FT: Access needs to continue after an acceptance letter-Access to college, to resources, to tools, to mentors, to skills, to careers.
Ten years ago, in August 2005, I started college. In these ten years I’ve gone through so many life experiences that have contributed to the person I have become (and the person I am still becoming.) I was a wide-eyed, enthusiastic first year, ready to conquer college. Now I’m a more realistic (but still idealistic), passionate, grown Chicana who is much more experienced and much less naive. I feel like I am continually working on being a more authentic “me,” and am proud of my views, beliefs, and convictions, which are so much more developed than when I was 18 years old. College and graduate school gave me language to describe the views and opinions that I was not always successful at expressing or putting into words.
Who I am affects the way that I view and experience my environment and the world around me; but what about experiences I’ve already had, before I had all of that nifty language to describe how I felt or what I believed? Applying different lenses or filters to past experiences and interactions has led to some interesting new realizations about my interactions and experiences in college.
So how does this all relate to the topic of access? While I have a professional interest in students’ access to higher education, I also really felt that I connected personally with the #sachat theme. If you look at my bio in my Twitter profile, some select words I’ve chosen to describe what I’m about include: social justice, access, equity, and leadership. I didn’t understand what “access” was as a young person applying to and finding my way through college. Looking back now thorough my new filters and lenses, I can see that while I was motivated and intelligent, as a first-generation college student I just was not aware of all of my options and all that my time in college had to offer. By offering me admission and a scholarship, my university helped me get past the hurdle of accessing higher education. Accessing everything that my school had to offer though, was left to me to figure out…but how can you sort through your options and opportunities if you don’t know what they are?
I’ve worked at institutions that attract a high caliber of students and have very competitive admissions processes. Many of these students seek out as many mentors, study abroad opportunities, internships, and fellowships as they can. Part of my roles at these institutions has been to have working knowledge of the many opportunities available to students. Being a student affairs professional (and student affairs grad) has shown me what students affairs and higher education can be, and how we can support students with access issues. Our work doesn’t end with a student’s acceptance letter. If anything, our work with access should begin after that acceptance letter. If we want to increase access for students from underrepresented backgrounds, why would we not assume that they also need support with accessing all that their new school has to offer them?
Thankfully I managed to connect with enough supportive people during my time as an undergraduate that I maintained my scholarship, and graduated with a decent GPA within 4 years. I didn’t really have a plan for after graduation though, other than “get a job.” I knew graduate school was an option, but had never spoken to anyone about the best steps to take to get there. I had a student affairs-type job as an undergrad, but never received advisement relating to getting a job or internship relating specifically to my majors. I can’t say that I graduated and actually had any mentors to turn to for advice. I was a part of the honors college, where I think they just expected everyone to be self-motivated, knowledgeable, and over-achievers. Now I know (and encourage my students about) how important it is to get to know professors, staff, and administrators. As an 18 year-old young woman though, the idea of attending a small luncheon with the dean of the honors college seemed crazy to me– what the heck could I possibly get out of attending such an awkward event? Now of course, I know that developing a relationship like that could be very beneficial (mentorship, recommendation letter, etc.) As a first generation student, I just couldn’t fully grasp what all of my opportunities were, or even if they were meant for me. If I’d had a student affairs professional or other mentor there to support and encourage me, I may have found my way after graduation much more easily.
I’ve applied a lot of what I have learned as a students affairs professional toward thinking about my experiences as a student, but I try to not dwell on “what could have been.” What I do try to focus on is recognizing when students need the extra support that I could have used when I was an undergrad. I believe that ensuring access should be seen as an ongoing process that we support students with throughout their time in college. A student’s success in achieving admission to an institution does not mean that success in college will come automatically, but if we work towards making all resources and opportunities accessible to them, hopefully we can help make success during and after college more obtainable.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Craig Bidiman on Supporting #SAGrad Success