Column: Freshmen face life in GW numbers game

Welcome to GW, freshmen. Hope you liked your ride up, down or over to GW. Those hours spent crammed in your dad’s Volvo with all your life possessions, the parents, your little sister and guide to America’s best 101 colleges are not wasted. That road trip was valuable training for your days at GW.
I know you are tired and groggy after a long ride, but you have to think of the positives. First of all, you’re already adjusted to eating fast food during all those pit stops. That’s important, because GW dining is full of fast food: Taco Bell, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Subway, Little Caesar’s – we’ve got it (but sorry, no golden arches). And that whining from your younger sibling wondering when the trip would be over will come in handy because you will probably hear plenty of complaining about GW tuition throughout your four years. And you probably traveled through a lot of states on your way to D.C., which should give you useful material when you meet kids from all 50 states here.
But the best part of your on-the-road training for GW life will be those tight quarters you suffered. By now you know GW enrolled a whopping 300 more freshmen than expected, bringing the grand total of students with no beds to at least 450 and as many as 600 by some estimates. Just consider GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, the excited college stud, flirting with the tempting Admission Office co-ed over a round of drinks. He seems to be getting his way, say 100 more freshmen for an already crowded campus, and she gets to keep her job. It was all so promising, and then out pops . well, you. Three hundred of you.
The beds are not a big concern. GW will come through as always in the end, rushing to open some fabulous looking new residence hall that is so fabulous that students forget the blunder ever happened. You could be living in proof of that right now if you’re in the Hall on Virginia Avenue that converted from a HoJo to HOVA in a manner of months two years ago.
GW will come through with the housing, but stretching a 14-block campus already at capacity levels to fit 500 unexpected students is a feat even the creative minds in charge of GW acquisitions cannot handle. So yes, classrooms will be packed. And yes, lines for that fast food will be long. You probably have very slim odds at getting a seat in Gelman Library now, too. But the library is for juniors anyway, right? What you really care about are the clubs – and those were packed before you came. But then again, so was everything else.
This is all part of GW life that started before anyone on campus now first arrived. One look at enrollment figures during the past five years, when acceptance rates have remained steady at 49 percent, answers any questions about how it got this way. This year’s boost doesn’t quite match the one in 1999, but the trend has certainly continued.
During that car ride, you probably passed by Historic Foggy Bottom where the cute townhouses lay, and all seems serene. That neighborhood is sure to get riled up once news of a bigger freshman class and more GW purchases in Foggy Bottom hits, but even that has become another facet of GW life.
It is all truly part of the big equation that you would be lucky to figure out now rather than wondering why you sit on a classroom floor in your English 10 class, or why it takes 10 minutes to get a sandwich at J Street, or why you can’t seem to get through to financial aid on the phone. GW is a school of numbers. More students mean more dollars to build more buildings.
As a student, you will realize this early on. But look to see if the buildings come with better professors, better programs and better service. These things are hard to measure and attach numbers to. But they are important. The University has improved dramatically in the past decade from academics to physical appearance to even, believe it or not, athletics. But the priorities have not always been in place. It is up to you to demand to be heard when you are not the top priority.
One important number GW does watch is how many students leave the school. Fewer people who transfer means more students are happy. That number has played in GW’s favor in recent years, and it will most likely continue to decline. While we are all a little uncomfortable in that Volvo, we want to stick it through to see where we end up.
The ride is worth taking, despite new heights of discomfort. D.C. is a city of unlimited options, and this University will push you to take advantage of those opportunities. You will hear a foreign tongue every day if you listen hard enough, and you will meet impressive professors if you register your classes carefully. But that cramped feeling in your legs will not shake out, and you will probably always feel somewhat like a number. Welcome to GW.
-The writer is Hatchet editor in chief.

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