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Posts Tagged college process

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.

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!

Missing the Big Picture…

seanna-85Personally…the college process was daunting to say the least.  My dad never finished high school…my mom never made it to college.  Throughout school, my main focus had been getting high grades…extracurricular activities…establishing good relationships with teachers and peers…all the “normal” stuff.  When it was time to start applying to college, I had no clue where to start.  I’d done all the ground work, with no idea how to make the rest happen.

“Seanna…I don’t know what you’re worried about…any college would be lucky to have you…”

“You must be really excited…where are you applying…?”

“All that hard work is about to pay off…your mom must be so proud…!”

For months, the constant repetition of things that were supposed to be encouraging and motivating, only made me feel more confused and overwhelmed.   And while my mom was very proud, she was unable to help in many ways due to her lack of personal experience.  Oftentimes, neither of us knew the next appropriate step.

I didn’t realize that college fees could be waived, and that many schools only required either the ACT or SAT.  The prospect of applying for financial aid kept me up at night…I was in the proverbial tunnel with no light at the end.  And although there were plenty of counselors and mentors available to help, I felt that I should already know the answers…that I should not have to ask…

So here’s the big picture that I was missing…and here’s my advice to all those setting out with college applications…

You DO NOT have to know everything…asking questions is more than just okay…it really does help.  The people that offer assistance know what they’re talking about―the right steps to take, and even better…they WANT you to succeed!

Obviously, I did figure out the application process, managed to conquer my fear of financial aid, and even made a final decision!  So here I am, halfway through my first semester, and I realize now that allowing others to help from the start, rather than waiting until I was engulfed in essays and scores could have made the process much easier.

In fact, I’ve learned that reaching out is not a sign of weakness, but instead…a sign of strength.