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