A Student’s Story: The Importance of the College Visit

Wyatt Green Williams knows the advantages of attending a small, private high school. For one thing, it’s easy to know everyone, because in many cases students have been in class together throughout their entire school lives. It’s also pretty easy to get to know teachers and for them to know you. The resulting sense of community tends to be strong and to occur almost without effort. So what happens when high school is over and you are faced with going out of state and trying to become acclimated to a university-sized environment? That was the challenge Wyatt faced. He had been attending Sidwell Friends since he first started attending school, and so he fit naturally into Sidwell’s academic and social environment. College, however, was sure to be a different story.

When Wyatt began thinking about college, he didn’t have a clear picture of the school – or even the type of school – he was interested in attending. He credits Jeff Knox with helping him figure that out, and it was Jeff who first suggested Washington University of St. Louis to him.

What solidified Wyatt’s thinking, though, was a campus visit. He had decided to visit a handful of colleges, WashU among them. He liked what he saw and experienced on his visit, but what “sealed the deal” was an interview with the university’s vice chancellor, a special opportunity arranged by a family friend. Wyatt hadn’t known what to expect, but he was so impressed by the vice chancellor’s questions and sincere interest in him as a person that he was completely won over.

Wyatt’s WashU experiences gave him a lot of confidence initially about his college decision, but some months later, he still had to face transitioning into college. His experience with WashU’s SOAR (Summer Orientation Advising Registration) program helped him acclimate and make some key early friendships. SOAR proved to be instrumental not only in creating an early bridge into his new university life, but in helping him see that it was up to him to make a successful transition. This wasn’t high school, where things just happened to you, but a university environment where you had to reach out and make things happen for yourself. He saw that the more friends he made, the smaller the community felt to him. That realization was a turning point for Wyatt, and since then, there has been no holding him back.

Wyatt is working hard at his studies and plans on dual majors: chemistry and environmental science. He says he averages four to six hours a day of study time but has a group of friends who form a natural study group whenever he wants it. Putting in that much time was difficult at first, but now he’s in a groove that works for him. For one thing, he has found it easy to find peers who share his scientific bent. WashU has a huge pre-med population, and many, like Wyatt, are taking chemistry courses, so it is been easy to find peers with similar academic interests. He admits though that the level of academics is definitely a step up from high school. He figures his fall freshman chemistry class covered in two months what his AP chemistry course covered in a year. In college, you are presented with material and expected to master it. He knows his goal of a double major will present challenges, but says that WashU’s advising is set up to help students find a path through those kinds of issues – and to approve curriculum changes, when needed, to help students accomplish their goals.

Wyatt’s next goal is a summer internship that would take him to California to work with a firm that is researching the effects of biodegradable plastics on the environment. It would be a perfect synthesis of his chemistry and environmental science interests, and he is hoping he can land the job. While waiting to hear, he keeps busy on campus – not only with studies, but with fraternity activities and his rugby team.

It is a busy life, but Wyatt has found a way to make it all work. Asked what he would advise high school juniors and seniors who are trying to figure out their own college plans, Wyatt says he would urge them to get the real scoop on the environment they will want to live in for four years and to look for academics that are sufficiently rigorous but that can also be kept in balance with the rest of the college experience.

Well done, Wyatt. Sounds like good advice!