GERTLER: What we can offer

Some say knowledge is the only thing that increases when shared. I would include in that category infectious diseases and Gangnam Style, but it certainly is an impressive and exclusive list. Regardless of your health or your horse dance, every one of you reading this has immoderate skill in your strongest academic areas, as well as talent at applying to college you’ll never use again — unless you give it away. Each year in the United States, some three million people enroll as undergraduates for the first time. But many enter unprepared; they take remedial math and English courses, are overwhelmed by independent life or find themselves trapped for years in lecture halls without ever meeting a professor face-to-face.

We, in a small way, can change this.

Only 1350 freshmen entered Yale this year, and unless someone funds the new colleges tomorrow, that number will not change much before we graduate. Thanks to Adopt-a-Prefrosh and Bulldog Days, most of these future Yalies will know roughly what they are in for, and their own resourcefulness will take them far. However, most of us come from high schools where juniors are preparing applications to every sort of school, and where seniors of all stripes are preparing to leave home. In my own school, there are at least one hundred students per class who head straight to college after graduating. Most of them spend very little time with a guidance counselor; many are completely unfamiliar with college academics and college life. When they arrive, many will panic, suffering unnecessary confusion as they are swallowed by a more-or-less impersonal state college system or struggle to find meaning in their coursework.

We should adopt them.

It’s likely that you know some high schoolers well, especially if you’re a freshman or sophomore. Maybe they’re siblings, old friends or teammates. When was the last time you spoke to them about college? Perhaps it was recent; if you’re at Yale, you probably had a strong role in your school’s community, and helped advise a group of kids who looked up to you for your mind or skill or personality. But what about those you didn’t know? Many might be going it alone. Maybe their parents will help with the Common App; maybe they’ll take a pricey SAT course that will get them over that particular hurdle. But imagine the boost they’d get from an older student offering an extra set of eyes for an essay, someone to help them with a pre-college shopping list, someone to explain the virtues of small classes and office hours and whatever other lessons you’ve learned since you got here. Your contribution may be small, but thanks to the massive knowledge disparity between 17-year-olds and 20-year-olds, it could have an outsized impact.

I taught SAT classes last summer, which made it relatively easy to find students interested in learning more about college than their parents could remember. Since then, a week rarely goes by when I’m not commenting on an essay, recommending books and blogs or just giving disaffected youngsters a glimpse of the light at the end of the high school tunnel. But even if you don’t have tutoring experience, you are a resourceful reader, and there are many roads to mentorship.

One such road: Email your guidance counselor(s) or favorite teachers. Tell them you’re looking for students with college hopes who may need extra help along the way. Give them your contact information. It will take five minutes and the upside is very high.

Less formally, ask high school friends whether they know anyone who might want advice. Set up a Facebook conversation or phone call or email exchange. You’re two degrees of separation from dozens of people with questions you can answer.

Final idea for now: Make a status, or a post in your high school Facebook group, along these lines: “If anyone from [your school here] wants help with a college or scholarship application essay, or has any questions about college they want to ask, I’m happy to help!” Tag some friends so they’ll spread the word.

If you don’t have the time, that’s understandable. But I think of mentoring as a personal, flexible  version of one of the dozen Dwight Hall programs that work with New Haven schools, but make you sign forms and set a consistent weekly time and all the rest. We live in a world where sharing knowledge is very, very easy. Take advantage.

Aaron Gertler is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at aaron.gertler@yale.edu .

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