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When I started looking at colleges I knew that I wanted to aim high. I did not let being a first-generation low-income student stop me from pursuing the dreams I have had since I was a little girl. I had the support and understanding from my parents and found guidance through faculty at my high school.

Even though I did not let my background influence my desire to aim high, I could not help allowing my financial situation become an obstacle. I knew that in the end, money would become a factor in my decision.

Narrowing it Down

From my list of 33 prospective universities, I narrowed it down to 14 schools that I would apply to.

In-state Universities:

  • University of Southern California
  • California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
  • University of California, Irvine
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • California State University, Long Beach

Out-of-state Universities

  • Pace University
  • Emerson College
  • Loyola University of Chicago
  • Long Island University, Brooklyn
  • St. John’s University
  • Hofstra University
  • Fordham University
  • New York University

Outside the United States:

  • The American University of Paris

Application and Acceptance

A perk of being a low-income student is that I qualified for enough fee waivers to not burden my parents with paying $50 per application. Being a first-generation student means that my parents did not attend college and were not familiar with the application process; so, they went to informational meetings that were held at my school to help them understand what I would be going through.

At school, my school librarian, college counselor, Honors English 10 teacher and AP Government teacher guided and helped me through the process. They were there to answer every question that I had when filling out the applications; they helped me with my essays, assisted me in filling out the FAFSA and advised me on what decisions to make. I was very lucky to have found that support.

I sent out my applications and waited for the letters that would help determine my future.

The first letter that I received was from The American University of Paris. I remember the loud, high-pitched scream that came out of me when I read,

“Congratulations, you have been accepted …”

A feeling of accomplishment rushed through me. Just the fact that I had been accepted to a university made me feel proud and that all of my hard work was paying off. Because it was such a great opportunity I started to plan for the possibility of actually attending. I hoped that I would get the financial aid that I needed to attend because of my circumstances as a first-generation, low-income student. Unfortunately that did not happen.

I was crushed and scared at the possibility of not being able to attend a four-year university and was cautious whenever I got another acceptance letter. I would get excited but remember that nothing was certain until I received my financial aid package.

A Perfect Fit

In the end, I was accepted into 10 of the universities I applied to. Five of them offered me academic scholarships.

But, only one gave me a financial aid package that made my education affordable. Luckily for me it was the university that was the perfect fit for me. That university is Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

During my application process I realized that going to an out-of-state school was not going to be financially easy, which meant that I had to start picturing myself at an in-state university. The only one that was perfect in my mind was Cal Poly because it would give me the chance to be away from home but also be near enough to visit. The campus is beautiful and I love the city. It was the last school that I heard from. When I got the email that I was accepted, I screamed, jumped and ran in circles. I was on cloud nine.

Even though I had not gotten my financial aid package yet, I knew in my heart that it was going to work out. It did. The financial aid package that I got from Cal Poly was the best of all the packages I received. I was going to college!

Now I’m here, close to finishing my first year of college. There were bumps along the way, but I still made it. I’m getting an amazing education and becoming well-prepared for what is to come after I graduate in three years with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Just because you’re a first-generation student does not mean you can’t aim high! You can and you should! An opportunity will show up. Everything happens for a reason.