Marvelina Barcelo is the co-director of the Transfer Center and a member of the iFALCON grant team.
The year I started to apply to the university felt like a long puppet show. Many strings were pulling me in several directions to complete this process. I recall my college counselor telling seniors that we should apply to as many CSUs and UCs as our fee waivers covered. Out of the 6 universities I applied to, I was only familiar with one, CSU Los Angeles. The moment I had to decide where I would intend to enroll was a no brainer. It was logical that I select CSULA. After all, I would remain close to home, tuition would be less expensive compared to the UCs, and some of my high school classmates would be attending the same school.
The puppet show did not stop here. After selecting my school, I was summoned to see my academic counselor. I thought I did something terrible if I was being summoned to the counseling office. Never in my four years had I met with my counselor. Confused and frantic, I sat passively in his office waiting to hear what I did wrong. While holding my breath, he kindly asked why I had not chosen a UC when I was admitted to all three. I was speechless, yet I softly uttered my reasons. After leaving his office, I remained confused but compelled to change my school. His sincere words kept ringing in my head that I had a lot potential to be at a UC. Despite never meeting with my counselor before, I was convinced that he knew what was best for me.
As I work with transfer students during this university application season, I am reminded of this puppet show experience. I also hear many of my students guiding themselves with those limited beliefs about where they should transfer during this important life-changing decision making process. A huge fear among community college students when it comes to transfer is the idea of loans to help them complete their degree. I constantly struggle with this community college mindset, since school loans were never a fear for me because it was going to help me achieve my career goal. So now, I find myself trying to educate students as much as possible on how to select a school that will provide them the greatest academic and personal growth, while minimizing their fear of loans and moving away from home.
As a Latina, daughter of immigrant parents and the first to attend college, it was extremely important for me to continue with higher education at any cost. Sacrifices would have to be made. Research on higher education shows that 1st generation Latino students are more likely to work to avoid obtaining school loans. Sadly, as a result, these students are less likely to complete their degree.
Coming from a low-income family, I knew I had to apply for FAFSA if I was going to attend college right after high school. It was a given. No FAFSA, no degree. The next day after meeting with my high school counselor, I cancelled my enrollment at CSU Los Angeles and went through late registration at UC Santa Barbara. My dream of earning a bachelor’s degree would not change, just the distance of the school. Yes, I would be away from home for the first time and my tuition would be much more, but it was all about sacrifices. I frequently remind students that going away for school is temporary, and that it helps to look into schools that will bring the most return on their investment.
This message is to all those students that find every illegitimate reason to transfer to a school within a 15-mile radius from Cerritos College to simply avoid school loans. Don’t be afraid of school loans. Be afraid of those credit card representatives posted in front of the library sidewalk luring you into filling out an application. Two of my major credit cards were obtained in my first year of college as well as my first major debt. Been there, done that.
As you can see, along with receiving financial aid comes the maturity test of money management. The beginning of each term you may feel like your financial aid disbursement is your time to spend. In my case, it was like being handed a hall pass to State Street in downtown Santa Barbara or the Chumash Casino near Solvang. Dismissing the reality of managing your financial aid carefully throughout the term can be like a perfect storm, a perfect storm that can affect you personally and academically. And if you start suffering academically, then you can lose your financial aid completely. But you have nothing to fear if you have the drive to keep you on your toes and surround yourself with positive influences. There was never a doubt in mind that I would not finish my education. Keep walking and don’t look back. This became my motto even more so after the loss of my father during my sophomore year. I had more ammunition to progress and become that Latina professional.
Moving away from home to attend school was the best choice I could have made for myself. UCSB gave me the ultimate test of maturity. I quickly learned to be independent as a new renter, to get along with roommates from different backgrounds, embrace my new community, cope with bereavement and simply learn to be away from my family and friends. These priceless experiences would have never materialized the way they did had I enrolled at CSULA and commuted.
To move quickly through higher education and achieve my goal of becoming a counselor required me to turn to FAFSA yet one more time. My only regret I have about how I financed my education is waiting to apply for scholarships until I got to graduate school. I am able to write this blog only because there was a guaranteed way to finance my education, whether it was through grants, loans or Federal Work Study. Keep in mind, as you start prioritizing your schools of choice, for every goal there are sacrifices. You don’t have to go through that puppet show experience the way it all started for me. Luckily I was able to detach those puppet strings and create my own experience along the way.