Mina (College Possible): How I Got to the Hill

How I found my way to becoming a POSSE scholar at one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges and a first-generation college graduate.

Photo of Mina Kobayashi
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    My college search began in 10th grade. I played varsity and club soccer and knew I could go to a DIII school; DII and DI schools were a little out of reach. Therefore, I knew that I wouldn't get recruited with guaranteed enrollment, but if a program liked me enough, it could boost my application. I didn't really think of it much then, but I had no idea what I was looking for when researching schools. I was solely looking at DIII liberal arts colleges that had good academic programs and where I knew their coaches would be attend the showcases I would also be at. I didn't know how to measure my own academic potential. 

    Of course, my parents didn't know either. They both immigrated from Japan and hadn't gone to college. They were extremely supportive in whatever I did and all they cared about was that I tried my hardest. I was never scolded or punished for my grades, which I was grateful for. I did always try my hardest, but sometimes I did get C's. I was putting enough pressure on myself that there was no need for any more. Instead, the support and independence they gave me was the perfect balance. 

    My high school curriculum was rigorous. I attended Bard High School Early College (BHSEC). It is a fast-track early college program through Bard College. Students finish their high school requirements in the first two years and then take college classes in the last two years in order to then graduate with not only a HS diploma but also an associate's degree. That degree allowed a lot of my classmates to graduate in three years if they went to schools that accepted the credits. (They weren't taken on a college campus, so some schools were strict and did not approve them, like Colby). BHSEC was a liberal arts curriculum and highly valued discussion-based education. Each class was small, and you had to participate in order to get a high grade. I didn't go to the best middle school. I easily was one of the top students in that class and was extremely intimated by the classes at BHSEC. I wasn't used to not being a teacher's pet and automatically getting the grades I wanted. Instead, I was forced to step out of my comfort zone. Read and analyze readings that had so many words I didn't know. I had two other choices for high school, but I chose to go to BHSEC to challenge myself. My middle school adviser had warned me how rigorous the academics would be, but he told me that I was ready and capable. It was the exact intimidation and push I need to make my decision. And I haven't looked back since.

    However, because I wasn't as prepared academically, my grades showed. I was a 3.4-average student, which isn't terrible. But compared to my classmates, I felt severely under-qualified. They were looking at NESCAC schools and Ivies, and I didn't think I could get in because my grades were mediocre. I knew that it was because my high school was so challenging, but I didn't think that the schools would know or believe it because BHSEC was only in its 10th year and hadn't built the biggest rapport yet. 

    In addition, I didn't know what I could afford. I knew I couldn't afford any of the schools full-tuition. I was aware there were scholarships and financial aid out there, but I didn't really know how much I could get or what that really meant. For some reason, I remember that not stopping me from putting private liberal arts colleges on my list and adding SUNYs just in case my financial aid package wasn't good enough. 

    Luckily, BHSEC has a wonderful college advising program. From junior year, you are assigned a college counselor and cohort and meet every week. Junior spring, we are taken on a three-night college visit trip. We attend four to five colleges. Even now, I don't know where my ambition to go to college came from. My mom always told me that I didn't need to go to college if I didn't want to. That I can just find a job post-high school. But I always turned that idea down and told her that a college degree was necessary and will become essential in years to come to get any type of job. 

    Soccer recruitment wasn't going so smoothly. I didn't know how to network with coaches. I reached out, kept conversation with some but probably not as many as I should have if I wanted to commit. I didn't think to rely on my coach, although now I know I should have. 

    The summer after sophomore year, I enrolled in a free SAT prep program by Let's Get Ready (another college access program on the East Coast). The two site directors were a Williams student and a Wesleyan student. My writing and reading coach went to NYU. My math coach went to Wesleyan. It was the first time I interacted so closely with elite college students. And they were cool. They were normal. The program also took us to Wesleyan, and I fell in love with the campus. I was told that many liberal arts colleges were like it, and the feeling and ambition I think always stayed with me after that day. 

    The program helped. However, I have never been a good test-taker. And I don't have the motivation to study by myself. I took the SAT three times, and each time did fairly well, but again like my grades, they weren't impressive. Definitely not enough to get me into a top school. The process felt dud. I didn't know where I could get into, and I hated uncertainty. I also did not want to be mediocre. I know now that CUNYs and SUNYs have great academic programs, but I didn't see it like that then. I also wanted to leave New York City. All of that felt so far yet my determination never really went away. 

