Focused on Scholarships

By Michelle Sandoval
Program Director
Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera

We all know that the costs of college can be shocking, but don’t let financial hardship prevent you from going to your dream college. There are lots of scholarships available to help supplement the costs. While I know you may feel tired from filling out applications and writing essays, now is not the time to slow down. The perfect mix would be to apply for a combination of smaller $250-$500 scholarships, as well as larger ones that are $1,000 and more. The more you apply for, the better chance you’ll have at securing funds for your college tuition. I recommend applying for at minimum FIFTEEN scholarships. However, applying to 20 to 25 scholarships would really show your commitment to getting to college and not having to worry too much about financial assistance. Remember, every dollar adds up.

Here are some basic tips to keep in mind:

1. Create a professional email address

Don’t forget to create and use a professional email account. For example,,, or are all variations of my name that look professional. You can add middle initial or middle name if your preferred name is taken.

2. Apply for national, statewide and local scholarships
A great place to start is College Greenlight, which matches your personal profile with a list of national and regional scholarships. For local scholarships, check with your campus’ College & Career Center, local media websites, and community pages. Most local scholarships tend to come from individual/family donors as well as local organizations, such as the Rotary Club, Women’s Club, Elks Lodge, and Alumni Associations.

3. Apply to as many scholarships as possible
The top two things that increase your chances of securing several scholarships are: (1) Applying to scholarships that require more work AND (2) applying to scholarships with smaller award amounts. Why? These two types of scholarships often cause THOUSANDS of dollars to go unclaimed every year. For example, students overlook smaller scholarships because the ones with larger amounts are obviously more appealing. However, smaller scholarships tend to have fewer applicants. Remember, those “small” scholarships can be used to pay off important items such as health insurance, books and even bus passes for daily commutes. Also, those applications that require a portfolio, long essay, or additional media examples tend to be seen as more “work” by so many students that the several who do submit a completed application have a much higher chance of winning!

4. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Your College Application Content
Many high school students don’t realize that they can recycle parts of their different college application essays to use in their scholarship applications. Reduce your workload…you do not have to start from scratch. Reuse by taking a second glance at your Personal Insight Questions (used for University of California applications) or your Personal Statement (used for the Common Application) and select the parts that best reflect your personality. Recycle by mixing and matching content from different college applications if you have to, just make sure to tie them together well and make sure you’re answering the scholarship question at hand.

5. Back to basics
Proofread for grammar, don’t use quotes/cliché statements, double-check to make sure you have met all of the requirements, stay under the word limit, and do not wait until the last day to submit! (Technology is amazing, but a large amount of visitors on the day of the deadline might cause a website to crash).



The Long Road Traveled – How I Got to My Dream College

Recently I was invited by University of Southern California (USC) to keynote their Annenberg High School Day, where they invite youth from different schools in the Los Angeles region to listen to inspirational leaders. It got me thinking about my path to college and how I ended up at the school of my dreams.

When I was in my junior year of high school, I was walking with my friend talking about college and what we wanted to major in, and she mentioned the word “journalism.” I thought, “What’s that?” I had never heard of the term before and she said, “You know, the news?” I loved hearing stories, storytelling and being in the mix of everything, so I was excited to learn that there’s a job that I knew I would love doing.

As I researched colleges, USC ranked as one of the top journalism schools in the nation, and I wanted to go to the best. The only problem was I knew my parents couldn’t afford to send me to USC, so I didn’t apply, and instead put in my college application for a University in California (UC).

When I arrived at the UC I felt overwhelmed, out of place, and knew in my heart that the school wasn’t for me. Needless to say, my freshman year was very difficult. Each weekend I would drive more than four hours to go home and then back to campus, and I fell into academic probation. By my sophomore year, I decided I needed to be fair to myself and give the school a fair shot to see if the university was really for me. I got very involved on campus, studied hard, and managed to pull myself out of academic probation. But I still felt that the campus just wasn’t for me. I really wanted to go to USC.

