The Most Wonderful Term of the Year Spring Term allows W&L students to focus intensely on one topic for four weeks, or to create an experience that is unique to their educational path.
Winter Term grades are in the books and Spring Break is in the rearview mirror, which means Washington and Lee students are gearing up for some of the most exciting educational experiences they will have during their college careers.
Whether they are viewing the history of Paris through a photographer’s lens, learning about geology in New Zealand, or building robots in the science center on campus, most students will be immersed in a single topic for the next four intense — but exhilarating — weeks.
“The W&L Spring Term is one of our signature experiences,” said Provost Marc Conner. “The intensive courses our faculty offer have no parallel at any other school. It’s become a defining part of the W&L education.”
During Spring Term, faculty incorporate nearby resources into the curriculm, taking students on day trips or multi-day excursions; many more take students abroad to places such as Denmark, France, Africa, Switzerland or Belize, where the coursework and the local culture intersect.
“The heaviest competition is for travel courses because they’re always going interesting places and doing interesting things,” said Registrar Scott Dittman. Still, he said, surveys have shown that even students who have to take their sixth or seventh choice end up looking back at the term with great enthusiasm. “They get in there and develop a relationship with faculty, and they are fully engaged because there is no way they can not be.”
Some courses cost extra, especially those with a travel component, but W&L is committed to providing extensive financial support to fund the Spring Term experience.
In addition, about 10 percent of the student body each year takes Spring Option, which allows them to customize the four weeks to accomplish a personal goal, such as doing an internship, traveling, participating in a service or educational program, preparing for professional exams or embarking on a new career. Examples of students’ Spring Option activities this year include volunteering with Rockbridge Area Hospice, getting a head start on summer mathematics research, conducting job interviews, performing music and attending an investment banking boot camp.
Bianca Chiappelloni ’18 will travel alone to China for Spring Term. “I chose China because it is a part of the world I know very little about and have never studied,” she said. “As a global politics major, I have hit on almost every other major ‘region’ of the world in my studies, aside from east Asia and Australia, so this is a different type of learning experience to round out my major just a little bit more.”
Sally Stone Richmond, director of admissions, said Spring Term is “certainly a factor” in prospective students’ decision to apply to W&L. “As one admissions counselor and alumnus stated, ‘It’s all the best parts of college put into one month.’ It is the opportunity to intensely focus on one subject, likely with varied teaching methods.”
No two Spring Terms at Washington and Lee are alike. This year offers about 40 courses that have never before been offered, including a critical and cultural analysis of video games, a look at modern-day slavery in Ghana, and a study of international crises and national security.
Other students are writing and drawing their own comic books from start to finish, examining the history of dance throughout Europe, touring Scotland to absorb the history and culture of theater, and learning the anatomy of corporate fraud.
“Spring Term provides students with a great release,” Dittman said, “as well as the freedom to create and explore.”
Spring Term at a Glance
- One Course: Students take one and only one three- or four-credit course
- Credits: Each regular course is worth three or four credits
- Course Load: 3-5 credits (regular course + a single PE/1-credit course)
- No overloads or underloads are allowed
- No Pass/Fail: All courses must be taken for a letter grade
- Four Weeks: The term is four weeks long
- Registration: Students register in mid-January (class details, including syllabus, are requested for a November 1 posting)
- Full Engagement: Students are fully engaged by their 1 academic course