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With a little help from my friends and teacher

By Cesar Martinez, 18, freshman University of Wisconsin-Madison

During the first semester of my senior year I was so depressed that I caught the senioritis virus and my grades slipped. My family was breaking apart; I had to deal with school work and manage to keep a job. There were times when I felt like I couldn’t go on since I had no one to give me moral support and I really felt empty inside.

Luckily I had good friends who were there for me like a second family. I was able to rely on them to help me out. When it came to applying to college, I was worn out and frustrated. I am one of those students who isn’t good with paperwork and being organized, but every day my friends told me to fill out a small part of the application and not try to do everything in one day. My teacher believed in me and pushed me to continue in my studies and apply to college—that gave me hope that there will be a better tomorrow.

My senioritis disappeared when I received a scholarship through the Posse Foundation, which my teacher nominated me for. This is a special program which forms multicultural teams of high school students called “posses.” You get to know everyone in your posse, and then you attend the same school and support each other. Through Posse, my best friend Jose and I are going to the University of Wisconsin-Madison with our four-year tuition all paid for.

In the end I realized that I have to take charge of my future, and I want to go to college so I can live a better life than the one I live today. I will be the first in my family to go to college. It is a lot of pressure knowing that everybody is looking up to me to succeed and carve a path for my brother and sister to follow. My other motivation is myself—I always remind myself that I can do it and I am capable of making it in college. (see more stories below the picture)

Students from Ms. Pike’s English class at San Fernando High are now attending the following colleges
(listed from left to right): 

Cesar Martinez, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Rosina Guzman, Mount St. Mary’s (in Los Angeles); Jay Paraz, UC Irvine; Edgar Flores, UC Irvine; Randy Dominguez, Dickinson College (in Pennsylvania); Christina Nguyen, UC Santa Cruz ; Elizabeth Rodriguez,
California State University, Northridge (CSUN); Teacher Lori Pike; Jose Gutierrez, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Andrea Guzman, California State University, Northridge (CSUN)

Photo by Managing Editor Libby Hartigan

Me—at a private college?

By Blanca Valdes, 18, freshman at the University of Redlands

When I entered high school, I did not have a clue where I wanted to attend college. I was reluctant to leave my family, especially my younger brother because he was born prematurely and had many problems. I also wanted to go to a school that I had seen before, and I was very familiar with California State University, Northridge (CSUN) after many long years of visiting with clubs and classes. I would not feel like an outcast there because many of my friends would be attending.

Yet the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if CSUN was the right school for me. It’s a very large school with a high student-to-teacher ratio, something I dislike. I wanted to find a college where I could have a chance to meet everyone and get the opportunity to talk to my professors, not their assistants. I was not sure what to do—I did not know of any school that had this but was located in an area that I felt comfortable with.

Luckily, I have a great English teacher, Ms. Pike, who encourages the class to venture out into the world and explore new things. She planned a class trip to the University of Redlands east of Los Angeles County. I was not very interested in the school but thought it would not hurt to at least look at it. As soon as I saw the campus, I fell in love with it. It was everything I wanted; a beautiful school in a great location, with a small number of students but with enough clubs, sports and organizations to keep busy. I could play against more competitive soccer teams from different regions of California. Everyone was friendly and interesting, so I decided that the University of Redlands was a very good option, if I got accepted.

During my senior year, it was difficult keeping up with application deadlines especially since they were all hitting at the same time. I could tell I was not going to complete all of my applications so I had to narrow down my choices to a few UC’s and the University of Redlands. It was a challenge, yet I put all of my time and effort into applying on time so I could receive scholarships.

Last spring, I received the best news in my life. I got accepted to Redlands and was nominated for a scholarship. Who knew a girl from San Fernando High, a Mexican girl, could get accepted to Redlands? I was ecstatic—the time and effort I put into this was worthwhile.

Our teacher laid out a plan and we helped each other follow it

By Elizabeth Rodriguez, 18, freshman at Cal-State Northridge

If I had been asked in the ninth or t10th grade where I wanted to study, what I wanted to study or if I even wanted to go to a four-year university, my answer would have been “I don’t know.” I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wasn’t sure what I was good at and I didn’t find anything interesting. So when it came to applying for college, I was grateful my English teacher divided everything into sections. Instead of taking a big leap, my class took it step by step.

During our vacation when we were off-track, we had to research 12 universities and then cut the list to the six we were most interested in. When we returned from our vacation, the teacher checked to see if we had our six colleges. After that, things got hard. We had to apply, and since most of us were applying to the UC’s, we had to write the three required essays. Since I’m pretty good at writing and I already had a clue about what to write, I was able to finish my papers before my classmates.

Instead of going ahead, I became the unofficial editor for my class. I helped people who didn’t exactly know what to write about. I talked to them like only a friend can about what they enjoy doing, and I applied that to their essays since colleges want to get an idea of the applicant’s personality through a student’s writing. I sat next to them while I read their papers and I would circle things that didn’t make sense or that were redundant.

If they gave me the “are-you-kidding-me?!” look, I would smile and encourage them to just try a bit harder and tell them that they were headed in the right direction. After we were done with the essays, we barely had time to wipe the sweat off our foreheads before sending in the applications.

We also took the same type of steps with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Before anything, the class had to get our Personal Identification Number (PIN) numbers for our parents and ourselves. (These are special numbers assigned by the U.S. Department of Education.) Then, to prepare us for the real thing, the class had to prepare financial aid information and bring it in so the teacher would know that we understood what we were going to do. After that, we had to get a copy of our parents’ tax returns. When we had those things, we were ready to fill out our financial aid forms.

I like this approach the best because I wasn’t overwhelmed by everything. Instead, I took baby steps and got everything in on time. I also liked it because the whole class was on the same page so we could ask each other questions about what was going on.

I ended up choosing California State University, Northridge (CSUN) because of their good business program and because they offer design classes. Also, I feel more comfortable on campus. I know I can be myself at CSUN.

To read teacher Lori Pike’s plan for how she got her students onto a four-year college track click here.

Click here to read Geraldo’s story about freaking out while applying to college .