Why you should go to a semester school



Students from the School for Ethics and Global Leadership Fall 2019 semester walk past the Capitol Building on their way back to the dorms after spending the day at the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art.

During a class meeting in my sophomore year, Dr. Susanna Linsley, Director of Experiential Learning mentioned the School for Ethics and Global Leadership (SEGL) in an announcement about admissions representatives from semester schools visiting campus. Immediately after that class meeting, I Googled it, and by lunch that day I had texted my mother: “how would you feel about me spending a semester in Washington, D.C.?” 

The decision to apply turned out to be one of the best I have ever made.  

But it was not an easy one. Spending a semester away would mean four less months with my friends, one less Theme Night, one less homecoming, and one less semester of classes at Webb. These were sacrifices that I was willing to make, but not without a certain amount of FOMO. I had no way of knowing whether missing these things would be worth it, but I just had to trust the gut feeling I had. 

My semester at SEGL was unlike anything I had ever done or will ever do again. I spent four months living in a townhouse on Capitol Hill with 23 other juniors who became like family to me. I talked to politicians, diplomats, and lawyers; attended two impeachment inquiry hearings; and took advantage of everything D.C. had to offer.  

One of my favorite guest speakers was Lissa Muscatine, longtime speech writer for Hilary Clinton. On a Monday morning, she gave us a crash course on the basics of writing a good speech, along with some stories from the White House and a killer Bill Clinton impersonation. That Friday, I delivered a speech in front of Lissa Muscatine, one of the foremost speechwriters of the past 20 years, and received feedback and critiques from the woman herself. 

This was an experience I could only get at SEGL, which demonstrates perfectly how the school lives up to its mission to provide the “best possible opportunity” for its students to “shape themselves into ethical leaders who create positive change in our world.” 

In just four months at SEGL, I was exposed to as many perspectives as people I met. I was asked questions I did not have answers to and challenged to reflect on my own morals and values with every decision I made. I had never felt both so ignorant compared to the people around me and motivated to learn everything I could from them. 

Leaving Webb was hard but leaving SEGL was even harder. I had spent four months cultivating some of the best friendships of my life, learning from some of the most dedicated teachers I have ever had, and living in the city of my dreams. 

Webb does a very good job at creating a four-year long, comprehensive program for each of its students; to complete one semester away is to potentially detract from the holistic Webb experience, especially as you are entering junior year, finally able to choose the classes that interest you the most: crux of what Webb has to offer. Each year builds on the last and prepares you for the next. 

Most semester schools could not operate in the same way that Webb does; my peers and I at SEGL often remarked that the program would not work as a four-year, holistic high school education. It simply would not be sustainable 

SEGL was, in every way, a four-month sprint. The days were long and classes were rigorous, but I found myself ending every day the best kind of exhausted. My classmates and I took every opportunity we had to discuss everything under the sun, be it during meals, commuting to and from school, or in our dorms in the early hours of the morning. I woke up earlier and went to bed later than I ever have at Webb, and it was worth it.  

The semester school model necessitates leaving one’s community and then coming back to it, and this is something that each semester school takes advantage of in one way or another. 

The Social Venture Project is a great example. Each SEGL student chose something in our respective communities that we want to fix and spend much of the semester creating a plan to fix it. While we were graded on the outline and plans that we made, we were under no commitment to follow through on any of it. The only thing compelling us to complete our Social Venture Projects was the motivation to change things in our communities for the better.  

For my SVP, I had planned to hold the first ever Claremont Pride in May of 2020. I made a budget, identified stakeholders, contacted potential partners, and presented my plans to my peers and faculty at the end of the semester. My goal was to provide a fun and educational experience to the community. Ultimately, the project was put on hold due to the pandemic, but I am still grateful for the opportunity I had to go through the planning process. 

Before I went to SEGL, I knew there were things I wanted to change about the community and the world that I live in, but it was not until I completed my semester that I felt truly motivated and equipped to take those issues on.  

I am, without a doubt, a better person now than I was when I landed in Washington D.C. in August 2019. I changed more during my semester away than I ever have, and in ways that I would not have been able to if it were not for that unique experience. I think more critically, and I ask better questions. I have a better sense of my own morals and beliefs and a better understanding of the world and my place in it. Coming back to Webb, I have applied all these lessons to every situation in hopes of having a positive impact or learning even more.  

They were easily the best, most formative four months of my entire life, and I would not trade that experience for the world.  

Does any of this sound up your alley? Are you an underclassman looking for a new adventure? I encourage you to apply, not only to semester-long programs but to any experience that seems out of your comfort zone.  

In addition to the School for Ethics and Global Leadership, Webb has also historically sent students to The Mountain School in Vermont, and School Year Abroad. It could be the Student Leadership Diversity Conference or Empowering Female Voices, maybe even just signing up for a service-based Unbounded Days that challenge you in a new way. These experiences take you out of the Webb community and teach you valuable lessons to bring back into it, and that is something I think we all would benefit from doing. 

You got questions? I got answers! And as my mother always told me: it never hurts to apply. It may be the best decision you ever make.