Students of Color

Getting Into College Is Tough for First-Generation College Students, So I'm Making It a Little Easier

Without the support of my college counselor, I would not be where I am today. In my senior year of high school, I was a student who required a lot of support and guidance. The whole college application process was an exhausting and daunting fiasco. As a first-generation college student, I found myself doing everything on my own, without any family support and knowing very little of what was entailed in both applying and getting into college. I was also incredibly stubborn which didn’t help the process whatsoever. For that reason, I will forever acknowledge the difference my high school college counselor made in my life. From being someone who listened, to someone who generally cared about my well-being, to even offering a small look of reassurance was enough to help me through rocky moments. In the worst moments during my freshman and sophomore years of college, I would remember how it felt to be back in her cubicle with my friends, knowing that help was always less than a few feet away.

A Bridge to College

As a college sophomore, I now try and offer that same type of support my high school college counselor provided me through Urban Assembly’s Bridge to College program. I didn’t have any real experience or certifications beyond that of graduating high school and being enrolled in college, but I found that this in itself was enough and vitally essential to the core of Urban Assembly’s Bridge to College program. To be frank, I didn’t know Urban Assembly’s Bridge to College (BTC) Program existed until my high school college counselor brought it to my attention. She tried her best to sell me on the idea, and though I had my doubts about working with students on their journey to college, I decided to accept the position. The program deploys UA alumni (like myself) currently enrolled in college, called college coaches, to identify and respond to financial, logistical and personal difficulties our UA high school graduates face in the transition from high school to college. I was to start my BTC training the week after I finished my freshman year at SUNY New Paltz. The first week involved reviewing a lot of documents regarding financial aid and college websites. We had a crash course on all things college-related, but counseling day (my favorite day) is what convinced me BTC was for me. I remember feverishly nodding my head as I listened to all the reasons this role was life-changing. I consider myself a testament to that. I remember thinking, if I could make just an ounce of a difference in my students’ lives, it would all be worth it. I can distinctly recall my fear of failure, confusion and nervousness my first few days of working with my student cohort. Even though I had gone through the college application process myself just a year earlier, I didn’t think of myself as someone who could effectively take charge or learn all the confusing jargon of the college world. The responsibility also weighed heavily on my mind. I eventually spoke to my high school college counselor about my reservations and, looking back, her confidence in my abilities is what led me to try even harder to prove she had made the right decision by hiring me. Initially, it was hard getting the students to trust my abilities but eventually with some persistence, it clicked. The fact that there was a relatively small age gap between us made it possible for this level of comfort to exist without feeling the pressure of having an “adult” there. Something that I knew I struggled with during my own process. Their frustrations were my frustrations; their successes were my successes. During my own college process, the amount of learning I did was extremely overwhelming and could have (and almost did) put me off college in general. I never wanted any of my students to feel that way, so I made it a point to always talk about how they felt while working with them. In doing so, students opened up to me; most of them came from similar backgrounds as me and were faces I had seen in the hallway full of both hope and fear of the future. It was intimidating, but also incentive to do better, to not let them down. Throughout that first summer as a coach, I grew as a person. My outlook on a lot of things changed, and the idea that working within the college access/education field might be in my future became prevalent. That’s the reason I came back. Because I knew just how important the process was for me, and how lucky I was to have a good experience with someone who truly cared. So, being able to do that for others is meaningful in a way that I will never be able to truly convey. To be fair, I’m still learning things during my second summer of being a coach—though it’s much easier the second time around.
Photo courtesy of Linda Rendon.
Linda Rendon is a rising junior at SUNY New Paltz studying English. She originally wanted to be an English teacher, but her interest and passion in both K-12 and higher education equity has led her to explore other career possibilities. She has been a part of NYSACAC’s 2018 student panel focusing on the hardships of college matriculation and hopes to one day work in advocacy.

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