“My suitemate told me that one of her friends in high school is staying with her while she visits Yale this weekend. Who even visits schools their junior year?” I listen to a girl exclaim to her friend. “I don’t even think I visited any colleges before I got accepted!” the other one responds as both of them are overcome with laughter.
I pull my headphones over my ears in discomfort, blocking them out. Are there really people who are so confident in their chances of admission that they ridicule those who make additional efforts in their uncertainty? Obviously, there are social norms to follow when applying to colleges like Yale — we don’t contact admissions officers regarding our applications each day or visit campuses each week. However, as I drown out their conversations with my “All About the 2000s” playlist, I begin to wonder: How much of an effect does one’s certainty in their admission to a place like Yale have on the stress and effort put into the application process? Does that affect our experience at the institution we choose to attend, even after the golden ticket is won?
As a student from a low-income public school, certainty within the college admissions process was a scarce luxury. Even the most high-performing students — valedictorians and honor-roll students — knew that nothing was guaranteed for them, even their “safety” schools. Everything we wanted, we earned ourselves. Petitioning for school-sanctioned college trips, after-school test preparation programs and fee waivers for entrance exams were all a part of the fight to merely apply to the colleges we longed for. Nothing was guaranteed if not worked for. It is because of all this that I believe that getting into college, into an institution that my parents never even dreamed of, serves as a triumph in and of itself.
This makes me wonder what the admissions process is like for students who have a financially sturdy, highbrow background. Does the knowledge that one’s parents have the resources and reputations to help them get anywhere they want to go gift one with a sense of tranquility during the admissions process? Does this feeling of belonging at places like Yale translate to their on-campus experience? Does the unpredictability of the same process for low-income students alter their experience otherwise?
If getting into our school of choice is a dream come true, when do we wake up? What is it that melts this feeling of fantasy, making us feel like we’ve earned our place here? When I first got to Yale, I had an almost ethereal view of it. There was an unparalleled pride in being able to say that I attended Yale, words that were almost sweet to say. Yet, it slowly became as toxic as it was fantastical. Seeing one’s presence on this campus as an illusion is inherently accompanied by a lack of certainty in one’s existence. This uncertainty manifests itself into impostor syndrome, an inability to ask for help, the guilt of leaving family behind.
There are some things that simply are; some people simply have better odds than others at getting where they want to be. Yet, despite the fact that the nature of our lives before Yale were often beyond our control, getting into Yale is a magnificent accomplishment that we have all earned in one way or another. The nature of our acceptance, and what led up to it, inevitably affects the nature of our experience and whether we feel a sense of belonging here. As opposed to dwelling on how we were able to get into the school of our choice, we should focus on the fact that we’ve made it to a place that is bursting at the seams with both opportunity and inspiration.
While it’s important to never forget where we came from — the fights we fought, the people who supported us, the burdens we bore — it’s also important to not let that define our experience after we get here. It’s up to us to claim places like Yale for ourselves and to lift up our communities in the process. In the midst of all that, we need to remember that we belong here, in every little way.
Leila Jackson is a first year in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .