I had never anticipated I would get into an Ivy League university. I only truly began considering myself as a relatively competitive applicant in the tenth grade. I live in a single-parent household and my guardian parent never completed college. As a result, when applying to competitive schools, I tried to keep an optimistic view by hoping for the best— but ultimately expecting the worst. The rush of joy, pride and shock that washed over me when I opened my acceptance letter is a feeling unparalleled to anything I've felt before. However, now that I am almost done with my first year at Yale University, those initial feelings have somewhat been replaced. These are the six things I've learned during my first year at an Ivy League university.
1. An absence of people of color still exists in particular spaces.
Navigating life as a biracial woman in the United States, I was not ignorant of the fact that some people hold bigoted beliefs. Moreover, I know the history of our country and its backbone. However, growing up in New York City cast a shadow over the still existing absence of people of color in particular spaces. I grew up in a place that serves as a home to many different types of people; New York City is diverse in more ways than one. As I currently attend a predominantly White institution, the disparities between the types of opportunities and privileges people receive have become much more striking.
2. Impostors rarely suffer from impostor syndrome.
I often find myself questioning my place at my university. I'm hesitant to speak in fear of getting an answer incorrect or sounding unintelligent. When I realize my thoughts have fallen into this too familiar pattern, I try to remind myself that I was chosen due to my academic ability as opposed to anything else. Especially in light of the recent college admissions scandal, I've found myself realizing that those who arguably may have earned their place in a university seldom consider this fact. Although it is difficult not to feel as if I'm out of my element in such uncharted territory, this year has taught me to find that small voice in my mind that tells me I don't belong with hard work, discipline and self-love.
3. I am the only person who can get me what I want.
I received a lot of help during my college admissions process. I was a part of a non-profit organization geared towards providing first-generation, low-income students with collegiate and professional guidance and experience. I also had the privilege of participating in two free SAT preparation courses. Due to this immense help I was lucky to receive, I entered university thinking the same helping hands would be eager to give as well. I quickly learned that university greatly differs from high school in this way. While there are immense resources available to you on campus, the responsibility falls on you to go out of your way and pursue this guidance. This is something I've struggled with— combating my introversion and apprehension. As a result of this uphill battle, I've learned that if I intend to pursue my professional and personal goals by taking advantage of my place on campus, I need to do it myself. A closed mouth doesn't get fed.
4. Sometimes you have to work twice as hard for half as much.
I've always been a firm believer in the idea that hard work breeds results. I try to live by the law of attraction by speaking the things I want from the world into existence. While I still believe that all things are attainable through hard, honest work and perseverance, I've also taken note of the fact that others may have a head start towards reaching their goal. Rather than discourage me though, I believe that I’ve become more goal-oriented in the long run. Knowing that my goals are within my reach, that I am the only one in the way of what I want to achieve, has inspired a drive in me that I am trying to turn into results.
5. The best way to learn is through experience.
In addition to all the things I anticipated before starting college, there are a number of things I hadn't even been aware of. By being first-generation, I lacked a familial figure that could share their college experience with me. I watched numerous YouTube videos and read many stories of those in university prior to matriculation in efforts to see what I should expect. Yet I've learned the most through being on campus and navigating my first-year. There were a number of clubs, classes and resources that I had been exposed to that I had not even considered possible. This has shown me that the best way to learn is through experience itself.
6. There is a history of pivotal figures and revolutionaries that paved this path.
The most significant lesson I've learned is that in addition to the many hours I spent working hard to be able to attend this university, there is a history of pivotal figures and revolutionaries behind me that paved this path. While there is still work to do to allow for PWI's and the institution of college as a whole to become more accessible and equitable for all individuals, if not for those before us, many of us would not even be able to attend university. This lesson instills in me a desire to succeed. Whenever I question my place on campus I reflect on all the hard work that allowed me to even be considered for admission.
I mentioned that universities were originally intended to only educate a particular type of individual. In spite of this fact, this is no longer the case. Immigrants, people of color, women, etc., are now able to attend these institutions and further their aspirations and careers, whatever that means to them. It has taken a lot for the institution of education to reach this point. Moreover, the change we wish to see falls on us, those who were originally excluded from the table. While I never anticipated my admission to a top-tier institution, as I'm sure many others didn't either, my presence and the presence of those like me are a representation of a future that is in our reach. Rather than questioning my place at my university, I'm going to opt to ponder how I can use my privilege of being able to attend such a school to give back, being the change I wish to see in the world. I suggest you do the same.