As a new college year gets underway, many students are beginning to settle comfortably into campus and their lives after high school. And still others are already starting to doubt their decisions. Before long, that nagging voice questioning if this is the right college choice for them will intensify to: “Should I consider transferring to a new school?”
Anthony David Williams knows that struggle all too well. He wrestled with the transfer decision early in his freshman year at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa., and is now starting his sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania. He sat down with KWHS interviewer Julia Drake to discuss the considerations he made before setting his transfer papers into motion.
Knowledge@Wharton High School: Anthony David Williams graduated from Bodine High School for International Affairs in Philadelphia in the spring of 2015. And soon after, [he] headed to the campus of Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to begin his freshmen year. But things didn’t go as planned. Anthony decided to transfer and this fall will be starting his sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania. Anthony is talking with us today about what went into his decision to transfer after his freshman year.
Hi, Anthony, thanks for joining us. Why did you originally decide to go to Gettysburg?
Anthony David Williams: The best answer I can give you is I don’t know. And to be honest, if that’s an answer that any student is going to have when they’re asked why they are going to a certain college or university, then it’s probably not the best fit for them. I had many people in my year — counselors and an academic afterschool program, where people [were] giving [me] their best advice. And sometimes, the best advice is the best advice, as long as it’s comfortable for you. And for me, it was not. I went to Gettysburg College mainly because I felt that I would be financially safe. The college gave me a full scholarship, which was an amazing feat for me.
Academically, it was right in my ballpark. I absolutely loved my professors. I had a great time talking to them and getting to know them. It was a very intimate setting. Although, socially, I didn’t quite fit in as well. This was something that I [didn’t] expect. You could see online the diversity rates — however, not having visited the school, which was another mistake, I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for.
KWHS: At what point in your freshman year did you realize that you wanted to transfer to U of Penn? And what were some of the reasons behind your decision to transfer?
Williams: There were actually many stops along the way where I realized this. But most notably was during freshman orientation. So many students are so happy and they’re just marveling at the school, and they are so excited that they have arrived at this destination. I couldn’t say that I shared in that. I really didn’t understand why I was there. I didn’t understand all the excitement. It was as if they were sharing some sort of a private joke. I tried to get to know people and understand their motivations for coming to the college and I honestly felt embarrassed that I couldn’t come up with some things as quickly as they could or even seem half as passionate as they could.
That was a tip off that I probably wasn’t at the right destination. But I tried to get more involved. I ran for student government and I became president of my class to try to get to know all the different students and try to interact with them as much as I could. I also joined the student newspaper and I wrote for The Odyssey at Gettysburg, which is analogous to a student newspaper, but a little smaller. I tried to see the demographic and the students and the social life. I also went out, tried the nightlife, all the things that freshmen students are supposed to do. However, I arrived more and more so at the exact same place, where I was at in the beginning, despite my efforts to get very heavily embedded inside the culture.
I realized that it just wasn’t for me. A lot of the students hailed from very similar backgrounds [to each other], so that didn’t yield much difference in personality and interests. [What I] was looking for in a college or a university [was] to meet people who were much different from me, but also some people who were like-minded, and then feed off that push and pull to grow as a student.
KWHS: Was it a hard decision [to transfer]? Did you have difficulty deciding to leave the friends that you made freshman year?
Williams: No. And that is also a feeling that I would want most students who feel as though they’ve made the wrong decision to share. Of course, when you meet people it’s going to be rather difficult to leave friends behind. However, if you really are at a destination [that] just doesn’t make you feel happy, [you have to do what’s best for you]. For example, I had a best friend. We ate together, we went out together, we met up after class, we studied together in the library, but she had more of a motivation to feel as though she was getting to know everyone because they were gonna be there for the next four years.
I had the motivation that I knew I was getting to know everyone to make an effort, not for the fact that I knew that I was going to be there for the next four years. It didn’t quite feel like home. And that made it seem as if the people that I was meeting were temporary and [that I wasn’t] really in it for the long haul. It became very difficult for me to forge deep and meaningful friendships. Again, understanding that [the school] may not [fit] best for me, [transferring] was a very easy decision.
KWHS: What advice would you give to other students who might want to transfer to another school? For example, what types of things did you consider when figuring this out? Like, how did you ask your parents and were you worried about losing credits?
Williams: I could say the usual, right, where we talk about the social fit, the financial fit and the academic fit. But first, I want to paint it into a picture where it’s more easily understood. I like to think of it as a Harry Potter and Hogwarts kind of scenario. We understand that he didn’t have much choice in going to Hogwarts. He got the letter and went. But ideally, it was the best school for him. In watching the movie and reading the book, everything about Hogwarts seems very scenic. It seems amazing, right? We all are still awaiting our Hogwarts letters.
And I didn’t really feel that way about Gettysburg. I knew from the jump that it wasn’t the best decision, yet I went with it anyway. While I was there, it didn’t feel much like what I expected a college or university to feel like. That was a big motivator for me to understand what was going on and to further understand what I [could] do to rectify [the situation]. I would encourage students to understand what their ideal school would look like before going to a school that others may say is ideal for them or that they may think is ideal for them.