By the second quarter of my sophomore year, I left the UC on good standing and headed back home. By the following summer, I enrolled at Fullerton College and for the next year I would take general education classes and retake classes I didn’t do so well in at the UC, all in hope to get enough credits to transfer to USC. I was determined. In fact, I was so eager to attend USC, I applied with my low grade point average from the classes I didn’t do so great in while at the UC. Of course, my application got denied, but it was more fire under my bite to get in. I developed a rapport with the USC admissions counselor who helped outline the classes I needed to take to transfer in.

After completing the classes I needed, I applied a second time and got denied again. This time I was shook. After turning my grades around, making up classes and really doing well, I couldn’t believe I got denied. I spoke to my admissions counselor and she advised that I needed just one more “A” to push my grade point average a little higher. Still determined, I did what she recommended, studied hard and earned that “A.”

Finally, confident that this third time I would get in, I submitted my application. I was shocked when I received yet another denial letter. This couldn’t be right. I knew I earned the “A” I needed to get in, so I called the professor to contest my grade. Fortunately, I had kept a paper trail of every single quiz, paper and document with a score or some sort of grade on it to use as proof (I highly recommend all students to keep records like this). As the professor looked into the situation, I resolved to enroll at Cal State University of Long Beach (CSULB). As I was leaving my house to head to CSULB to register for classes, the mail carrier handed me our stack of mail and in it was a letter from Fullerton College. It turned out that the system at Fullerton had a glitch that made errors in many students’ grades, including mine. In my hand was a letter proving that I had indeed earned the “A” I needed to get into USC.

Not long after I was finally registering for classes at USC. I could only register as a part-time student during my first semester, because that’s what my parents could afford to put on a credit card (which by the way, I highly advise to NEVER put college tuition on a credit card). By the following semester, I secured student loans and worked two jobs to pay my way through college.

While I took the long way to get to my dream school, I was determined and I did it. In hindsight, I realize I approached my college-going experience the wrong way. I should have toured the UC before accepting so that I could get a feel for the campus. It’s so important to make sure that the campus life and energy feels right to you before you commit. Confidence in your choice makes a huge difference in how you’ll succeed at the school. I also shouldn’t have excluded applying to USC just because of financial reasons. There are so many scholarships and different types of financial assistance to help students afford college, especially now, so don’t limit yourselves. Go big, follow your gut and if it doesn’t work out the first time, don’t give up. It’s okay to take a step back, enroll in your local community college, while you figure out a new pathway to your dream college. The key is to not stop moving until you get there.

Jacki Cisneros

Catching Up with Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera Alum, Armando Godoy

We caught up with Armando Godoy, who graduated from El Rancho High School in 2017 and is a Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera (G1DPR) alum. The last time we featured Armando he was spearheading a series of monthly solar workshops at the STEAM Academy at Burke Middle School and was recognized for his leadership by ABC7’s “Cool Kids.”

Now in his sophomore year at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), Armando shares his college successes, which he credits to the workshops and support of G1DPR. Here’s what he had to say…


Tell us about your freshman year at UCSD. Any tips on how to transition from high school to college life?


The summer before freshman year, I attended UCSD’s Summer Engineering Institute. It’s similar to a summer bridge program and designed to help engineering students get use to college courses and life on campus. During the session, I had an opportunity to network with other students, attend workshops on how to access and take advantage of resources on campus, and learn how to manage my time between studying and activities. Once school started, I didn’t feel like a freshman at all. I already had a feel for the classes and campus and met some of my best friends I have today. The program really helped to set up my foundation for college, so I’d recommend that students transitioning to high school definitely go to any type of summer bridge or transition program.


What other activities have you participated in to stay engaged on campus?


