This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
I’ve always known I would go to college; I’ve never doubted it for one second.
Some of my earliest memories from elementary school are of my mother telling me that I needed to go to college. “Tienes que ir a un colegio,” she would say. You need to go to college. She would explain to me how she always planned to go to college but never got the chance.
My mother was an immigrant, so she would always remind me that being born in the United States was of great benefit to my future. “Tu tienes la opportunidad porque nacistes aquí,” she would insist. You have the opportunity because you were born here.
When I was younger, my family lived in a one-room studio apartment. Four of us lived in that little apartment, and it wasn’t a very comfortable lifestyle. My parents had to work a lot to provide us with necessities, and I always saw exhaustion in their faces after work. My mother was a full-time nanny, and my father worked two part-time jobs as a chef. My mother would explain to me that our lifestyle was due to the fact that she and my father didn’t go to college, and as a result, their career choices were limited.
From a young age, I understood the circumstances that governed my life; I had all the dots connected. The way I understood it, level of education determines your future lifestyle, but I knew that my family wouldn’t be able to pay for a college education. Therefore, I would have to earn a scholarship. Get a scholarship, get a college education, get a good job and, ultimately, have a more comfortable lifestyle. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
However, as a child I didn’t even know what scholarships were or what it took to earn one. I had no clue what colleges even existed until I had to start applying in high school. I didn’t know what college applications or alma maters were. The only thing I knew was that I would go to college.
I used to think I was at a disadvantage, but when I was applying to colleges I found out that I actually had multiple advantages—as a first-generation student and as part of the top 10 percent in my class. The education system has taught me that even low-income students have the chance to go to college. Honestly, that opportunity is what encouraged me to go to college.