Sunday, November 2, 2014

Harvard, Brown, and Yale Oh My!

I may or may not have mentioned that last fall I started an informal college advising program for six of my former students. During my time in the classroom, I noticed that there was a push to lead transformational change to change the trajectory of our students lives so that they went on to college, but we weren't exactly telling them how to get there. For instance, in my classes we discussed various colleges both local to North Carolina and National and I put together presentations on average SAT scores, GPA, activities on campus, and your basic overview to gain student excitement. 

What I did not do was prepare my students for the overwhelming, complex process of applying to college. So last fall, after realizing that some students had great potential and would likely attend college but not one to their fullest potential, I decided to launch my own program geared towards helping students navigate the college application process. 

Aside from the fact that I applied and was accepted to colleges, I had very little credibility as to why I should be the one to lead them through this process. One thing I did have, was passion and in the very bottom of my heart, I wanted these girls to attend college. I spent a few months doing my research and utilizing various resources available on the internet and connecting with college advisors from various schools across Charlotte. With this knowledge, I put together a program that focused on information sessions during their junior year including topics such as private vs. public schools, financial aid, student loans vs. scholarships, essay writing workshops, and all of the other topics students in different communities hear from the start (if not before) their high school experience. For their senior year, my hope was to visit colleges that they were applying to (each of the six girls were required to visit at least 3 college campuses) and then coach them throughout the application process. 

This fall has certainly been overwhelming as I balance a schedule of weekend college visits, reminding  students of upcoming deadlines, having strategic discussions about essays, proofreading essays and applications, writing recommendations, and overseeing the entire process until they press submit. 

Yes, it is a lot of work. I did not fully think through that requiring each student to apply to a minimum of six schools (most are applying to anywhere from 8-10) meant that I was looking at 40-50 applications to review myself. Fortunately, I've made good friends along the way who keep me sane and support me throughout this process. 

I consistently get asked why I am doing this and I think there are a few specific answers to that question. First, while I am no longer in the classroom, I am still deeply committed to the idea that all students have access to a rigorous academic education and the opportunities to go on to college should that be their choice. While I sold out and left education for a higher paying job, I still want more for those students who impacted my life so deeply. Secondly, these students are me. I myself was a first generation college student and while I was overly excited about the college application process, I had no real idea of how to navigate it. I was not surrounded by family, friends, and older adults who had attended college. I did not fully understand the process aside from what I learned on tours and visits to admissions offices. In my applications, I was not confident enough to be myself and only presented myself in a way that I thought admissions counselors wanted to see me. Because of this, I did not tell my story. I did not share why I was unique and why I would make a difference on a college campus. Instead, I made my application look like every other middle class white girl applying to college.  I do not want these girls to miss out on opportunities because they are too afraid to tell their story and be their true selves in their applications. Which is why I am so passionate about this program and why I am so thankful for my family, friends, and community members both near and far who have supported me this past year as I develop this process. Most importantly, I am thankful for the students who allow me this opportunity and trust me as I do my best to help them in their futures. Even though I've made a few mistakes along the way. 

So all of the above is the background as to why I planned this trip that I did this past weekend. If you've spent more than 30 minutes with me in the past few years, you've more than likely heard me speak about Ana. She's an incredible student, inspirational leader, and one of the most mature and humble 17 years olds I've ever encountered. Her academical accolades are the best and I am more than eager to see which college will be lucky enough to have her join their freshman class next fall.  

We've been talking about the Ivy League schools for a quite a while now and I thought she deserved a trip to experience them outside of her YouTube video watching. We planned an ambitious trip, with a packed schedule which would take us to tour Harvard, Yale, and Brown in two days. 

We arrived Thursday evening to Boston where we rented a car and drove to Cambridge for the night. That morning, we had breakfast with some of my TFA friends before starting the day with an information session and tour of Harvard. 


Ivy at an Ivy League? Groundbreaking. 



Harvard Yard


The statue of three lies. 

After grabbing a quick meal to go from Shake Shack, we drove (singing Taylor Swift and sipping milkshakes) to Providence where we attended another information session and tour of Brown. 


Students can only walk through the gates twice during the time (convocation and commencement) at Brown or if you are a boy you won't graduate and if you are a girl you will never marry. 


Brown Quad. 


Stopped by to watch swim practice. 


Visiting our favorite faculty member at Brown. 

We stayed the night in Providence and then woke up the next morning to drive to New Haven for our final information session and tour at Yale. Unfortunately, it was a rainy, chilly day. Despite the water, I still found Yale to be beautiful. 


I may have an obsessions with leaves. 



Sadly, I don't really know what any of these buildings are but aren't they beautiful? 


I do remember this one. The Library. Maybe I would have spent more time in Cooper if it looked like this. 


Rubbing the toe for good luck. 


Bar Pizza. 

I documented the pizza for three reasons. 
1. My friend Lilie Jane drove over to New Haven for the day to meet us for lunch and sitting with Lilie and Ana may have been one of my most exciting lunches. Ever. 
2. The pizza was mashed potato, bacon, and cheese suggested by Troy. And it was delicious. 
3. Because we were enjoying this pizza and company so much, we left a bit later than anticipated and ended up missing our flight out of Boston which resulted in a mid drive panic session and a redirected travel plan out of Providence. (Thanks Mom for saving the day!)

Exhausting weekend to the say the least but every single minute was well worth it! I am thinking about reapplying to undergrad myself. Some of the tour guides thought I was a senior, pretty sure I can make this happen. 

xoxo,

Danielle



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