During the Summer Engineering Institute, I was able to get to know the faculty and have them guide me as a mentor. One faculty member does research at UCSD’s structural engineering lab and asked if I wanted to be on a research team with Stanford, Berkeley and UCSD called the “Cripple Wall Research Project.” I knew it was a great opportunity, so I joined during the winter and spring semesters during my freshman year. It gave me an opportunity to work with PhD students that helped guide me in labs, get to know the teacher assistants from my classes better, and gain hands-on experience building walls and reinforcements. It was a cool opportunity that built on my experiences and confidence in engineering.


I also applied to be a peer mentor for the Summer Engineering Institute the summer before my sophomore year. I served as a mentor and RA (resident assistant) to 120 incoming freshman, guided workshops, provided tips and resources and more. I just felt like the program gave me so much when I attended, that I wanted to give back to the incoming students.


Sounds like you’ve really immersed yourself on campus! Looking ahead, what’s next for you?


Last quarter there was a career fair for construction management. I heard about this career fair at the very last-minute, so I rushed to get my resume printed, got dressed and headed over to the fair to see if I could find an internship for the summer. The first company I talked to was rough. But then I spoke to a company representative for another company and he really liked me. They passed my resume to the engineering team, and I got an email the next day requesting an interview. I drove up to Los Angeles for the interview and they offered me an internship as a project engineer right on the spot. I really didn’t think I would get the job. There are so many smart kids–many from private schools–that don’t have internships, but I think what set me apart was the interviewing skills that I learned through the workshops offered by G1DPR.


Thinking back to G1DPR, can you talk about how the program has helped you in college?


The Summer Boot Camp I participated in the before my high school senior year through G1DPR is where I really learned all of my professional skills that have helped me throughout college. For example, learning how to write professional emails, the mock interviews and the resume workshop–the resume workshop is what allowed me to be prepared for the college fair. I’ve kept my resume updated since G1DPR and that’s why I was able to print and go to the career fair on campus at the last minute. The mock interviews were very helpful too! At job fairs I can thrive. All of that practice made me comfortable having conversations and not nervous at all. Because of that, I can be myself and the recruiters can get to know my true character. I’m really thankful for all of those G1DPR workshops because it helped me land my summer internship and learn skills I just keep building on.


Any closing thoughts on G1DPR and the success you’re experiencing at UCSD so far?


I like to think that I used all of my resources from high school to the best of my ability through college. Current students at El Rancho High should take advantage of what G1DPR has to offer because they really do make you stand out and be competitive once you’re on your college campus. I hope that motivates ERHS students to be involved with the program and take what they learn to their college campuses.

Your Future Is Bright, But All You See Is Darkness

Andrew Sepulveda shares his journey from El Rancho High School to MIT, while battling depression.


You made it! You pushed through your rigorous high school classes, completed all of your college and scholarship applications, and now, as class valedictorian, you’re making your way up to the graduation stage to deliver a speech to the class of 2018.

It’s a speech students and faculty will remember for years. It’s honest and it’s emotional. The crowd cheers you on in support and in that moment, everything is all right. In the Fall, you’ll attend MIT—rumor has it that in the history of El Rancho High School, you’re the third student to be accepted. Your future is looking bright, but all you can feel is darkness.


This was the sentiment of Andrew Sepulveda, a Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera and El Rancho High School alum, as he graduated from high school last June. And while the buzz of the summer embodied his classmates, who probably spent summer hours working a part-time job, hanging out with friends, and soaking in the last few weeks of Pico Rivera before they started college, Andrew spent his days in therapy trying to resolve the burden of his deep depression.


“It all started in late April,” recalls Andrew. “My boyfriend was gone, my sister was away, and I was working through issues with my family. The reality of not getting accepted into top schools such as Harvard and Yale began to sink in, and rejection letters for scholarships heightened my worry about my $72,000 cost of tuition. I felt very lonely, sad and disconnected. Everything added up at once and it was too much for me to handle.”


