College Preparation For First Generation College Students

Just this afternoon I had a brief conversation with a woman whose daughter is now in high school. My wife and I have a son who is now in college and when (I’ll call her) Rosa and I originally talked about our kids some years ago her daughter was in the 4th grade. That was seven years ago.

We’ve talked about school and college and college preparation before. It just so happens that I volunteer with a group called Reality Changers that could be a help to her daughter. I have been a tutor with them for over five years and now I also teach public speaking to those who come early to our Monday night program in Solana Beach, California. Part of the reason that I volunteer is that I didn’t have the resources available 30 years ago that Reality Changers provides. I know what it is like to be qualified for college and not have the support.

Reality Changers helps build first generation college students. Students who qualify attend what we call “RC” for free. There is also a College Apps Academy that focuses on college applications including personal essays for those applications. If you Google College Apps Academy or Reality Changers I’m confident they will come up. In fact, if you search for the Reality Changers YouTube Channel you will find over 200,000 subscribers and close to 100 Million views.

Recently one of Reality Changers’ graduates was on America’s Got Talent with his daughter. On Saturday at the RC graduation ceremony at the University of San Diego I saw another graduate give a moving speech in front of over 1500 people about living in his car with his family for years before finally getting an apartment and joining Reality Changers in 11th grade. Now he is a sophomore at UCLA and he considers this a victory for those who are homeless as he once was.

What I’m getting at is that this nonprofit is not exactly anonymous. More and more people find out about it everyday. And not only is it not anonymous, it’s truly productive and lives are being changed.

During the past decade or so, Reality Changers has grown from four students in the original class – one of whom was the performer on America’s Got Talent that I mentioned in the paragraph above – to around 100 graduates this year.

This year those students graduating high school have earned over $10,000,000 in scholarships. In the past 11 years RC students have earned a total of over $25,000,000 in scholarships.

The opportunity for students is there. You have to reach out and take it. Schools can now get the College Apps Academy on their campus.

Whatever enrichment program you choose, start as early as you can so that you make it part of your routine and budget your time around it. My parents were told when I was entering 7th grade that they needed to start getting me ready for college and they laughed it off. How crazy to think about college so early. The years go by before you know it.

Even though I’ve been mentioning the free program in our community for years, I am sorry to say that Rosa and her daughter don’t seem to be interested. She says that her daughter is interested in going to college, but she thinks she’s too busy for Reality Changers.

My concern is that some people could end up going to college at a “lower level” than they could have. With the right preparation a student might get a full ride scholarship to Columbia instead of simply attending San Diego State on a partial scholarship. Or maybe they could earn a 3/4 scholarship to the University of Redlands instead of getting a couple thousand dollars in scholarships at a community college. The first student willing to be assigned to me at RC was a guy I’ll call Diego who might not have graduated from high school if not for the program. Diego went on to discover that he loved the atmosphere at Palomar College, one of the best community colleges in the nation. We have also had 11 students during the history of RC who became Gates Millenium Scholars. Google it! I mention these examples to point out that students of all academic levels benefit from Reality Changers.

While I welcome people who would join us in San Diego County to volunteer alongside us, that’s not the main reason I wrote this article.

I’m sure there is probably a program near you similar to Reality Changers. Maybe it’s not as thorough or maybe it is. We might be biased, but we think RC is one of the best programs in the nation. I hope your local program is thriving like ours.

Take advantage of the resources that are there. Don’t get so busy that you can’t see your way clear to getting your student a mentor and guidance through the process of not only college preparation, but navigating the application process of several colleges.

I’m gratified to know students who were freshmen in high school when I arrived as a tutor who will be entering their junior year in college this fall. In a couple more years I’ll be able to see them graduate from college. Of the first group that I got to know all the way from freshman year to graduation from high school there were three who got into Cal State San Marcos, one at Palomar College, one at UC Berkeley with a full ride scholarship, one at UC Santa Barbara, one on a full ride scholarship to Columbia, two at Syracuse – one on a full ride scholarship – and one is a Gates Millenium Scholar at the University of San Diego.

One thing Reality Changers teaches is that if you are accepted to all the colleges and universities to which you apply, you didn’t stretch yourself enough because you only applied to safe schools. You want to have some ambition and apply to some colleges that you think might reject you. You should get at least one rejection letter. Then you will know that you reached for the stars and you never know, you might be accepted to Harvard or Dartmouth or Stanford or Columbia when you weren’t sure you’d make it.