Updated: Nov 26, 2020
Angel Valez Ordonez
During my junior and senior years of high school, I realized the differences in identities between myself and my peers. The majority of my school was full of white and wealthy students, and I often found myself being the only low-income student of color in my AP classes, in the honor society, and in many extracurriculars like sports and marching band.
Being a minority in almost every space I entered made me feel scared, unworthy of an education, and insecure in my academic and personal abilities. I felt that because I did not have the money to participate in as many extracurriculars or because I had to work on the weekends to support my family instead of studying or hanging out with friends that I was less than everyone else.
When we began taking standardized tests and thinking about the colleges, we were all going to apply to, I felt even worse. My peers, who had all had private tutoring and test preparation materials for SAT and ACT exams, were achieving incredibly high scores while I struggled with studying for the same exams. My standardized test scores were low compared to the majority of other students, and when everyone else began to apply to colleges in our senior year, I felt that there was no way I stood a chance in gaining admission if I was going to be compared against them. They had the test scores, the extracurriculars and leadership, the wealth, and the personal connections to get into elite schools; I thought, what did I have to offer?
It wasn’t until I met with my counselor, a first-generation Latino man who had supported me all throughout high school, that I felt hope and confidence in the way that I could present myself in my college applications. He told me to write about myself, my experiences, and my passions. Encouraged, that is what I did.
I wrote my college admissions essays on what it was like growing up low-income, how I constantly felt less than my peers, how I struggled in classes after my father had passed away, how my SAT score was not the highest because I could not access test preparation, and how I spent the majority of my time working two jobs in order to support my family instead of being able to participate in extracurriculars.
I explained my circumstances throughout high school and mentioned what I had learned through my experiences – tenacity, resilience, self-care, confidence, and the importance of community. I wrote from the heart, I was transparent and proud of the test scores and grades I submitted, and I sent in each college application with hope for my future and love for myself and my efforts. Fifteen out of the seventeen schools I applied to offered me acceptance letters.
If I had not spoken to my counselor who helped me gain a bit of confidence in myself, I would not have applied to any schools. That small surge of hope that he instilled in me by reassuring me that despite what my peers had, my intersecting identities – being a low-income, first-generation, queer, Latinx student – all taught me important life lessons and valuable skills was what pushed me to apply.
Now, as a rising third year at UC Berkeley studying pre-law, I look back on my high school experience and recognize the strength that I had to push myself to apply to so many universities despite the feelings of inadequacy I battled every day. Even if you do not think you will get accepted by a college or that you are not good enough for a certain program or scholarship, apply anyways. Be honest, do not compare yourself to others, write from the heart, and be proud of what you have accomplished. You are more than capable and worthy of whatever it is that you want to achieve.