After graduation, Andrew hit an all time low with his depression. He quit his job to focus on going to therapy, but even with daily 2-hour sessions, his loneliness and depression still haunted him. After two suicide attempts, Andrew’s therapy sessions were bumped to 8-hour daily sessions and an increase in antidepressants.


“I would wake up, go to therapy, come home and sleep. My mom was concerned about my safety. I felt like I had no purpose. At one point, my family and I decided that I was too depressed to move 3,000 miles across the country. I was going to give up my spot at MIT.”


Andrew did experience ounces of hope during his depression. Simple things such as getting Boba drinks with friends and hanging out helped ease his mind. “When I was alone, it made me overthink. Being with friends or company was the best distraction.”


Through faith, therapy and talking more with his family, Andrew decided that he had to push through and make his way to MIT. In late August, he flew across the country and stepped onto MIT’s campus. The thoughts of what to expect of his roommates, classes and the overall environment made him anxious, but within the first week, Andrew felt alive and well.


“Through all of this I learned that I am resilient. I realize now that not getting accepted into Harvard and Yale was a good thing. Then I would have agonized over selecting which college to go to and I may not have chosen MIT. Now that I’m at MIT, it all makes sense. I was meant to be here. The courses are incredibly hard but there’s a shared sentiment that no one is going to succeed here by doing it alone. Even strangers walking by who see what you’re working on will stop by and offer help. It truly is the best place for me…my mind is constantly being challenged with academics and I never feel alone.”


For fellow DONS and students suffering from depression, Andrew recommends being honest. “Tell people about it. Let them know you’re feeling alone and need someone to sit with you or listen.” For parents, Andrew recommends that parents lend an open ear to listen but not give advice. “Sometimes we just want our parents to ask us how we’re doing so we can open up to them, but not have to hear their judgments or advice. We just need to know that they are listening.”

Andrew is not alone in his depression. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 3 million adolescents ages 12 to 17 have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Teen depression appears to be on the rise equally among urban, rural, and suburban populations. First-and-second generation Hispanics are significantly more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression than immigrants, according to research conducted by faculty members at New York University. Additionally, the prevalence of depression in Latino women is higher (46%) than Latino men (19.6%), according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.


Self-harm is often associated with depression. Never ignore comments or concerns about suicide. Always take action to get help for a friend or loved one. If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, there are many resources available to help teens and young adults, including:


  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use its webchat on
  • The It Gets Better campaign and The Trevor Project, which provides a national, 24-hr, toll-free confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth at 866-488-7386. The Trevor Project also provides an online chatand confidential text messaging—text “Trevor” to 202-304-1200.


“When you’re in a depressed state, you think you’ll never be happy again,” says Andrew. “Just know that you have a purpose. Get help and work through it because there’s something great waiting for you.”

“BECOMING” with Mrs. Michelle Obama

On Thursday, November 15th, after a long day of touring the college campus of UC Irvine, and a bus ride during rush-hour traffic, many of the Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera students made their way through the doors of the Forum in Los Angeles, to hear Former First Lady Mrs. Obama talk about her new biography, “BECOMING.”

The opportunity was made possible through a partnership with the Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros and Better Make Room, a movement launched by Mrs. Obama to support and inspire students to aim for higher education.


As part of her book tour, Mrs. Obama made it a point that her BECOMING events be accessible to as many people as possible, and not just those with means or who happened to be by a computer when the tickets went on sale. In partnership with Live Nation, Mrs. Obama gave away thousands of complimentary tickets to people around the country, particularly to young people growing up in communities like she did.  Mrs. Obama wanted everyone, especially young people, to see them in her story—to see the value in the fullness of their stories and to imagine who they might become in the years ahead.


As Mrs. Obama spoke in earnest of her youth and life leading up to the White House, many students nodded their heads in agreement as she shared her experiences, laughed at her jokes and candid responses, and were mesmerized by her words.  It was truly a moment those in attendance will never forget and will also be inspired by.




Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera – A Year in Review

With each year that goes by, we gain more momentum in fulfilling Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera’s mission of reaching one college degree in every Pico Rivera household. This year seemed to have gone by fast and we have much to reflect on and celebrate.


We began 2018 with another one of our students being recognized by ABC7’s “Cool Kids.” Julio Ornelas, who collected toys for children with cancer, was featured on the Los Angeles news station’s segment that highlights students who are making a difference in their community.

We held our first G1DPR club meeting for the class of 2019—this is the time and place where students discuss how they are going to dominate the college admissions process in the coming year. We also hosted workshops for the graduating class of 2018, which focused on topics to keep our students well prepared to ace exams in college, financial management and more.

Generation 1st Degree – Pico Rivera

In February, Julio Ornelas received news that he was awarded a Coca-Cola Scholarship, becoming the first student from Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera to be named a Coca-Cola Scholar!

In honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday in March, I participated in Read Across America as a VIP reader. I’ve always believed that reading is the foundation to student success in school, so it was an honor to participate in this national event.

As Spring break rolled around, students made their way north for our annual Northern California college campus tours. The first stop was Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, followed by Notre Dame de Namur University, Stanford University, The West Coast Ivy, San Francisco State University, San Jose State University and UC Santa Cruz. The group also had an opportunity to make a quick stop to Fisherman’s Wharf!

In May, we participated in Better Make Room’s College Signing Day—a nationwide event that was launched by Former First Lady Michelle Obama that asks the many first-generation high school graduating students to take a pledge to higher education.


The Class of 2018 walked the graduation stage in June, and by July we celebrated our graduates at our Summer Send Off Luncheon. Students were matched with college alumni for a round of Q&As.  Parents were also invited so they could ask questions about college life and feel more at ease about sending their child away to college. And I had a lot of fun raffling off fun prizes from computer printers to microwaves and toilet paper and other fun college survival necessities!

Summers don’t slow down for this group. In July, Michelle Sandoval, our program director, lead several workshops for class of 2019 members. During the month of July, students participated in workshops focused on personal statement, college application, resumes, practice interviews and more.

Once school was in full session by September, club meetings were back on track. September’s meeting had a huge turnout—a testament that the work we do with the students at El Rancho High School is sought after and appreciated.


To close out the year, were two very special events. In October, Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera and its volunteers came together to donate 10 books to every kindergarten student in Pico Rivera—typically over 800 books in all! It’s a fun event that gets our future college grads excited about reading and starting or adding to their own personal library at home.

And just last month, through the Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation’s partnership with Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room, we were able to offer an opportunity for our G1DPR students to attend Mrs. Obama’s “Becoming” Book Tour at the Forum in Los Angeles.

As we close out 2018, I want to express gratitude to the students, their parents, staff and faculty at El Rancho High School, our program director, Michelle Sandoval; and our partners for helping us continue to provide experiences that influence and encourage our Pico Rivera youth to aim for higher education.


Wishing everyone a Happy 2019!



Jacki Cisneros



Freshman Time Management Tips: Be Ambitious but Realistic

By Michelle Sandoval

Freshman year is the perfect time for researching and planning for opportunities that will help build your college applications and practice good time management. Experiences outside of your regular academic classes, such as summer programs, volunteer opportunities and more are what will help build your character, drive your interests and eventually become experiences from which you pull from to write college and scholarship essays, talk about in interviews and more. However, keep in mind that you will still need to maintain your grades and regular academic commitments, so when considering extracurricular activities, be realistic with what you can and cannot do. Here are some tips:

1. Manage your time and decide which extracurricular activities to which you can commit.
It is really tempting to join just about every club that offers free goodies or cool trips, but you must realize that the amount of homework will increase as the school year progresses. You don’t want to be swamped with schoolwork and an overcommitted schedule.

