OP LI: Convey the truth about your Vanderbilt experience

Josh Hamburger

For current high school seniors, the journey through the college application process and all of its crazy, stressful, and exciting twists and turns is finally over. Most, if not all colleges have released their decisions by now, meaning that only one decision remains: choosing where to spend the next four years. To prospective Vanderbilt students, we as representatives of the current student body have a crucial role to play in this decision, and we should realize that there is no simple answer to give to students.

With the Class of 2020 early decisions released last December and February, and with regular decisions posted at the end of last March, all of this year’s applicants to Vanderbilt University have now received word about their admissions status. Applicants accepted via Vanderbilt’s early decision program have already committed to the school, but there remain a significant number of admitted regular decision students who are still undecided about their future school. These students (I was one of them) are still trying to gather as much information as possible about their options, hoping to reach some epiphany before the matriculation deadline of May 1. You might see them walking around campus this month during Anchor Days, a program Vanderbilt designs specifically for admitted students. You might see their posts asking for advice on College Confidential (“Vandy vs. WashU? Vandy vs. Duke? Vandy vs. UVa? HELP”). Or, you might be in touch with them: admitted students from your former high school, messaging you on Facebook and asking you what Vanderbilt is really like.

“Yet despite, or perhaps even because of, every challenge I’ve encountered as a college student so far, I have no regrets about my decision to choose Vanderbilt.”

From my experience, questions from prospective students range from straightforward to complex, from generic to incredibly personal. They often want to know how challenging the classes are, or how competitive the students can be, or what the housing and dining options are like. Some of them want to know if the role that Greek life plays in campus culture is too dominant (or, depending on their perspective, not dominant enough). A few bold ones will ask about the recent rape trial, or the controversies over some of Vanderbilt’s diversity initiatives.

As I’ve reflected on my first year experiences, I can’t help but wonder how best to respond to questions from prospective students about how I feel about Vanderbilt. The truth seems simple: I love Vanderbilt. But is it fair to tell prospective students everything that I like about Vanderbilt, while discreetly sweeping away some of the difficulties of being a Vanderbilt student underneath the carpet?

I’ve thought about this question for a while, and this is what I’ve realized: Being a student at Vanderbilt, as well as at any other high quality institution (with the definition of “quality” extending beyond that of “rank”), means being challenged. It can mean struggling in academic or extracurricular settings that might never have posed a problem in high school. As with any new setting, it can also mean struggling to find the right social niche or a place of belonging. Depending on their personal backgrounds, as well as the environment of the college they choose, some incoming students will inevitably find these challenges to be more relevant or more taxing than others. While warnings can help, I’m not sure if the difficulties of life at Vanderbilt, or at any college in general, can ever be truly understood without direct personal experience.

Yet despite (or perhaps even because of) every challenge I’ve encountered as a college student so far, I have no regrets about my decision to choose Vanderbilt. I couldn’t be happier with my classes here, or with the supportive atmosphere created by the peers and faculty that I’ve met in the campus community. If I had to choose again among my options as a prospective college student, I would choose Vanderbilt again in a heartbeat, perhaps with a more realistic edge to some of my perspectives, but certainly with the same hope and enthusiasm that I had as a rising first year. And to prospective students, that is what I would ultimately hope to communicate.