First-Year Programs

WashU students are fearless. Dive into your first year and make the most of every opportunity.

At WashU, you can find the opportunities and support to make the most of your first year and beyond. 

The College offers four types of programs. You can choose an Ampersand Program that spans two or more semesters, or one of the three other programs that last for just one semester, including First-Year Seminars, First-Year Opportunities, and Beyond Boundaries courses. 

With so many options, you can study something you're already excited about or try something totally new. Delve into a topic for several semesters or dive into one just for the fall. 

All of these programs are optional, fulfill degree requirements, and and are a unique opportunity to make the most of your first year at WashU. 


types of first-year programs

Ampersand Programs are small, multi-semester programs that can involve fieldwork, research, or international travel in order to give you a once-in-a-lifetime experience to explore a topic you are passionate about.

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First-Year Seminars are small, one-semester seminars that cover just about any topic you can imagine.

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First-Year Opportunities are 1 to 2 credit courses that supplement other classes and add a little bit more breadth or depth to your first-year studies.

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The one-semester Beyond Boundaries interdisciplinary courses cross not just departments in Arts & Sciences, but the entire university.

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Ampersand Programs

BioTech Explorers Pathway

This two-year program explores the science of biotechnology and how discoveries move from the lab into the real world. The Biotech Explorers Pathway (BEP) aims to build connections between science, business, technology, and engineering at the start of undergraduate studies; to highlight how scientific discoveries lead to useful applications; and to guide students from examples toward idea generation and project development.

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Global Citizenship Program

This unique, yearlong opportunity led by four instructors from different disciplines brings together a community of engaged students and faculty interested in understanding global affairs and exploring how our own mental maps compare to the realities of a globalized world. Through thoughtful class discussion and weekly collaboration in an event-planning workshop, participants will develop skills for effective group work and a critical consciousness that will serve them throughout college and their future career. Joining the Global Citizenship Program will link you to participants, past, present and future, with connections that will last a lifetime.

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Medicine and Society

The foundation of this multi-year program is medical anthropology—the study of human health and illness across culture, time, and location—and we tackle wide-ranging issues like the ethics of genetic engineering, social and behavioral factors affecting infectious diseases, and the causes of health disparities. The program also emphasizes service and research at health-related sites throughout St. Louis, and the curriculum is fully coordinated with pre-medical course requirements.

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Mind, Brain, Behavior

How do we think, remember, and process language?  What is human consciousness?  In this two-year program, you will investigate exciting new theories, problems, and empirical studies in the areas of attention, memory, and language.  First-year MBB students take two core courses that provide an introduction to the mind-brain from three different cognitive science perspectives; Psychology, Neuroscience, and Philosophy. In the second year, MBB students can undertake research under the supervision of a participating MBB faculty mentor.

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Text and Traditions

There are many ways for you to begin a serious engagement with literature, philosophy, history, art, and critical thinking at WashU. One of the best is to enroll in the Text and Traditions program. In “T&T,” students explore the texts and intellectual traditions upon which modern culture has been built—from ancient Mediterranean thought to the modern novel. The goal of the program is to provide a serious foundation in the humanities, a foundation in content and in methods of inquiry. Each fall, the program accepts 50 first-year students to embark together on a semester-long journey through the classics.

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Theater as a Living Art

This program allows you to become intimately involved in theater at WashU. Covering a range of historical and contemporary performance experiences and techniques, the two-course program culminates with a class trip to Chicago to attend performances at the Steppenwolf Theater, the Goodman Theater, and the Chicago Shakespeare Festival.

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Phage Hunters and Bioinformatics

This two-semester program engages you in a national research project to isolate and analyze bacteriophage (bacterial viruses) that infect mycobacteria. The course is part of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) initiative, in which we partner with more than 50 other colleges and universities across the nation. The program is designed to provide first-year students with an opportunity to participate in scientific research from their first day on campus.

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Literary Culture of Modern Ireland

This two-semester program will examine the literature of Ireland from 1890 to the present. This is the period a great efflorescence of literature in many genres, occurring alongside some of the most important political, social, and military events in modern Irish history. Come explore this literary world with us, including a trip to Ireland in May 2020.

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Pathfinder Fellows in Environmental Leadership

Pathfinder Fellows in Environmental Leadership is a four-year, interdisciplinary cohort-based undergraduate program providing the academic rigor and field experience needed to deeply understand, respect and respond to a place and its people in light of environmental challenges. Integrated around the rich themes of environmental studies, including environmental science, policy, humanities and sustainability, the program welcomes students from all four undergraduate schools with a yearly cohort of 12-16 students.

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Examining America

Examining America is a two-semester course sequence that introduces students to the multidisciplinary and critical study of American culture, history, politics, and society. In both semesters students gain a foundational understanding of course concepts, frameworks, and topics related to the formation of identities in the United States and across American imperialism, including issues of race and ethnicity, arts and performance, media and popular culture, and inequalities that shape the experiences, works, and lives of diverse populations.

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Law and Society

This course considers the basic aspects of the American legal system: its foundations, processes, institutions and rights. The course also enables students to better understand and assess current legal events and encourages students to develop an interest in those events. Further, this course should enable students to consider law as a future area of study and career. Interested participants may continue their study in the spring semester with an optional one-credit seminar focusing on contemporary Supreme Court cases.

