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Aiming for a UC - Patricia Cervantes, 18

I’ve had an amazing teacher. Mrs. V. started to talk to me about life after high school when I was in my freshmen year. I knew that I wanted to go to a good university a long time ago, but had no idea what a good university meant or how to get there. My family always told me that going to a good university was what they wanted for me, but what did “good” mean? I began to talk to my teachers about what a “good” university meant. This is when Mrs. V. first introduced me to University of California and Cal State University systems, which are also known as UCs and Cal States. Mrs. V. asked what were my goals, but I didn't really have an answer. Then she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and also didn't have an answer. I was completely disillusioned and overwhelmed because it all seemed so hard to figure out. For a few months I settled on the idea of attending any university or any community college. Besides, I don't think my parents would know the difference. Still, from time to time I asked questions whenever possible to anyone I thought could help. Also, I continued to do some online research about how universities work. Some places said that where I went to school didn’t matter, but some said that it did matter a lot. I couldn't figure out who was right, but I realized two things. One, my favorite teacher whom I thought was the smartest person in the world, went to a UC. Two, there are many differences between UC, Cal States, and community colleges. The vast majority said that top choices were UCs because they were more commonly known for research and they have graduate degrees, while other universities typically do not.

Here’s the really bad news, UCs are much more expensive and farther away from where I live. Also, they have more requirements to get in. Several things matter like my overall GPA, extracurricular activities, SAT scores, letters of recommendation (I had that covered, thanks Mrs. V.), and a personal statement. The first thought that came to mind was, never mind! The more research I did, the more down I felt. Once I confirmed everything with Mrs. V. I felt worse. She said that they are looking for these requirements because they want to make sure that their students are well prepared. I was doomed! I was not the whole package!

Mrs. V. kept telling me to go see my counselor, but I didn't. I didn't want to hear the bad news. Every few days she asked me, but I didn't see the point. At some point my counselor came looking for me. Here’s what I didn't know. I didn't have to be the whole package. I didn't have to have perfect grades. I don't have to play sports. I didn't know that my high school offered a college prep program. And most importantly I didn't know that there are ways to get into a UC for free (or close to free). Yes, free! Grants and scholarships take care of that. I couldn't believe it. My counselor said that they could put me on a plan that would help me get in. My counselor and Mrs. V. warned me that I would have to work very hard to get all the requirements done, but I was ok with that. She also said that I didn't have to know everything and have all the answers. I would figure things out along the way. She was right!

All of that was two years ago. About two weeks ago, I received an acceptance letter from UC Irvine. I’ve walked the campus. It is simply beautiful. Actually, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Honestly, it was hard. I took hard classes and spent long hours doing homework. Also, I became a part of our school’s newsletter. I remember Mrs. V. telling me to aim high. She told me those words about a thousand times. Every time I heard it, I was shy about saying yes, but I was thinking it. She said that I had nothing to lose and much more to gain. I followed the plan and her words. The plan really worked! It was so hard all the way through, but I’m glad I did it. I’m glad that I listened. I can actually say that it was fun. I’m going to really miss high school, but I am so ready to experience life after high school. It’s all really scary, but I’m sure that I will figure things out along the way.

~ Patricia Cervantes, 18

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