What Living In Princeton University Taught Me

This summer, I attended the LEDA Summer Institute at Princeton University. For seven weeks, I interacted with amazing fellow scholars, college students, professors, writers, admissions officers, and executives from diverse backgrounds. Our conversations gave me important insight that changed my approach to college applications and my ideas of what college will be like. The following are some of my main takeaways from this summer.

Getting Into College Really Is Possible. . . No Really

It’s very common to feel that attending college is some distant dream that will never come true despite how hard one works. It’s difficult for someone to imagine themself succeeding when there is no one similar to them succeeding in the same path.

This summer I met numerous professionals who graduated or were current students from top colleges and universities. They were first-generation college students, people of all races and religions, and came from low-income upbringings. Listening to them as my professors, tutors, mentors, and counselors, made the idea of going to a top college feel like an attainable goal.

Admittedly, the process won’t be easy, but recently, many institutions are beginning to improve their recognition of obstacles that first-generation, low-income, and minority students face when attaining a higher education. These factors are now being considered in the college application process.

I’m here to tell you that I saw it with my own two eyes.

It is possible.

Regardless of the reasons that make you doubt an institution would accept you, it’s much more possible to attain these dreams than students are led on to think.

College Can Be Affordable And Even Free

The sticker price of $70,000 is often times far from the true price a student will pay to attend college. This is especially true for students who come from low-income households.

There are plenty of forms of financial aid to make attending college affordable or even free. Many selective institutions meet 100% demonstrated financial need, which means they will pay for all costs that a student’s family cannot afford so that all students are able to attend.

The common belief is that selective institutions will naturally be more expensive to attend than community or in-state colleges. While this may be true in some cases, this is less frequently the case for low-income students. Because of the 100% demonstrated financial need policy, attending a selective institution could end up being cheaper than attending a local college.

Want to get started in understanding the financial aid process for college? Visit my “Words that Mean Money” post for some basic vocabulary to get you started!

You’re Worrying About The Wrong Thing

There is a lot of pressure put upon test scores in the college application process. Whether it be for the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, ACT, IB exams, or AP exams, most students believe that if they don’t attain a certain score, they’ll be immediately rejected by a college. While many colleges show an average score that they accept, this does not mean every single student needs to meet that score.

The College Admissions Committee reviews a student’s entire application through a process known as holistic review. This means that all aspects of the applicant are considered when making an admissions decision including transcripts, essays, extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation. No student will be removed on the basis of a single score that has been proven to correlate more with family income than actual academic performance.

Students should make sure to focus on the essay section of their application, which they have the most control over. While test scores are important, they show less about a student than descriptions of their life will.

Keep in mind that the admissions committee only sees a few pages of information per student. This means an entire 17 to 18 years worth of information will be cut down to almost nothing. The committee has no way of knowing students’ special circumstances or unique stories. This is why essays are so important.

The personal statement and supplementary essays give students a platform to mention any and all aspects of their life that take up a significant amount of time, are important to mention for context on special circumstances, or that admissions officers have no other way of knowing.

Finding Your Community Is Important

Unfortunately, there is currently a lack of racial, cultural, regional, socioeconomic, religious, and LGBTQ+ diversity on college campuses across the nation. Students of any one of the minorities described above commonly experience a sense of isolation while living in a college campus.

While it is important to meet new individuals with different perspectives, it is also important to find a community that feels familiar and can ground students during difficult times in college. Feeling isolated makes students less likely to succeed in their classes, try new things, stay involved on campus, or generally feel content. Whether it be through a cultural affinity group, religious youth group, or some other organization, it is highly encouraged for students to find their preferred community.

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*The School Bell Blog is not associated with programs mentioned. This blog serves as a resource of information that may or may not apply to the readers and it is up to each individual reader to verify the information on their own. For verification on what opportunities are available to you and for formal help, please see your school counselors. The School Bell Blog encourages everyone to do their own research before taking the information stated here as fact. Thank you.

Please email me with any questions or requests for posts: schoolbellblog@gmail.com

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