As graduation season commences and summer begins, the most newly minted Green Dot graduates are joining thousands across the country in preparing for their first semester of college. For many of our alumni, a home cooked meal and the company of their family is only a drive away, but for others, their pursuit of higher education will lead them far from home.
This summer, Roxana Andrade, an Oscar De La Hoya Ánimo Charter High School (ODLH) alumna; Maggie Vallejo, an Ánimo Inglewood Charter High School alumna, and Londy Hernandez, an Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School (APB) alumna will join other Green Dot graduates in leaving their homes for the first time to pursue their dreams at some of the nation’s most elite universities.
Going the Distance
For many students, their experiences in our schools shift their feelings about college; what was once a possibility soon becomes a reality. “One morning when I was getting ready for elementary school I had a moment of serendipity. On the news I heard something about Harvard and I said I’m gonna go there. My mom was like ‘Sure you can go wherever you want as long as you work hard,’” reflected Vallejo. “It’s always been my dream school. Teachers would ask ‘Where are you going to college Maggie?’ and I’d tell them I know it’s really hard, but I want to go to Harvard.
“It felt great, whenever I think about it I can't help but smile, especially when I remember how scared I was at the beginning of the college application process.”
-Roxana Andrade, ODLH alumna
Similarly, Andrade always knew she wanted to attend college, but didn’t know where. During her senior year, she faced a unique dilemma, she applied to and was accepted to 18 of the most competitive colleges including Yale, Stanford, and Cornell Universities. “It felt great, whenever I think about it I can't help but smile, especially when I remember how scared I was at the beginning of the college application process,” recalled Andrade.
Though she had always been a capable student, she never considered Ivy League universities or private liberal arts colleges as possibilities. “When [Ms. Chavez and I] met with Roxanna about her PSAT scores she said ‘Oh well I just want to go to one of the California State colleges.’ But we spoke with her and explained that [because of her scores] the doors were wide open for her,” said Jackie Villalpando, a counselor at ODLH. That proved to be true the following year, when Andrade took the SAT and scored 1540 -- 60 points away from a perfect score.
Often our students are the first in their families to attend college, meaning they must learn to navigate the college system themselves. In more affluent communities, it’s not uncommon for students to have college admission coaches and consultants, who, for a fee (ranging from $1,000 to $40,000), provide students with test prep, essay and interview coaching, and application packaging support.
To help break down the barriers to our students' success in college our schools and counselors work with college access partners. Partners like College Match and Minds Matter are organizations that provide additional individualized support and resources to students on their road to college. College access partners often provide students with SAT prep, one on one tutoring, workshops, mentorships, and a college counselor dedicated to supporting a handful of students.
Through Minds Matter, Hernandez was paired with two mentors, toured colleges across the country, and spent two summers at Stanford, and the University of Oxford in England. Vallejo and Andrade were both introduced to College Match through their Green Dot schools. “College Match exposed me to schools outside of California. They took us to schools like Yale, Columbia University, and some small liberal arts colleges on the east coast,” said Andrade. On these trips, she began to imagine what life would be like at some of these schools and the possibility excited her. For Vallejo, having both the support of College Match and her Inglewood counselor helped her build a path to Harvard.
“I remember leading up to the application deadline I would spend hours in the counseling center,” reflected Vallejo. First generation students can often overlook or miss crucial admissions requirements or struggle with registration and financial aid. Vallejo recalls the experience being frustrating and complex, but is thankful for the the knowledge and support of her school counselor. “Luckily my counselor was there to help answer any questions I had and help guide me through the College Scholarship Service Profile, and Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC) forms. I’m glad I had her help.”
Our counselors understand the struggles our students face and work to ensure that all students feel supported and empowered on their road to college. We also have a team of Alumni Champions, a cohort of teachers and counselors are available to alumni as they navigate their college campuses and the rigors of college. Through a vast network of college going Green Dot alumni, we are also able to provide social and academic support to freshmen on their own campuses through university mentors.