2. Select a few, quality extracurricular commitments.
Your time after school and on weekends should consist of more than just sleeping, eating, and watching TV. If you have nothing else to do, then you should be looking for activities that interest you, but that you can also continue doing for the rest of your time in high school. Narrow your choices to a club or two that are of the greatest interest to you personally and academically, and participate enough to show colleges that you were committed.

3. Know when to ask for help.
If you’re struggling with a subject, please let your teacher know as soon as possible so that a plan of action can be established before your grade is too low and nothing can be done about it.

4. You will make mistakes. Learn from it and move on.
A bad exam grade is not the end of the world. You might have a day when you’re completely surprised by the teacher announcing that they’re collecting a homework assignment that was due that day. But you have to bounce back. Make a promise to yourself that you’ll learn from your mistake. Buy a planner that will help you track assignments, set a reminder on your phone, or create a weekly assignment list with due dates. Find your strategy and make it work for you.

5. Keep on top of your daily school schedule.
As new students to campus, it may be challenging to remember your daily class schedules. For example, at ERHS, we have all periods (0-6) on Mondays and Fridays, but alternate schedules on the other days. I see many students waste time trying to find the printed sheet that contains their schedule instead of storing it somewhere that is easily accessible. In time you will memorize your schedule, but until then, keep your schedule permanently clipped to a folder or a card that is easy to find and keep you moving.

Finally, know that Generation 1st Degree is here to help with any college preparation questions, and I encourage you to become involved. The more you know earlier in your high school year, the more easier it will be to manage college and scholarship application needs as you get closer to your senior year.

Key to College Starts With Reading

By Jacki Cisneros

Many studies have shown the benefits of reading to early learners as young as infants. Reading to a young child helps build vocabulary, comprehension, speech and social skills. Each year Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera and its volunteers come together to donate 10 books to every kindergarten student in Pico Rivera—typically over 800 books in all! It’s a fun event that gets our future college grads excited about reading and starting or adding to their own personal library at home.

Many of us may think that reading with a younger child is something typically done with a parent or teacher. However, older siblings also play an important role in demonstrating the importance of reading and comprehension, and this goes for all younger siblings—from babies to teens. Children often look up to and want to imitate older teens and young adults. Think back to when you were in grade school and the role models you looked up to.

If you have a love for reading, why not share it! Remember that colleges are always looking for students that have contributed something unique to the community through volunteerism, leadership or academic achievement. What better way to demonstrate your commitment to education then to become a role model for literacy. It can be as simple as researching and selecting themed books with a sibling. For high school students who don’t have a younger sibling, consider becoming a volunteer at a local school or preschool, or lead a book club or meet up at your local library for younger students in your neighborhood.

As you continue to build your needs for college and scholarship opportunities, don’t forget to think about the little contributions you can make in your home or in your community that could be used as a learning experience and build your character. Document your “aha” moments and think about how the experience has changed you. Every experience will help you tell a great story in colleges and scholarship essays.

Jacki Cisneros

Apply Yourself and Don’t Doubt Your Acceptance

Maggie Grisco, a senior at ERHS, has a pretty impressive academic resume. She’s been in Academic Student Body (ASB) since her freshman year and served as freshman president. She continued to participate in student leadership roles as a sophomore, served as the Technology Commissioner in her junior year, played water polo and maintained her academic commitments. As junior year came to an end, she knew she wanted to further her leadership skills, so she sought out and applied for a summer program with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute at USC.


We had a chance to talk to Maggie about her experience this past July and this is what she had to say:


How did you learn about the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute opportunity?

I was aware of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and was looking at their website. When I saw that there was an opportunity to apply for the leadership summer program at USC, I applied for it. I was originally waitlisted, but eventually got in and attended this past July 26-29.


