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The Mirror

The student website of Van Nuys High School
Van Nuys, California
The Student News Site of Van Nuys High School

The Mirror

The Student News Site of Van Nuys High School

The Mirror

Back to reality: Your dream college might not be the right fit for you

Attending a prestigious school like Harvard is the dream of many high schoolers, but for most, it may be better to set sights on a community college instead.
ROCKY ROAD A collage of pamphlets for colleges across the state. For many students, going to a prestigious university is a dream of theirs. However, the path to college can be overwhelming.

Dreams are a great thing to have. But sometimes they don’t align with reality. 

Many students yearn to be accepted by an institution that is valued highly by society, like many Ivy Leagues.

“There are many students who shop for a name-brand school and that’s kind of their way of doing business,” May Banks, a college admissions officer from Quad Education, said. “Everybody wants to go to Harvard but not everybody is going to get into Harvard.” 

Though Ivy League Colleges can be the most idolized universities for graduating seniors, out of the multitude of those who do apply, many don’t get in. The acceptance rate for Ivy Leagues is between 2.5% and 9% and no matter how much you or your parents want to believe that you’re one in a million, you may not be part of that bracket.

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Not all dreams come true and in college admissions, your chances of acceptance are based on the reality of your life and situation, not what you dream or wish they were. Seniors need to snap into reality and realize that this is real life, you’re not living in your dreams.

Banks explains that the first years of college for any student are always an eye-opening experience. Students receive a new type of freedom that they’ve never experienced; for some, it might be detrimental to their success. Going to a two-year community college to get comfortable with the idea and routine of a college education might be more progressive.

Though community college isn’t ideally what comes to mind for most students when they envision their dream college experience, Banks explains that it’s easier to make mistakes in a community college where the stakes and tuition are lower.

While it is not a path that many find ideal, it’s a path that many students take. Around 32% of high school graduates in California enroll in a California Community College and Banks explains that there’s nothing wrong with that. 

“I think we have to encourage young people to have an open mind and to know that even if they go to a two-year community college, they can always transfer to a four-year school, saving themselves money,” she said.

When considering a dream college it’s also important for one to understand their financial situation. While scholarships and grants can help greatly, Banks recommends having serious conversations with your parents because though it’s just you going to college, you’re not the only one paying for it.

“I think that the first thing that parents need to do is to be honest with their students about financial situations,” Banks said. “And if the best thing for the family is going to a community college for two years, then so be it. Besides, over two years, you’ll be working and doing summer work, and then maybe you’ll be able to consider transferring to a more expensive school. It’s the family situation that has to come first.”

Banks stresses that if this necessary conversation is not had, it can be detrimental to students and their families’ lifestyles.

“You must talk with your family otherwise, you’re haphazardly applying to all these schools that are going to cost $60,000 a year,” she explained. “It’ll take you a long time to make up for the debt that some students incur and, and graduate overwhelmed with debt. It’s a formula and you have to know what your family is capable of.”

Once it’s decided upon what you and your family’s idea of a dream college is, whether it be a community college, a UC, or a private school, the next step is figuring out how to make your dream school see you as their dream student.

It’s a fair trade: you want to go to a college that will aid you in your quest for a career in whatever area you might be seeking, and the college wants someone who can benefit both their pockets and their reputation.

“It isn’t just about one test, it isn’t just about your GPA, it’s about the whole person and what you will bring to the cohort, to the group of admitted students at University X at College Y,” Banks said. “What are you going to do while you’re on campus? How are you going to make the University you’re applying to a better place? How are you going to give back, not just monetarily, but will you help to create possibilities for making a difference on campus?” 

When applying to colleges, it’s important to understand that universities want to know who their applicants are and why these applicants are interested in their institution. The point of your common app essay is to make your college equally as interested in you.

“The common application essay has seven choices and the seventh one is an option where you can take the essay wherever,” Banks explained. “So you have to start thinking about who you are as a person and what you’re going to bring to the table. And those boxes are what the admissions office looks for. And then they start looking at who the applicant is based on their essays.”

