April 08, 2021

Scholar Voices: Tenacity of an Immigrant

I was born in a village in China and my only perception of the world used to be my village. It wasn’t until my parents decided to take a leap of faith and fly more than 1,500 miles to the United States so I could pursue the “American Dream” that my perception of the world expanded. Because my parents did not speak English, I had to navigate this foreign place on my own. I have been trying to pave my own path from the moment I landed in the United States, with both successes and failures.

I heard “you need to go to college to get a good job” my entire life. I was always told I needed to attend a school like UCLA or UC Berkeley because it was all my parents heard from other people. Though these school names became very familiar, I had absolutely no idea how to get there. Until my junior year of high school, I did not even know what the SAT, FAFSA, UC applications and even the Common Application were. As the first person in my family to apply for the FAFSA and fill out college applications, I was met with obstacles at every step. However, through a college-access program called College Match, I not only gained the tools and support to pursue higher education, I discovered the Earl Woods Scholar Program in the process.

The resources that College Match offered me completely changed my path. I was offered SAT tutoring, a college application mentor and a trip to the East Coast which made me realize that there are colleges that can support me as a low-income, first-generation student. As I learned about these resources, I knew I needed to take full advantage of them. As a result, I applied to as many colleges as the free waivers permitted and wrote more than 20 supplemental essays. I put hours and hours into SAT studying to perfect my score and most importantly, applied for several scholarships including the Earl Woods Scholar Program, a program which continues to support me on my journey.

The Earl Woods Scholar Program’s Pre-College Retreat at the University of California, Irvine helped me and the freshmen in the Class of 2019 prepare for college.

Surprisingly, the phrase “hard work pays off” really clicked when I received college acceptance letters from top colleges across the country including Bowdoin College, UC Berkeley, UCLA and more. Though I was accepted into many institutions, there were days when all I read was “Unfortunately, you have not been selected…”, or “We regret to inform you…”. The worst feelings came after learning “You’re good, but not good enough” so you go into the waitlist pile. In fact, more than 50% of my college applications were either rejections or waitlists. The most important lesson that I learned throughout the process was that one acceptance is all that matters.

After assessing the colleges I applied to and gained acceptance into, I decided to attend Bowdoin University.

I continued with this mentality when I looked for computer science internships, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. I tried my best to network and submit as many applications as possible. In total, I applied for more than 60 internships. Every single day I woke up to an email stating “We decided to move on to different candidates…” or not even hearing back from half of the companies that I applied to. Learning from my college application process, I continued to look for that one acceptance. Eventually, I woke up to an email saying: “We would love to invite you to a 30-minute interview.” After more than 60 rejections, I had nothing to lose, so I gave it my best shot and landed the software development internship with Unum.

Through the Earl Woods Scholar Program, I gained a support system through other first-generation college students across the country including my peers in the Los Angeles cohort.

As with most low-income, first-generation students, we were not given anything to start with. I believe one of my biggest achievements was taking that initial step and defining the path for myself. Even though I didn’t know what would happen at the end of the tunnel, I knew I had to grasp at every opportunity that came my way. For everyone that is scared of rejections, don’t be. At the end of the day, there will be that one acceptance, big or small, that will push you to the next steps.

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