Meet the Class is an opportunity for students, parents, educators, and admissions professionals to get a look at individual seniors and what they go through to find their college.
It’s updated monthly from September to May. Each month will feature an interview about both the facts and the feelings of where the student is in the process.
Interviews may be edited lightly for clarity and grammar. Names may be changed to protect privacy.
In the first post in the series, we met Grace. Now it's time to meet Jack. Jack actually goes to the same high school as Grace. I had people from all over the country express interest in taking part in Meet the Class, but the only two who were able to commit to it were these two from the same school.
Tell me about your school.
My school is a magnet high school specifically for students identified as “Gifted and Talented.” Right now, it has around 650 students, and each incoming class has a quantity of students that’s bound to settle on a number that’s somewhat significantly lower than where it first started--it’s to my understanding that my school purposefully over-enrolls to account for the large number of students who drop out or transfer in later semesters. This school is particularly challenging as most classes are only available at their highest level (for example: I can only take Pre-AP English I rather than “regular” English I), and because it’s easy to feel disoriented as a student who’s used to being “on top” while barely studying (or not studying at all) to get by.
I want to say that almost almost 100% of graduates go on to college. I think that most students go on to attend the local, large public schools, especially the University of Houston, the University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M at College Station. There are always a few kids (maybe between 2 and 5?) that go on to very elite and prestigious schools--Columbia, Brown, Stanford, Rice and Yale come to mind. Lastly, there’s a handful that’s scattered around the map attending a variety of institutions from small liberal arts colleges to big, out-of-state public schools.
Is college preparation a big deal in your high school? Do people talk about college a lot? Is it assumed that you will, or even might, go to college?
I think that most students have vague notions of where they should be and what they should be doing as college applicants--there’s not a lot of handholding or any formal or structured form of college guidance until part of senior year--but even so, for many, college is what grounds a lot of the decisions that students make: which classes to take, which clubs to be involved in, what opportunities to take part of, which teachers to get close to, etc. I think that there’s not only an expectation made by the school, but also a generally universal assumption made by my peers, that most if not all of the student population is guaranteed to attend some college after graduating.
How much direct instruction about college applications or choosing a college have you got from your school, either from teachers or from counselors?
Short presentation series are conducted by the school counselors to go over the college process, which includes how to prepare yourself to be a competitive college applicant, how to search for colleges and explore career paths, and how to apply for college. These presentations are given once per year and are customized by grade level. Beyond that, there’s no structured form of reinforcement, except for a required one-on-one session during junior and senior year, and it’s up to the students to do their own research and explore the process.
Can you think of any good advice you've received about college applications from anyone at your school?
I can’t think of any advice specific to college applications, but there’s one piece of advice I value regarding standing out as a competitive college applicant. I think it’s important to genuinely go through high school in a mindset that allows for growth and exploration. While I think it’s okay to allow college to have some influence on your decisions, it might be best for most students to take classes that are genuinely interesting for them and join clubs that are genuinely fulfilling. I think it can get really toxic when students overload on AP courses, or, inversely, take easy 5-point classes in the hopes that it would look especially impressive on college applications, or if students establish clubs that don’t hold a lot of meaning for them in the hopes of looking well-rounded. These strategies could result in incohesive applications with generic responses. I think that genuinely going through high school--committing to certain interests, getting good grades in classes you care about--will not only help stand out in making an application sound more authentic and cohesive, but it can also be a more rewarding and healthy experience for the student.
Are there any colleges that you're sure you'll apply to? Is one of them your "dream school"?
I’m almost definitely sure I’m applying to Occidental College. I really wanted a liberal arts college in a metropolitan area, and Occidental was just perfect. Their financial aid is great, I love LA, and I would genuinely love to be a part of the college community, even if it’s one of my safeties. Brown University, Pitzer College, American University, Tufts University, and Oberlin College are also at the top of my list, but the fact that I haven’t visited any of these institutions is holding me back from being 100% committed to applying; I want to be sure that these schools would actually be good fits for me--what if I don’t like the area or the community? I might plan on applying to these institutions anyway and then visit later through fly-ins that I’d hopefully get into. U of H and UT Austin are also schools where I’m more-or-less committed to apply. These local schools are just less of a hassle to get into and it’s very likely that these would become the most affordable schools for me.
