Overcoming Obstacles as a First Generation College Applicant


Graphic by Jasmine Shen.

By Emily Meza-Perez, Senior Writer

Obstacles and challenges in life can be perceived in one of two ways: either you become overwhelmed and let them overpower your drive for success, or you become stronger and use these hardships as motivation. I have chosen the latter, but it hasn’t always been that way.

I’ve kept a part-time job since I was a sophomore, working after school and on weekends in order to help my family with whatever expenses possible. My body’s hurt from overworking myself for a job that pays minimum wage and doesn’t even require a high school diploma. I’ve witnessed the adults I’ve worked with struggle to make sure their families have everything they need.

It’s this future of financial instability that I’m trying to avoid. The worries of living paycheck to paycheck paired with an understanding of the value of hard work have pushed me to find the resources I need to achieve a higher education. My fight with anxiety has also challenged my concentration and academic performance.

My parents and my roots are my ultimate motivation. When my mother and father immigrated to this country from Mexico, they left behind their lives , starting from the bottom in American society for the chance of better opportunities. I want my parents to know their struggles were worth it, because I was able to attain a degree to provide me with the connections and education for a happy and comfortable lifestyle. I want to prove to those who doubted and discriminated my people that immigrants are here to work hard and be a part of a more diverse and understanding environment.

It’s hard to sit down and reflect on the last years of high school when a lot of it was me freaking out about my future. Looking back to junior year, it was a blur of 50 percent stress and 50 percent sleep deprivation. While those factors have all been a part of my experience as a first -generation student, being first-generation is also the root of the insight and wisdom that sets me apart from others.

While college applications are a stressful experience for all high school students, it’s especially challenging for a first-generation students. It doesn’t matter if you’re capable and intelligent if you don’t have the resources for the college application process. Finding resources and reaching out for help is how I’ve learned to face my obstacles head on.

AVID, which appropriately stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is the program that has guided me through the college process since I was a freshman. AVID is designed for first-generation students, and provides students with tutoring for their high school courses, preparation for the SAT/ACT and guidance through A-G requirements and extracurriculars, which are crucial for college applications.

Despite my parents not being able to assist me through the process, AVID has been the backbone of my motivation toward a college degree. My AVID peers and I make up 10 percent of Los Altos’ student body, and it has been incredibly valuable to have a community throughout high school that shares similar struggles to my own; it makes the dream of college less scary and less lonely.

Personally, while college has been a goal which I have had to constantly push myself toward, it’s never been a given. The thing is, I don’t have any money for college. I’ve always known that where I end up in life will be determined by whether I kept driven or gave up. There are many students at Los Altos who are not AVID students who can still relate, but there are resources for everyone. An example is the Cash for College Workshop, which is held annually at Los Altos. This year, the event was a success, and the library filled up with students and parents who received help in completing and submitting either the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the California Dream Act application. Los Altos and its administration strives to provide first-generation students with resources and events that will provide direct assistance with the process. As a student it’s vital to seek out that information and take advantage of the free resources, and to always choose to view hardships as motivations.