When ignorance is not bliss: privilege in the college process

Graphic by Isabel '17

Graphic by Isabel ’17

For those who don’t yet know or who have forgotten, there are a lot of queasy feelings that go along with the college application process: discomfort with the imminent prospect of leaving home, terror of rejection and dread about the sheer quantity of work required. These sentiments are familiar and expected.This summer, however, I discovered a new source of nauseous, college-application-based mortal dread: guilt.
Guilt when a non-Marlborough friend described my college list simply and uncomfortably as “…elite.”
Guilt when casual mentions of three separate out-of-state college tours were met by a group of friends with awkward silence.
Guilt when I realized I hadn’t even considered tuition when I compiled my initial list.

Guilt when I decided to remove a college from my list simply because I didn’t like the campus, location, the Greek-centric social scene or their literary magazine (a stapled pamphlet of printer paper), despite the fact that I could have qualified for a financial aid and scholarship package that would have cut tuition in half.
I spent two months this summer working at a resort-like facility in rural Canada with 15 juniors and seniors from across the United States and Canada. The college process crept, as it tends to creep, into our casual conversations, and I realized something I always knew but had never before truly internalized: I am so incredibly lucky. I, and by extension we, at Marlborough, have access to extremely professional, experienced and effective college counselors who actually know who each one of us is, what kind of schools would be a good fit and what each of our chances are at any given institution. I, we, have access to professionals to help with our essays: if not a college counselor, then another thoughtful and experienced teacher. I didn’t apply to any colleges sight unseen because my parents could not afford to take time off work or purchase plane tickets. It never occurred to me to apply to schools within easy driving distances to save on plane fare between breaks. I never once doubted that I would attend a college or university.

As we learned in the Diversity Committee’s January All-School meeting, privilege implies neither fault nor blame. This is true, and as I sat in Caswell I kept coming back to my “college process privilege.” I am privileged in this respect and many others, as are many if not all of us at Marlborough, to greater or lesser degrees. If I am privileged, and privilege implies neither blame nor fault, whence originates this sickening shame that still lingers in my gut?
I feel further shame in admitting it was several days until I came upon the answer, startling in its obviousness: my guilt comes not from a place of privilege but from one of ignorance. Privilege is unavoidable, but ignorance, however, is inexcusable. I will forgive myself for applying out of state, for buying plane tickets to sit through tours and nearly identical information sessions, for skimming the sections of Fiske devoted to financial aid and tuition, but not for complaining about inconvenient SAT tutoring sessions, or about exhaustion after campus tours. I am rightly ashamed about the occasional I-bombed-that-test-so-badly-that-I’ll-have-to-go-to-community-college “joke,” about the surprise I tried to mask when I discovered a friend hadn’t visited a single one of the schools on his common application.
I have no control over the privilege I was born into, but I can strive to decrease my own ignorance by engaging in real and honest discussions with peers with diverse backgrounds and experiences.