College Track’s Bell Ringing Tradition Celebrates Milestone on the Journey to a Bachelor’s Degree

Oakland, CA (May 3) It’s the beginning of college acceptance season, and in the 12 College Track centers in California, Colorado, Louisiana, and the D.C. Metro area, our high school seniors are nervously opening envelopes from schools across the nation.

Developing a college list is a deliberative process for College Track scholars, one that starts with declaring their dreams in 10th grade. As they later tour college campuses, explore academic programs, and write (and rewrite) their personal statements, scholars begin refining their ideas of what they want from their college experience. Guided by College Track’s coaches, they consider overall affordability, graduation rates, financial aid availability, and much more. Last year, College Track seniors applied to an average of eight schools each, and they celebrated an astonishing 98% acceptance rate to four-year universities. 



To commemorate all that hard work, College Track has a longstanding tradition of having seniors ring a bell and announce where they’ve been accepted, as all the other scholars and staff cheer them on. Started in College Track’s inaugural center in East Palo Alto (EPA) around 2002, the tradition began with a cowbell that students would ring while sitting on a chair that staff called “the throne.” Bernadette Butler, College Track’s former National Director of Individual Philanthropy who was EPA’s Academic Affairs Director at the time, says: “We really just wanted to make it clear to all the scholars what a special moment this was—the end of one stage of their journey and the beginning of a new and exciting one.” 

College Track East Palo Alto moved from that cowbell to a gong that seniors would strike after they submitted a college application—which could be very late at night. It now has a dedicated senior bell installed outside of the senior room. “It is very sacred, and students know its bad juju to ring it before they are seniors,” says Site Director June Afshar. She adds that in May, “Seniors announce where they have decided to attend during [our community] circle, as we want all of the younger students to see where they will be in a few short years.”

At the Durant Center, College Track’s center in Suitland, Maryland, which just sent its first class off to college in June 2022, the bell-ringing tradition is only in its second year. “Our seniors are proud of their peers, and our younger students are inspired to see the hard work really paying off,” says Site Director Johnel Trammell. It’s easy for our younger students to lose sight of the end goal of college when they’re in the thick of things in high school, so the bell ringing really helps bring everything into perspective for them.”

Not all College Track locations have a senior bell. But they all celebrate that incredible milestone moment of being accepted to a college for which scholars have spent years preparing themselves academically, socially, and emotionally. At College Track Watts, students write where they got admitted on the senior wall, as classmates share in a round of applause. 

Other centers have had their bells so long that they’ve invented new traditions around them. During College Track San Francisco’s New Student Orientation this year, the incoming group was introduced to the bell on the center’s second floor mezzanine, then asked to proclaim their dream college from the second floor while the staff and their families cheered from the bottom. 

”No ringing of the bell yet, of course,” says Site Director Katherine DeVinna. For that special moment, they will have to wait—their hard work will pay off in due time.

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