Each year, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton each receive over 30 thousand applications and admit less than seven percent of applicants. Vallejo applied to Harvard under the Restrictive Early Action program, this allows students to make a college choice early. Instead of receiving acceptance letters in spring, early applicants apply by November 1st and hear from universities by mid December. “It took me 10 minutes to actually click the button, because I was so scared. When I finally clicked it and saw I was accepted I couldn’t believe it.“ recalled Vallejo.
Hernandez applied to 10 schools, a combination of California State Universities and University of California campuses. At the urging of her counselor, she completed applications for two Ivy League universities. “I was nervous applying to Yale and Princeton,” admitted Hernandez. “I knew that I was most likely not going to get accepted, but I was okay with it.” When an email popped up in her inbox from Princeton, Hernandez was struck with both fear and excitement. “When I read ‘Congratulations’ I was in tears. It didn’t feel real until I read it a couple of times,” said Hernandez. Andrade recalled having a similar feeling: “Yale was the first school I heard from. After I received a phone call and a likely letter I cried so much.”
"My mom asked me why I couldn’t attend Stanford and stay in California. My grandma told me ‘You shouldn’t be leaving your family.’ And many of my family members agreed and urged me to stay close."
-Roxana Andrade, ODLH alumna
When these alumnae shared the news of their admission with their families, the announcement was met with excitement and some worry. “My mom asked me why I couldn’t attend Stanford and stay in California,” recalled Andrade. “My grandma told me ‘You shouldn’t be leaving your family.’ And many of my family members agreed and urged me to stay close.” For many of our students, this is a regular occurrence; often students can feel they may be abandoning their families if they attend colleges far from home.
“We dedicate time to talk to parents about the possibility of their child going out of state, we talk about what it entails, and encourage parents to let their child explore,” said Suzy Chavez, another counselor at ODLH. Despite her family’s hesitations, Andrade knew she had to pursue the opportunity to attend Yale. Eventually, her mom understood and though she wanted her daughter to be close to home, she didn’t want to stand in the way of Andrade’s dreams.
Similarly to Yale, Princeton is nearly 3000 miles away from Los Angeles, though Hernandez had been accepted into her dream school, the distance troubled her. This decision would mean that for four years she would be miles away from her home, her community, family, and friends. While she was considering if she should attend Princeton, a conversation with her father put everything into perspective.Vallejo’s family will also be sad to see her leave, but she won’t be alone on the east coast. Vallejo’s older sister will be moving to Massachusetts for her first year at Harvard to help her transition. “I’m really grateful that she's supporting me and giving me that aid that I know I will need,” said Vallejo.
"One morning when I was getting ready for elementary school I had a moment of serendipity. On the news I heard something about Harvard and I said I’m gonna go there. My mom was like ‘Sure you can go wherever you want as long as you work hard,’”
-Maggie Vallejo, Ánimo Inglewood alumna
Farewell to High School
As they prepare for their imminent transition into college, Andrade, Vallejo, and Hernandez are grateful for their Green Dot education. “It’s so weird to think about who I would be if I didn’t attend APB, reflected Hernandez. “At APB I made connections with every single teacher I’ve had, and If I had gone to another school I wouldn’t be so close with everyone at my school.”
Vallejo is unsure if she’d be heading to Harvard if she had not attended Ánimo Inglewood. “At Ánimo Inglewood the teachers and staff are really supportive and they are always pushing us to do our best. Every single teacher has that kind of mentality,” reflected Vallejo. At ODLH Andrade was not only inspired by her teachers but her peers as well. “My freshman year there was this senior I really admired. She was the soccer captain, top of her class, she became the salutatorian, and her dream school was Brown University. She was my idol,” reflected Andrade. “I think aspiring to be like her helped me decide what I wanted to achieve in high school and helped set my course at ODLH. Each of these alumnae have become role models for their peers and underclassmen. Since the news of their accomplishments, students have turned to them for advice and many have shared that they aspire to be like them.
As these alumnae head to college they will be joining an alumni network of over 15,000 Green Dot alumni. Andrade, Vallejo, and Hernandez are just three of many Green Dot graduates who will be attending some of the most competitive schools in the nation this fall, ensuring they won’t be alone. We are incredibly proud of every Green Dot graduate: their hard work and dedication, and that of their teachers are an inspiration to us all.