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On college admissions and self-confidence

“I could never get into Duke. I don’t do anything special, I’m not in student government or anything, haven’t started a club, and my ACT score just isn’t high enough.”

A high school junior recently shared these words with me after an information session hosted by the Duke University Office of Undergraduate Admissions. We were in a long line to use the restroom, and while she had initially expressed curiosity about my journey to Duke, the conversation soon began to mirror a counseling session as she began to release some festering anxiety. 

I offered the typical, “there is no test score cutoff that could ever quantify one’s capacity for learning! That’s why Duke has holistic admissions!” but still swallowed hard as the attempted words of reassurance left my mouth. A meek smile on the high schoolers face reflected her continuing inquietude. There was another factor in college admissions I had yet to touch upon.

Regardless of the “qualifications” that indicate whether or not a student would thrive at a university, there is another variable to admissions that to me seems just as important: self-confidence. In other words, without the self-confidence to apply, a potential Blue Devil will never be accepted. My conversation with that high schooler in line, as well as those with my seventeen and sixteen year old sisters, encapsulate both the perils of self-doubt and significance of empowerment.

The purpose of this article, directed at all students in higher-education, is two-fold. First, this is a reminder of our fortune and a call for gratitude in all senses of the word. Second, this is a call to action.

We must always remain cognizant of the fact that there will always be many excluded from the immense opportunities and privileges afforded by our educations. Due to finances, socioeconomic status, geographic situations and other extenuating circumstances, not all deserving people will receive the opportunity to enter these educational spaces.

At the information session I attended, introductory videos depicted a vibrant undergraduate base invigorated by a shared-love of learning, in the service of society, where Blue Devils are united in their enthusiasm and pursuit of excellence. As I reflected upon my experiences with the programs and research opportunities explained throughout the information session, a refreshed sense of gratitude fell upon my shoulders. If we all take time to reflect on our journeys to apply, we all can continually live and learn with grace.

More importantly, this is a call to action. Having a supportive and encouraging mentor is critical in allowing someone to envision themselves at a place they otherwise could not conceive. Mentors are essential in empowering high school students to seek out higher education, begin to understand the SAT and ACT, and walk through the Common Application. 

In other words, mentors are the compasses who direct students to new opportunities and catalyze deliberate engagement. Current university students have the opportunity to work in this capacity by reaching out to their high schools, and even middle schools, and remaining accessible and proactive in cultivating relationships with students who may be interested in attending college. 

We can volunteer in local public schools and offer to hop on the line for a phone call with a distant family friend’s sixteen year old daughter. Your words of encouragement and advice might be the deciding factor between whether or not a student confidently writes a few compelling essays, persists through bureaucratic hurdles in order to waive high testing and application fees, and ultimately submits a college application. 

If my high school counselor had been a little more discouraging, I could easily have given up on applying to schools like Duke. I honestly cannot tell you why I was so committed to applying, especially coming from a high school where no one in the school’s over two-hundred year history had ever been accepted to Duke. But I can tell you that having someone older tell me that I can thrive in a “school like Duke” would have made all the difference.

For those in college today, take this time to reflect on our fortune and the potential that radiates through campus classrooms and halls. And above all, cherish every opportunity to empower the next self-doubting student to believe in their potential to flourish. 

Sabriyya Pate is Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.

Sabriyya Pate

Sabriyya Pate is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.


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