Tell us about the three days you spent at the Youth Leadership Institute:

On the first day, we settled into the dorms and took a tour of the campus. After that, our schedules were pretty jam-packed with workshops that covered everything from the college process, financial aid, college terminology and more. We also had a chance to meet with college admissions counselors—the ones who read everyone’s college applications—who gave us some insight and tips. There were also guest speakers, such as business owners, lawyers, an actor and more, all of whom shared with us their journey to their careers and are regarded as Hispanic “superstars.”


What was your most memorable part?

I remember thinking that I was surrounded by a lot of really smart people, such as valedictorians, students who started their own clubs or organizations, student tutors and more. There was a moment when I really felt overwhelmed and that I didn’t belong there. But as we went through the workshops, I really began to understand that I did belong. One speaker even confirmed with all of us and said, “Don’t feel like you don’t belong here. There were so many applicants and there are 100 of you who were selected.” Hearing those words made me feel happy and unafraid. I met some really great people that I learned so much from. It was really moving and at times, we were teary eyed.


How has that experience changed our outlook?

The experience made me realize that I should be more competitive, and that I shouldn’t be afraid to apply to bigger schools or fear rejection. One of the guest speakers was rejected by all but one college and was really happy with that outcome. I know that wherever I go, I was chosen to be there by the admissions office and I’m going to be happy.


What were some of the overall messages that you would like to share with your fellow DONS?

There’s a reason why we get accepted to certain colleges and programs, and when we do get there don’t feel like you are less than the others or scared. There’s something unique that you bring to the college or program. Make friends, learn and grow from it.

College Tips from Summer Send Off

By Jacki Cisneros

Each year, we host a Summer Send Off where graduating students for Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera are invited to a luncheon to hear guest speakers share their knowledge and experience as first-generation college students. Parents are also invited so they too can listen and ask questions about college life.

If you’re a rising college freshman and you didn’t get a chance to make it to this event, you missed out on inspiring speeches by two G1DPR alum, Monica Ochoa and Melissa Aguirre, as well as a chance to win raffle prizes like a computer, printer, mini refrigerator, microwave, money and more.

During the luncheon, I also presented my college tips. Whether or not your staying within the area, moving hours or states away, all of these tips will help you to survive your freshman year of college.

Here are my top 5 tips:

  1. Get involved on campus. Find your niche of people who have common backgrounds or interests. You’re looking for that group of people who will support you. It may take a few attempts to find your group, but don’t give up because once you do, I guarantee they will be your friends for life.
  2. Visit your professors during their office hours. Introduce yourself and let them know who you are. If you’re struggling, let them know what you need help with. While keeping a good relationship with your professor might not translate to an A, they will see your determination and help you out. They are there for you. Here’s how I look at it: College is expensive and the price we’re paying is for the services the professors are hired to provide, which is educate students. Go in with the mindset that your professors work for you. If you do not understand the curriculum, then they are not doing their job. Challenge them to figure out a way to help you understand. If you change your attitude it’ll power you.
  3. Get help before it’s too late. If you’re at a C in college you’re closer to a D than you are to a B. Get help ASAP.
  4. Remember you belong where you are. The admissions office has a process to determine which students would be a great fit for the school. They saw that you belong there and that’s why you were accepted. So even if you feel overwhelmed and doubt your ability to be successful at that college, know that it’s part of the process.
  5. Finally, Call your parents. Set a day and time – maybe Sunday evening. Your parents may not have a reference point of college and what it is like. Sometimes their source of information is what they see on the news about college campuses and that could make them worry. Update them regularly. Keep them involved with your journey. Share your experiences.

My final message is a heavy one, but one I feel I must put in words: “No” means NO! Be smart about where you go and whom you go with. Never walk alone. Text a friend or roommate to let them know your whereabouts and what time you’ll be back. Victims are all sizes, shapes, colors and gender. Keep yourself safe.

Gilbert and I want to wish the entire incoming college freshman a successful first year of college. Know that we are always here for support or as a resource, so don’t be a stranger.



Jacki Cisneros