It’s not uncommon at Tufts to meet students who struggle to answer the question, “Where are you from?” For students who’ve grown up across multiple cities, states, or countries, capturing the geographic complexities of their experiences is no simple task. For me, home is pretty clear, but the trickier question is found in the request “Tell me about your family.”
My parents separated when I was young, so I grew up spending time in multiple households, with two step-parents, and four younger brothers and sisters who are a combination of step- and half-siblings. These blended families brought along additional sets of grandparents and plenty of aunts, uncles, first- and second-cousins. I never lived with any of my siblings full-time, so at times I felt like an only child, but I also grew up in a busy, multi-generational home with my maternal grandparents. Many extended family members moved in and out, so there were always different attitudes and personalities to contend with, much like in sibling relationships. All of these elements - managing time in two households, adapting to the emotional complexities of a blended family, observing and learning from the many family members who shared my home or lived on my street - undoubtedly shaped my character and values as an adolescent and young adult.
Those are the experiences I brought with me to college, informing the way I viewed the world and my ambitions for the future. For most of us, for better or for worse, our families give us a foundation from which we mold and shape our identities into young adulthood. My family environment gave me a sense of empathy, built resilience, and informed my desire to challenge socioeconomic inequalities through education. And yet, despite the importance of my family circumstances, I really didn’t share these parts of my story in my college applications. I didn’t write essays about coming from a low-income family, or having an incarcerated parent, or having a parent with a disability, even though I wouldn’t be the person I am today without these experiences. I also didn’t fully share these parts of my life with my school counselor or my teachers in high school, so they weren’t able to provide this context to the admissions officers in my letters of recommendation. Feelings of shame and fear of judgment kept me from disclosing all the important elements of who I was in my application, in part because I didn’t think the admissions office wanted to hear about anything other than my academic achievement and career goals. In omitting these details, I was neglecting the impact that my family context had on my perspective, principles, and priorities. I was also leaving out information about the responsibilities and challenges I was navigating as a seventeen year old that some of my peers were not facing.
So I share this now for two reasons: to show you that 1) admissions officers are people, too, and we enter this college application process with our own life experiences and values that are probably more complex and messy than you realize and 2) it’s 100% okay to give us a glimpse into your life at home through your application, no matter how complicated, if you feel it will help us better understand your voice and the perspective you will offer our campus community. Examples of hardship are, of course, not a requirement or expectation of our application for admission. Whether you come from a more “traditional” household or you relate to some of my experiences, just know that we invite you to disclose what you feel comfortable...and we hope you won’t leave out something important that will help us have a fuller picture of your background or your environment. We won't know who you are unless you tell us.