Washington and Lee Welcomes the Class of 2026 The university’s first-year class represents 26 countries and 43 U.S. states.
“This school is full of the most wonderful people I have ever met, from Dining Services staff to faculty and deans, and everyone is happy to talk to you and help you in any way you might need.”
~ Augusta Weaver ’26
Washington and Lee University proudly welcomed 478 new undergraduate students to campus over several days leading up to the beginning of classes on September 8. Students participating in Leading Edge pre-orientation trips, which comprised 75% of the incoming class, arrived on August 28 to move into residence halls. The rest of first-year students arrived on campus September 2.
The Class of 2026 features the highest number of international students in an entering class at W&L, with 26 countries represented, and a continued increase in the number of domestic students of color. Ten percent of the incoming first-year class are the first generation in their family to attend college; the same percentage are the children of W&L alumni. Ten students are attending Washington and Lee through the Yellow Ribbon program, the post-9/11 GI Bill that funds tuition at any school at a rate equal to the highest public in-state tuition and fees.
This year’s class represents a pool of well-rounded and academically gifted leaders. More than 95% of the incoming class entered W&L with Advanced Placement (AP), Advanced International Certificate of Education, or International Baccalaureate (IB) coursework. 85% of first years have studied four or more years’ worth of laboratory science, and 68% studied four or more years of at least one world language. In addition to being honor council members, student body presidents, state champion athletes, concert masters, community servants, interns, editors in chief, Gold Award recipients and Eagle Scouts, their list of high school extracurricular activities includes archery, founding podcasts, serving as an EMT/fire fighter, raising money for charitable foundations and performing as their high school’s mascot. Members of the class of 2026 bring with them diverse job experiences such as ukulele instructor, escape room game master, HVAC apprentice and head “snow-ista” at a shaved ice shop.
Sally Stone Richmond, Washington and Lee’s Vice President for Admissions and Financial Aid, said that this year’s class engaged in a tremendous amount of meaningful work and volunteer experiences outside of their academics.
“In particular, one of the things we see in this class is an element of civic engagement in an election year,” Richmond said. “Students who were investing time in their local communities by volunteering for candidates, serving as poll workers and just being invested in what was going on in their communities.”
Augusta Weaver ’26 said that her Leading Edge and orientation experiences have shown her how tight-knit the campus community is.
“Everyone knows someone you know. This is such a small campus that circles of people overlap everywhere,” Weaver said. “This school is full of the most wonderful people I have ever met, from Dining Services staff to faculty and deans, and everyone is happy to talk to you and help you in any way you might need.”
Weaver participated in the Advanced Immersion and Mentoring residential program over the summer, as well as the sustainability-focused pre-orientation experience. This year, the Office of Student Affairs placed added emphasis on training for upper division leaders of the popular Leading Edge trips in an effort to provide a substantive learning experience for upper-division students as well as the first-year students.
“We want the Leading Edge trips to be an opportunity for students to get to know their classmates, faculty and staff, and most importantly, the ways in which W&L approaches education and community development,” Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sidney Evans said of the program. “It’s a great opportunity to set that table. We know that the first year is a pivotal, foundational year, and it’s important that students get off to a good start.”
Leading Edge trips are offered at no additional cost to students and are designed to provide an introduction to the campus community, as well as a bonding experience in an inclusive environment that allows students to learn about themselves, engage with people from diverse backgrounds and begin developing the necessary skills to thrive at W&L.
Assistant Dean of Students Kimberly Hodge, who oversees the Leading Edge program, said three new trips – Around the World in Five Days, Beyond LEADership and Making Meaning – were added this year to accommodate 80 more students. She is excited to see the program add 50-60 more spots in August 2023 to accommodate the entire first-year class as part of the university’s commitment to making Leading Edge available to all incoming undergraduate students.
“There is always this turning point in the middle of the week where you see the group bond,” Hodge said. “It’s very rewarding to see people meet during these experiences and remain friends throughout their four years here.”
“We try to instill in them the importance of the university’s mission statement in making them global citizens. We wanted the week to be informative and fun,” said Dick Kuettner, director of W&L’s Global Discovery Laboratories lab who coordinated Around the World in Five Days with Associate Professor of Japanese Janet Ikeda. “Every day’s schedule was composed of various components that helped reinforce our goals for the Leading Edge experience.”
All incoming first-year students were treated to an action-packed orientation week schedule, with a variety of events organized and facilitated by W&L’s First-Year Orientation Committee. Senior Resident Advisor Praise Apata ‘23 said that she hopes incoming students know that their residential advisors, class deans and everyone on campus is rooting for their success.
“You only get one freshman year of college,” Apata said, “so have fun and enjoy it!”
Learn more about the incoming class here, and don’t miss the Class of 2026’s move-in video below: