A first-year student’s first guide to your first-semester courses

Just in time for registration, senior Lia White recommends a selection of courses available to first-year students.

Lia White

Selecting your classes for your first semester at college can seem intimidating. This may be the first time you’re completely in charge of your course schedule or have seen courses that cover such niche topics. It can be thrilling to have hundreds of new and exciting options to choose from, but those options can also be overwhelming. Maybe you’ve picked out two or three classes that you really want to take, but are having trouble filling out the rest of your schedule. As a rising senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, I’ve been around the block enough times to suggest courses that I think first-year students can enjoy – and be successful in.


1. American Politics

I took this class in my first semester at WashU, which was the fall of 2016. It was the same semester that we held the second presidential debate, and I voted for the first time in the 2016 Presidential Election. Although the class mostly deals with the historical and technical parts of American politics, Professor Reeves did an excellent job of weaving in current political events. He would tie big news stories into what we were learning in class, which helped me become a better critical thinker about politics in general.


2. Classical to Renaissance Literature: Text and Tradition

The Text and Tradition program is an opportunity for first-year students to dig deep into literature, philosophy, history, art, and critical theory. This class in particular looks at the foundational literature for Western society, spanning from Homer to Shakespeare and everything in between. This type of class setting is entirely discussion based, so it gives students a chance to voice their own opinions on the texts and engage in an active dialogue with their peers. Dean Jami Ake and Philip Purchase are teaching this course next fall in two separate sections, and both of them are phenomenal professors who are both highly knowledgeable in their fields and successfully foster an encouraging academic environment for students.


3. Earth’s Future: Causes and Consequences of Global Climate Change

This is one of the most unique and topically relevant courses at this school and plays to one of the university’s strong suits: interdisciplinary teaching. There are two main professors guiding the glass, but most of the lectures are done by professors from all over campus, so you get a wide variety of perspectives on climate change. Hearing those different points of view helps students create their own opinions on the current environmental issues we face.


4. Introduction to Theater Production

WashU Performing Arts Department professors Sean Savoie and Robert Mark Morgan switch off teaching this class each year, and both have worked extensively within the PAD and the outside of it. The class features lectures from people who are experts in their theatrical niche, such as costume design, scenic artistry, and production management. It’s a great networking opportunity if you’re trying to break into the St. Louis theater world and also gives students the chance to learn about the entire breadth of work that goes into a production. One of the more unique parts of this course is that it gives you the chance to be part of the crew for one of the upcoming PAD shows, which is a great experience if you haven’t done theater before and want to give it a try.


5. First Year Opportunity: The Biology of Dog Breeds

When you come to college, your priorities move around a little bit and dogs jump immediately to the top of the list. Professor Braude has been teaching this class since 2015, and not only do students get to learn about dogs (cool enough on its own), you also get to contribute to the larger body of research that previous students in the class have been working on. Seminar-style courses are harder to come by in lower level science classes, so this is a great chance for first-year students to have that close-knit, research-based environment early on.


6. Any Creative Writing Class

I’m keeping this category more general because there are so many options to pick from, and it’s really up to you to choose what you want to specialize in. I took Fiction Writing 1 my first year at WashU and will be taking Poetry Writing 1 this upcoming fall, and I love being able to mix and match creative writing classes that way. I’ve had friends from widely different majors take creative writing classes and absolutely love it. It helps break you out of the routine research paper mindset and do something completely different with your skillset.


7. Introduction to Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

This is possibly one of the most important courses you can take while in college. There is always a diverse group of students taking the class from different backgrounds and majors, and all of these different perspectives can create really interesting discussions. You’ll learn about parts of history that are often glossed over in high school, and you can directly apply the lessons you learn to your everyday interactions with people. It’s a good baseline to have in order to better understand the constantly changing political dialogues surrounding social movements.


8. Music Lessons

Music lessons are one of the coolest options that the College of Arts & Sciences offers. Whether you’re learning a new instrument or continuing an old one, it’s a great opportunity to develop your skills with the WashU music faculty. This is one of the best ways to take a hobby to the next level in a professional setting. Plus, you get a chance to connect with other students who share your same musical passions!


9. Introduction to Human Evolution

This class was one of my surprise favorite classes when I took it back on sophomore year. Initially I was just looking for something that would fill my NSM requirements, and the material was interesting on its own, but what really made this class enjoyable is the professor, David Strait. He was funny, knowledgeable, and approachable, which are three of the best qualities a professor could have. Even though it was a 350-person lecture, by the end of the semester, I felt like I really knew him as a person. He made the class so entertaining and I always looked forward to learning more about monkeys, geological timelines, and how to spell the word “australopithecus.”


10. Any Class that Piques Your Interest

Don’t be afraid to try new things! There are so many exciting classes at WashU in subjects that you may have never had access to before. Take advantage of your time here, and take courses in random areas that you’ve always wanted to explore. This includes Arts & Sciences, of course, but you can also take classes in any of the other four divisions. And who knows, maybe a class you take for fun will completely change your path here at WashU!