Antoine, a B student at a mostly black, mostly poor high school, learned to refine his college admission essay at a summer program sponsored by College Summit. The New York Times story left me uneasy about Antoine’s future. The assumption seems to be that having a good poverty story to tell is the key to college.
One staple of the affluent studentsâ€™ essays is the service trip to Latin America. â€œItâ€™s the first time theyâ€™ve seen this wrenching poverty,â€ said Lee Coffin, the director of undergraduate admissions at Tufts University. After a while, however, the trips sound the same.
. . . But the lives of Antoine and the other 36 students at the workshop, which is run by College Summit, a nonprofit organization, are defined by struggle.
The workshop is intended to help them discover â€” and prove to college admissions officials â€” that their life stories can be as powerful as high SAT scores and stellar grades.
High SAT scores and stellar grades predict a student will be able to take advantage of college opportunities. Below-average grades and scores predict the student will struggle academically; family poverty and dysfunction increase the risk of failure.
Antoine is motivated to succeed. His first draft reads:
â€œI will not become a stereotype/statistic because many African/Black Americans proved that we can achieve greater heights,â€ Antoine wrote. â€œRichard Wright is a great, black American writer. Have you read his famous book, â€œBlack Boy.â€ I have, and if you have read it, you should know that he defeated the odds. Same with Martin and his dream.â€
â€œJust like these incredible men,â€ he wrote, â€œI, too, want to defeat the stereotypes.â€
I’ve seen a lot of essay drafts by Mexican-American students who don’t want to be stereotypes. (Who wants to be a stereotype?) Motivation is good. But it needs to be coupled with academic preparation. Teach Antoine to write a research paper.