The College Application Process Is as Grueling as Ever Take It From This Ambitious Teen
Mariam holding up her Columbia swag.
Kids are facing a lot of pressure but theyre more motivated than ever to change the world.
Its that time of year again! A time fueled by anxiety, anticipation, and preparation at least for high school seniors, that is. Students all over the country are checking the mail (or their email, since its 2023) frantically in search of college acceptance letters, or if they know where theyre going already, theyre preparing for the new beginning that is post-high school life, and saying goodbye to simpler times. Theyre taking prom pictures, trying on graduation gowns, and most importantly hoping for good news from the colleges of their choice.
In New York City, Harlem Village Academies High School student Mariam just received her own life-changing acceptance letter from Columbia University. This would be a huge achievement for any teen, but its especially poignant because Mariams immigrant parents made massive sacrifices for their daughter to have the best education possible. And Harlem Village Academies has delivered since they offer an International Baccalaureate (IB) program, Mariam has been exploring resources typically only offered to private school students. Katie, whos involved with Harlem Village Academies, was quick to celebrate this win.
I have been a proud member of the board of the Harlem Village Academies for more than a decade, Katie says. I am so impressed with the students and Deborah Kenny, the dedicated founder and chief executive of HVA.
While all the students made huge strides, Katie was especially moved by Mariams achievement: When [Kenny] told me Mariam had been accepted to Columbia, I was so thrilled for her. Her story inspires me and gives me so much hope for the future. Katies also intrigued by the pressure put upon youth by the college application process and wanted to hear firsthand what its like for teens right now she also spoke to Frank Bruni about the grueling admissions madness and what it asks of our youth.
Katie Couric: What was your first reaction when you got the news that you would be heading to Columbia in the fall?
At first, I didnt believe I got in! I told my best friend, Michelle, and she was so happy for me. She knew how hard I was working and what this meant for my family. I need to stay in New York because my mom and my brother depend on me.
Tell me about your family and where your family is from.
My family comes from West Africa out of Guinea and Sierra Leone, I have a big family who came to the U.S. because of the war in Sierra Leone. They came for better opportunities. But none of them received an education beyond primary school.
What were some of the challenges of coming to a new country?
I was born here but from what they tell me, leaving behind family and childhood was a challenge as well as adapting to a new culture. Being in a place where the values and atmosphere were different was hard. Finding work was challenging as well.
Tell me about your love of learning. Do you have a favorite subject?
My favorite subject is history. The classes here are a lot of work, but it helps us see what were capable of. We learned in seventh grade how to write argumentative essays, which was empowering to me to make an argument and support it with evidence and stand behind it. Today, I apply that skill in my Theory of Knowledge class, which is a central part of HVAs International Baccalaureate (IB) program. I often have to take a stand based on evidence and effectively defend that stand. I love Theory of Knowledge.
There is so much pressure on kids today when it comes to getting into college its adding tremendous anxiety to their lives. How did you handle the pressure?
At first, it was really, really hard. I wasnt really focusing on it. I had a job, after-school activities, and lots of school work. I realized the job was getting in my way, so I took a break from working so I could focus on my college applications. Some days it was frustrating, but I kept on thinking about where I came from, everything Ive worked for, and my family. Plus, my small circle of friends pushed each other to keep going.
What are you most excited about when it comes to going to college?
Im excited about taking seminar-style classes where I can debate ideas. I am excited about the opportunity to explore interdisciplinary classes. I look forward to joining clubs, like Girls In STEM, creating new friendships, and evolving into a better person. Even though Ill be close to home, I look forward to navigating life on my own and learning more about myself, my place in the world, and how I can contribute to its betterment.
Do you know what youd like to eventually do, or is it too early to even ask that?
Ive always known I want to start a non-profit organization. I want to help my community. I know that for sure. Ive been helped through different resources and opportunities; I want to bring those resources to others.
I want to help end violence, especially gun violence, in my community. I want to change how others see us, but more importantly, how we see ourselves. I want to change the perceptions we have about the world and our place in it. Since I come from an immigrant background, I want to be able to help immigrant families find stability. I want to increase access to stable life in America and access to the opportunities that Ive had.
I want to do hands-on work in countries that have been forgotten, ignored, and worst of all, abused. Maybe Ill become a politician to try to make this change. And, lastly, I want to buy my father a car, my mother a house, travel the world, make baked goods, and make a better life for my parents, aunties, uncles, siblings, cousins, and the people back home.
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