For me, I knew that every part of the K-12 educational journey was meant to prepare me to get accepted into a great college. The application process was challenging and competitive, yet I managed to be accepted to a great state school. However, what happened after I got in was a foreign concept to me, and I was unaware of what was to come. So much focus had been placed on getting into college, but no one ever told me how to succeed once there. For instance, my freshman classes averaged two hundred students and were filled with classmates who had graduated at the top of their class from prestigious high schools. The thought of raising my hand and asking for help while hundreds of pairs of eyes stared at me was horrifying. Therefore, I attempted to do it on my own and pretended that I knew what was happening in class.
The reality was that I could not keep up with the material, especially in my biological calculus course. The class was more advanced than what I had learned in high school, and I did not have strong studying and organizational habits. As hard as I tried, I scored poorly on my exams, and my confidence started to break down. I felt alone as I watched my classmates earn higher grades and answer questions without hesitation. I felt like I could not tell my parents because they had so much to worry about back home and were already having a hard time with me being away. If I dropped the class, then I would no longer be a full-time student. This meant that I would lose some of my financial aid, which I could not afford to do. The idea of failing this class continued to cross my mind, and it dawned on me what a failure I was. I couldn’t help but think of my family members, teachers and scholarship donors who had believed in me. I am not sure whether it was fear, pride or a bit of both that led me to remain silent and not ask for help.
I was home over winter break when I received my grade, and I couldn’t keep this away from my parents any longer. I had earned a D in biological calculus. I thought that they would be disappointed. I worried that they would feel as if all the sacrifices they had made for my future would go down the drain because of this mark on my transcript. However, my mom’s reaction could not have been more graceful and understanding. Instead, she wiped away my tears and asked about my struggles through the class.
I had allowed for my struggles to eat me up inside for so long. However, I came to realize that this one grade did not have to define me, my parents’ sacrifices, or the community I represent. I did not need to burden myself with thoughts of being a disappointment or another hopeless statistic. What would truly define this moment in my college career would be my next steps. That winter break I searched through all the resources on my school’s website, re-read my new student handbook, and found ways to improve my time management and study habits. I began the semester by meeting with my advisor and older college friends, making appointments at the academic success center, and attending the tutoring sessions. I learned the importance of shining light on my weaknesses and advocating for myself.
Each university has a wide variety of resources, whether you are struggling with academics, living situations, mental health, or finances. There are people who can offer guidance and support. However, no one can help you if you don’t admit that you need it and ask for it. Since then, my GPA has improved each semester, and I am not afraid to raise my hand in class when I am lost. I have encouraged younger students to self-advocate. I remind them that hardships will come, but they can decide how they respond. Most importantly, I have continued to rely on the unconditional love and support from my parents by sharing all parts of my college experience, even the most challenging ones.
Valentina Tovar is a graduate of Texas A&M University and a Summer 2018 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.