An Atlanta teen had a big decision on her hands with nearly 50 college offers and more than a million dollars in scholarship money on the table. Makenzie Thompson, 18, based her final decision on one thing: “I have my whole life to be a minority, so I’m choosing to be part of the majority,” Thompson said.
The front hallway of Westlake High School on Atlanta’s southwest side is lined with photos of its graduating seniors and corresponding colleges they’ve been accepted to, but for Thompson, 49 colleges offered her acceptance letters and scholarship money totaling $1.3 million.
Thompson’s options included a mix of predominantly white institutions such as the University of Alabama, the University of Georgia and Ohio State University as well as HBCUs like Clark Atlanta, FAMU, Southern University, and more.
Thompson and her family have been visiting colleges since she started high school to get a sense of what the schools had to offer. “You don’t want it to be the first time going there is when you’re checking into your dorm, and you don’t know what the environment is like,” Makenzie’s mother, Jennifer Thompson, said.
Ultimately, Thompson’s love for animals and the welcoming atmosphere of Tuskegee University, the HBCU founded by Booker T. Washington, was most appealing to her. “I have my whole life to be a minority, so I’m choosing to be part of the majority when I’m paying for it, especially when I have the opportunity to spend four years around people who look like me, who want to do the same things as me and want to succeed like me,” Makenzie Thompson said.
With her full scholarship and books paid for at Tuskegee University, Thompson plans to study animal science and become a veterinarian, a career field where less than 1 percent of the practitioners are Black, according to 2019 census data. She says her love for animals developed at an early age, having grown up as an only child.
“My parents did give me the opportunity to grow up with animals, whether it was dogs, fish, guinea pigs, fish — pretty much those were the only things they’d go for even though I wanted a little bit more,” Thompson said.
Thompson currently holds a 4.0 GPA. She says throughout her high school career she’s always kept busy. Thompson is currently senior class president, part of the dance team, the Beta Club, National Honor Society, work-based learning at a vet clinic, and more. She credits her high GPA and extracurricular activities for giving her a competitive edge while applying to colleges.
“For the SAT, I had an 1160, and the ACT I had a 24. I really didn’t take the time to study or really pay attention to it, but I’m glad my extracurriculars and my grades really supported me for not having really competitive test scores,” Thompson said.
She also took full advantage of college fairs where she learned about prospective schools, application fee waivers and scholarship opportunities. “The Black Common app, which many people don’t know about, sends your application I think to about 58 HBCUs,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s mom, Jennifer Thompson, says she always knew Makenzie had a ton of potential, in the third grade Makenzie’s teachers indicated she was among the highest performing students. “They indicated she was the only student in unincorporated Fulton County [Georgia] to score over 95 percent in every test category, I knew what I had on my hands,” Jennifer Thompson said of her daughter.
Jennifer Thompson’s advice to other parents hoping their kids see similar success as her daughter is to cultivate their natural gifts and passions.
“They may wake up one day and say they want to be a doctor tomorrow, they may say they want to be a fireman, the next day they may want to play basketball. You just want to be supportive in any decision they make, and once you figure out that passion, cultivate it,” Jennifer Thompson said in advising other parents.
After earning her degree in animal science, Makenzie plans to return to her home in Atlanta to work professionally.