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Who are you?
I am currently a sophomore at Vanderbilt University. I am a student in the College of Arts and Science, with a double major in public policy and political science. Since my eighth-grade year of middle school, I knew that Vanderbilt was the place for me to pursue my university career. When in high school, it is typical for a student to have tunnel vision and to focus only on the here and now - I did just that. Although I always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to attend Vanderbilt, it was not until the middle of junior year that I began to think seriously about college. When it came time to select which universities to apply to, I had to ask myself three main questions: What aspects in my life were important to me, and did this university offer and match these traits? Would I be challenged academically and socially, and if so, would this challenge ensure positive personal development? And finally, how would I pay for any particular college, meaning would there be scholarships offered, and would I qualify for financial aid?
Despite my longstanding interest in Vanderbilt, answering these questions and making the decision to apply was not so easy. I knew this university would be a great school to continue my education, and yes, I did have a desire to attend the school; however, the reality was my family could not afford for me to attend this university, or so I thought. Although both of my parents did receive undergraduate degrees, and my mother received a master's degree, the full cost of attending Vanderbilt would still be almost one-half of their annual income. In addition, my parents were already paying towards my sister's tuition at another university.
I attended Hunters Lane Comprehensive High School in Nashville and am a graduate of the International Baccalaureate program. My high school was relatively large and had a demographic of primarily African American and Hispanic students. My high school, like many others in urban settings, experienced a great deal of gang violence, and it also had a big problem with drug and alcohol abuse. High school was a mountain that I knew I had to climb and defeat if I was going to be successful in my life. My parents always told me that I must attend college, and that was never an issue for me; what college to attend - that was the great enigma! My eldest sister was attending Howard University, the "Mecca" of all HBCU's (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), in Washington, D.C. My parents never blatantly said, "You must attend an HBCU," however, in every discussion about college it was an obvious undertone. Perhaps my parents wanted me to attend a school where my heritage was not just highlighted during a specific month, but rather attend a university where there was a consistent celebration and teaching of our heritage.
How did you get to where you are today?
My decision to attend Vanderbilt is reaffirmed daily in that I can have pride and understanding of my heritage whether I attend an HBCU or a university like Vanderbilt. My university has taught me to be comfortable with myself and all that makes me "me." Vanderbilt gives me the opportunity to learn about and demonstrate the uniqueness of my heritage. I have learned that the best parts of someone are not always expressed when he or she is surrounded by those who look exactly like them or with whom they have many commonalities. It is diversity and variance that can assist someone in understanding one's self, and foster contentment and pride in that discovery. I know now it is not the outer physical shell that connects people, but rather relationships and friendships - community - built by mental attraction and unified hearts that connects people. I was able to recognize this once I became a student at Vanderbilt. This motto is something to remember for life, and it was with the Vanderbilt community that I learned this very important life-lesson.
Having been part of the Vanderbilt community for two years, I can say that the day I received my admission letter into Vanderbilt, along with my financial aid notification, was one of the most life-altering days I will ever encounter. The generosity of Vanderbilt's financial aid package made it a strong possibility that I would be able to attend Vanderbilt. "Before receiving my [acceptance] letter, I waited in great anticipation; however, in the back of my mind I always felt the odds were against me. I questioned my decision of applying to the university," she said. "Then I thought, 'Even if I did get accepted, how was I going to pay for it?'" My award did consist of a grant, outside scholarships and a non-need-based, unsubsidized student loan. Vanderbilt's financial aid is packaged with the student's best interest in mind. Many people take one look at Vanderbilt and think it is a southern, Ivy-League school where only "trust fund babies" attend; however, that is just not the case. Each student on Vanderbilt's campus is a representative from a different socioeconomic background, and the majority of students are from lower-income and middle-class families. Over 60 percent of students attending Vanderbilt are receiving some source of financial aid, and Vanderbilt meets 100 percent of each student's demonstrated financial need. Although every student is different and some may require more need than others, Vanderbilt works hard to benefit each student's situation in the best possible way.
So, as a high school senior, why did I choose Vanderbilt? It is not just that Vanderbilt suitably answered each of the questions I posed when first looking at colleges, nor that they were able to make it financially possible for me to attend. Most importantly, this university provided me with the greatest satisfaction. I asked myself, "What is important to me, and what brings me the most joy?" I realized that I am most elated when I spend time with family and friends. I value community, and my family and friends are a strong part of what I view as community.
Vanderbilt earned a big, gold star in my book when I discovered that it encourages students and faculty to maximize every opportunity together. The university believes that with every opportunity there is an experience, and each experience is best approached communally. For example, each year a student continues at Vanderbilt, he or she is offered a new experience. As a freshman, one has the First Year Experience. The First Year Experience introduces the AXLE curriculum for Arts and Science students, and has two main programs, VUcept and the House experience. VUcept is a semester-long program that implements diversity and interaction throughout the freshmen class. The class is divided into many groups of 12-15 students and is led by an upperclassman and a faculty member. The group works together to plan different group activities, discussions and community-service opportunities. By receiving such a rock-solid foundation as a freshman, it is easier to transition into being an upperclassman and to create one's own experiences, whether or not those experiences are with a group of friends or flying solo. The House experience, living with a faculty member and his or her family in our house (residence hall) for the first year, compliments the lessons learned during the semester of VUcept.
Where do you see yourself going?
Experiencing opportunities as a community helps develop loyalty, trust and independence. By highlighting the significance of community, Vanderbilt teaches students and faculty that success is created best through working and experiencing events together. Doing so increases the amount we expect from one another and ourselves, and also builds our Vanderbilt community.
Because of Vanderbilt's national academic ranking and well-known reputation, I knew it was a university that would provide a strong challenge for me academically. For this reason, it was a front-runner in my college selection process; however, I was not aware of the amount of social development and maturity I also would experience. Vanderbilt's consistent theme of community-development and interaction creates an environment where being introverted or socially inept would not be an issue. The university understands that each student is unique and not every student will be a social butterfly; however, the university does encourage a student to be oneself and become comfortable in expressing themselves. I have learned and practiced one of life's universal tips at Vanderbilt: I have come to understand that it is not always what you know, but whom you know. Networking is key in assisting me with faculty-student relationships, friendships and undergraduate successes.
I am very proud to say that I attend Vanderbilt University. We encourage more than racial diversity, we also encourage diversity in terms of socioeconomics, religions, lifestyles, heritages and cultures. We, as the Vanderbilt family, want to set ourselves apart from the norm and still achieve excellence. We want to achieve excellence through a common experience and by taking a road that is less travelled.
It would be a cliché if I were to say my road to Vanderbilt required me to overcome many personal obstacles. Although there were rocks in my path, Vanderbilt still remained the goal at the end of my road. I have learned that obstacles are those things that one sees when one takes his or her focus away from the intended goal. If one is not careful, it becomes very easy to concentrate on the obstacles and deter one's self from the path to achieving the goal. A positive attitude and persistence is always necessary for one to achieve his or her goal. With the tender love and care from Vanderbilt and their awesome financial assistance, I was able to reach one of my life's goals, and I just hope others realize they, too, are able to experience the same. GO 'DORES!!!!
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The 2013 Catalog of Effective Practices
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The CollegeKeys Compact: An Open Letter to the Leaders of American Education
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A Review of Barriers, Research and Strategies
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Getting Into College: A Cross-Cohort Examination of College Preparations by Lower-Income Students
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Getting Into College: Postsecondary Academic Undermatch
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