Remember what it felt like to endure the dreaded college application season? Most likely, you don’t want to remember the pain and stress that came with all of the tests and forms. There was so much uncertainty during that time, which was why the Vassar College Urban Education Initiative established Exploring College. Through this program, current Vassar students guide local high school students through the process of finding and applying to their perfect school.
This past Wednesday, Exploring College brought 10 Poughkeepsie High School students to campus for Shadow Day, an event that allowed them to attend classes and experience a day in the life of a college student.
The Exploring College Fellow and Vassar alum Weintana Abraha ’11 who coordinated the event stated, “What I think Shadow Day can offer them is the opportunity to spend a lot of one-on-one time with role models who have been through the college application process very recently.”
She went on, “Exploring College provides after school tutoring twice a week, monthly Wednesday workshops for each grade (9-12), and biweekly writer’s workshops and SAT prep sessions.”
Abraha said, “Many of our students are first-generation college bound and our Wednesday workshops educate them on the various resources available to them.”
Most first-generation college students are never exposed to the opportunities awaiting them at college. And unfortunately, once they get to college, they have not the slightest idea of what kind of environment awaits them.
Besides attending classes, the students that participated in Shadow Day also visited the Career Development Office, toured the Ulysses Cylinders Exhibit in the library, and participated in a panel discussion about college expectations and experiences.
Shadow Day definitely gave these students more hands-on experience on a college campus. One student, Maria Lopez, explained “I went to an Arabic class and a psych class, and the dynamic of the classes and conversations really opened my eyes. I really enjoyed the one-on-one aspect of the class and fact that the professor didn’t have to stick to a strict schedule.”
Another student, Tamika Mincey, discussed all of the help Exploring College has provided her with since her freshman year. “This program definitely got me on the right track,” she stated.
Along with the students, the Exploring College volunteers could also see the results this program has on its participants. Seung Hwun Baang ’18 said, “Poughkeepsie High is a really underfunded school. Unlike most of the students at Vassar who were motivated and exposed to resources during high school, the students I work with do not have the path paved for them.”
Baang continued that the program provides a platform for students who otherwise wouldn’t have the same opportunities. “I see students who are so dedicated but don’t know how to reach their goal, and this program offers them an answer to all of their questions,” she said.
All of these resources serve to prepare students for applying to college, but the panel discussion during Shadow Day served as a reminder of what to expect once they get there.
Cody Harmon ’19, Roger Vera ’18 and Kayla Fisher ’17 sat as a part of the panel that gave students insight into what their college experience has been like, and broached topics that many colleges don’t answer for applicants.
The issue of feeling like these students belong on campus was a heavy topic during the panel. Harmon started off this discussion by saying, “It’s tough to get a letter that says you’re accepted, but then you get here and you realize you’re really not.”
Fisher told the students, “There are so many issues that come along with being in an elite and predominantly white space. These places have explicitly limited people like me from attending, and in some ways, they still do.” She added, “However, being in this space has taught me how to express these feelings, and that’s something you should remember.”
Vera stated, “The first day of orientation was the first day I felt unwelcomed. These institutions weren’t made for people like us, and that’s something you aren’t told when applying.”
When it came to the issue of picking the right school, Fisher stated, “I can tell you all about my experiences, but in the end, you have to come to your own conclusions, and you should pick a place you know you’ll feel comfortable and happy.”
All of the panelists emphasized the importance of asking questions because, as Abraha shared with the students, “It’s important to feel empowered and claim your school as your own.”
The first step to doing this is to know what to expect once you get to school. This is the service that the Exploring College hopes to offer.
Fisher stated, “It’s refreshing to know that you’re already asking these questions because that’s something so many of us didn’t do.”
It is opportunities like Shadow Day that so many high school students are never exposed to before they step on a college campus, whether it’s Vassar’s campus or any of them across the country.
Through the Exploring College program, Vassar is taking steps to change this problem in Poughkeepsie.