50 things every first-year WashU student must do

WashU illustrated collage
Classes and labs aren't the only things going on at WashU. There's a ton of stuff to check out both on and off-campus. Here is your guide to the best traditions, activities, study spots and food on or near campus.

Welcome to WashU! You just got here and don’t know where anything is, why so many buildings are similarly named or what’s with that rabbit on the rock sitting in the middle of campus. Don’t worry. First of all, you’re in the same boat as your 1,000+ other first-years, and secondly, we’ve got you covered. You figure out your schedule, and we’ll fill you in on everything else you must do during your first year at WashU.

1. Move into your new home. It’s hot. You were stuck in a long line of cars. A lot of people in red T-shirts are hauling your stuff from the car, and you’re pretty sure they’re taking it to your room. It must be move-in day! You’ve done it. You’ve finally arrived! It’s OK if you cry. It’s definitely OK if your parents cry. But in between runs to Ikea and Bed, Bath and Beyond, don’t forget to explore your new home a bit. The day is a huge celebration of WashU’s newest class, and it’s not unheard of to see a pop-up selfie booth or an energetic bear mascot.

2. Experience Convocation. Suddenly you’re in a swarm of students in matching Ts and heading with your floor toward the Field House. It may all be a bit overwhelming. But just head into convocation with the rest of your first-year class, do the crazy chants, listen to the speeches and feel welcomed to your new home. Then celebrate starting a new chapter of your life in Brookings Quad.

3. Participate in the Common Reading Program. Unpack enough to find your Common Reading Program book and jump in on discussions about it around campus during Bear Beginnings. Be sure to attend the first Assembly Series lecture of the fall. It’s always related to the book.

4. Walk The Loop. The Delmar Loop is an iconic part of St. Louis and an easy walk from campus. Try out food favorites such as Mission Taco, Salt + Smoke, Seoul Taco and Corner 17, or get thrifty at Avalon Exchange. Try your hand at trivia on Wednesday nights at Blueberry Hill, test out your bowling skills at Pin-up Bowl or see a show at The Pageant. Up early on the weekends? Check out The Midtown Farmers Market for some fresh produce.

5. Find your tribe. Taking place early in the fall semester, the activities fair isn’t just a way to snag a bunch of free stuff. It offers a look at what some of the nearly 400 student groups on campus have to offer. Want to tend an urban garden? Join Burning Kumquat.  Want to try improv and sketch comedy? Check out Mama’s Pot Roast. Have a lot you want to say? Create your own radio show on the student radio station KWUR.

6. Get a cheap lunch. Almost every Wednesday when school is in session, EnCouncil hosts cheap lunch in Lopata Gallery. You can grab two slices of pizza and unlimited cookies and chips for just a few bucks.

7. Do NOT step on the seal! If you took a campus tour when you were a prospective student, then you probably heard one of WashU’s most well-known urban legends — if you step on the university seal under Brookings, you will be cursed and won’t be able to graduate. If you accidentally step on it prior to graduation, have no fear! To reverse the curse, all you have to do is touch the Chancellor’s Medallion.

8. See the Declaration of Independence in Olin. The library’s broadside copy of the Declaration was printed before the actual document was signed. The broadsides would be posted on the doors of courthouses to inform folks across the Colonies. In the Olin exhibit, you can see the broadside in person and explore an interactive version.

9. Celebrate the Festival of Lights. Diwali, a showcase celebrating the Hindu holiday of the same name, is a WashU institution, regularly selling out. Produced by Ashoka, the South Asian student association, Diwali includes energetic dancing (bhangra, chahaat, garba, raas), music, skits and fashion.

10. Explore Forest Park. Neighboring WashU’s campus, Forest Park is 1,293 acres of endless fun. Take a run (or a stroll) on the scenic paths within the park, or find a spot to set up a picnic. (Just don’t cop a squat on any of the public golf courses!) If you’re looking for free activities, check out the renowned Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri History Museum or Saint Louis Art Museum. And for just $1, you can tour the Jewel Box, a greenhouse that lives up to its name. Check out a park event like the Forest Park Balloon Glow in the fall and musicals at The Muny in the summer.

11. Splurge on a meal at Ibby’s. Located in the heart of the DUC, Ibby’s serves up a daily changing lunch buffet and a seasonal dinner menu with year-round favorites, such as the gnocchi or the bananas foster. This bistro gives you a luxurious restaurant experience without ever leaving campus. The best part? They take meal points.

