College Spotlight: Washington University
Freshman Year Update
By Brandon Krisko
When most people hear the word “tango,” they think of flamboyant, professional dancers with roses hanging out of their mouths. At Washington University, researchers broke the mold and tried tango dancing with Parkinson’s patients. They were interested to see if tango dancing would help them coordinate their movements and improve their balance. Turns out (no pun intended), it works! During the past semester, I was fortunate enough to be a part of this study. As my partner Patricia and I perfected our steps on the last day of class, I realized that this study was a perfect example of WashU is all about: helping people find balance.
My name is Brandon Krisko and I am currently a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis. As of right now, I am planning on double majoring in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology and Drama, but have yet to declare a major. The trademark WashU balance is even evident in my major titles: a little bit of humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and performing arts.
Washington University is a mid-size university (about 7,000 undergraduate students) located in a suburb of St. Louis. Undergraduates apply to either the college of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Sam Fox School of Art and Design, or Olin Business School. It is relatively easy to transfer between the schools if you change your mind about what you want to study. WashU accepts about 17% of applicants.
When I was looking at colleges, I knew I wanted a school that would allow me to explore my love for performing as well as my passion for learning about the human brain. During most of my college search, WashU was not even on my radar screen. I ended up visiting on a whim and fell in love with it the minute I stepped on campus. The friendly faces and stunning buildings were the first things that caught my attention. Then, when they told me about the Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Department and gave me a tour of the theatre, I was sold.
My WashU experience began on a toasty day in the middle of August with a Pre-Orientation program. Pre-Orientation programs (Pre-O’s) are week-long programs run by student groups that take place before orientation. They provide a great way for incoming freshmen to meet other freshmen with similar interests as well as upperclassmen with leadership positions on campus. In addition, Pre-O participants get to move in early, which is a huge plus. I participated in the Campus Comedy Pre-O, which is a collaboration between the three improvisation groups on campus. We spent the week in improv workshops, explored the surrounding area, and performed for our fellow students at the end of the week. I had never done improv before, but I discovered a passion for it at Pre-O. I am now a cast member of Mama’s Pot Roast, one of Washington University’s three improv groups.
Another special opportunity that WashU offers to freshmen is first year classes. These classes allow students to explore an area of interest such as Drama, Irish Literature, Microbiology, Crime Fiction, or Camping in a smaller class composed entirely of freshmen. I took a class called Designing Creativity: Innovation Across Disciplines. I wasn’t sure what the class was about, but it had an intriguing roster of guest speakers. This ended up being my favorite class of first semester. I learned about human-centered design, a field that I did not even know existed that I am now hoping to possibly pursue a career in.
While I was pushed to try new things at school like improv and human-centered design, I also got to explore some things I know I love. As a Drama major, theatre has been something that I’ve been enamored with as long as I can remember. This semester, I performed in Sondheim’s Company with the Performing Arts Department. My character, Peter, was searching for a balance between expressing himself and staying true to commitments he already made. The best part about Company was the well rounded cast composed of Drama majors, Psychology majors, Marketing majors, English majors, French majors, pre-meds, freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.
If you’re like me and find all of these class and activity choices overwhelming, you’re in luck. All WashU students are assigned to a four-year advisor who works with them until they graduate, regardless of what major they end up declaring. In addition, students have advisors for any majors and pre-professional programs (pre-health, pre-law, etc.) they declare. These advisors know their students’ stories and work with them closely. My advisor helped me build a schedule that allowed me to study what I am interested in while also having time to get involved on campus.
Speaking of being on campus, Washington University consistently ranks at the top of the lists for best dorms and best food. All of the freshmen are required to live on campus and many sophomores and upperclassmen choose to. Freshmen and sophomores live on the South 40, a cluster of residence halls just across the street from main campus. Students can choose between modern and traditional dorms. The modern dorms are newer, but the traditional dorms have a fun “college” feel. The South 40 also has a dining hall, outdoor seating, porch swings, hammocks, basketball courts, and beach volleyball courts. There is always something fun happening on the “40”, whether the St. Louis Symphony is playing outside the dining hall or a movie is being shown on the lawn.
Although campus life is vibrant, there are plenty of chances to get off campus as well. The surrounding area is one of my favorite parts about the school. WashU is across the street from Forest Park, the largest urban park in the United States (it’s bigger than Central Park!) Forest Park is a great place to go for a walk or a bike ride and has many free amenities including an art museum, zoo, and science center. There is a nice walking path that connects WashU’s campus to Delmar Boulevard, which has a number of great restaurants and shops. Some of my favorite places are Seoul Taco (Korean-BBQ-Mexican fusion), Blueprint Coffee (serves coffee in an Erlenmeyer flask), Piccione (an Italian pastry place), and the Tivoli (an indie movie theatre). If you want to get out of the WashU area, public transportation is easy to use. Many students use public transportation to get to the mall, Target, Clayton, the Central West End, the arts district to see a Broadway show, or to go downtown.
I would recommend Washington University to anyone looking for a well rounded college experience. WashU is the perfect mix between studying and socializing, revisiting favorite subjects and exploring new ones, getting involved on campus and adventuring off campus. Whether or not you decide to try your hand at tango, WashU is sure to help you find the right balance.