Reflections on the College Admission Process

As her first college admission season with Breakthrough Silicon Valley draws to a close, we asked our College Counselor, Jenny Uribe, to offer a few thoughts for high school students (and parents) who are beginning to think ahead about college applications.

In recent years, the college application process has become increasingly competitive and selective. As a result, many students, including those at Breakthrough, feel pressure to come up with something that makes their application stand out among others.

Quite often, students will read the essays of admitted students – readily available online or in books – and then try to mimic that style of writing in their own essays, thinking that’s what colleges want to see. They feel pressure to come up with the most flowery, creative, and colorful essay possible. What students don’t realize is that it’s not about a particular style of writing. It’s their own story that’s important. Colleges are interested in authentic, compelling stories that will help them get to know applicants.

Students – especially those who are among the first generation in their family to attend college – often fail to appreciate how their personal journey to higher education is already compelling, even without any flowery language. They perceive their lives as ordinary because that’s all they know. In fact, their stories are amazing, inspiring, and evidence of tremendous resiliency.

Breakthrough students often overcome significant obstacles in life – both at home and at school – in order to be competitive college applicants. They frequently come from low-income households where their parents work long hours at back-breaking jobs. They juggle school work with other responsibilities, like caring for siblings or working part-time. They often live in neighborhoods impacted by gang violence and intergenerational poverty, and attend under-resourced schools where drop-out rates are high and expectations low. And that’s just the beginning.

As a college counselor, it’s my role to help students recognize the significance of all they have achieved in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Before they even begin to think about their college essays, I encourage students to focus on learning about themselves. My goal is to help them develop self-awareness and make insightful connections about how their life experiences have shaped who they are today, as well as instill hope in how much control they have over their future.  

My advice for Breakthrough students, and other low-income, first-generation students, is this: Know that your story is already compelling. You just need to tell it. And we're here to help you.

Jenny Uribe is Breakthrough Silicon Valley’s College Counselor. As a first-generation college graduate, she is committed to ensuring that Breakthrough students are competitive college applicants. Jenny earned a B.A. in Psychology with honors from U.C. Santa Cruz, where she developed a passion for serving low-income youth. Unable to ignore the educational inequities that exist in our community, Jenny has devoted her professional career to creating educational opportunities for students with limited access to resources. Prior to joining Breakthrough, Jenny was a Program Associate for Summer Search Silicon Valley, where she developed high school students into college-educated leaders.

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