WHY CAN’T I CHOOSE MY COLLEGE?
For nearly 20 years, Smith has tried to guide scholarship recipients to the school that best suits their needs while taking into consideration the student’s preferred choice. During this time, we have encountered students who had fallen in love with a single school. When asked why, they give a list of reasons. Family sports team allegiance of course has always been high on the list, “God told me” is also a common justification. Still many students will tell us that they just “felt” the school was right while readily admitting they only visited one institution. Most often the applicant’s research of available majors and support services is minimal. Some students face family pressure to remain close to home and continue caring for siblings, run households and pay bills with their earnings.
The instructions to the Smith Application and “The Common Questions Regarding Application and Scholarship” and “Additional Instructions/Help Me!” explain the rationale used by our Board of Trustees in selecting the school or multiple school options offered in a scholarship recipient’s award letter. Smith scholars have varied backgrounds concerning academic abilities, college readiness levels, college preparatory program attendance, family obligations as well as emotional and physical obstacles resulting from abuse and trauma.
If a student did not have opportunities of dual enrollment, College Prep Classes, AP, foreign language, world history, civil rights, biology labs, upper-level math classes combined with the necessary support services of tutoring and student enrichment, they may need remedial classes, even if their high school GPA is high. Smith recognizes these needs. To prevent setting a scholar up for failure, the Board may assign a community college with a proposed transfer, or enrollment in a school that offers remedial options with outstanding support services aimed at bridging the college readiness gap.
Available scholarships are also a key factor the Board studies in reviewing appropriate universities. Depending on test scores, grades, talent, and background, many schools offer generous scholarships that can be combined with Smith. However, if the school does not meet the student’s specific academic interest, this consideration is less important.
For a student graduating from a small rural high school, the size of the college and available on-campus housing is significant. Some students do not have a reliable home base and will need safe housing on holidays and breaks.
The factor hardest to explain to applicants, family, and university officials is location. Students who suffer trauma, abuse, and financial exploitation are at risk if they remain in close proximity to families or negative influences. Unfortunately, a few Smith Scholars have been unable to make education a priority because of family demands. Several were forced to leave the program, abandoning their college studies and returning to low paying jobs.
College is more than attending classes. Students need to engage in activities that expand their understanding of other people outside their community, outside their ethnic background and religion. Smith Scholars are required to participate in cultural events, take part in continued volunteer work and utilize internships to increase post-graduate employment options. If a student is pulled back into negative situations or required to financially support family members, their opportunities to learn and excel in college are diminished.
Through the years, we have seen students meet their full potential because they were given the geographical space to escape the expectations and demands of others. Many parents and guardians do not even see the stress they put on student’s physical and emotional wellbeing. The same family members who celebrate the student’s achievement in earning the Scholarship Award, fail to understand why the scholar cannot work full-time and send money home.
Recently a scholarship recipient said she could only attend one school. She had good grades and test scores. Multiple schools accepted her and offered institutional scholarships. The student was raising her younger siblings and intended to commute 2 hours a day to maintain this role. We counseled her that the best way to help her siblings was to first help herself. By obtaining a degree with excellent grades, professional training, networking, and using all the resources offered at college, she could obtain more than a job. A profession that would permit her to have a secure and stable future enhancing her ability to aid her siblings and eventually provide for her own children independently.
The scholar is flourishing at the long-distance university. The geographical distance has allowed her to be a fully immersed college student. School is now her full-time job.
Today, her mother called our office demanding that her daughter be transferred to the closer university. A few minutes later the scholar texted us – “please do not let me go back. I need to be here.”