My W&L: Maureen Nalepa '14

Four years ago, when I was a high school senior, I saw myself graduating from a liberal arts college with a degree in chemistry and a future in patent law.

I mean, one out of three isn't bad, right?

Though a lot has changed over the past four years, coming to W&L was one of the better decisions I made. Something about the liberal arts college really appealed to me, but I underestimated what Washington and Lee would allow me to do.

Chronologically, I've added a major (English), added a minor (creative writing), studied abroad at one of Europe's oldest universities (St. Andrews, where Will met Kate), dropped a major (chemistry), added another major (politics), added a minor (education policy), participated in an "internship plus" with the Shepherd Poverty program, dropped a minor (creative writing), and actually declared those surviving majors and minor (English, politics, and education policy). I'm currently writing an honors thesis in English, and I will be teaching in Detroit this fall.

Most of those opportunities wouldn't have been available at another school. Switching from the physical sciences to the humanities and the social sciences? Yeah, that would go over well in a compartmentalized university. While studying abroad isn't unique to Washington and Lee, doing so as a science major is rare. But our school has a partnership with St. Andrews, one that sends a dozen students every year. I got to take organic chemistry at a 600 year old school.

More importantly, W&L is the flagship school in the Shepherd Consortium, the school where it all began. As someone who has always be interested in education, and particularly urban education, I spent my summer in Charleston, W.V., working with policymakers to help develop a mentoring program I'm now passionate about. I also had the amazing opportunity to shadow a teacher in Richmond for three weeks last spring term. The term was a fully immersive experience made possible by our short Spring Term.

And the ability to research and write a thesis wouldn't be possible at a school with a graduate program. If I had gone to a research university, I doubt someone would take on advising me on an 80-page thesis. But no. I get to experience all the joys (and the struggles) of writing such a large work now rather than later.

For some reason, the high school version of me wasn't interested in any of these opportunities. She was mainly fleeing from the large Pennsylvania state schools. Yet for as misled as I was four years ago, it still ended up being one of the best decisions I've made. So I'm glad I at least got the important decision right.