Presidential Scholar Wilson Witherspoon is Thinking a Step Ahead
At a time when most teenagers are doing everything they can to milk those last few days of relaxation out of summer, Wilson Witherspoon is eager to get to work.
“I enjoy working — I’ve always worked an odd job or two, different stuff that can keep me engaged. I like to keep busy,” he says. “I’ve had kind of a slow summer, and a few weeks ago I started feeling jittery. I’m excited for this. High school was fun, but there’s a million times more in front of me.”
Wilson heads into his freshman year at Georgia State as both a National Merit Scholar and a Presidential Scholar — and as someone with very well-thought-out ideas about both what he wants to get out of college and what he plans on putting into it.
The Right Choice, Right in His Backyard
Wilson and his friends at Decatur High School set their sights high when they started looking at colleges. “One of them is going to be attending NYU in the fall. He got me fired up, we were going to go tackle college together, and a bunch of us looked into the Ivy League. So we all applied to Ivy League schools and nobody got in.” A sheepish grin: “Everybody was pretty sad that day.”
Wilson then turned his sights to Furman, Virginia and Georgia State. He liked what he saw from each of them, but the financial aid offered by the first two wouldn’t have covered even half of his tuition. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, two-thirds of American college students are graduating with some level of debt — an average of $26,600 this year — and Wilson was dead-set against burdening himself with student loans.
“If I was going to get a four-year bachelor’s degree, get into the working world and go, then I’d consider it,” he says. “But I’m thinking about getting a graduate degree.”
When Wilson arrived on campus, he already had 40 credit hours thanks to AP classes, which he says has opened up a much easier path to a double major. “That’s kind of relaxed me a little bit — I can look into two completely different things. Like, I recently discovered that I love to write. I did sports for the student magazine in high school, and I never felt like I was working. I really liked it. So I could do journalism and business administration, or I could do chemistry and English. I have four years here, so I can really see what interests me and go from there.
“I talked to a 2013 Honors College graduate who triple-majored in accounting, Spanish and finance. That makes him a really coveted asset,” Wilson says. “He had a job at Ernst & Young waiting for him when he graduated. He didn’t want to give up on anything, and that’s the kind of thing you can do here.”
Playing the Field
Wilson’s life has never been all work at the expense of play, though. Following in the footsteps of his father, who played soccer since he was 8 or 9 and was on the varsity team at Furman for two years, Wilson has played at different levels since he was 4.
“Decatur’s the kind of place where I had my same varsity soccer coach from middle school on,” he says. “It’s very inclusive, especially since there’s not that much specific knowledge you need to get started.”
Decatur High’s soccer program has been quite competitive despite playing in a tough division, and Wilson was a member of the varsity squad all four years, serving as a captain his senior year, when he was named to the All-Region team. “I couldn’t have played this year at Georgia State, though,” he says with a grin. “But I was always aware that my brain would take me further than my feet. I knew I wasn’t going to be a pro soccer player — I’m not 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, running a 4.3 forty.
“But I know I’m not ready to give it up. Even if I play park leagues the rest of my life, it’s something I want to do,” he says. “And I haven’t completely given up on the dream of playing college ball, even if it’s just as a practice player. Soccer is a sport that really emphasizes teamwork, and even when I haven’t even been close to the best player, I’ve always been really good on a team.”
Eyes on the Future
Whether the topic is sports, college classes or future job prospects, Wilson displays a wisdom beyond his years. And he knows that grades and double-majors alone won’t automatically set him up for career success, so he’s already gotten some internship experience at sports agency CSE and at CoCENTRIX, a healthcare IT company.
“Degrees will help you get that first job, but how you do at your first job is what determines what will come after that,” he says. “Sometimes it’s as much about the hands you shake as it is the grades you make.”
Still, he says, he’s excited about both the classes he’ll have the opportunity to take at Georgia State and about the overall environment he’ll get to enjoy for the next four years. “Kids right here in Atlanta have the opportunity to go to a 30,000-student research university in the biggest city in the South,” he says. “Where else could you get that kind of opportunity?”