Being a Poor College Student and Asking For More

Growing up, my parents embedded this ideology that I should be happy and grateful for what I have. My Mother would say:

Aunque seamos pobres, tenemos un techo, ropa, y comida. Eso es suficiente.”
“Even if we are poor, we have a roof, clothes, and food. That suffices.”


This was an ideology that I cherished because it was true– I had everything I needed and shouldn’t ask for more. Every Christmas when my family didn’t have gifts under the tree, my mother’s words made me feel better about our situation. When we had to eat the same thing for a whole week, I understood the significance of at least having something to eat. This was the ideology that made me appreciate the small, cramped apartments that I have lived in for most of my life. However, this type of ideology, although I used it throughout my whole life, was one that made college harder for me.

Not asking for more is something that I became conditioned to. I sat in classes where at times I didn’t understand what the instructor was saying. I could have raised my hand and asked for clarification, but I didn’t. I felt that they had explained it clearly and that I was just asking for too much by having them explain to me a problem. Therefore, after class I would do my own research and read my textbooks to try to find explanations for problems done in class. There were times when I would go to tutoring and sit in silence for the majority of the time while the same kids asked questions to the tutor. There were times when my instructor would give me unclear feedback on my essay, but I didn’t want to ask for clarification because I thought that the feedback they gave me should suffice. There were times when I had my work pile up and wanted extensions to be able to put my best effort into assignments, yet didn’t ask for them because I felt that the deadlines given to me were early enough for me to start my work.

Yet, I was always surrounded by students that knew how to ask. They asked for clarification, they asked for extensions, and they just knew how to ask for more. The way they asked and the agency they possessed exemplified how natural this was for them. Maybe they came from resourceful backgrounds or attended resourceful schools that allowed them to ask for more? Nevertheless, it took me two whole quarters to finally ask for more. I asked my professor for an extension on my final research essay. The experience of asking for an extension was nerve-wrecking merely because I was afraid that my professor would see me differently or that he would simply say no. I drafted the email around five times, each time creating a scenario of how my professor would respond. I eventually sent it.

To make the story short, I got the extension, and it was longer than the one I actually needed. I submitted my final paper and earned an “A” on it because the extension allowed me to put in effort and thought into my essay. The lesson I learned from this is that sometimes asking for more can help your situation and lead to better outcomes. Although my parents had good intentions, this ideology can’t be used in settings like college because I have realized I will only stay behind if I simply settle for what I have.

This experience may not be universal to all poor students, but it was my reality. Poverty conditioned me to value the things I was given and not ask for more. However, I need to learn how to ask for more, not because I am greedy, but because by asking for more I will be able to get the adequate resources and opportunities that will allow me to succeed in the environment that I currently exist in.

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Guillermo Camarillo

Guillermo Camarillo

Guillermo Camarillo is a Chicago native currently studying at Stanford University -- class of 2020. His intended major is in engineering, but he is still not sure what specific type of engineering he wants to study. He was born and raised in Chicago’s West-side neighborhood, La Villita. Guillermo identifies as a first-gen, Latino, and low-income student. His true passions are in STEM, advocacy for oppressed groups, equity in education, mentorship, and helping others. Being the son of two undocumented immigrants, Guillermo is seeking to find ways to not only be their voice, but the voice of other individuals that are voiceless. He gained global recognition because of his “Dear Dentist” letter that addressed the common theme of individuals trying to discredit the accomplishments of minority, low-income, first-gen students. He hopes to continue to tell the other side of the narrative.

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