I was introduced to the concept of college through watching A Different World. Since my family and I regularly watched the Cosby Show we also tuned in for Denise’s transition to college. Denise Huxtable left home and lived on campus at Hillman College, a Historically Black College. As a legacy student (both her parents and grandparents graduated from Hillman), Denise learned about Hillman’s expectations from her parents.
As a first-generation college student, I viewed A Different World as the model college experience. The show highlighted various aspects of campus life including residence life, majors outside of being a doctor, lawyer or teacher, and Black Greek Letter Organizations. I gleaned that college was fun, yet challenging. At this juncture in my life, I knew that higher education was in my future. As I grew older, I found that my parents were adamant about me attending a high school that offered a college preparatory curriculum. We also applied to participate in co-curricular programs that would enhance my chances of attending a good school.
During my junior year of high school, I began receiving applications from colleges throughout the nation. Since schools were sending me information, I was confident that I was a shoe-in for their college, right? Therefore, I decided that the school that sent me the most information was my Dream College. I set my sights on moving to Missouri to live my own version of A Different World.
Although I had found my dream college, I still went on college tours, participated in college fairs, and applied to 10 colleges. Throughout my senior year, I learned that I gained acceptance along with either partial or full financial support to 9 of the 10 institutions. I was surprised when I received notification that I DID NOT GET INTO MY DREAM COLLEGE! Not a conditional admit or an interview, they just said, “NO”.
After this major disappointment, I began to carefully consider the other 9 schools. I had not visited many of these schools, so I depended on their brochures for information. After sharing the news with my mother about my dream deferred, we went on a few campus visits. While meeting with a financial aid officer at a college in the southeast, my mother explained that any loans I incurred would be my responsibility to repay. This is the first time during this application process that I had closely considered the cost of attendance and how I could realistically pay for school. As a result of our tours and conversations, I decided to enroll in a small liberal arts institution in my hometown.
My dream school had been right under my nose, and I didn’t know it! This school offered a superb scholarship package including free room and board, and a desktop computer. My classes were challenging and required me to think critically. Moreover, I was a member of a collaborative learning community. Through living on campus I secured a campus job and had time attend faculty office hours. I participated in on-campus activities and developed lifelong relationships with peers.
I am thankful that I did not get accepted into my so-called dream college, and that my real dream college was literally right around the corner from me. Although I did not know what I wanted then, I learned that completing school debt-free was important to me. My institution had a wealth of resources that I could access to be successful in my courses. Also, all of my courses had no more than 25 students. Small class size was important because I like to ask a lot of questions. I had a rewarding experience at my alma mater and remain in contact with professors and other college personnel who were instrumental in my development.
I had a wayward college application process. Albeit weird, I selected a dream college based on which school sent me the most mail. I applied to colleges with no real direction and failed to consider what would fit my personality, skills, interests or learning style. Now that I work with high school students, I encourage them to think beyond school popularity.
For students who are going through the college admissions process, I urge them to think about what they value, and apply to schools based on their needs and interests. Students should spend time on campuses shadowing classes, eating with students, and attending events. I find that when students simulate college life, they begin to learn what they want from their college experience. Conducting this research will help students select a school where they believe they will thrive.
Good luck finding your dream college!