Achieving the College Dream

College & Career Readiness | 06/22/2016

Lemoine Dillon
Graduating Ben Franklin Senior & Vanderbilt University Freshman

Lemoine will be attending Vanderbilt University in Fall 2016 as a Cornelius Vanderbilt & Gates Millenium Scholar

How One New Orleans Student Made Her College Dream A Reality


I began the college application process with the goal of getting into a school that would be a good fit for me academically and financially, but with no real clue how to attain that goal. I knew very little about a personal statement, essay revisions, and all the parts that go into a college application. Luckily I had some guidance. I attended an after school program called College Track that seeks to empower students from underserved communities to graduate from college and met my mentor there. He helped me craft a personal statement that offered insight into my story that didn't involve my GPA or ACT scores; Those things are important, but being able to tell your story is really, really important too! It’s not enough to just add a laundry list of activities, remember that colleges need to contextualize you and your high school. It is in your best interest to provide them with as much information as possible so they can determine if you would be a good fit for their institution.

My mentor once joked that he got 30 people to revise just one college essay, I laughed and told him he was absurd. I thought “essays can't possibly be that important” and, of course, I was wrong. After the first round of applications I knew I needed to buckle down on my essay writing if I wanted to get into more selective schools. Not only did I need to write better, I needed to have as many eyes as possible looking at my essays.

My goal was to get into a selective school, because I knew they would best prepare me academically and offer the best financial support. Like many high school students, I am aware of the financial reality of my family. I come from a single parent household and my mom works two jobs to provide for us. Before I was informed of the aggressive financial aid at selective universities, I was completely unsure of how my mom would pay for college. This financial aspect of college heavily weighed on me mentally.

When I began applying to colleges, I thought I wouldn’t get in anywhere. The saying that ‘you are your toughest critic’ is definitely true. I felt really incapable and it was hard to be committed to something that you believe you have no chance at. So I am here to tell you this, before you begin to write essays, or do anything else, realize that you are capable and will be successful and you will end up at the college that is right for you.

My next step was to choose schools to apply to. College application fees are expensive and definitely add up, but there are programs to help with that. The SAT offers application fee waivers as well as participating in a program called Questbridge. Questbridge takes high-achieving, low-income students and matches them with the top universities in the country. There are so many benefits to this program and one of them is that they waive all application fees to all of their partner colleges. I definitely encourage everyone who is eligible to apply.  I applied to Vanderbilt in the spring as a Questbridge finalist and even as I began filling out my application I constantly doubted myself.

One day, after I got home from my after school program I saw I had been invited to visit Vanderbilt with a multicultural program, Mosaic. I was shocked and extremely excited and overwhelmed and in disbelief. I experienced so many emotions at that moment, but one thing became clear to me, all my hard work had paid off and I was one step closer to my dream of going to a university that would value me academically and personally.

My advice to you eager-to-apply-to-college-seniors is to be patient, determined, and committed to accomplishing your goals. It won’t be easy, however, it can be easier if you use those tips. Sometimes essay prompts will cause you to look deep into parts of your life that you haven’t shared with anyone and it may be hard. Discuss the lessons you learned from the difficulties you encountered and how they helped to form your character. Don’t give up, and remember that you have a support system! 

Top Five Tips and Lessons Learned:


  1. Be Organized- It’s important to find a method that works best for you. Personally, I use Google Calendar because it allows me to visualize my upcoming events. First place college application deadlines on your calendar and then self-imposed essay draft deadlines. It’s very important to have essays revised by teachers, mentors, and anyone else who you trust, so they can be as clear and crisp as possible. I also put ACT send off, scholarship, transcript, and financial aid deadlines on my calendar.
  2. Make friends with your College Counselor- It’s important to openly communicate with your college counselor throughout the application process because there will be many things they will have to do to help ensure your success. It is your responsibility to inform them of deadlines in advance, so they can complete your recommendations and send off transcripts in a timely fashion.
  3. Seek Out a Mentor- I met my mentor the summer before senior year through a summer program. We both happened to live in New Orleans. He guided me through the college application process and helped to place all of the challenges I encountered, into perspective.
  4. Find Financial Aid- It’s very important to understand that the schools have different financial aid awarding processes and some schools give very generous financial aid awards. There are institutional scholarships and grants that will help cut the cost of college.
  5. Be Patient- It’s important to understand that plans change. The college application process is difficult, but a rewarding one if you are committed. The long nights and 11:58 submissions sometimes made me feel defeated, however, the day I received college acceptances those memories and feelings faded away. Everything in life is a process. My advice is to trust the process and know that your plans, in the end, will probably end up different and that’s okay! You may find out you love a school you hadn’t even thought of and it may be the best fit for you.

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