The Winter Break between Fall and Spring semesters of your senior year in high school is an incredible time. When I was a high school senior, some of my classmates flew to Jamaica, others to the Philippines and still others to Columbia to visit their relatives. Some others traveled to Toronto and Vancouver. My family was planning on driving to Guadalajara, the birthplace of mariachi, to visit my relatives. (The large metropolis is on the Southwestern bend of Mexico, close to the Pacific Ocean). Sadly, since neither of my parents were given days off from work, such a trip wouldn’t be possible. Although I was a smidge saddened, I knew that I had application essays for thirteen different college to finish. The Winter Break of my senior year was spent writing a barrage of essays in order to get a chance to being admitted to college.

After spending Friday and Saturday after school to sloth around and catch up on sleep, I rose on Sunday ready to write. I scheduled my time to about one college per day, which was more than enough time for my two-week long Winter Break. Thankfully, some of the colleges I applied to had deadlines after December 31, so I could celebrate New Years and still have time to complete my remaining essays.

Common App and Google Docs were always open on my computer during the break. I probably copied and pasted my Common App password so many times, I finally memorized my password. For every college online portal I had to make an account for, I had to create a new password. UMiami had a portal. Northwestern had its CAESAR portal. University of Florida had its portal. So did Georgia Tech. And you better bet Carnegie Mellon University, my current school, had one, too.

Making passwords eventually became a challenge, like how do you make 13 uniquely strong passwords? What I most enjoyed about applying to college was writing the application essays; sure I had a ton to write, but I found the experience personally gratifying and self-validating.

For me, writing my essays felt like writing my autobiography. I recalled the many travails I encountered as a First-Generation, low-income student. But I had difficulty piecing out the most important details to include in an essay; this was especially challenging for those Common App essays that had word limits. Thankfully, I contacted my eadviser through College Advising Corps, a pipeline network that assists low- and middle-income students to reach admission to top-tier universities across the United States. My eadviser, Andrew, showed me first-hand the power of writing.

After composing a draft, I sent it to Andrew. The next day, he would reply to my email with many comments and revisions. For my first draft, there were slashes across entire sentences, suggestions to replace a word, questions as to where was my thesis statement. I’m very reticent to feedback; I take it very personally, thinking it reflects on me as a unskilled student. But Andrew’s comments didn’t make me feel humiliated; on the contrary, I was amazed by his expertise. I agreed with all his comments and could see why some of my sentences could do without cliches, and more specificity. Saying that “I’m a student here to beat the odds” wasn’t specific enough, but saying rather, “My parents, who moved to Central Florida from Mexico knew that they were sacrificing a secure life and immediacy from family, taught me that hard work involves sacrifice,” was a much more detailed introduction to my essay.

I didn’t have to wait for college to be someone; I was already someone, me. All I needed to be was me; going to college meant that I was going to explore myself deeper and love the person who I am.

In essence, Andrew helped me to speak my story. Before my essays, I was ashamed of my struggles. I was ashamed of being poor; I was even ashamed of being a First Generation student. But by devoting so much time to my story, to me, I felt validated. I felt cared about. I felt that someone believed in me and saw that I was already an impactful person. I didn’t have to wait for college to be someone; I was already someone, me. All I needed to be was me; going to college meant that I was going to explore myself deeper and love the person who I am. I realized how valuable I am when I was writing my college application essays.