Lynwood High School did a great job in making sure I was college bound. I was encouraged to enroll in college prep programs to provide me with the additional counseling that I needed. My counselor enrolled me in AP and Honors courses to expose me to the rigor of college classes, and I joined clubs to learn leadership skills. I took the PSAT multiple times and was provided with SAT and ACT fee waivers. And when my parents could not afford to pay for my college applications, my teachers came together to cover the cost.
When I received my admissions letters, the message was sent loud and clear, Lynwood High School had done its job; I would be the first in my family to attend college.
The Class of 2011 had over 15 students commit to the University of California Irvine; over half fell into academic probation during our first year. And over time, many dropped out, either for financial or academic reasons. In the end, less than half of us graduated. But if it were not for the influence of my mentors, I, too, would have dropped out.
Reality set in quickly for me in my first year at UCI. I recognized that although I was qualified for acceptance, I was not well prepared for college life. I was never taught how to navigate my campus or find programs to help me as a first-generation student. There was no one to show me how to study properly or how to manage my time efficiently. I did not know how to budget for books, food, and other living expenses. And no one told me the importance of internships or research positions or how to look for them. I felt like I did not belong, and my self-esteem and academic interest soon declined.
On a visit home, I was forced to be brutally honest about my horrible experiences at UCI with my former math teacher, who coincidentally was also an LHS and UCI alum. I admitted that I was hopelessly confused and was considering dropping out. When he heard this, he set out to help me. He informed me of clubs and organizations I should be aware off and put me in contact with members of his network. Most importantly he shared his experiences as a first-generation student and helped me realize that I was not alone. I appreciated him, and without knowing, he validated the importance of mentorship. After this experience, I set out to find different mentors to guide and share their experiences with me.
While Lynwood High School did an amazing job in preparing me for college, mentorship is also an important factor in student success. Mentors can help students develop the skills necessary to aid in their transition to college and ease the overwhelming stress that can lead students to drop out. Remember it is not enough to get students to college, we need to help them finish as well.
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