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.