By Laura Bravo and Iran Pacheco Martinez

Though the selective college application process takes dedication, hard work, and time, it can pay off even for the least advantaged in our community. My name is Iran Pacheco Martinez and this fall I will be attending Bowdoin College in Maine. I’m writing this with my friend Laura Bravo, who will be attending Stanford University. We’re here to share some insights into what the admissions process looked like for us as low-income, Latinx women.

Growing up, we often heard about the importance of education and attending college if we wanted to avoid the same low-wage, service- industry existences as our parents. Yet as local, first- generation teens, figuring out how to navigate the highly selective admissions process presented a real challenge. Fortunately, we have learned the following lessons along the way and wanted to share them with kids who are aspiring to pursue higher education, regardless of their socio-economic status.

Whose dream is it?


A major part of this process is to know before applying if you are doing this for yourself or simply to honor parental expectations. If you are doing it for yourself, then no matter how much work there is, you will follow through with the process, keeping in mind that your work will pay off. In our case, our motivation came from ending the cultural barrier in which you think you have to settle for low paying jobs with few resources to pursue your dream. However, continuing education is a path we have chosen to take, which will bring more opportunity not only for ourselves but for future generations.

Make the Grade

Grind for those high achieving grades in challenging classes! Perhaps it’s cliché, but we found that this is super important during the admissions process. Not only can it improve your performance as a student, but it’s also an important factor at which colleges look. And be sure to apply for Early Action/Early Decision to a college.

Get Involved

In addition to grades, being involved can make you stand out. This includes joining school clubs. Take into consideration what you are passionate about as well as what you can gain from participating in a particular club. Look to join summer programs that will enhance leadership skills such as Adventure Risk Challenge, Indiana University’s MEET Kelley business program, or the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Advocacy Institute’s High School Program, to name a few. We also found that college fall diversity programs are super helpful in determining the kind of environment you wish to be in during your college experience. Doing all this will allow you to write essays about your experience being in a summer program, participating in a club, doing community service, etc. and explain how you made an impact or how it impacted you. While grades and being involved are important, enjoying the steps you are taking to achieve your goal is important too.

Path to the Future

Something that made the college application process easier for both of us was coming to terms with what we wanted to do after high school. That’s not to say you must have your entire life figured out, but it’s helpful to start thinking about plans after graduating. Some questions to ask yourself in order to help this process can include: What are your career interests/passions? What are your skills? Do you wish to enter straight into the workforce? Are you thinking about community college? There really is no single path to follow after high school, it is up to you to decide!

Once you enter your junior year, if you still have it clear in your mind that you want to continue education after high school, begin looking for help. Find someone who can advise you on your next steps. It can be through school counselors, college advisors, or a local organization that helps seniors. For both of us, this was possible with the help of college admissions preparatory pro- gram La Fuerza Latina, the staff and teachers at North Tahoe High School, and the people who contributed through this whole process. Though our living circumstances often made us doubt the possibility of attending college, through guidance, mentorship, and hard work, we now have opportunities that we were not born into. Gaining these experiences not only inspired us to leave a legacy for other students in similar situations, but it also helped us see that college is for everyone, regardless of what your background looks like.


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