By Ernesto Pineda, 19, Animo Film & Theatre Arts Charter HS
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Ernesto says it's important to plan for your future.

I hear so much talk about college around my school. In the hallway they have a list of seniors and what schools they’ve been accepted to. They want to show other students that people are going to college and doing something with their lives. Our teachers tell us college is an experience we don’t want to miss. One of the administrators talked about a former student who was unprepared and so culture-shocked that she dropped out. She was warning us that college is different than the ghetto. She was telling us this so we would take college seriously, but it strengthened my fears about college, that I won’t fit in and maybe it’s not for me.

I can understand how living in poverty makes people want to embrace any opportunity to move up in life, but it’s hard for me to see myself in college. When I went to UCLA for a field trip, I saw people carrying books as they were walking to their classes. They were doing work on tables outside. I thought, “I’m not as focused as these students.” In college you work with others and ask others for help. But I don’t like to talk to people I don’t know. College students know how to organize their time and know to work ahead on assignments. I’m lazy and I wait until the last minute to write a paper.

Click here to listen to Ernesto getting interviewed by CNN reporter Lisa Desjardins for the American Sauce podcast.
Advance to the 9:20 mark to hear Ernesto.

I’m not sure that I’ll get in because I feel the odds are stacked against me. My parents can’t help me because they didn’t go to college. So it wasn’t easy to plan for college and I don’t understand financial aid. I know it’s not an excuse, but it makes it harder for me than for others.

I imagined myself working a low-paying job

Illustration by Alison Lee, 15, Whitney HS (Cerritos)

Because I’m lazy, I was a C-student in middle school. I knew I needed to do better in high school to get into college. My mother told me I had to go to college, because she didn’t want me to spend my life working a low-paying job. She never finished high school because she got pregnant at a young age. It’s been hard for her because she didn’t have enough education to get a higher-paying job to support us. But I got bad grades in high school so I stopped believing I was going to go to college. Me and my friend Juan said that after we graduated we’d get an apartment. I thought I’d flip burgers or be a cashier, anything to just get by.

Then this year in our economics class we pretended to live on minimum wage (which is about $1,300 a month). I went over my budget and I wasn’t even buying anything expensive. I saw that having a minimum wage job is harder than I thought it would be.

In October, on the day we got our transcripts, I was disappointed. With my 1.95 GPA, I figured the chances were slim that I’d get into a four-year school. I gave up, aware that hundreds of students from other schools (as we are reminded by our school as pressure to motivate us) are applying to college and have higher GPAs.

My school encouraged us to apply to at least four schools, including one UC. There was such a push from the school to get our applications in that I decided it would be bad if I didn’t apply to at least one. As a procrastinator, I barely got my UC San Diego application in. I was trying to get in my application for Cal State Dominguez Hills but I didn’t finish in time. So I gave up on college from there.

Vocational school is an option

I’m a little more positive since I started this story. My editor at L.A. Youth showed me the website, which gives you information about different careers and which ones are growing. I said I was interested in being an electrician so we searched for information about that career. Some electricians had on-the-job training and a few had associate’s  (two-year) degrees. The average hourly wage was $26 an hour. Minimum wage is $8. That’s a huge difference. An electrician seems like a good job. I’m good with my hands and I’ve always had an interest in technology.

My counselor said I could still get into a four-year college because there are some that accept people all year. I feel like I should take her advice, but even if I get accepted I’m not sure I want to go. I’ve heard about students who drop out the first year. What if I become one too? It’s hard because I don’t know if I should go for vocational school or go for college.

I’m confused about what to do but at least I’m more aware of my options. I think people should learn about other options besides four-year college, to have a backup plan. I felt like I was going to end up in a minimum wage job just getting by, but now I see I can find something better. Knowing I have a better plan, I feel the future will be easier.


Illustration by Alison Lee, 15, Whitney HS (Cerritos)

Teens figure out what they’re going to do after high school.Deciding what to do after you graduate is a huge step in your lives. Your teachers are probably telling you to go to college. But what do you want to do? You might wonder whether you’re even ready for college or want to consider working. In this economy are there more sensible options than a four-year university, like community college or the military? Check out how three L.A. Youth writers are trying to determine “What’s next?” in their lives.
Making the most of community college
Devin was disappointed to be going to SMC, but getting involved has shown her it has a lot to offer.

The military is my path to nursing

The Army Reserve is going to pay for school so Caitlin can become a nurse.

I don’t feel ready
Ernesto worries he won’t succeed at college, but wonders if he can support himself without a degree.

Other stories by this writer:

Why is eating healthy so hard?
Junk food is all around him, but 18-year-old Ernesto is trying to make better choices when he eats. ALSO: an interview with a teen expert who shares ways to eat healthier. (March – April 2010)

Time to be counted
Filling out the census doesn’t take long and helps your community, says 18-year-old Ernesto. (January – February 2010)

Taking on teen pregnancy
The play Ernesto, 17, was part of taught him and his classmates about the consequences of sex. WITH sidebar about the efffectiveness of different forms of birth control. (Ocotber 2009)

Music to soothe my soul
Because it’s full of emotion, Ernesto, 17, prefers classical music over everything else. (May – June 2009)

I’m a loner but not lonely
It was worth the struggle for Ernesto, 16, to make friends, even though he still likes spending time alone. (September 2008)