Throughout the year, Sonia Bell writes letters to the new senior class. As Director of College Counseling, she shares bits of wisdom and her highly grounded view of college admissions. Sonia graciously allowed me to share a recent letter to the Class of 2016 (don’t miss the signature…classic Ms. Bell).
I still remember those countless mid-mornings in elementary school when I found myself staring at my lunch tray, which was three quarters filled with food. I was still hungry and wanted so badly to finish the moist and succulent chicken fried steak (remember, this was Decatur, Georgia, where chicken fried steak was a dinnertime staple) but the kids at my table just kept talking about how nasty the cafeteria food was. They would laugh and say that not even prisoners would eat that food. I wanted to say, “maybe prisoners wouldn’t eat this food but I would and in fact, I am going to eat this food” but I was too afraid that I would be made fun of so I left that partially eaten food on the tray and spent the next several days imagining the taste of that strangely breaded food product that I left behind.
I am not in elementary school any more but I feel that same secret anguish when students see a college and they talk about how horrible that college is and how they would never go there and they go on and on and on picking on every little thing they saw that they did not like. In the back of my mind, I am thinking quite the opposite. I saw that school and I loved that school. I even bought a t-shirt that wasn’t on sale at the bookstore and tweeted how much I loved the place so the entire world (or at least those who follow me on Twitter) would know. And I can only imagine how another student, for whom that school is a top choice, must feel hearing a classmate trash the school he or she would be honored to attend. It doesn’t feel any better to hear a student say that College X is her “back up school that she will attend only if she can’t get in anywhere else” while another student would do the happy dance if she could be admitted to College X.
I don’t understand why some people talk about colleges like they talk about music, fashion, television shows or other representations of popular culture. I would be the first to admit that I don’t like techno music, clothing that is way too tight or reality tv. But colleges are academic institutions and they should not be treated as though they are fads that come and go. They are places that give first generation students opportunities that might not be afforded to them otherwise. They are places where discoveries are made that could save lives. They are places where students are challenged to see the world around them in a different way.
So the next time students look at a college and say to themselves, “who would ever want to go here,” I want them to rephrase the question to “I wonder what kinds of students are interested in this school.” I applaud genuine curiosity. I have little tolerance for behavior that degrades the choices and desires of others, even if it is unintentional. So celebrate the college choices of your classmates but more importantly, think about how your comments are going to make others feel.
First Generation College Student
Happy and Quite Fortunate Graduate of Spelman College
US News Ranked #72
Forbes Ranked #273