Washington & Lee University
BackgroundInterview Date:November 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2021
High School Experience: Private school in Little Rock, AR with a graduating class of about 55 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First-Generation College Student: No
Extracurricular Activities: I’m in a fraternity, I’m a tutor, and I’m in the Outing Club.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Being part of a fraternity has because Washington & Lee is pretty into Greek life. It’s definitely not required and you won’t be looked down on if you’re not in one, but it’s a big part of the experience here.
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your major?
This semester, I’m in a Geology lab class and we have weekly exercises and projects that are due for the next lab period. The major assignments for my non-lab classes are exams and papers and for the lab class, it’s projects, a few quizzes, a final exam, and attendance and participation.
Is there anything you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
At W&L in general, and especially within the Geology department, they do a good job of engaging the alumni network. The alumni care heavily about how the undergraduates do. The Geology department also really helps me with networking and setting up connections that I can follow through on.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
It’s a little bit of both. It’s collaborative in that, at least with my experience as a Geology major, even if we’re in different classes we’re usually working in the Geology lab late at night at the same time. It’s competitive in that a lot of us want the same kind of internships and jobs, so that does exist but it doesn’t influence the major too much.
How accessible are your professors?
They’re extremely accessible. They have office hours posted and if those don’t work for your schedule then you can ask them for an appointment and they’ll make it work.
What has been your favorite part of W&L so far academically?
Academically, my favorite part has been a Geology class I took last year called Geophysics. It was extremely hard and a lot of work, but I learned so many useful things. With Geology, when you learn something it’s tangible and you can apply it in the real world or in research. I like that I feel like I’m learning applicable material.
Why did you choose your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I knew I wanted to major in something STEM-related since high school, but I didn’t like my biology, physics, and chemistry classes in high school. I came here over the summer because I was [an athletic recruit] and was here for a recruiting camp, and I saw the Geology club and talked to the Geology department head and I really liked the idea of it. Freshman year, I took an introductory class and then declared.
How was managing both your sport and your coursework?
At first, it was a bit of an adjustment. I will say I think my experience in high school did a great job of preparing me for that, so I didn’t have any giant struggles from a grade standpoint. It was more just acclimating myself to the new environment, the social life, and all of those things. Fortunately, my sport is in the spring so the fall was more laid back and I had more time to adjust. I think it actually helps when you’re in season because you have to manage your time better and make sure you’re not messing around.
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 twenty other people in the house
How was transitioning from your hometown in Little Rock, AR to Lexington, VA?
It’s about a 12-hour drive or me, so it was difficult when I didn’t have my car freshman year. Sophomore year when I brought my car, the drive was a bit of a chore but I’ve gotten used to it.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I’ve never had a single issue. It’s extremely safe. We have the blue light system all over campus and we have the LiveSafe App where you can check on your friends if you get separated and make sure they’re in the right place. Also, campus safety does a great job taking care of us.
Pros and cons of being in Lexington, VA?
Pros: It’s great for the outdoors. There are so many hikes and it’s great for Geology students.
Cons: (1) We’re in the middle of nowhere. We’re far away from other cities in Virginia. [Richmond is about a two-hour drive away]
(2) Lexington as a city is not the best city ever. Lexington, Washington & Lee, and the Virginia Military Institute are all separate things and we don’t always mesh well.
What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you participate in at Washington & Lee?
At Washington & Lee, sorority and fraternity life is pretty big. Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday are party nights where either individual fraternities will either host a party in their fraternity house on campus or off-campus houses where seniors live. A good thing about W&L is we have the Traveller Bus System that runs on party nights. It’s basically eliminated all drunk driving because it takes people to party houses along its bus stops until 2:00 AM.
What is the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
Greek life sort of dictates the nightlife. Every party, with the exception of maybe one or two, is thrown by a fraternity in either an on-campus house or off-campus house. That being said, even though it’s thrown by a fraternity it’s not a closed party. The only closed parties are when we have a mixer with a sorority and during a certain amount of time only that sorority can come. Otherwise, especially out at the off-campus houses, you don’t get kicked out of the parties unless you go to Washington & Lee. [About 74% of students are involved in Greek life.]
How did your nightlife experience differ before and after you joined the fraternity?
We do rush in the winter so fall is more of an informal rush. You certainly can go to any party you want to and nobody will tell you to leave, but fraternities may not give you the warmest welcome in the fall because they aren’t rushing you at the moment. In the winter and spring, anything goes. For example, I can go to another fraternity’s off-campus house on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday if I want to.
What is an alternative to going to a party or a bar that you like for a weekend option?
Hiking House Mountain is a popular place. Also, doing homework during the weekends is pretty popular too since we have a lot of schoolwork. Sometimes you can go to other places like Roanoke too.
How happy were you with the nightlife options at W&L? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I’m extremely happy with the weekend options because I don’t have to go out every night. If I have a big project due on Monday, I can certainly stay in over the weekend and work on that. Nobody is going to make you go out. I also can have a chill night in with friends or go to a party. It’s limited in the sense that there are limited things to do, but it’s not limiting in the sense that I have to do one of those things each weekend.
How did you meet your closest friends?
My roommate and hallmates during my freshman year are still some of my closest friends. We all just happened to be on the same hall together. Eventually, I decided to join a fraternity and my pledge class has become some of my very close friends. Then I’ve met girls through the sororities we mix with. Greek life is a great way to make friends here. There’s a joke about Greek life that we pay for our friends, but it’s a good way to meet people.
How would you describe the overall social scene?
Greek life is a big social catalyst on campus, but we have plenty of clubs and also people know other people in their major. Like, I’m in the Outing Club and I know a bunch of people through that. The clubs don’t throw parties on the weekends, but they’re a great way to meet people and make friends who you can hang out with on the weekends.
To what extent do people in Greek life and not in Greek life mix socially?
That’s actually changing right now. I’m currently a junior, but when I was a freshman there was a fairly big divide because you either went Greek or you didn’t and there was a very big group who did go Greek. But now, there is a trend where being independent is absolutely viable socially. I have friends who are independent and it is becoming less socially required to go Greek.
To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
Along with fraternity and sorority houses, we have theme houses and some of them celebrate certain cultures. I think people mix fairly well and it’s common to see diverse groups of friends around campus.
How would you describe the student body?
W&L is an academically competitive school, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who are more focused on partying than they probably should. There are also people on the total other end of the spectrum who rarely go out to parties. Most people are in between those ends of the spectrum leaning more one way or the other.
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 think it’s a great size. We have very small classes, which means there is more time to interact with professors in office hours. It makes it easier to make those connections.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
We have a very good career services office. I went there my freshman year and they fixed up my resume. Then, this year, since I’m looking for internships for the summer, I met with a professor at the start of the year and he helped tune-up my resume specifically for the petroleum industry. He also gave contacts for alumni who I could talk with and network with.
Have you learned any computer programs that will be helpful professionally?
I have experience with Excel, we use ArcGIS, and I’ve used Python a little. Also, if things go right, I’ll take a class in MATLAB next year.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about W&L before entering as a freshman?
I wish I knew how to approach Greek life. There are lots of cool freshmen but they don’t know how to rush and get out there and meet people. I wish I had known how big of a deal that was because it worked out for me, but I struggled at first because I didn’t know how to meet people in that capacity. I should have known more about it since it’s such a big part of our social structure.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
They absolutely need to check out the hiking. House Mountain is a good hike and you can also go to Goshen Pass, which is a beautiful hike.
What is something a prospective student interested in Greek life may want to know that we haven’t touched on?
The fraternities here are smaller than they are at state schools. It’s much smaller and more intimate.
What is something a prospective student interested in Geology may want to know that we haven’t touched on yet?
I would just look up the department directory and reach out to somebody. They’d be happy to talk.
Reasons to attend Washington & Lee:
1) Great academics. You learn a lot inside and outside of the classroom. Like, my presentation skills have gotten a lot better because I’ve gone through classes that have required that and also went through the Greek life process.
2) The really strong alumni network.
Reasons to not attend Washington & Lee:
1) The location is not the best. Lexington is not the best place ever.