Class of 2021’s enrollment leaves early mark on W&L

The first-year class has higher numbers of Johnson and QuestBridge Scholars, more socioeconomic diversity than previous classes

Hannah Falchuk

There are 471 students in the Washington and Lee Class of 2021, which Vice President of Admissions and Financial Aid Sally Stone Richmond said is a higher number than the university had anticipated. And this increase in size has been palpable — some loft dorm rooms in Gaines have been converted into triples.

But more noteworthy than its size are the Class of 2021’s accomplishments. Richmond said these new students may have proven themselves even before enrolling this fall, setting the stage for a class of more merit scholars and socioeconomic diversity than in previous years.

“Prospective students really took advantage of both on-campus and off-campus opportunities,” Richmond said.

She added that the students’ positive on-campus experiences during the springtime Johnson Weekend led to a higher-than-average yield of Johnson Scholars. While the university typically aspires to name 44 Johnson Scholars per year, the Class of 2021 has 52. Richmond said this is an effect of the W&L community itself.

“The students who came to compete on Johnson Weekend were clearly very serious about W&L but also had a powerful and positive experience here over that weekend,” Richmond said.

Academically, the Class of 2021 holds its own. According to their online class profile, nearly 95 percent of the students in the Class of 2021 have credits from AP, Advanced International Certificate of Education and/or IB courses. Nearly 75 percent have studied another language for at least four years, and over ten percent of the class has taken at least one year of computer science or programming.

The personal essays of admitted students show that some can also boast extraordinary accomplishments: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, serving as a state orator on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, playing the cello as a music therapist and holding a Guinness World Record in Sport Stacking, to name a few. They are also entrepreneurial, with some students founding their own businesses and organizations before coming to W&L, including a coffee company, a chocolate company, the first crowd-funding site for a country and a nonprofit that helps underprivileged children participate in outdoor activities.

Howard Pickett, Assistant Professor and Director of the Shepherd Program, said he has already been impressed by the Bonner Scholars, Volunteer Venture participants and Poverty 101 students in the Class of 2021 whom he has met over the past few weeks.

“They have impressed me with their thoughtfulness and, even more so, with their passionate concern for the well-being of others,” Pickett said.

The Class of 2021 is also remarkable for the variety of economic and racial backgrounds it represents.

“We are pleased with the momentum,” Richmond said. “But [we] certainly aren’t settling by any stretch when it comes to ethnic and socioeconomic diversity.”

Richmond noted that W&L is an outlier among its peer liberal arts institutions for its lower representation of students of color and economically-challenged backgrounds — an issue President Dudley vowed to tackle in his inaugural speech.

In the Class of 2021, over 10 percent of students are eligible for Pell grants, which are government funds allocated to increase access to higher education for low-income students.

Richmond further noted that the university is pleased with the continued increase of students admitted through QuestBridge, a program which connects high-achieving, low-income students with selective colleges and universities. In the Class of 2021, 12 students are early-decision QuestBridge Matches, and 34 are QuestBridge Finalists.

Thirty-four students are also the first in their families to attend college, and over half of the class is receiving W&L Grant Assistance. Fifteen percent of the class are domestic students of color, which Richmond says is the highest percentage recorded in at least the last five years.

Jason Rodocker, Dean of First-Year Experience, said his goal is for all students to feel welcome on campus and to be aware of the resources available to them. Rodocker hopes that students can find a support system in the people they meet on campus and suggested his office is a great place to start.

“I love it when folks pop by and ask questions,” he said.