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Encountering China

Building bridges of understanding between the United States and the Republic of China in Taiwan, this course will introduce students to the variety and rich history of Chinese visual and performance cultures on the Chinese mainland, in Taiwan, and throughout the Chinese diaspora. A collaboration between the East Asian Languages and Cultures and Performing Arts departments, this course explores Chinese cultural narratives in relation to how they have been performed--on stage in traditional forms of dance-drama, on screen in film, and as lived in the practice of everyday life--from the late Imperial period to the present. Combining creative and critical assignments, the course invites students to conduct interviews, stage plays, rehearse dance forms, and make videos that demonstrate their developing knowledge of historical and contemporary Chinese-language literature, dance-drama, and film. Students may participate in a culminating spring break trip to Taiwan.

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The History, Memory, and Representation of the Holocaust

This rigorous full-year program goes deeper into the subject of the Holocaust by engaging intensively with the history and memory of the Nazi genocide of the European Jews and other groups between 1933 and 1945. In addition, it examines representations of this experience in literature and film and at memorial sites and museums. Students gain a more thorough understanding of better-known histories and narratives of the Holocaust and explore aspects of the Holocaust that are underrepresented in contemporary American culture or that have otherwise been marginalized.

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Greece: Age of Pericles

This new Ampersand program offers an intensive and thorough engagement with ancient Greece and its legacy. Students will gain a profound understanding of ancient Greek culture and literature through various readings, discussions, and in-class and on-site activities, focusing specifically on fifth-century Athens. Furthermore, the language requirement of this program will equip students to read untranslated classical texts. By the time they visit Greece in May, they will be able to read inscriptions and perform scenes from ancient plays in the original language!

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how to apply

The application process for first-year programs and seminars opens May 2020. You will need your WUSTL Key to apply, so please be sure to sign up for your WUSTL Key by early May 2020.

First-Year Seminars 

Feeling curious and ready for adventure, but not sure you want to spend multiple semesters on any one topic? There are dozens of one-semester seminars that cover just about any topic you can imagine from across Arts & Sciences. Enrollment in these seminars is first come first served and limited. 

Find of a list of this year's First-Year Seminars here

Beyond Boundaries 

The one-semester Beyond Boundaries interdisciplinary courses cross not just departments in Arts & Sciences, but the entire university. They break down barries between disciplines for a more holistic experience, while still offering what all our First-Year Programs provide: exposure to new concepts and people; opportunities to learn from some of the world's leading scholars across a spectrum of disciplines; and, well, fun. 

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First-Year Opportunities

Don't have much time in your schedule, but want to take advantage of these unique opportunities? We also have one- or two-credit courses that supplement other classes and add a little bit more breadth or depth to your first-year studies. Here are the First-Year Opportunity courses to be taught this year:

  • Neuroscience Futures 1: How do we learn about the brain?
    Biology and Biomedical Sciences; L61 FYP 1710
    In this seminar course for first-year students, students learn about how neurobiologists conduct and communicate research. We focus our discussion on primary research papers written by WUSTL neurobiologists, who visit the class to present their work. 

  • The Biology of Dog Breeds
    Biology and Biomedical Sciences; L61 FYP 1770
    This freshman seminar uses the topic of dog behavior and genetics to teach fundamental scientific tools and to engage students in contributing to the building of an online public resource that summarizes the scientific literature on breeds.

  • Introduction to Cutting-Edge Research in Biology
    Biology and Biomedical Sciences; L61 FYP 181
    A lecture course intended for first-year students that focuses on the practice and culture of biological research. Active researchers describe the biological context of their research, the specific questions they have formulated, the means by which they pursue the answers, and their data and conclusions.

  • Research and Conservation in Zoos and Botanical Garden
    Biology and Biomedical Sciences; L61 FYP 1811
    An introduction to the world of zoos and botanical gardens. Students will learn of the diverse and cutting-edge ways in which scientists and conservationists study the world's biological diversity and work to conserve it.

  • Applications in Chemistry
    Chemistry; L61 FYP 1810
    A weekly lecture by a chemistry faculty member, or other scientist from academia or industry, on their current research activities. The goal is to provide students with a sampling of current research activities dealing with fundamental an applied problems in science and society that are being approached from a chemical point of view.

  • Contemporary Issues in Psychology
    Psychological and Brain Sciences; L61 FYP 102
    This seminar will enable students enrolled in Introduction to Psychology (Psych 100B) to explore in greater depth several of the ideas and concepts in contemporary psychology.

  • Psychology of Young Adulthood
    Psychological and Brain Sciences; L61 FYP 105
    This course will cover selected topics relevant to the developmental, social, personal, and cognitive issues confronting young adults during their college years. Material will be drawn mainly from the field of psychology, and the emphasis will be on the scientific basis of concepts and on empirically supported strategies for growth and development.

  • Real Mathematical Applications: Solving Problems with Calculus I
    Mathematics; L61 FYP 139A
    The purpose of the course is to show how mathematics can solve real world problems, and how calculus dramatically expands the range of problems that can be tackled. 

  • The Meanginful Life
    General Studies; L43 225 01
    Who am I? Where am I going? How can I make the most out of my college experience? This course creates an opportunity for students in the first-year community to reflect on the influences that shaped them and the priorities that drive their decisions now.