    My trajectory completely changed when toward the end of Junior spring, all juniors were told about the Posse Foundation and their program. All we had to do was submit an info form, and they would pick a few students that would then get to proceed with the Posse process. I still don't know how I was chosen. Either it was a teacher recommendation or luck of the draw. But I was. That summer, I received an invitation for my first interview. I found myself in a room with over 100 fellow seniors all competing to go toward the second round. Posse calls their three-round interview process the Dynamic Assessment Process. Somehow, they are able to pick out some amazing candidates from five or more 100+ group interviews. 

    Posse identifies, recruits, and supports public high school students from specific cities and sends them in groups of 10-12 to partnering higher ed institutions, mainly those looking to diversify their campus (in every shape and form). The students receive a full-tuition leadership scholarship. In exchange, they must become leaders on campus. We had weekly training with two trainers senior spring and summer called Pre-Collegiate Training.  And then weekly meetings with our assigned campus mentor (a faculty or staff member) for the first two years. The pre-collegiate training is geared toward college readiness in terms of social, emotional, and academic aspects. 

    When I got the call from Posse that I had been accepted into Posse, I was ecstatic. I called my mom, and she started crying. All of the sudden, I knew I was going to be attending Colby College, one of the top liberal arts colleges, in December. Months before I thought I would have anything finalized. 

    I was terrified about the caliber of the Colby academics. Because of my grades and SAT scores and my comments in class in comparison to my classmates, I didn't think I was prepared. I thought it would be like my transition from middle school to high school. Nevertheless, I had to go. What I found was that I was beyond prepared. Much more than my fellow Possemates. I went in wanting to be a biology major but went into the lecture hall (even though it was only about 70 students) and hated the atmosphere. After the second week of second semester bio, I couldn't take it anymore and called it quits. I was surprised about how much I missed the discussion-based classes that I was so intimated by in the ninth grade. I was constantly being challenged at BHSEC that I didn't realize how much I had come to enjoy them and how fit I was for it. 

    Even now, I am so grateful for my high school education. I know a lot of my BHSEC classmates are as well. When we were searching for schools, we were constantly told that alumni come back and say that they felt so prepared when entering college. The academic rigor of high school, I believe, is so important. Especially in NYC when you have to go through the application process to choose high schools among so many academic levels, that time becomes crucial. I'm so proud that I took up the challenge to commit to Colby because it made me realize my academic potential that I just never knew before getting there. 

    That's not to say that the transition was easy. It was tough. Coming from New York City, Waterville and Colby was a whole new world. The diversity and multiculturalism I was used to was gone. I was stuck in a small area with no car, so I couldn't go anywhere. The nearest expansive town was still a 15minute drive away, and even that was tiny for our standard. I wasn't exactly homesick, but I was frustrated. None of my white classmates seemed to want to talk about race in classes even though I began to learn how crucial it is to especially at a place so pre-dominantly white. In addition, with some events and other things, I was exhibiting symptoms of depression. Something that my cheery and upbeat pre-college self had never felt. 

    I contemplated transferring. I opened the common application but felt like crying with the thought of having to go through the whole process again. Also, I wanted to stick to a small liberal arts school. And most have the same type of environment. Most of all, I couldn't leave my Posse. We had made a pact that we would graduate all together in four years. I didn't want to be the reason that plan would go bust. They were my rocks my entire Colby career. We became impressive leaders and founders of so many clubs and organizations on campus. We graduated this past May all 10 of us together, and we couldn't have been prouder. We are all so different and know that we wouldn't have been friends if Posse hadn't brought us together. We relied on each other academically, emotionally, and socially. Being from NYC, we faced the same frustrations and struggles when it came to multiculturalism.

    Colby may not have been the perfect fit, but my Posse was. We still keep in touch and support one another's professional careers. The Posse Foundation has such a strong alumni network, and that is a truly important part of the organization. The fact that I can still see the Posse upperclassmen who served as my mentors at Posse events every year is amazing. Furthermore, I just moved to Minnesota where I know no one. The alumni person of Posse connected the Posse people living in the Twin Cities, and we have gotten together every month. The Posse bond and love is so strong, whatever city you're from, school you attended, or year you graduated. The support network I have been so lucky to have is what has brought me here. I have so much pride whenever I talk about Posse, and I know I'm not the only one. 


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Photo of Molly McMahon

Wow Mina... this sparks so many insights for me about the college journey for immigrant families, the structure of your high school to spend two years bridging the gap to college, and the ongoing connection with Possee. I'm wondering if you had a chance to hear some of the interviews like Re-connecting with Robert! or Cristian is Going to College! It would interesting to hear your wisdom for these young men who are about to follow in your footsteps. Thanks for the inspiration this morning! 

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