Twenty years ago, my grandfather came to the United States from El Salvador, followed soon after by my father. Growing up I heard that I was so lucky to be in America, to have this wonderful privilege, and that it was expected that I would do great things – that I would go to college and break the cycle of struggle and low-paying jobs. More than anything, I wanted to make my family proud. But as I entered high school, I realized the only colleges I knew anything about were the Ivy Leagues. I was so lost.
I was lucky to attend E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in D.C. The Haynes community is tight-knit. The teachers were very involved and encouraging, and I felt that I could talk to them about anything. I did well in high school; I loved history and math and began to picture myself fulfilling my dream of becoming a doctor. But I was also among the first class of graduating seniors at Haynes. The school had never taken students through the college process before, and everyone was trying to figure things out together. What I didn’t know was that Haynes was partnering with Collegiate Directions – both to build the college office and to start the CDI Scholars Program at Haynes. One day during my junior year, my counselor called me into his office and handed me the application to be a CDI Scholar. He said this was a program that would help me get into college. I immediately knew that I had to do this.
When I was accepted into the Scholars program, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought maybe it would be an intense prep course for college. What I found was more like a family. The CDI team walked with me and my parents through every step of the college process. The tutors helped me to improve my SAT score by over 100 points, and the counselors opened my eyes to the huge number of colleges that might be right for me. My family’s dream of me going to college started to feel realistic. Most importantly, CDI helped us understand how financial aid worked, something I didn’t know anything about.
CDI also introduced my family to the concept of college visits. My parents had never set foot on a college campus before. We had no idea that they could just go and visit without a special high school approved trip. During our visits, we learned together what college would be like. We were like tourists exploring a new country.
In the spring of my senior year, I was accepted to 8 of the 10 schools that I applied to. Muhlenberg College was the best financial option for me, but I was nervous about choosing it. Then, I went on a tour with other Scholars. The staff at Muhlenberg was very welcoming. Philip Weisgold, the associate director of admission and financial aid, had interviewed me at the CDI office, and he and the team at the multicultural center made sure I felt at home. I knew I would fit in at Muhlenberg.
Today, I am a sophomore majoring in neuroscience and working toward going to medical school. I am in the Emerging Leaders program, which provides leadership and academic support to first-generation and minority students. I love being in college, I love what I’m learning, and I have a great group of friends. I am now on my way to realizing my family’s dreams and my own.
I hope you’ll take a moment to support Collegiate Directions and help students at other schools achieve their college dreams.
JACKELIN MEJIA DELCID