March, 2010

Harvard on Ice!

jesse-85Spring Semester!! Catch up with me and hear about all the cool things college has to offer outside of the classroom! Talk about options!

Check out this video!

Nice to meet you!

Joe Tavares_85x85It’s always funny when you meet someone and they are totally different than who you thought they would be.  Like when we found out the “Wizard of Oz” was actually just an old man hiding behind a curtain.

I bring up that example because I was in Boston this weekend, and got a chance to finally meet some of the Opportunity Scholar bloggers—Jesse, Khadijah and Duylam.  Like you all, I have been reading about their first six months in college, and feel like I’ve really gotten to know them (Duylam is a born entrepreneur, Khadijah is a time management guru, and Jesse loves burritos). But still, I wasn’t sure what they’d be like in person, and if we would all click right away.

Boy was I wrong!

By the time we sat down for brunch at the S&S Restaurant in Cambridge (definitely check it out if you’re ever in town!), it was like a reunion of old friends. Jesse and Duylam talked about wrestling in high school, Khadijah and Jesse told us how easy it is to get lost in Harvard’s library, and food was a great common denominator too- group bonding over pancakes and bacon always works well! CSO_BostonOS

Jesse, Khadijah, and Duylam also took time during brunch to reflect about how much they have overcome as a group. Even as college freshmen, they have had unique opportunities their childhood friends who haven’t gone to college have not and never will. Yet, with these opportunities have come challenges, and we talked openly about how working hard is always the recipe for success.

As they talked about their first two semesters, I thought to myself about how the three of them are doing something very powerful- they’re serving as role models for high school students across the country to understand the college process better, and giving key advice so that others may follow in their footsteps.

the home front

joseph-85The month is Marching by and those decision letters are going to start trickling in.  Some will have good news, others will have disappointment.  Perhaps the best advice I can think of is the same I was told the first time on an airplane, “whatever is going to happen is going to happen,” and chances are you really can’t control what’s going to happen. Worrying is not going change what those letters say.

For some the news is going to be bittersweet.  There is perhaps no feeling just like learning you have been accepted into a school that isn’t affordable.  While disheartening, there is probably hope if you continue to look for scholarships from other sources and talk to the financial aid office.  If you are good enough for a school to accept you, then chances are they will do what is reasonably possible in their view to help you.

Seniors, this is your last semester, but it’s still important.  Some of the books I read last year around this time were important to my development.  In essence, I’m saying, do your work.  This semester IS important.  It’s also not only a good time to see your friends but to have great conversations with your teachers.  This is the time that they will open up to you and you might just find one that is a terribly fascinating person who you didn’t think was before.  Anyway, that’s all for now, but good luck!

Don’t judge a College by its Cover

khadijah-85One of the most important things in the college process  is visiting the colleges. Even with all the research you have done, there’s just nothing like being there. Often, schools will pay to fly you out. Take advantage of this! The best way to know if you want to go to a school for four years, some of the most important and influential years in your life, is to go there. I learned so much about myself and what I wanted by seeing the colleges in action, so to speak. It’s not just about the academics- your college experience will also include outside the classroom.

My three top choices were in completely different areas. Williams is in the absolutely beautiful, secluded Williamstown, MA, Columbia is in the bustling, culture rich and vibrant, New York City, and Harvard is in the cute little charming town of Cambridge, MA, minutes away from the surrounding Boston area. Academics wise, I couldn’t go wrong. 

I loved that Williams was quiet and secluded, and I believed it would be a wonderful way for me to keep focused on my studies. However, when I visited, I realized spoiled by California’s effortless transportation system, I knew I’d get restless in the sleepy, tiny town of Williamstown. And I felt I wouldn’t get the cultural experience I craved in such a small environment.

That said, Columbia might seem like the obvious choice. It’s bustling with culture – with NYC, the United Nations, Brooklyn, thousands of cultural events, and the teeming nightlife just minutes away, no one would STAY on CAMPUS. It’d be a waste of NYC! And I knew I wanted the choice to stay on campus, that I wanted the college campus experience, and I knew I wouldn’t get that at Columbia. Ultimately, I didn’t choose Columbia because it was too busy and hectic.

Ultimately, I chose Harvard because I liked the “feel.” I liked all three colleges, but ultimately, Harvard felt right to me. I was able to see myself there for four years. I felt comfortable there. There isn’t a way to describe except that it seemed like the right place for me.

No matter how much you read and research about a college, no matter how much you think you know about it, visiting is the best way to know. There are some things you can’t measure in a college guide. I loved Williams and Columbia, but at  Harvard I felt right at the school and in the city.

Sometimes, a step onto a campus is all you need.

