A Different Route to Success: First, Community College; Then a Four-Year University

As a young Latina in middle school witnessing my parents’ financial struggle, I knew I wanted to attend a four-year university right after high school graduation. Ever since migrating from Mexico 25 years ago, my father has worked in the agriculture fields and my mom at Wendy’s. Although my parents struggled to provide food and pay bills, they never failed to give love and support. Therefore, I wanted to repay them by going straight to a four-year university and having a better future.

In high school, I decided to become a well-rounded student so I could get into a four-year university. I was involved in various student organizations and activities, such as tennis, Interact Club, Advancement Via Individual Determination, and a Christian -based club. I even held leadership positions in high school, such as associated student vice president and Art Club president. I not only took my extracurricular activities seriously, but also my academics. I was enrolled in an honors program, took Advanced Placement courses, and was a dual-enrollment student at Taft College, which was close to my California home. When my junior year came, I took the ACT and SAT countless times, but I was not able to improve my scores since I was not a good test taker. Although that was a barrier for me, I still had faith that I would get accepted into a four-year university of my choice.

As a senior, I was accepted into two colleges out of 14 where I applied. I was devastated because I was attached to this expectation that I was going to attend a four-year university outside of my community. I decided to attend Taft College because I was familiar with the faculty and the success it had with transferring students to four-year colleges. Although I was disappointed, there was a particular scholarship that restored my faith: the Holmes Family Education and Training Foundation scholarship.

In the weeks following my decision to attend Taft, I met up with my Holmes Family scholarship mentor named Cindy Patterson. I explained to her everything that had happened, and she gave me this piece of advice: “God made you stay in your community for a reason. He will not tell you why right now, but once you have graduated from Taft College. Have faith.” Of course, I was at a point where I was questioning life, so it was difficult for me to understand what she was trying to tell me. Therefore, during my first year I just wanted to leave college because I had worked so hard in high school and was frustrated that I was not able to fulfill my dream of going to a four-year university of my choice.

As a Taft College freshman, my mentality was “go big or go home.” I was determined to make it to the college of my choice. So I decided that the University of Southern California would be my goal. I became occupied with planning how I would get there, and how my life would be attending USC. As a result, I applied as an incoming sophomore, not knowing that USC would still be looking at my ACT and SAT scores. Unfortunately, I was not offered admission. Once again, I was left with questioning my purpose and direction. Coming into my sophomore year, I reevaluated my mindset. Looking back at the advice my mentor gave me, I decided to give my burdens to God and say, “If I was meant to stay to keep on helping my community, let it be, and I’ll continue with my education locally.” I began appreciating life and my community. Once the time came to apply again as a transfer student, I applied to 14 schools. At the end of my sophomore year, I was accepted to my top choices: USC, UCLA, Pepperdine University, California State University, San Luis Obispo, and UC- Irvine.

I chose to transfer to the University of Southern California. When I got there, I decided to keep the mindset I had developed in community college. I studied public policy with an emphasis on nonprofits and social innovation. I chose this major because it would allow me to learn more about how to help under-resourced communities become successful. At USC, I am part of Students for Education Reform (president), Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, and Hermanas Unidas. Today, I am not only a senior, but I am also studying for a master’s of public administration degree at USC through their Progressive Degree Program. It allows me to begin graduate school work at the same time I am finishing requirements for my bachelor’s degree.

I have learned that a community college can give folks experiences and prepare them for different options. The transfer process was similar to what I went through in high school when I applied to colleges. The four-year colleges expect you to do very well academically and outside of the classroom. The only difference is that after completing a certain number of units, the colleges no longer look at your SAT/ACT scores. Even though I took my academics seriously, I took helping my community just as seriously. At my community college, I created a program called College is Out There, which helps seventh- through 12th-graders from Lost Hills, California, on college readiness. I also worked for groups like Wonderful Education and Youth 2 Leaders Education Foundation, and I was active in migrant education issues. Looking back, I believe I was meant to stay at my community college so I could learn about how to help small communities. I applied that knowledge later at USC when I begin helping larger cities with their higher education.

Ultimately, I helped the students of Kern County, California, set their goals as high as they possibly could, and if life did not go their way, then to build the tenacity to keep fighting on like I did. This approach helped me become the executive intern for the co-founder of the Ednovate charter schools in Los Angeles, and a summer intern for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics in Washington, D.C. I have also become a prime example of what you are able to achieve, no matter how many times life knocks you down; as long as you have the hunger to succeed, you will do anything to keep going.

At the end of the day, I have to thank my parents, who decided to come to the United States from Mexico so our family could have a better future. From my triumphs to my disappointments, my parents have always received me with open arms. They remind me every day that if God is for us, who can be against us? Therefore, I keep fighting on.

Roxanna Barboza is a senior at the University of Southern California. She was a 2017 Summer Intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.