Greek life.]
What is an alternative to going to a party or a bar that you like for a weekend option?
One of the big things right now is Friday Underground which is in the basement of the ARC House. There’s a big stage and they’ll have people go up and play music or sometimes there’s poetry.
How happy were you with the nightlife options at W&L? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I’m more or less happy. It’d be nice if there were some more places to go, but that’s something you can’t change. It’d be nice to be able to go somewhere else, but, given where the school is, I’m pretty happy with it.
How did you meet your closest friends?
A lot of them have been through my fraternity. I joined only knowing the guys I met during rush but wound up with some of my closest friends during the following four years.
How would you describe the overall social scene?
It’s not super cliquey, but can be kind of cliquey. Once you find your group of people, you stick with that group of people. There is are a lot of fraternity brothers hanging out with fraternity brothers and not a ton of interplay between the different fraternities. Usually, on a Friday night you’ll be hanging out in your own basement with your own fraternity brothers.
To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
People of other races are pretty socially involved. I can’t say too much about different sexual orientations because I’m in a fraternity that is not very diverse in that sense. There are a lot of groups that are diverse in that sense. Like, the Washingtonian Society has a pretty large LGBTQ population and the Red House which is a meeting place for a lot of LGBTQ people. There is also the Sankofa House which is a meeting place for students of color. So, there is mixing, but are also places where those groups of people can be around people like them.
How would you describe the student body?
There’s definitely a work hard play hard culture. That’s something everyone’s told as a prospective student. Everybody wants to get their work done so they can go out over the weekend. That’s the underlying theme of the student body.
How do you like the size of Washington & Lee in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has that impacted your experience? [There are about 1,800 undergraduates.]
I’m a big fan of the size. If I went to a larger state school, I’d worry about getting lost in the crowd. But, on our campus you can’t get lost. You see everybody every day. I can name every single person in my major and am close friends with most of them, so there’s no way you’re going to get lost.
Do you think people are generally happy with their choice of W&L by senior year? Do you think people leave loving W&L?
I think people are mostly happy. There are definitely people who are a little tired of it, myself included. I do love the school, but I’m ready for something different. I think a lot of people are satisfied, but ready for something else.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
Not personally, no. It’s actually been my professors who’ve done a lot of helping with that. But, I do know that it’s an incredible resource and I have a ton of friends who have found internships through them. Like, all of my friends in the Business major have found jobs in great places because of the alumni network.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
The career office has been really helpful, especially this year. I’ve been meeting with a few of the advisers and they’ve helped me with my CV and my applications. They’ve basically set my life straight on numerous occasions. They’re a great resource and I think they are under-utilized.
Have you learned any computer programs that will be helpful professionally?
There’s a lot of Excel work. Recently, I’ve started learning R which is going to be great for when I go into a research lab. One of the requirements for the Biology major is to take a Computer Science course, so there’s no way you’re going to leave without at least basic knowledge of some language.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how easy is the office to work with?
I have used financial aid and they’re pretty responsive. Their office is on campus and there’s usually someone free at all times if you need to talk to them about some urgent matter. They’re accessible and are good people.
Have you used mental health resources? If so, how easy are they to access?
Yes, we have an amazing counseling center on campus and we joke that it’s the one thing holding some friend groups together. Usually, they’re pretty booked and there is a two-week turnaround, but the counselors are all amazing resources.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about W&L before entering as a freshman?
I really wish I had known about the Greek life. I came in without knowing how big that was on campus, so I would tell myself to look into it because it’s pretty cool. Where I’m from, Greek life isn’t that big at any of the state schools but here it’s [about 74%]. I came in thinking that it wouldn’t be super big but that’s not the case.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
I would drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s really pretty and there are beautiful overlooks. It’s something small that I wish I did on my visit.
What’s something a prospective student from the West Coast may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
They should know that there are actually quite a few people here from the West Coast. It’s not as big as the Texas population, but there are a few of us. [About 7% of the Class of 2022 came from the West Coast.]
Reasons to attend Washington & Lee:
1) You’ll get a good education. There’s no doubt about that.
2) The social scene. It’s inclusive so you’re going to be involved.
3) Everyone seems to care about each other among the professors and students.
Reasons to not attend Washington & Lee:
1) If you don’t want to get involved in your school’s social scene and just buckle down and focus on studying nonstop, you might not want to do that here.
2) You’re going to get bored while being here because it’s not in a big city and there are not many things to do.
3) If you’re going to be in the STEM program, it’s really difficult and you are going to have a lot of late nights in the science library.