By Ricky Herrera, AVID Alumnus, Brown University
My mother has reminded me countless times of the opportunities that I have here in the United States—opportunities that she could have only dreamed of—but did I ever think I would be writing this as a sophomore at Brown University, one of the most prestigious universities in our country? Certainly not early in my life as a student.
Before I began my relationship with AVID, my vision was somewhat limited. I wasn’t a lazy student before AVID; I had my priorities and was already a top student in my school. One day, my friend, Paulo, came up with the “crazy idea” to join AVID together. Students at my school are typically checked before entering the program, and I will never forget Ms. Shelly’s—the head of our school’s AVID program—first words: “So why do you need AVID?” I explained that while I had everything else—like grades and extracurricular activities—down, I had no idea when to register for SAT®/ACT® tests, how to apply for FAFSA, or even what a personal statement was.
I certainly wasn’t expecting the tremendous amount of support and resources that AVID gave me. Perhaps the biggest impact that AVID had on my life was in the span of just three months. Following CSU/UC applications and before applications for private schools, there is a large gap of mostly nothing but scholarships, which I had wrapped up for the most part. Then, from my teacher at the time, Ms. Costa, I heard about the QuestBridge program. I looked into it, and though the program had a lot of work involved, the payoff was tremendous. Finalists for the program are matched to certain universities, including Ivy League and other top schools, and are covered entirely financially. It sounded too good to be true. Unfortunately, I was not matched. I was devastated, but I did not let it deter me. I completed additional private school applications in the next few weeks. I applied to every Ivy League school and sat waiting for the next four months.
Evidently, four months was a very long time to wait and do nothing. I asked Ms. Costa if she knew of any other potential opportunities for which I could apply. The Gates Millennium scholarship was mentioned, and I began on it as soon as I could. Paulo and I spent countless hours filling out the essays. Then came the day that we were notified if we had won the scholarship. Once again, the list of finalists did not include my name, and I felt hopeless. Was all that work that I had done in high school for nothing? For the next few weeks, I was pretty quiet in class; I didn’t have much to say.
As all college-bound students know, March is one of the most stressful months of senior year. College acceptances came every few days, and I was amazed at how many schools had accepted me. But none of them quite had my attention like my letters from UCLA and UC Berkeley, two of my dream schools for the longest time. Just as I was preparing my decisions, Ivy League acceptance/rejection letters—or in the modern age, emails—came. Email-after-email, rejection-after-rejection, until only one remained: Brown University. I had never researched this school; I had only applied to it because semifinalists in the QuestBridge program are given free applications to its partner universities. I don’t think any moment of my life so far had ever had me as excited as the moment that I opened that email. I could hardly stay in my seat, not to mention the noise that I made resonating throughout the house. I had not immediately decided on attending Brown, but UCLA, Berkeley, and Brown had all offered me free flights and tours to help me come to my decision. It was one of the best weeks of my senior year, traveling around the country to decide where the next four years of my life would be spent. After thinking about it for weeks, I had no doubt in my mind that Brown was the school for me.
While I don’t believe that my story is what the typical AVID student should expect, it should be a reminder of what is possible through the help and resources offered by this amazing program. Other schools may not have Mr. Avendaño (my junior-year AVID teacher), Ms. Costa, or Ms. Shelly, but they have teachers and coordinators who care just as much for their students’ futures. To every AVID student who may read this, it wasn’t easy, but as my time at Brown has shown me, it doesn’t get any easier in college. And thus, I leave you with this advice.
- Don’t ignore your AVID Elective teachers’ advice on the process. Your AVID teachers have likely seen a case like yours before and know how to help you become the best student that you can be.
- Apply, apply, apply. I could not count the number of students who were afraid of applying to some schools because they were afraid they wouldn’t be accepted. I commonly use my situation as an example: I never thought I had a shot at being accepted to Brown University, but one random decision has fulfilled me more than any conscious decision.
- Take tours/trips. Were you to follow my previous tip, you would find yourself with a wide array of potential choices, which makes choosing one particularly difficult. Visiting the campuses is the only real way to gauge if the school is the one that is right for you.
- It’s all fun and games until you have to pay for it. Scholarship applications, while tedious, are some of the most important applications that you could ever fill out. After all, what good is a college acceptance if you can’t afford to go there? I was fortunate enough to have my financial aid at Brown covered, so I will likely graduate debt-free, and Paulo—with his Gates Millennium scholarship—is in the same boat. The burden of loans is a scary thing, so fill them out now and save yourself the stress many years down the line.
- Ask one college to match the financial aid of another. This next one is mostly used for private universities, but is an invaluable tip nonetheless. If School A offers less financial aid than School B, you can let the Financial Aid Office at School A know that the package at School B is better. While not guaranteed to get results, it could be the difference in thousands of dollars.
Whether you read this as an incoming senior, a junior, or even a sophomore or freshman, these tips will help you make the most out of AVID. Though I am jokingly reluctant to admit it at times, I would not be where I am without my own AVID teachers/coordinators. But neither your teachers nor I can guarantee your success; that decision falls on you.
Ricky Herrera is currently a rising sophomore at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he is double-majoring in urban studies and computer science. He has quickly become a part of the Brown community, joining the Brown Democrats, Brown Investment Group, and the school’s mixed martial arts program. He has also taken to volunteering in the area surrounding Providence, particularly at D’Abate Elementary School, a school known for its low-income and primarily Hispanic population, which bears a strong resemblance to Ricky’s own background. After Brown, Ricky hopes to attend law school, and subsequently, become involved in politics.