Once I finally applied and got into Columbia, I was shocked, elated, and overjoyed. But at the same time, I feared that I wouldn’t be supported by the institution that I had so deeply desired to attend. And this fear has proven to be true—not only do I continue to face challenges on this campus, but I am burdened with the too-large responsibility of helping students from my former high school apply to Columbia. As a full-time student balancing a rigorous Ivy League course load, it is unacceptable that I have to shoulder the load of serving as the point person for my high school.
Unlike most Columbia students, I went to an all-girls, Title I, single-floor high school called Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice, located in a predominately Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in south Brooklyn. A Title I is a school where 40 percent or more of the students come from low-income families, and, as a result, the school uses federal funds to institute school-wide programs to help students meet state standards. Most of us come from low-income families of color. I had to work against all the odds that were stacked up against me—the lack of extracurriculars, funding, and college readiness programs.
Despite all of these challenges, I wanted to prove to myself and to my community that despite all the barriers placed before me, I could and would make it. My immigrant parents relied on me to fulfill the “American dream” and to be successful, and I wanted that dream for myself as well. It seemed to me that Columbia had the opportunities and the platform not only to aid my dreams and fulfill my aspirations, but also those of my parents.
I quickly came to realize that despite my diligent efforts with making do with what I had, it wasn’t what I was doing wrong, but what prestigious universities like Columbia failed to do: reach out to Title I New York City high schools. This lack of communication between Ivy League institutions and Title I schools is reflected in Columbia’s socioeconomic statistics.
Columbia admissions representatives never once came to my school.
Because of this, I now receive countless emails and calls from prospective students at my high school asking me about the Core Curriculum, the entirety of my Columbia experience, and even University statistics. It has become tedious and overwhelming for me to encompass everything that I experience into an email for the many students asking questions. Academics at Columbia are challenging enough—I could be devoting my time to studying, but, instead, I am answering phone calls and emails in which students repeatedly ask similar questions. These questions that they ask are what university admissions representatives are meant to answer.
But I understand why these students want to ask me questions. I wish that I had been better informed of the different opportunities and experiences so that I could have had an easier time applying to the school. This is exactly why it is crucial for Columbia to establish and maintain relationships with high schools like mine, so that we feel supported during this grueling application process. Many of us at Title I schools deserve access to prestigious universities such as Columbia but lack the necessary support and resources to get through the arduous college application process.
Columbia needs to do a better job of reaching out to these low-income public high schools. Students from elite private schools such as Exeter and Andover are already at an advantage when applying to Ivy League schools because Columbia has historically paid more attention to those students, but it doesn’t have to continue to be that way. As a university that resides in New York City, Columbia should prioritize and recruit students from local public schools. They should focus on the intellectually diverse student body that already exists here, regardless of socio-economic standing.
Not only am I frustrated with having to shoulder the burden of working as a pseudo-admissions representative for these students, I am also frustrated because students who have the potential to attend this school don’t even apply because they don’t have enough information at hand. The school’s website can only do so much.
With its silence, Columbia continues to communicate that students from my high school and others like it don’t belong and aren’t welcome here. And while being on this campus is a privilege and one that I will forever be grateful for, all students—regardless of their school and their family socio-economic status—deserve to be informed about the amazing opportunities that exist here. The best way to address this issue is to send representatives to underrepresented NYC public schools to hold information sessions, and invite schools to campus so that students can have the opportunity to learn more.
There are so many students yearning to learn more about Columbia; sometimes all is takes is a helping hand.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in History and MESAAS.
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