By Cooper Williams
It was seven days before my 21st birthday, and I was doing math homework when my blackberry vibrated. I absently reached over to stop the red light blinking when I saw the words, “Your Stanford Admissions Decision.” Uh oh. They’d said it wouldn’t come until Friday, yet here it was. Well prepared for the inevitable “Thank you for your application. We regret to inform you…” I opened up my Macbook. I clicked on the e-mail and waited the quiet second it took to load. Then, I saw my name, the date–May 10th 2010, and the word “Congratulations!” It felt like an earthquake in my skull. I had just become one of twenty transfers accepted to Stanford University.
Writing this article before I’ve participated in NSO, or even completed a full quarter, may seem premature, and it may be, but after just one summer session I can say that Stanford lived up to its reputation and then some (I can also say taking Math 51 and CS 106A at the same time as your first courses at Stanford is an excellent way to have your self-esteem buried alive…but that’s another story). A common question is why I wanted to transfer, and why to Stanford. This answer could take some time, but here’s the short version. Out of high school I didn’t want to go to college because I was a ballet dancer, and ballet dancers don’t go to college. But because I started dance at 16 I decided to go to UCI, one of the best ballet programs in the country because I could train there and at my studio simultaneously. A year later I was accepted at the San Francisco Ballet School with a full scholarship, but the director of UCI’s ballet program, on enough painkillers to kill a Clydesdale, overstretched my foot and a joint capsule ruptured. I tried to work through it, but, to sum up, I haven’t taken class since I left the San Francisco Ballet School almost two years ago and, at this point, even if I could go back, I wouldn’t.
Part two of the question, why Stanford, is a bit easier– it’s Stanford. Its course catalogue made my budding policy wonk’s heart skip a beat, and it has a mind-numbing array of opportunities to offer its 6,800 undergraduates. It leads the nation in Fulbright Scholars and has a student to faculty ratio of 6:1. Compare this to UC Irvine’s over 22,000 undergraduates and student to faculty ratio of 20:1, and my desire to transfer may seem less of a mystery. However, the number one reason I sought to transfer to Stanford was the quality of the students I had encountered. Before going back to UCI, in part to alleviate the accumulated craziness that comes with doing nothing but ice massage and watching the West Wing, I visited friends at Stanford. Like a lot of people, I was intimidated by imagined elitism associated with schools like Stanford, but rather than letterman’s jackets and legacies, I was met with open arms and genuine curiosity. I never once felt disdain directed at the “lowly” UC Irvine or a raised eyebrow at my having been a male ballet dancer. See, Stanford is the kind of place where you meet someone from Exeter, Tanzania, and Texas all in the same day, and what’s more, they’re all friends.
Now being a transfer can be a dubious accolade at times, such as when, at my sendoff party, several incoming freshmen politely inquired about my decision to reapply to Stanford. But a loaded question from an 18 year old won’t make me any less proud to be a transfer student. I think transfers are often a different kind of student than the run of the mill college kid, especially at Stanford. Many of us are older than our class’s normal age and have spent time out of school. Some have children, one was in a rock band, and several have served in the military. But above all, we share one thing–we all made a conscious decision to leave our current surroundings in search of greener pastures. I think because we know what it’s like at other schools, we can more fully appreciate Stanford than students who don’t know anything else. When I told friends at UCI and other schools that I met the admissions officer who presented my application, and that the transfer advisor read my application essays just to get to know me better, they were stunned. When I told that to my Stanford friends, they shrugged. The first time I met an advisor at UCI (there are no assigned advisers), I gave him the transfer forms, and he couldn’t really answer any of my questions. At Stanford, because I’m an economics major seeking to work internationally, I was assigned an advisor who majored in economics at Stanford and is now the associate director of the overseas study program. As if that wasn’t enough, he used to be an administrator in the performing arts department.
So after just eight weeks, despite feeling downright abused by the courses I took, I feel more at home at Stanford than I did at UCI as a dance major, at San Francisco Ballet School, or at UCI as an economics and international studies major. After three years of wondering where I’d be the next year, it’s nice to know that for two or three years, I’ll be in the same place. And when I remember that that place is an 8,000 plus acre palm-treed paradise of curiosity and achievement, I just smile and wonder if that will ever get old.