It’s really important, also, to not necessarily harp on the name of the school. I was very excited to go to Gettysburg because many of my friends who have gone there have said they’ve had great times there. A lot of them work in Washington, DC. A lot of them work in very good professions. And I didn’t really understand what all of that meant. I just thought it meant – school, degree, job, perfect, right? I didn’t understand all the underlying factors that would await me when I got there. Am I really going to be happy? Am I going to understand that a liberal arts education just by itself is going to be enough to make me happy or enough to get me to where I would like to end up in life? I realized that there just wasn’t enough opportunity for me. And I realized that I wanted to span out a little bit more. Academically, [you should] know what programs are being offered.
For example, I had no idea what I wanted to major in when I got to Gettysburg. Furthermore, I did not pay too much attention to what Gettysburg offered. I just assumed that [it was] a liberal arts college, so under the umbrella of a liberal arts college, I just assumed [I would take] English, history, math, economics. I didn’t pay it too much attention. That, for me, was really a big misstep. I would encourage students to make sure that they know what they’re going to study or at least have a certain type of interest in studying certain things and have some sort of a ballpark idea. I also didn’t pay too much attention, again, socially because I didn’t visit. I didn’t know what much of the campus looked like. I also didn’t understand what most students were into extra-curricularly, how much of an emphasis was placed on sports, what the neighboring community would look like.
I didn’t visit the school [other than one overnight that was quick and scheduled]. I would definitely encourage students to visit the school [more than once if they are planning to attend]. Knowing the school on paper and knowing the school in person are two very different things.
KWHS: How did you approach your parents?
Williams: This is an interesting question for me. My parents knew that I had originally wanted to go to Penn. So they didn’t understand why I opted to go to a different college or university. I’m a first-generation college student, so they weren’t very much versed in college education or what a college/university can offer a student and how different they are. They heard me come home and say, “Hey, I heard about this college, I heard about that college, I heard about that college. They may be interesting. Hey, Gettysburg sent me a letter in the mail that said they were going to give me a full scholarship.” And they [thought], cha-ching, cha-ching — opportunity. This is good for you, right?
But they also saw that I wasn’t completely satisfied. They would always ask me, “Are you going to regret not applying to Penn? Are you going to regret that not knowing? Are you going to be able to live with that? Are you satisfied? Are you just going to a school because of the opportunity that you think you are going to get? Or are you going to this school because you’re passionate about it?” They always had my personal interests at heart. It wasn’t too much of a difficult decision to tell them [I wanted to transfer]. When I did tell them that I got my acceptance, they were very happy for me because they knew that I was going to pursue something that I wanted to do. They were [also] very nervous and said, “Are you sure that you can handle this new transition? You know, is this going to cost you any money? Is this going to be something that you’re going to regret and you’re going to want to flip back on your decision to make? Are you going to want to go back to Gettysburg? Because once you are there, you are there and we just hope that you can be okay with that.” I made my decision, and they stood by me 110%.
KWHS: What are you looking forward to most at U of Penn? Where do you hope your education will take you?
Williams: The one good thing is that all of my transfer credits are being evaluated and most of them have already come through. The courses were analogous in the sense that they were able to transfer over. [The one exception is] the writing requirement, but that’s only one course, so it won’t set me back too far in terms of graduating on time. So, [I don’t have to worry about the credits]. As far as what I want to study, one thing that Gettysburg was missing that I didn’t realize about myself until I spent the year there was that I wanted the liberal arts mix, but I also wanted the pre-professional mix. Penn does a really good job of giving that in terms of having the “one university” policy. So, I’m able to study at Wharton at the business school, I am also able to study at the college of arts and sciences, so I can really discover whether or not I’m interested in English and history, or maybe I want to study English and history as a foundation, but I also want to take some law courses, as well, or some consumer psychology courses.
It was very interesting to me to be able to have this great opportunity; something that Gettysburg didn’t offer me. I’m excited to be able to expand my horizons in a much bigger atmosphere. Also, socially, as I know I harped on this before, I’m interested to meet students from very different backgrounds. Students at this school come from a myriad of places around the globe, and it’s very exciting to see that while students are like-minded, there are students coming from many different necks of the woods. It [will] be interesting to see what they can teach me and what I can teach them. [I’m excited] to see that learning experience in action and how I can grow from it as a student.
KWHS: Good luck. Thank you so much for talking with us today.
Did Anthony David Williams make a snap decision to transfer from Gettysburg? In what ways did he try to embrace the experience before he knew that he wanted to leave?
What does he mean when he says, “You could see online the diversity rates -- however, not having visited the school… I wasn't quite sure what I was in for.”
Based on Anthony’s thought process that led to him ultimately leaving Gettysburg, make a list of things you should consider and do before choosing a college. Which are most important to you and why?