College Spotlight – Vanderbilt University (2019)

College Spotlight: Vanderbilt University

Freshman Year Update

By Katie Raffel
January, 2019

Vanderbilt University logo

Hello! My name is Katie and I recently finished my first semester at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to phenomenal academics, Vanderbilt has exciting athletics, a vast number of clubs and activities, and a city that is easily accessible either by walking or Uber whether you want to explore Hillsboro Village, West End, 12th Avenue S. or Nashville’s famous Broadway strip.

I went into Vanderbilt considering premed because I enjoyed science and had shadowed doctors during high school. When I mentioned this to my randomly assigned freshman advisor, who is a professor in the Political Science department, he recommended that I start off my freshman year in premed Chemistry and premed Biology. I know my advisor is a kindhearted man who wants to help me the best he can, but that was the worst advice he could have given me. It is normal for freshman to take premed chemistry at Vanderbilt, but the majority of my biology class was sophomores and juniors.

Vanderbilt Bar Taco
My friends and I on 21st Ave S after lunch at Bar Taco

From the moment I stepped on campus, I felt welcomed by the Vanderbilt community. Vanderbilt’s first year experience is one of a kind; all of the freshmen live together on one side of campus known as The Commons. We are split amongst ten residence halls each with their own “Head of House”, who is a live-in faculty that opens their apartment at least once a week for fun, stress relieving activities such as a bonfire, cookie decorating, dance parties, or karaoke.

My personal experience in biology was a tough one. The biology professors at Vanderbilt are employed not only as professors, but also as researchers. Therefore, each professor only teaches half of the semester’s material which means you have to adjust to two teaching styles, two test styles, and take a combined final for the semester. The professors often share their research during class, which is interesting, but comprises too much of the fifty-minute lectures. They cover the required lecture material at lightning speed and often do not finish during class, yet you are still responsible for mastering the information.

I only took thirteen credit hours this semester, but with a Spanish class that met five times a week, two, three-hour science labs, and science discussions, I was in class over eighteen hours a week. Despite the combined rigor of chemistry and biology, I believe my academic experience this semester taught me valuable lessons of resilience, confidence, the importance of asking for help, and defining your own measure of success. I will not continue on the premed track next semester, but Vanderbilt has a major called Medicine, Health and Society that I am eager to pursue.

Freshman Showcase
Here is the cast and directors of my freshman showcase

This semester I was a member of a female workout group called Chaarg. We had small group workouts once a week at the Recreational Center and visited various workout studios around Nashville as a large group to “find our fit”. We tried boot camps, powerlifting, CrossFit, yoga, kettlebell gyms, boxing and so much more. The girls in the group were welcoming, fun to workout with, and it was a great way to meet upperclassmen girls. This semester I was also a part of a play directed by a senior theater major. The cast and crew were comprised solely of freshmen, which helped me meet other classmates my age who weren’t in my friend group. The play was an incredible experience that helped me participate in theater without an extensive time commitment.

Now let me talk about Vanderbilt’s amazing location in Nashville, which is filled with artsy streets, lively neighborhoods, music, and delicious food. My favorite places to explore are Hillsboro Village, 12th Street South, and the Gulch. Hillsboro village is two blocks full of boutiques, coffee shops, a retro movie theater, and a handful of restaurants like Hopdoddy’s and Fido’s where you can pay with your Vanderbilt student ID off of your meal plan. The Gulch and 12th Street South are higher end neighborhoods where you will be window shopping on a college student budget, but there are great restaurants such as Bar Taco, The Frothy Monkey, and Milk and Honey as well as Nashville’s famous graffiti murals. I even got to go to a dog festival in the Gulch and pet dogs for free!

Listening Room
My friend and I at the Listening Room (cowgirl boots: optional).

Due to Vanderbilt’s close proximity to music city, many artists of all genres come through Nashville. So far, right on campus, I have seen Beyoncé and Jay Z, Lil Baby, T-Pain, Jesse McCartney, and Young the Giant. Downtown at “Live of the Green” I got to see X-Ambassadors for free, and at The Listening Room I’ve seen performances by many of the famous singer songwriters for artists like Billy Currington and Lee Brice.

Next semester, I plan on rushing the ten Panhellenic sororities that Vanderbilt offers. I am grateful that rush is second semester at Vanderbilt, since it gave me an opportunity to make friends outside of Greek life and try activities I wouldn’t have been able to if I was absorbed in the rush and pledging process first semester. I am also participating in a Latin dance exposé, and volunteering at a preschool on campus.

Many Minnesotans write off Vanderbilt because it is a “southern school”. I have to put “southern school” in quotation marks because the most and only southern activity Vanderbilt partakes in is wearing cowgirl boots and a black dress to football games and maybe going line or swing dancing downtown on the weekend. Vanderbilt is a geographically diverse school. Sure, there are plenty of Georgians and Texans, but I have friends from Chicago, the east coast, Greece, Colombia and beyond. Even though Vanderbilt is technically in the “south”, I encourage you to give the school a second look because it offers a great education, adventurous activities you wouldn’t try in Minnesota, and milder winters.

As cliché as it might sound, my favorite part of Vanderbilt is its community. Vanderbilt is a top academic, competitive school, but your classmates and professors want you to succeed. It is not a cut-throat environment. Collaboration is valued over personal success at the cost of others’ demise. My first semester at Vanderbilt was in no way easy, but the friends and memories I have made thus far make me eager to return and uncover what my next semesters at Vanderbilt have in store for me.

My family
A picture of my family in front of a mural on 12th Avenue S.