If you've never liked to talk much in class, you will now. It's hard not to voice one's opinon when everyone has so many different ideas. The professors are wonderful--they care about your progress, your understanding, and your well-being. I've had professors know my name by the second day of class--there is no hiding in the back. Students really take advantage of small class sizes, and professors do as well. Talking to your professor outside of class is common and encouraged--not only will you improve in the class, but you will form a bond that only provides beneficial results. Classes can range from an 8 person Religion seminar to a 35 person Intro Chemistry class. But even in the larger classes you are expected to participate, and your individual achievements will not go unnoticed. The greatest thing about W&L is its liberal education. Without it, I may never have taken a Religion class, and never found what I truly excell at studying. And with W&Ls open-ended education I am able to major in Religion and still take all the science classes I need and want in order to prepare for med-school. In fact, I even have time to double-major, and that is not uncommon. The greatest thing about the liberal education though, is that it unites the student body by requiring each person to be well-rounded. You meet so many different people in your classes that you would never meet at another school because they would be concentrating on one subject. The professors are very good at incorporating their own liberal education: I have Biology professors talking about philosophy, I have Religion professors discussing politics, I have Philosophy professors talking about genetics. The professors provide you with a background necessary for life and a mind geared for the future.
After going to a small and academically challanging highschool, I was looking forward to, well, slacking off in college. The rumor was that the hardest part of college was getting in. I was SHOCKED then to find myself right back in the small and challenging class atmosphere of highschool. Professors know the students and know what they are capable of, and they absolutely hold their students to that standard. There is no grade inflation. The first meeting we had as a freshman class, the dean addressed the class and said, "90% of you were the top 10% of your class. Now only 10% of you will be". A seemingly obvious statement, but for the type A over achievers that flock to W&L, it was a bit of a shock to see that come into realization. BUT while professors are very demanding and classes are tough, they are incredibely interesteing classes. Some classes are hard to get into, but if they are neccessary for a major or graduation professors will always let you in. Often students can get into "full" classes (and by full, i mean about 25 students) by e-mailing the professor and showing legit interest in the subject. Also, even though students tend to by Type A, there is no competition with fellow students for "class rank" or elite academic standing. The pressure is entirely internal. As far as the student/professor relationship goes, I can say with confidence that all of my professors know my name and they--consistent with speaking tradition--will always stop to talk outside of class. They're available for help at ALL hours (I actually called a professor at 3 in the morning for help on a group project and she helped no questions asked).
Academic life at W&L is intense. The small class sizes help the students, however, and it is easy to develop relationships with professors. The professors know your name, will email you when you miss class, and generally care about your performance. My favorite classes have been interactive, requiring preparation prior to class as well as in class participation. It is common to meet and become friends with students in your classes because most of the out of class work is done in groups. Homework is rare but difficult. Most of the classes I have taken have required lots of reading but the reading really helps the classroom move smoothly. The liberal arts requirement ensures that students take classes in all areas, and I've actually found that the classes outside my major are interesting. One of my favorite classes was my Geology lab I took during Spring term, where it was my only class. We were in the field everyday and learned geology through hands on experience. It is much easier to remember and understand topics when you've seen them firsthand. The education at W&L both prepares students for real world jobs and it also promotes students to explore areas that they are interested in.
I can't say that professors are always exceptionally qualified. Many definitely are. The sciences, the art history department, politics, economics, etc. But in the art and journalism departments, for example, no professor's resume will blow you away. At first, I thought "uh oh" because it seems like a very small department with unremarkable professors. But then you realize that your experience will be very different than a big-name school with big-name professors. And in my opinion, it has been better. My professors and I are dear friends, and you are a big fish in a little pond. By my sophomore year, I had anchored for the W&L local news station and been editor-in-chief of two campus publications. You don't have to wait till senior year to get out of the lecture hall -- from day one, your professors guide you as you dive in to work with your hands in real-world situations. Comparing the education I've received with those of my friends, I am so pleased with the broad development and depth of study that I've never seen evidence of anywhere else. I wouldn't trade it for the world. I feel like I'm a more well-rounded person AND extraordinarily prepared for my career path.
Academics at Washington and Lee are quite rigorous and challenging. This school really shapes you into a well-rounded and strong student. The greatest thing about the curriculum is how it offers you a vast opportunity to learn about subjects that don't necessarily have to be in your major. My favorite classes have been classes that are culturally-based such as African American history and Environmental issues as they pertain to Chinese literature and film. The academics at Washington and Lee are also spectacular because you can always count on being able to go to your professor for help whenever you need it. All of my professors knew my name and I, theirs. Some professors even invite their students over for dinner to discuss class work. I truly believe an education at Washington and Lee is the best money can buy.
Classes at W&L are small and professors are accommodating and extremely knowledgeable. Taking into account that the majority of Washington and Lee students feel positively about learning and succeeding academically (and that the university draws in a multitude of "type-A" individuals,) it is no surprise that classes can rigorous and competitive. But, students are friendly and a diversity of opinion in discussions is highly valued, which makes for a less competitive feel. While the Washington and Lee School of Law is located directly off the main campus, contact between undergrad students and law students is rare.
Professors are great but there are exceptions. In the journalism department, everyone is a kind, giving person who wants to know about you and your life. Teaching does not stop after the class bell rings. I'm biased, but I think anything in the C-School sucks. Students study a lot, but that doesn't mean it's the only thing that happens (by far not true). Career services is a good resource, but if you're not a c-school major or planning on going to grad school, there's not much they can do to help you get a job.
It is not easy. Teachers demand a lot out of you but it is worth it to work hard. I love seeing teachers off campus and outside of class and having them know my name and say something to me, it just gives W&L a sense of community...which I love. Education at W&L will help you get a job but that is definitely not the primary objective. The school is about the education of the whole individual which is why we have to take classes in all academic areas.
Class participation is very common, and students take their academics seriously. The library is usually busy almost every day of the week. Professors are invested in their students, and often prefer to work with undergraduates doing research over the summer. My favorite class at Washington and Lee was a Biopsychology class called "Brain and Behavior," it is a "must-take" class at W&L for non-science and science majors alike!
The small size of the student body lends itself to an intimate academic atmosphere. Professors actually care about you and get to know you. Since all classes are taught by full professors, students never skip class because they feel it's "not worth it to go." There generally exists an open door policy, meaning that professors will drop what they're doing to meet with you whenever their office door is open.