Using Disadvantage to Your Advantage
By Alejandro Perez
I used to think that if a person did not receive a college degree, it was his or her fault. That he or she chose not to put in the effort and work hard enough to move on to higher education. This may still be true to an extent, yet there is a much bigger picture that is often ignored: compared to whites, people of color in this country remain at an educational, and therefore economic, disadvantage.
Historically, when college first started here in the United States, it was originally made to educate wealthy white male students, then it expanded to all white male students, rich or poor, and then eventually to white women. Over time, college would become what it is today, available for every student of any background to attend; however, people of color – Blacks, Latin@s, Native Americans, etc. – are still struggling to catch up.
As whites graduated with their degrees and made more money they would often return to their old schools and contribute to improve them and become role models to the students. For people of color, there has unfortunately rarely been much of that. For these cultures, not pursuing higher education has become the norm due to the fact that it is so uncommon in their communities. Because of this, schools such as Coachella Valley High School, with a predominately Latin@ population, have less resources provided to them, less money to send students on field trips to colleges, and less role models to look at as motivation to see that higher education is possible. All of this results in limiting students’ abilities and in students limiting themselves.
If you are reading this and you are a person of color, this is the reality you face that you might not have even noticed yet. Just by being a person of color you are put at a disadvantage, not only in the education system, but also in this society in general. In other words, going to college is not really seen in your future and this system is basically designed for you to fail.
So all odds are against you. How do you fight it? Do you just accept it and not even try to go on to higher education like many people you know have done in the past? Or do you apply to college and try to beat this system before it beats you? And even when you apply to college, do you just apply to the easy schools that you know you will for sure get into? Or do you challenge yourself and aim high by applying to UCs and private schools? While some of these questions may seem like they have obvious answers of what not to do, you will be surprised when you see the number of students who still actually get beaten by the system. The way I see to beat this system is this: use your disadvantage to your advantage.
Consider the following scenario: So imagine you work for a university, lets say UCLA, and your job is to read applications and decide whom you think should be admitted, given that you have a limited amount of students you can accept. You have two applications side by side, one is an applicant from Palm Desert High School and the other is from Coachella Valley High School. As you go over the applications and compare them, you notice that they are nearly equal. One may have a higher GPA, while the other has higher test scores, and they both have really strong personal statements. How can you decide between the two if they are pretty much equal? But then you start to dig deeper. You see that the applicant from Palm Desert High School had everything needed to apply to college, all the materials, all the resources, everything. On the other hand, the applicant from Coachella Valley High School had little to nothing, less materials, less resources, etc. At that moment you tell yourself, “This person from Palm Desert had everything handed to them in high school, while this person from Coachella had very little handed to them…yet still managed to put in the work, get the grades, and prove that college is important.” Now you make your decision.
See what I mean now? Even though all the odds are against you, but you still manage to prove that you deserve to be accepted into a prestigious university, you will stand out. You might still doubt if this is even true. If you doubt it, go to any alumni you know from CVHS that went to a UC or private school and ask them if they had anything handed to them in high school and how much work they put in when they applied to college. I can already tell you what they will say because this situation is exactly what happened to me.
But in order to get to that point, first of all, you cannot let people limit you, school faculty, family, peers, etc. But more importantly, you cannot limit yourself. This is the way the broken system beats you. What I mean by limiting yourself is never settling for the minimum. This is where a student’s effort comes into play. You apply to college, ok cool, that is great! But was it challenging for you at all though? Did the application ask you any questions that really made you think? Was there an essay you had to write for the application? Maybe two essays? In other words, were any of the schools you applied to UC’s or private schools? This is where it takes more than just having good grades and test scores. Like CVHS senior Aylene Sicairos explained in the previous blog, “For The Well Rounded Student, Every Minute Counts,” it is important to get involved and stand out, outside of the classroom. I did not nearly have the high test scores that students usually have when they are accepted into UC’s. My SAT, ACT, and AP scores were below the average. However, I played sports all four years of high school, joined two different clubs, did community service off campus, managed a 3.9 GPA and worked my ass off to perfect my personal statement.
For those of you who want to aim high and are willing to put in the work, but are concerned about financial issues…if you are accepted into a university I can almost guarantee that they will give you a good amount of financial aid. However, if you are still concerned that that still will not be enough, ask yourself, what scholarships are out there? Did you even think about applying for scholarships? Once again, if you really want it you will put in the work. This is how you beat the system.
To reference Aylene Sicairos again, will this come with stress? Indeed it will. Will this help you improve yourself as a diligent scholar? Absolutely!
I did not write this with the intention to say that I am right and everything else you hear is wrong. I wrote this so that you can be aware of the reality around you and develop a different understanding when your time comes to apply to colleges.
As you become more aware of the system you are in, remind yourself that overcoming the many obstacles placed before you is not impossible. Take advantage of your disadvantage. Once you make it here, be ready for the experience of a lifetime!
Alejandro Perez was born and raised in the City of Coachella. He is a first year Chicano Studies and Global Studies double major at UC Santa Barbara and hopes to get his PhD and become a Professor. He is very passionate about his culture and loves being a social activist. Anyone with questions about the college application process, UCSB, or college in general, feel free to email Alejandro at firstname.lastname@example.org.