Turning down a full ride as a have-not

A full collegiate scholarship is a dream for some high school students, especially those that come from a low socio-economic status or those that are first-generation college students. While that dream is not a bad dream, it was not my dream.

I attended an inner-city public high school where a large number of students applying to college based their decision of where to attend on the institution that gave them the most money. That was their deal breaker, and I understood their rationale. How could I not understand that financial aid is an important part of a students’ success? Not only was I bused across town to school, but I lived in an inner-city neighborhood that required me to lie down on the floor because gunshots took off outside my window as frequently as airplanes on a runway. My single-parent worked 16 hours a day, and we did not get to see much of each other, so I understand ‘the dream’.

During my senior year, I was nominated to participate in a comprehensive college access program for students who are outstanding young leaders from diverse backgrounds and that have a desire to succeed. The ‘winner’ of the three-step selection process is granted a full tuition scholarship. After successfully completing each step, I was offered a scholarship to attend Centre College in Kentucky and I declined the offer by politely saying, “Thank you, but no thank you.” The college access program staff and others could not understand why I, a student who was not privileged, would turn down a full ride. I was asked on many occasions, “Are you insane? How will you pay for college? What would make you give up ‘free money’?” Then there were times when I was told, “Take the scholarship.”

I am sorry that I don’t fit your generally accepted trend of the have-nots. I suppose I should live up to the stereotypical ways as ignorant, lazy and dependent, too?

I want you to know this non-privileged student went on to follow her mind and heart and actually ended up at a pretty decent college; it’s called Bates. Perhaps you have heard of it. It’s ranked the 22nd best liberal arts college in the United States. There, I found a supportive environment that matched my academic interests, and I loved it!

I graduated with courage, wisdom, faith and no regrets. The next time you offer an inner-city student a full scholarship, please remind yourself that money cannot buy happiness.


Alysé is a progressive advocate who has worked in the non-profit sector for five years. She has been responsible for mobilizing, developing and nurturing racial, economic and educational initiatives. Her long-term goal is to design and implement social policies in order to reduce poverty, increase economic mobility, and improve educational opportunities and to advocate for and implement changes in the legal system to enhance social justice. She is the Popular Education Intern at Class Action located in Boston, MA.

5 Responses

  1. Michael C. Duff

    Bates is a great school! I turned down a free ride at Penn Law to take on a lot of debt at Harvard Law, which I attended and from which I graduated. As a first gen undergrad and professional student what I remember most is not having ANYONE in my circle–I even contacted an old high school guidance counselor– who could advise me in even the most general terms. Because I was living in Philly at the time most people I knew thought I was nuts to turn down a free ride at Penn. But even though I wasn’t in the “right” social class I had the intuition that I shouldn’t turn down an offer from Harvard. It was (believe it or not) an agonizing experience. I was a blue collar worker in my 30s at the time. I think I made the right choice. I went on to have a career as a lawyer and now I am a law teacher.

  2. Hi Alyse,
    First and foremost, congratulations on being admitted and enrolling at Bates College. I think that is definitely an accomplishment to be proud of. I think the scholarship program you are speaking of is the Posse Foundation. One of the goals of the Posse Foundation is to identify students with great academic and leadership potential, and providing them with an opportunity to attend some of the top colleges and universities in the country. I guarantee, you are not the first and won’t be the last student to “turn down” the scholarship because all of the candidates are outstanding young men and women. I can confidently say that Posse would not refer to their candidates and scholars as “have-nots”. Posse scholars are graduating at a 90% rate from their perspective institutions and it is mainly because these young people are intelligent, motivated, and all future leaders. Posse simply opened a door and gave them a forum to spread their wings. Of course, many of these students like yourself, has/had the academic qualifications to enroll at any top program. However, the truth and reality is, and many current scholars will tell you, being a Posse scholar has changed their lives. The Posse Foundation is more than just “free money” and a scholarship. As a proud member of the second cohort to enroll at Centre College in 2007, I can proudly say that I am very grateful for the opportunities that Posse has afforded me. Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts and I am confident you will do amazing things at Bates, but we need to support programs like the Posse Foundation. Our inner city youths are not lacking academic prowess. But instead, they lack access and opportunities. I would recommended going to the Posse Foundation website and reading the stories of what current Posse Scholars are doing in their respective communities. 3 weeks ago, I attended the Posse Ceremony in Boston, one of the speakers there was a young Latina scholar at Denison University in Ohio. She is currently the first minority class president in the 183 year history of the university. That is just one of the many amazing things that Posse Scholars are doing. Again, thank you and good luck on your journey.

    God Bless,
    Greg, A Posse Scholar

  3. Albert Okundaye

    On Behalf of Ms. Alyse Bigger,

    Firstly, I believe that for the sake of privacy, this young lady has chosen to mention the offer presented by a scholastic program without mentioning the program’s name. Secondly, the idea of “have-nots” presented in this piece was not to demean any persons of any racial group or economic status, but rather to classify the opinion projected by many, upon individuals of minority groups- individuals with the lowest financial, educational and economic backgrounds and status’. In programs such as the one described by Ms. Bigger, the expectations of such an offer as a full scholarship is that the individual who is offered, would eagerly accept it without question or research as to whether the institution offering the scholarship would be a great fit or not. In this case, this young lady successfully and bravely declined the offer presented to her, not as a form of rebellion in avoidance of being stereotyped as a “have-not” or as a form of ingratitude, but rather to be enrolled in an institution that would grant her what she needed. In this case, Bates College not only granted Ms. Bigger a great college experience, she gained much satisfaction and happiness in earning a good education that excited her passions and goals towards a future of being a proactive advocate for creating programs and opportunities that serve to improve the lives (in finance, education, health and more) of many individuals of minority groups. Furthermore, in her efforts to transforming lives, the idea of “have-nots” individuals having to take up opportunities that may be ill-fitting for them, without question, can be eliminated and these individuals can possess the power of choice.

    Alberta O.

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