Pushing Past Fear of Failure

The personal barriers I faced when deciding which college to attend.

Photo of Joann Martin (College Possible)
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In my school district, middle school was the point in time when students began to split between the normal and advanced math and reading classes. I distinctly remember the shame and anxiety I felt when I was not allowed to be in any of the advanced classes like so many of my friends. After years of convincing  teachers that I was smart enough and spending twice as much time studying as my friends, I some how became a high school senior enrolled in advanced and AP classes. I was very proud of myself but consistently reminded how much more I needed to work in order to do well in school. My ACT score was much lower than most of my peers which ignited the fear that I would not be able to succeed in college. 

No one at my school talked openly about applying or enrolling in 2 year colleges, and if they did they were stigmatized. The majority seemed to be aiming for a selective 4 year college or more specifically the University of Wisconsin - Madison. I did not apply to Madison but instead put my hopes on UW - La Crosse to which I was wait listed. When I relieved that news I was destroyed. Was it even worth it to hope on any other UW schools? My faith was dwindling fast and the fears were growing.

Luckily I was accepted to UW - Eau Claire soon after and slowly my faith was restored. However, there were many more barriers to push past before I stepped onto campus. UW - Eau Claire was four hours away from home which was a consistent point of concern. My parents were completely new to the high school to college transition and so I felt as though I could not go to them with questions or concerns. Even more straining, my father was against me attending a 4 year and wanted me to instead attend the local 2 year. I felt completely stuck between a rock and a hard place. I did not want to go to school and tell my peers that I was going to go to a 2 year and live at home. However I did not feel academically, emotionally, or financially ready for UW - Eau Claire. I knew my parents would support my decision, but I could not see a clear and easy choice. For many students, there rarely ever is. 

Long story short, I decided to attend UW - Eau Claire after many pro con lists and a long heart-to-heart with my mother. With my AP credits and passion for psychology, it only made sense in her eyes. For my first semester at UWEC I used my mother's belief in me as my crutch until I got a hang of things. My biggest fear of flunking out of college were not realized thankfully. The work ethic I had acquired in high school came in handy and I eventually found confidence in my own abilities. 

Through my experiences at UW - Eau Claire and my term of service with College Possible, I know that other young adults are not as fortunate as I was. They may not have access to advanced courses or have the same support from their family. There are countless barriers that students face when deciding whether to continue their education. Once they get onto a college campus they also may face culture shock, financial problems, and the need to discover the hidden curriculum of college. The list goes on and on.

I was lucky that I connected with staff and students on campus, which lead to involvement and internships that shaped me into the young professional I am today. This also allowed me to create a support network when problems arouse or I needed academic or career guidance. I was able to push past my own fears and pursue my education at a well respected institution thanks to the support from my family, friends, and faculty/staff at UWEC. Support from a mentor, teacher, parent(s)/guardian(s) is key when pursuing higher education. This support can come in the way of emotional support or guidance towards selecting the right academic fit. Students, in my opinion, can not receive enough assistance with the high school to college transition. It will make all the difference in their lives and their odds of persisting towards earning a degree. 

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe what you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research. (Ex: Good advisors make a difference.)

Every student faces barriers (some more than others), but with the right support they can push past those barriers and earn a degree they deserve.


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Photo of Lisa Yokana

Hi Joann
I was struck by your story and how important it was to have your mother's support. I interviewed a former student and he also felt his mother's support was pivotal. Check out his story here: https://collaborate.teachersguild.org/challenge/reach-higher-better-make-room-teachers-guild-college-journey-collaboration/discover/re-connecting-with-robert I'd love to hear your thoughts on his experience!

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