12. Pick up a copy of Student Life. Since its debut in January of 1878, StudLife (as it is lovingly known) has been the premier student-run publication for university news. Looking for a laugh? Keep an eye out for the yearly April Fools issue. Want to participate? Fill out the sex survey and partake in the nearly naked photo shoots for the February sex issue.

13. Get woke at Black Anthology. Founded in 1989 by Marcia Hayes-Harris, Black Anthology commemorates African-American history and explores the challenges black bodies face in America. This student-run performance has something for everyone: skits, dances and more. Want to dive deeper into the discussion? Black Anthology also hosts pre-show discussions for ticket-holders.

14. Attend Assembly Series. Eleanor Roosevelt, Maurice Sendak, Harold Ramis, Gloria Steinem… what do all of these people have in common? They’ve spoken on Washington University’s campus as part of Assembly Series. During the semester, you can catch lots of guest lecturers on campus. Assembly Series is a good place to start, but also check out the Student Union Trending Topics lecture series, as well as events put on by student groups, departments, Olin Business School, the College of Arts & Sciences and more. Hearing a diversity of viewpoints from some of the smartest people in the world is one of the best parts about being a student here.

15. Get sweaty or zen at the Sumers Recreation Center. With state-of-the-art machines and equipment, working out has never been so fun. If solo exercise isn’t your thing, try one of the BearFit classes. From spinning in the rec center darkroom to zumba to hot yoga, there’s a class for everyone. But Sumers isn’t just for exercise anymore — decompress in a relaxation chair or spend some money and get a massage from a licensed massage therapist in the Zen Den.

16. Let’s go Bears! While sports may not be the first thing you think of when you think about WashU, this university has a ton of sporting events that are worth checking out. Watch our 10-time NCAA National Champions dominate in women’s volleyball or our five-time champions battle in women’s basketball. Also sign up for Red Alert to get invited to events and get a Red Alert t-shirt. When you wear it to games, you’ll get free prizes and be entered into raffles.

17. Get a taste of home through Home Plate. Founded by Chancellor Wrighton’s wife, Risa Zwerling Wrighton, the Home Plate program matches students with local families. A few times a year, the families invite the students for a home-cooked meal. This gives you a break from Bon Appetit, cures some homesickness and connects you to the surrounding St. Louis area.

18. Go to SPB Happy Hour. Hosted on sporadic Thursdays year-round by WashU’s Social Programming Board, Happy Hour provides free pizza, wings, soda, chips and cookies to students. Occasionally, some specialty foods will also be thrown in. But be sure to get there early — lines start forming as early as 30 minutes before the event, and food runs out quick!

19. Set your inner child free at the City Museum. With a giant salvaged-parts-turned-playground on the outside, a cave, a 10-story slide, crawl spaces and more on the inside, City Museum is a place where curiosity and exploration collide. City Museum, 750 N 16th St.

20. Hang out on Mudd Field. Whether you’re ‘hammocking’ between trees, playing frisbee or perfecting your abilities on a slackline, hanging out on Mudd Field in the warmer months is a foolproof way to de-stress.

21. Check out Mx. WashU. Ever wanted to be crowned? Here’s your chance at the Mx. WashU beauty pageant. This is the annual fundraiser for CityFaces, an art program for St. Louis kids, teens and young adults living in public housing in the inner city. Contestants in Mx. WashU fundraise for a great cause and show off their talents in this event that’s as fun to watch as it is to participate in.

22. Take a random class that has nothing to do with your area of study. Ask past students, and they can tell you about the amazing class that shifted their world perspective, changed their course of study, or simply made them want to be a better person. It could have been the eye-opening and heated-yet-respectful debates between the late former U.S. Senator Thomas Eagleton and the late economist Murray L. Weidenbaum in their team-taught class about business and politics. It could have been the late Barry Commoner’s class about ecology and radioactive milk. (Commoner once graced the cover of Time magazine for his impactful research.) Or it could be the beloved “Introduction to Human Evolution,” taught by Richard J. Smith. The course never fails to convert at least a few students into Anthropology majors. What will it be for you? Try a few classes and find out.

23. Explore the beverage selections at Tuesday Tea @ 3. Every Tuesday from 3–5 p.m., stop by Tisch Commons in the DUC for a selection of teas and treats. Mugs are provided, but don’t forget to return them afterward. Lastly, be sure to pay attention to the tea names. Our favorite: Iron Goddess of Mercy.

