Late last year, as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across a Forbes article by Maggie McGrath entitled, "The Challenge of Being Poor at America's Richest Colleges." I, like many others, have been told that education is the great equalizer, and from my own life experiences, I absolutely believe this to be true. At the same time, I am not so naïve to think that by being on the same college campus, every student is perceived as equal.
I do not mean to discourage anyone when I say this, quite the opposite actually, because I'm someone who is currently going through this process. Here are some tips I have for those of you who are experiencing these challenges:
Stay humble. Acknowledge as someone of a lower socioeconomic status entering an elite institution that your transition will not be as smooth because you will find yourself -- more often than not -- in situations that are so far from your comfort zone. For example, in my freshman year I realized that so many of my peers went to elite boarding and private schools. If this is also the case for you, don't let it unnerve you. Just remain confident in your abilities and maintain a level of humility.
Stay focused. At times you might feel completely ostracized by the culture of your school. When I first got to college, I was amazed by how often my new friends went out to eat and drink or shopped for clothes, and it started to take a toll on certain friendships when it became clear that I could not live the same lifestyle. Don't let anything like this throw you off your course -- remain focused on the finish line!
Stay true. You must embrace those moments when you feel most tested. Embrace them, but never give into the idea that that you don't belong. Instead, challenge yourself to find a place where you do fit in. If you can't find one, create it by using the resources offered at your campus. This is something that is not always explored by students, but it is a viable solution. Don't limit yourself to the student groups that are available when you enter the university. Student groups are necessary to foster community, so don't be scared to start another organization just because you're worried that no one else will be interested. By boldly staying true to who you are, you will inspire someone else to do the same.
Be different. The challenge of being poor at America's most elite universities is that you will always be reminded of your differences, but the secret to overcoming this is to find what makes you different and cultivate that quality until you become exceptional. In our world, we are constantly in need of exceptionally different people to offer new solutions to societal problems that have persisted for generations. So, please do us all a favor and cultivate your unique talents because you are more likely to make a greater impact using them than if you devote your time trying to be something you are not.
Darion Parker is a senior at Georgetown University majoring in English with a minor in sociology. He is originally from Forestville, Md., and in his spare time, he enjoys creative writing and is currently working on his first screenplay.