What other colleges are you thinking of applying to?
Rice University, University of Southern California, Wesleyan University, Reed College, Yale University, and Clark University are also on my mind. I’d need to do some more research to see if they’d be a good fit for me. Some things like diversity, community, and location are holding me back from applying to some of these schools.
What colleges have you visited or toured? Did any of them stand out as being especially good or bad?
When I went to California to visit family, I was able to visit Pomona College, Stanford University, and Occidental College. I could only visit a limited number of colleges during our vacation, so these were schools (especially Occidental and Pomona) that I really wanted to see.
Pomona College let me down a little. Their diversity resources could be better, and I wasn’t sure if Claremont was a good place to be for me--it seemed to me like a big bougie bubble.
On the other hand, II fell in love with Occidental. The community seemed really genuine, there seemed to be a considerable emphasis on the humanities which I value greatly, and the campus was just beautiful. They offered two unique majors that I learned about during my visit that really piqued my interest: Media Arts and Culture, and Critical Theory and Social Justice. Learning about those programs helped Occidental really stick in my mind.
Stanford was more-or-less what I expected. It was a beautiful campus that was of course very well-resourced. I kept it off my list just because I already had a lot of reach schools that I thought were better-suited for me, and because Stanford just seemed to be more STEM-oriented, which i wasn’t interested in.
I also toured liberal arts colleges in Massachusetts during the summer before my junior year as part of the EMERGE program (a college-access program for minority, low-income, and first-generation students). I visited Hampshire College, Amherst College, UMASS Amherst, Yale, MIT, and Harvard. While I’ve always liked the concept of a liberal arts college, I learned early on that I could not at all picture myself at a school in the middle of a woods. Yale, MIT, and Harvard were beautiful, and the surrounding areas seemed so cosmopolitan to me. MIT especially struck me as a campus with a really creative and entrepreneurial student body, and I learned that that’s something I wanted to look out for in other colleges during my college research process.
What are the main things you're looking for in a college?
I’m looking for 4-year schools that are diverse, have an emphasis on the humanities, and can also allow my to explore my interests in entrepreneurship, design, the arts, and music. My ideal school has a flexible curriculum and is surrounded by cultural institutions and/or an active arts scene.
Have you talked with your family about money? Do you know how much you can afford to pay per year? Do you know how college will be paid for?
I’ve been asking my dad about our financial situation and what kind of colleges we could afford, and he was able to break down our family budget after I’ve pestered him enough (this was a very long process), so I have some idea of what we can afford. Right now, I’m looking out for colleges with close to 100% need met and am just hoping for the best when I apply; hopefully I can figure out the rest when the financial aid packages come.
How are you feeling about college applications?
I think I feel more assured than a lot of my peers because EMERGE has really helped me with the college process by providing constant guidance and a regular space to dispel any of my concerns and misconceptions. I still feel a little bit anxious because I really need to finish up my essay, pin down who I’m asking for my recommendation letters and how, and apply to more scholarships, but I still feel like I have time and I’m in control for now. I’m just a little worried that I won’t be as proactive as I can be (as has historically been the case for me), but I’m confident that I’ll get everything I need done eventually, and I have comfort in knowing that thousands of other students are going through this same process.
What do you not know about this process that you wish you did? What would you change about the past few years to be more prepared for this?
I wish I formed better relationships with my teachers. It feels awkward to ask for recommendation letters when you feel like you could’ve done more in their class or tried just a bit harder. I wish I just knew how my teachers have perceived me in their class so I know exactly who to ask and how!
Thanks for reading! The next interview with Jack will come out in October.
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