24. Dance all night at WUDM. Want to help people by shaking your hips? Dance Marathon is for you! Register as a dancer, either as an individual or with a team and then fundraise! Hit up your family and friends for some donations. All of the money raised goes to the Children’s Miracle Network of Greater St. Louis. On event day, just put on your dancing shoes and dance the night away.

25. See an a cappella group perform (or join one). WashU takes a capella almost as seriously as Pitch Perfect does — from pop-up performances to paid-admission shows, a cappella is an integral part of WashU life. Enjoy the music stylings of any one of the 11 groups on campus, or better yet, if you love singing, audition for your favorite group.

26. Taste the best donuts the city has to offer. Decorated wall-to-wall in Superman memorabilia, John’s Donuts is a St. Louis favorite. The donuts are made fresh daily in-house — you really can’t beat a fresh John’s apple fritter or glazed donut. They open at 11 p.m. at night, making a donut run the perfect way to take a study break and refuel. 1618 S Broadway, St. Louis, MO 63104

27. Get artsy at the underpass. One of the most colorful places on campus, the underpass that connects the South 40 to main campus is home to painted event announcements. If an opportunity comes up to paint, join in! Reserving the spot, planning the design and painting the underpass is a true university milestone.

28. Lunch in luxury at Holmes Lounge. Holmes Lounge is one of the most beautiful places on campus. Home of the student-favorite carvery, it’s the perfect spot to grab lunch and soak in the beautiful surroundings. But make sure to get there early — tables fill up fast during the lunch rush, and the food line goes out the door.

29. Celebrate Lunar New Year with LNYF. The Lunar New Year Festival show celebrates East Asian cultures and brings to light issues that East Asian Americans face daily.

30. Cheer on St. Louis sports. Head to Busch Stadium to root for the St. Louis Cardinals or Enterprise Center (formerly Scottrade Center) to root for the St. Louis Blues hockey team. Busch Stadium, 700 Clark Ave.; Enterprise Center 1401 Clark Ave

31. Check out WashU’s moves. There are so many different kinds of dance groups on campus; from the hip-hop style of WUHHU, to the breakdancing of WUCypher, to the sassy salsa of WUSauce, to the K-pop dances of PL4Y. Check out free shows throughout the year (commonly hosted in Tisch Commons).

32. Grab a half and half at (almost) any hour. Half and halfs are a staple of any WashU student’s diet—half chicken tenders, half fries. You can grab one at any grill station, practically anytime, or you can mooch off of a friend who already ordered one.

33. Take advantage of new study spots. The latest renovation in Olin Library has created some pretty cool study spots in the Newman Tower, including the Sky Room on the third floor and Risa’s Landing on the second. Or take a seat in the comfy chairs of the Newman Exploration Center, a space designed to celebrate research and travel.

34. Hammock the stress away. ‘Hammocking’ is the perfect way to de-stress. There are permanent hammocks outside of several residential colleges on the 40 and in front of Village House. But you can also set up your own hammock between the trees on campus.

35. Experience Mardi Gras in Soulard. St. Louis is the home of the second-largest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States. Beginning with on-campus celebrations, students then hop on the MetroLink to continue the party in Soulard. Try out some cajun food. But be sure to dress for the weather — February in St. Louis is unforgiving, and you don’t want to be shivering in the cold.

36. Attend WUStock. Put on by Congress of the South 40, WUStock is a concert organized by students, for students every spring in the Swamp. Want to open for the concert? Compete in CS40’s Battle of the Bands for a chance to win. Past WUStock headlines include BØRNS, Walk The Moon, and Daya.

37. Indulge in some classic St. Louis foods. There are a few foods that St. Louis is known for and that you have to try while you’re here. There’s Imo’s Pizza, a thin crust pizza with a sweet tomato sauce, topped with a blended cheese called provel; toasted ravioli, breaded and fried beef or cheese ravioli lovingly called T-Ravs; gooey butter cake, a super sweet confection dusted with powder sugar; and Ted Drewes, a delicious custard that you can often find free on campus. For Imo’s check out the website (multiple locations). T-Ravs are best on The Hill (St. Louis’ historic Italian neighborhood). Try Anthonino’s Taverna (2225 Macklind Ave)and Charlie Gitto’s on The Hill (5226 Shaw Ave). Gooey butter cake can be found at Park Avenue Coffee (multiple locations including 4240 Duncan Avenue), Boundary (7036 Clayton Ave), or The Mud House (2101 Cherokee St). And Ted Drewes has two custard stands (6726 Chippewa or 4224 S. Grand).

38. Show off some ResCollege pride (and your competitive side). ResCollege Olympics (abbreviated to RCO) is the perfect way to show off your skills in sporting events such as basketball, dodgeball and hockey. Want something on the intellectual side? Participate in the chess tournament. Passionate about lawn games? Compete in corn-hole or four square. More of an indoor person? Compete for victory in Super Smash Bros. Earn points for your ResCollege and help your mates to victory!

39. Attend the Vagina Monologues. Every year around Valentine’s Day, students line up to hear the Vagina Monologues. Put on by V-Day WashU, this ticketed event raises money in hopes of ending violence against women and girls, worldwide.

40. Stay up all night for a good cause. You’re probably pulling some all-nighters for school anyway, so why not do it for Relay For Life, too? Relay raises money to support the American Cancer Society, with hopes to find a cure for cancer. The event goes from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and there’s a ton of free food, giveaways and activities.

41. Grab awesome carnival eats at ThurtenE Carnival. Founded in 1907, ThurtenE is the oldest and largest student-run carnival in America. Every year, sororities and fraternities team up to build facades, and student groups set up booths to sell treats and merchandise. The Cooking Channel show Carnival Eats even visited ThurtenE to check out Zeta Beta Tau and Delta Gamma’s booth which featured fried foods and desserts, including a deep-fried hotdog. Other noshes included edible cookie dough and elaborate snow cones.

42. Catch a show. While there are tons of cultural shows on campus, if you have time there are also straight plays, dances and musicals from the Performing Arts Department, and plenty of other opportunities for student-run theater. You could join Thyrsus, the oldest theatre group at WashU (it counts AE Hotchner as an alum), which performs new student-written works every semester. Cast ‘n’ Crew specializes in fringe work, and All-Student Theater puts on a large-cast show every spring in the Quad.

43. Snag $1 cookies and milk. Light on meal points and craving something sweet? Have no fear. Every Wednesday from 3–5 p.m. in Cafe Bergson, you can get 2 cookies and a cup of milk for only $1. It’s a great mid-week pick-me-up. Want to take your cookie game to the next level? Pop your cookies in the microwave for that warm, gooey, melty cookie experience.

44. Get cultured at Carnaval. Have an interest in Latin culture? Carnaval is the student-run cultural show for you. Put on by the Association of Latin American Students, this performance showcases a variety of dances from salsa, to hip hop, to a mariachi band performance.

45. Explore the iconic Gateway to the West. Take the MetroLink down to the Gateway Arch and take a stroll through the recently renovated, free museum at its base. For only $13, you can take a ride to the top and soak in the beautiful sights of St. Louis.

46. Eat some St. Louis barbecue. Want St. Louis’ best barbecue? Pappy’s (3106 Olive St.) and Bogarts (1627 S 9th St) sell out daily, so get there early. Want something close to campus? Salt + Smoke (6525 Delmar) is right on The Loop (and their mac and cheese is to die for). Want barbecue and a slice of pie for dessert? Sugarfire (multiple locations) is your spot.

47. Be authentically you at Art Prom. Called “WashU’s biggest, most unpredictable party,” Art Prom is a chance for all students to get dressed in their artsy best, and have a mini–Met Gala moment at an off-campus location.

48. Blow off some steam at WILD. WILD brings the whole university together each semester for a free concert — and a week of other events leading up to the big show. But it’s not just the music that brings the masses to Brookings Quad, concert goers also enjoy free food and drink.

49. Load up at Moonlight Breakfast. It’s finals week. You’re exhausted and sleep deprived. You need a break. Don’t worry. Moonlight Breakfast is here. Whether you’re in BD or Village House, this free bi-annual event lets you load up on breakfast food favorites, giving you the fuel you need to get through the rest of finals week.

50. Move out of your residence hall. Moving out of your room at the end of your first year is weird. You’re leaving the place that’s been your home for months and saying goodbye to possibly some of the closest friends you’ve ever had. It’s OK if you cry. It’s definitely OK if your friends cry. But summer will go by in a flash, and next year, you and your friends can discover 50+ more things about your university, this city and yourselves.

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