While things like your SAT, ACT and GPA are important things in the application process, colleges are looking for more than that. They’re looking for applicants who are willing to make a change in their university and around the world and they want to see that these applicants believe in the causes that they’re fighting for and the degrees they’ll be earning.

“You need that unique perspective in your college essays because colleges don’t want every man, they want unique individuals who have had significant events in their life that have made them global citizens who have made them empathetic, who have made them able to unite with people who are different,” she said.

If you keep dreaming about who you wish you were, your perception of who you are now will be tainted which will make it difficult to present yourselves to these universities. 

Though it might be difficult, Banks encourages showing these colleges who you are through what you’ve done and will continue to do. She explains that college admissions don’t want just to see your grade book and standardized test results. When they look at your Common App essays, they want to see you. They want to know who they are letting in on their campus.

“It’s not easy to set yourself apart when you’re in Kansas and everybody looks just like you,” Banks said. “It’s hard to differentiate yourself is what I’m trying to say and with affirmative action, it’s becoming significantly more challenging.”

You can have a perfect SAT and ACT score as well as a perfect GPA, but so do the thousands of Harvard and UCLA applicants so you need to have things that set you apart from these people. 

“Thousands of students want to go to Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Stanford,” she said. “A perfect SAT score is nothing. Many of the students applying have perfect SATs, perfect ACTs and 4.8 GPAs, they speak three different languages, they’ve started two businesses, you name it, they’ve done it. It’s a waste of ink and time to apply if you’re on the borderline.”

She explains that when you set yourself apart from other applicants, even with not-so-perfect standardized test scores, you might have a chance.

“You have to be aware that your chances of getting in are already slim to none when applying to these Ivy Leagues,” she explained. “But you do it anyway because you’ve always wanted to spend time on Stanford’s campus. So you apply and your application gets noticed because you are different, you are ambitious, you are smart, you have an incredible performance history in either music or sports or you’ve written a book already.”

Your grades cannot be the only thing defining who you are, Banks stressed.

“One of my friends was the director of admissions at Dartmouth. He denies admission to at least 500 valedictorians a year,” she said.

This puts it into perspective as your essays and your ability to let a college know how wonderful you are have a significant effect on your chances of admission.

“Most programs, either overtly or subtly, are looking for students who want to make the world a better place,” Banks said. “Those who want to change the world, who aren’t happy with the status quo, not rebels without a cause, but students who believe in the causes they are fighting for.”

While each school is different, they all ultimately want the same thing; students who are unique and can bring change. She uses her grandson as an example to show that it’s not just what the school offers you, it’s also what you can offer the school.

“Schools want athletes, schools want musicians, schools want mathematically talented students,” she said. “My grandson goes to Oberlin College in Ohio and it has a conservancy where many famous people went and perfected their singing and musical skills but he has none of that. I don’t think he’s ever sung anything other than Happy Birthday, but they let him in because he was a baseball player.”

Colleges want to understand what kind of leader you are and how you can make someone change their mind about something based on your beliefs. While there’s no specific recipe for guaranteed admission, the best way to ensure you are being considered and noticed in the sea of thousands of applicants is to have a passion project or something that signifies how you want to change the world.

“Schools don’t want just followers, they want leaders,” Banks said. “They want somebody who’s going to make a difference on campus and in the classroom. Not someone who’s raising their hand just because they are going to say irrelevant things, but someone who’s going to be able to take the discussion in a direction and positively influence their classmates. The college application process forces us to really come to terms with who we are.”

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About the Contributor
Olamide Olumide
Olamide Olumide, News/Features Editor
From writing stories at the back of my elementary school notebooks to my unhealthy obsession with law-themed shows, (especially Lucifer), I've always loved telling and reading stories. As a returning staff member to the Mirror publication, I intend to explore my interest in writing in a more in-depth way as well as reporting stories in a dynamic and interesting perspective. Besides writing and law, I'm an absolute sucker for the kpop industry.
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