College Spotlight: George Washington University

If you think you want to go to a medium-sized college in the middle of a city, you might want George Washington University (GWU) on your list. The Foggy Bottom Metro stop, which is right in the center of campus, is your quick link to anywhere in D.C.

But what you might not know is that there is also another, smaller campus - the Mt. Vernon Campus - which is a quick shuttle ride away from the main campus. It has a smaller, liberal arts feel with a lot of green space that appeals to many GWU students, some of whom choose to live in dorms there. Some smaller classes are held there and that’s also where the athletic fields are.

My tour guide, Tina, is a junior from China studying international affairs and social and cultural anthropology. She was upbeat about her experience at GWU. She said the hardest part of the adjustment was getting used to peculiarities in the language. For example, after moving into her dorm (by herself, since her parents didn’t travel with her) she went to a local restaurant and was mystified by why her beefsteak tomato burger had no beef in it. Turns out it was a vegetarian restaurant and beefsteak is a type of tomato.

Since there’s no cafeteria at GWU, students have a debit-like card for meals that they buy from 120 local restaurants and from the Whole Foods in the middle of campus. And yes, rest assured there’s a Chick-Fil-A in the campus food court. While some might find it strange that there’s not a centralized cafeteria, students have plenty of options to choose from and seem to delight in their choices and their ability to “eat out” for every meal.

What stood out most to me at GWU were the unique and innovative programs and facilities offered, including:

  • A new study abroad option in Antarctica spearheaded by a professor

  • A global BA degree where you spend three semesters abroad

  • Amazing research opportunities since it is a Tier 1 research institution. Professors invite first and second-year students to research with them, and students are encouraged to pursue their own research.

  • The ability to help staff the annual World Bank conference held at GWU

  • A Knowledge in Action fund that covers costs for students’ unpaid internships

  • Community Service opportunities at orientation and during spring break

  • Fixed tuition for five years

  • A 7-year BA/MD fast-track program

  • A 4-year honors program for students who are “intellectual audtitors” who love applying what they’re learning and finding intersectional points of their classes

  • Lisner Auditorium, the second biggest performing arts space in D.C. behind The Kennedy Center (lots of speakers come to campus and students enter a lottery to get tickets. Recent examples include a presidential debate between Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders)

  • The impressive new science and engineering building

Tina mentioned that her freshman classes were large, and she struggled with a 200-person world history class in her first semester. When she went to her professor’s office hours, she broke down in tears. Her professor reassured her and remembered her name, often checking in with her when he saw her to ask how she was doing. “I guess crying is a good way to make your professors remember your name,” she said, laughing. Her classes now are more in the 20-40 range and she said GWU students typically take 5 classes per semester. She thought she was going to minor in art, and talked about a drawing class she took where the professor brought 🐶 his dog to class. It delighted everyone except for her because she’s scared of dogs. Ultimately she decided there weren’t enough art classes she was interested in so she switched her minor to anthropology. She raved about her mandatory university writing class called Feminist Filmmakers.

Other fun facts about GWU: most of the campus is in a no-fly zone because of its proximity to the White House and the chemical engineering department is located on the Mt. Vernon Campus for the same reason. A statue of a hippo named Martha resides outside Lisner Auditorium and students rub her nose and sacrifice burritos in her mouth for good luck on exams.