Navigating college admissions as children of immigrants By Sarah Barsky and Stefanie Iojica t’s close I to midnight on a typical school day night, and the stress of the UC personal insight questions, Common App essay, or an upcoming deadline isn’t only overwhelming; it’s all-consuming, sucking me down into a downward spiral of stress, loneliness, and hopelessness. I barely even notice the opening of the door behind me until the clink of a bowl placed next to me. By the time I’ve looked up, my mom’s already left the room, and a bowl of carefully cut fruit sits on my desk. For a brief moment I can escape college application stress with the sweetness of peaches and strawberries on my tongue. Most seniors undertake the daunting process of college admissions. Beyond even the application process, the experience of college has been romanticized through throughout high school and college, and didn’t undergo the same liberalarts based curriculum present in most U.S. high schools and undergraduate colleges. Sarah’s mother grew up in French Quebec, where only annual tests and grades decide admissions. Neither had extracurriculars evaluated as a required part of an application, and in both countries, students often attended the college nearest to their parents and lived at home. So when we began the admissions hands-off in the slightest. Instead, they showed their support through acts of service. No, they often couldn’t help with our essays. But when we struggled with math late on the night before a test, they sat with us and patiently reviewed trigonometry and logarithms. They reminded us to take breaks and recharge. They carefully cut us fruit as we struggled to finish a paper. We learned self-advocacy from an “For our parents, this country represents not only a place of opportunity for themselves, but a place where their children could achieve something greater than was possible back home.” countless movies, books, and TV shows. We grow up with stories of our parents’ college days and dream about the days we would create our own memories. But for those of us with parents that never went through the same process, or went through a vastly different one, the college admissions process seems foreign at best. Stefanie’s parents attended college in Romania, where a single three-day exam decided college admissions, and students could only apply to a single school. Students focused on a specific subject area process, our parents could only apply their experiences to a system totally unlike experienced. When Stefanie approached her parents about signing up for the PSAT, or studying for AP exams, or filling out the FAFSA, they stared at her in bafflement at the nonsensical acronyms. Most of the time they adopted a stance of “I don’t know, but I trust you to do the right thing” when it came to extracurriculars, essays, and college lists. But as many second-generation Americans can attest, that doesn’t mean that immigrant parents are the one they had early age; if we ever needed help, they would find a way to offer it. But we needed to speak up for ourselves when we did. While we often joke that immigrant parents govern under the doctrine of “tough love,” that comes from a position of legitimately wanting the best for us. For our parents, this country represents not only a place of opportunity for themselves, but a place where their children could achieve something greater than was possible back home. As we conclude this admissions process and prepare to begin college, we thought back to the four years that lay behind us. At times, we felt frustrated and overwhelmed with the enormity and complexity of college admissions, and the fact so many other families seemed to have it down easy. But the support that our parents provided taught us self-reliance and determination. And we do enjoy a bowl of cut fruit once in a while. 20

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