Big Bro

duylam-85I must say from the get-go I never really had a “mentor” or someone who helped me along the college process, at least not in the strictest sense. And this is true for many first generation students. We just don’t have anyone who takes our hands and shows us the ins and outs of looking for colleges or helps us fill out financial aid or any of that.

CollegeConfidential was my guiding light as far as the whole process goes. Everybody has a different story, but please listen to this one piece of advice: do not not ask for help. When I was beginning my search I just told my mom “Yeah, yeah, I got this, don’t worry. I got everything down.” Well sure I thought I had everything down, but now that I’m in college I’ve talked to more admission officers and financial service officers, and I regret not asking for help.

Yes, I know you have no questions, everything seems pretty straight forward. Red buzzer. Did you know you could go back and appeal for larger financial aid package? If you get into multiple schools, and the one you reaaaaaaaaallllllllyyyy want to get into does not offer the package you can afford, you should try appealing for a larger package.

That’s just one thing you learn once you start talking to people who have been through the college process before. And you know what? I know you don’t have questions, but maybe you should talk to someone anyways. Just ask: hey so what was applying for college like for you? Or my friends’ and my personal favorite, what goodies do you got in that college bag? Hah we don’t really talk like that.

The point being is that you should just get a feel for what has been done, what has succeeded in getting more aid, acceptance, etc, and what has not succeeded. If you’re stuck in an area where not a lot of people have gone to college, you should just go up to your guidance counselor, and ask them about their experience. That’s what I did, and I really love my high school counselor. She was the one who told me about CSO in the first place.

As I’ve said, I never had anyone really tell me what to do or how to do anything as far as college. This is good and bad. Good because I have had the freedom to do what I want and there is nothing like staying up until 1am looking at colleges with your buddies. Bad because I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing.

*** I just got a text from my good friend, David Ngo. He has midterms right now and his text couldn’t have been any better for right now. “Gotta dig deep and find the source of strength and see [life] from a bigger perspective.” What’s the bigger perspective for you?

What I mean is what is the reason you’re doing what you are doing? Why go to college? For a better future? Yes that is the answer, but why do you want the better future? Simon Sinek asked me the same thing and it is something worth asking yourself…

Whatever the reason, there is, as I have come to find out, a person or people behind the reason. My mom was the biggest factor in me coming to college. Her story is a bit too intimate for me to share so publicly, but I’ll talk about the theme that is universal to most, if not all, first generation students.

The weight that is put on your shoulders is a weight that many first generation students feel. I dare not call it a burden, but rather a 1000 ton brick on your back. And that is why we do what we do. Because we love our families, because they expect so much from us,  because we expect so much from ourselves, as the forerunners for wealth in the future generations,  this is what fuels our passion.

I may be generalizing way too much, forgive me if I am. I may sound corny, but this is coming right from my soul [this sounds pretty corny looking back]. If you have more reasons as to why you strive so hard or have someone special who has motivated you feel free to put it down in digital form!

Got Mentors?

jesse-85I always thought that college wasn’t an option for me. I didn’t really know anyone who had made it to college and no one in my family had gone either, so it seemed like college was nothing but a fantasy for me. Not having a mentor can leave you without a sense of direction- you need someone there to go to for advice, to keep you motivated, and to help you out in times of need. It is very important to find this person in your life early on so they can help you make the right decisions from the beginning.

A mentor can be anyone- a counselor at school, a teacher, a youth group pastor, or a sports coach. It doesn’t matter what they do; what matters is how well you can open up to this person and their ability to give you good advice on things that they know something about. This is why mentors are usually older and wiser than you are.

I found mentors in a number of environments and each one was able to help me out in a different way. The mentors I found at Reality Changers and at my school were able to help me feel confident about my ability to go to college, and they even helped me with the college application process. I spent countless nights in the Reality Changers building working on college applications and it sure did pay off! Reality Changers explained what I needed to know about financial aid and scholarships and even helped me fill out the forms!

Mentors are important, get yourself one! Not just anyone, find the right mentor for YOU.

Sometimes you get lucky and you run into someone who would be a great mentor, but most of the time, you have to go out and search! Schedule meetings with your counselors or teachers, just drop by before or after school, or even ask to have lunch with them. Show initiative- get to know them! This is the only way you’ll know if they’re right for you.

If you feel like there isn’t anyone that you can relate to at your school, look in your area for programs like Reality Changers to help you out. You are not alone. There is guidance out there, you just have to look for it.

But it looked so nice in the brochure…

lysa-85Now, ask yourself a few questions. Would you move into a house you’ve never seen before? Would you buy a car before you test drove it? Probably not!

