A Scholarship for Me, but What About My Friends? Diversifying College Admissions and Aid

February 13, 2013, 5:54 am

In mid January, I received this from the Robertson Scholars Program:

On behalf of Mr. Julian Robertson and the entire selection team, I am delighted to confirm your selection as a Robertson Scholar. This invitation is conditional upon your acceptance to Duke University and/or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Congratulations!

It was my first college-related acceptance and, truth be told, it may be the best deal, so long as I gain admission to either Duke University or theUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The scholars program includes financial benefits (full tuition and fees, room and board), access to the faculty and resources of both Duke and U.N.C., three funded summer experiences, access to a wealth of personal resources for coaching and mentoring, and of course, the Robertson scholars and alumni network.
When I was reiterating these facts to my mother while reminding her of my college list, she really didn’t see the dilemma.
I understand her point of view. The problem with doing things with the utmost dedication is that when a change of events occurs, you’re left with a challenge.
Once I had accepted the good news, I had an in-depth conversation with my college counselor. After considerable deliberations, we both felt that I should withdraw my applications from Williams College, Barnard College andMiddlebury College.
I really liked the idea of tutorials and the entry system at Williams. With Barnard, I honestly loved the supplements, and the Nine Ways of Knowingcurriculum made me want to know them. As for Middlebury, I honestly would have loved to be a part of the traditions of the class of 2017 and the language program.
So far, I have one foot in, and I’m appreciative of what I have.
On the other hand, I recently received a valuable life lesson on empathy that I would like to share. It was an experiential lesson for my entrepreneurial leadership class, and I’m going to try to apply it to the college application process.
Let us say your teacher comes in and asks that every single one of you write college supplements. The aim of this is in solidarity with all the college applicants from around the globe.
The teacher then promises that each of you will receive a letter at the end of your task. The D-day arrives and you and your classmates sit, each of you awaiting your fate. You look around and see the same emotions you’re experiencing: anxiety, fear, restlessness, even the slight feeling of inadequacy.
The first letters arrive and they’re in gold. The recipients jump up for joy; they have each just been admitted to three great schools. Silver envelopes arrive; the students in this particular set gain admission to two good schools.
The bronze recipients gain admission to one good school. Not many people know the bronze schools — and not many people in this group wanted to go to these schools — but an education is better than none.
Finally, plain envelopes arrive. You’re in this final category and by the feel of it, it’s an empty envelope. Immediately you and your classmates are not on the same playing field anymore. The gold, silver and bronze recipients can share their good fortune, but most of them will not.
When I went through the empathy experiential, I did a lot of reflecting and realized that we face a lot of situations like the one I just laid out.
I have six friends who were nominated for the Robertson Scholars program, but they didn’t get accepted. We went through the same process and they are amazing, extremely gifted individuals. Just before the interview I remember thinking that I do not envy the Robertson panel, because even then, after close to two years of seeing my friends cultivate habits, succeed in their endeavors and make mistakes, I could not easily hand-pick a Robertson scholar from the other.
Empathy means seeking to understand and relate to the feelings, needs and experiences of individuals; it is an extremely advantageous trait to embody. I’ve learned the definition — my entrepreneurial leadership teacher would be so proud right now — but after a while, the meaning really does sink in.
Realistically, we cannot share our good fortune in terms of college acceptances, but we can at least be mindful of those who are less fortunate in the lottery game that is the admissions process.
I know how it feels to work for something and fail to get it — in fact we all do — but occasionally we forget in the midst of ecstatic joy about those around us who tried and did not succeed.
Good luck to all college applicants out there!

Ms. Abdi Yussuf, a Somali student at African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, is one of eight high school seniors around the world who are blogging about their college searches for The Choice. To comment on what she has written here, please use the comment box below.


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