Now, consider the college you think is the right one for you. Would you go to a college you’ve only heard about, read about, or seen pictures of in a brochure? Would you go to a college just because it’s an Ivy League, or another college just because it has a reputation for being one of the biggest party schools? I surely hope not! Please DO NOT MAKE THAT MISTAKE!  

Don’t choose a school just for its reputation or name, many people have made that mistake. Yes, I’m sure there are some college students who maybe saw their school for the first time the day they moved in to college, but is that really what you want to do? Do you want to be having your parents move you in, and you’re both figuring out what your college is all about for the first time? No! Just like most things in life, you won’t know if a school is the right one for you, until you visit!

You must visit every college you are highly considering attending or have been accepted to. At the same time do not rule out a college that you think you might not like before you at least visit.

I know it seems as though college brochures contain everything you must need to know about a school. But the truth is: THEY DON’T! It is not always bright and sunny outside a college, nor is everyone walking around, books in hand, smiling happily as they walk to and from class or meals. This is quite the contrary! Most college students are extremely stressed out, and it snows and rains at my school ( in the Northeast) more than I’ve seen sunshine for the past six months of my life! Do not be fooled by the happy college students or campus on the cover of a brochure! Of course everything looks nice in a pamphlet…it’s supposed to, so that you want to go there.

When visiting colleges, make sure you truly get a feel for each school. Every school has a different personality, just like every person on the campus, including yourself. Those personalities must match one another. There may be some schools you visit that just don’t quite seem to fit your needs and that’s okay. You have to find a school with a personality that fits your own.

Don’t just take the campus tour they offer to every visiting prospective student. Consider asking a current student to maybe show you around. After all, someone in admissions once told me, college students love to boast about themselves and their schools. It’s true! We want you on our campus, so ask us lots of questions when you visit! And make sure you eat in the dining halls and use some of the bathrooms! Make sure you see the dorms, and the gym! Make sure you visit the laundry room and the snack bar! You want to make sure that you are able to live comfortably in the college you choose. After all, it will be your home for the next four years. So, make your visit about more than just classes, and historical buildings that the admissions office will show you in your tour.

You’ve always heard, not to judge a book by its cover. Applying to college is the same way. Do not judge a college by a brochure.

I personally, ended up at one of  the last schools I planned on attending when I applied to college in high school. I always thought I’d go to Yale, or maybe stay in state at FSU or UF, but then I got into those schools, and Williams. I visited them all, and realized that Williams was really where I felt the most at home. Nothing else mattered once I visited, because it felt right! 

And you too will know when you find the school for you, and it just feels right! Go with your gut feeling !

Shout out to my Mentors!!

seanna-85One of the hardest things about doing something new that has tricks and turns, stumbling blocks and stop signs…is exactly that…it’s something new with tricks and turns…stumbling blocks and stop signs.  Junior and senior year were hectic.  Sometimes I felt that I was getting to know myself better on paper than in person.  Essay after essay, cover letters and resumes, applications and recommendations…all became every day components of my life.  However, so did a few special people—a few adults and leaders that I came to consider mentors.

I don’t think there is a special formula for someone who can be a mentor; no set criteria or educational background requirement.  Still, they tend to be very special individuals, capable of guiding you along your path and setting stones of future opportunities before your feet.  I didn’t have very many, but those that I did have were more than enough, remaining with me even now.  They provided security and motivation when I was lost and “at my end”.  Oftentimes, my mentors saw potential in me that I was unable to see, pushing me past limiting boundaries onto brighter possibilities.

I believe that those who have traveled a similar path before you are able to offer advice that we have yet to know that we need.  That wisdom is priceless, immeasurable in quality and value.  Looking back, I remember and appreciate the help they provided.  Looking forward, I want to serve as a mentor on my college campus and within my future communities.  The most amazing thing about my mentors was not that they were superiorly perfect human beings or that they’d changed the world with sterling accomplishments.  Instead, they were people, just as I am, capable of embracing their mistakes and passing on their wisdom.  They were willing to change my world, and in doing so…enable me to begin a path of helping others change their own.

~Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.~John Crosby

Big Brother

ashley-85Growing up there was always that one person who was with me through everything and that was my big brother. When it came to me growing up and going to college that did not change.  My brother was there every step of the way. He helped me sort through all the information, he took two weeks in a row off of work to drive to me to my college visits, he gave me his input on each school as well as others we did not visit, he drove me to my school on move-in day, he set up all my electronics, and as my freshman year is quickly coming to an end he will be there to take me back home.

Going to college was not just a big step for me, but it was for my brother too, and we were learning together. My brother did not go to college and stayed close to home so that he was close to me.  Although he would never admit it, he was sad that I had grown up and was leaving like we always talked about doing. I would have never made it anywhere without my brother, and although I am now in college and on my own, I know he is always there whenever I need him.