High School and Applying to College

By the time I was in high school, I knew I had mastered American culture. “I ran the town!” The summer between middle school and high school was filled with tremendous changes for me. I was short, brown and fat; the the perfect target for bullying, the summer before my freshman year of high school began. My mom realized that this would continue into high school if I did not change something so she said, “Son I love you the way you are, and you love the way you are, but you are not happy; If you really want change, we are going to have to make sacrifices.” I went on a diet and started running a lot. It came to a point where I literally deprived myself of everything good; I literally ate vegetables for three months, and ran 5 miles each day. I lost a lot of weight. By my freshman year of high school I was at the peak of puberty. Everything changed. Unlike my earlier phase, I was fit for the first time in my life. I also grew tremendously. I was very tall compared to the other freshman in my high school. And, for the first time in my life I felt very confident. I spoke English very well, classes came easily to me, and I had achieved a level of mastery of knowledge that I was comfortable with. By now, I understood cultural nuances and easily navigated between Mexican-American culture, American culture, Pop culture. I also explored everything new and cool that I had access to. “I was it.” You couldn’t tell that I was Mexican, you could have mistaken me for any Mexican-American kid. High school was a breeze.

Click here to hear about Eduardo’s time in High School

Well, high school was a breeze until senior year. Suddenly, the uncertainty of my future really hit me when I was began working on college applications during the fall of senior year. I was well prepared for this process. During my junior year, I was accepted into a program called College Match. Founded by Harley Frankel, a very generous individual, College Match helps talented inner city high school youth with high academic potential attend college. It’s a very strict program. You have to meet various requirements including a grade point average competitive enough for college admissions. The program exposed me to various educational opportunities outside of California, that would otherwise remain beyond my reach. We even had an Ivy League trip, where we visited every singly Ivy League. That was the first time I heard of the Ivy Leagues. During the span of two weeks, we all the ivy league institutions, top notch private colleges and public universities on the East coast. In all, we visited twenty institutions.

Eduardo stars in “Soy Latino” a poem by Eddie Zapata:

It was the first time I was exposed to a label of the real American life, and I was like “Oh my god this is America.” For the first time I saw white people; for the first time I was a minority. That’s when I learned about colleges but I didn’t know if they would accept me and I was very direct to them. Every time I went to an admissions officer I would ask them, “I’m an undocumented student, will you accept me, is even worth my time to apply?” A lot them were honest and said, “No, we don’t.” Others were even more honest and said, “Yes we do, but we won’t offer you financial aid.” That’s where I started knowing where I could apply. So I became fearful of applications, because it was very unclear whether they would accept me because the only ones that were very promising were the top-notch ivy leagues because they would give me financial aid. So I said, “oof, I don’t get accepted there I’m screwed!”
          I developed a very different mentality because I knew that if I wanted an easier life without incurring personal or parental debt, I had to go Ivy League. Of course, I know that’s not the only way, and that there are other options, but for me, Ivy Leagues were the answer, especially Dartmouth, which was my top choice school. At Dartmouth I qualified as an international student, because technically I am an international student. Ivy leagues that provided “blind-need” financial aid provide the same financial aid that they would for American students to international students. Another thing that really scared me was that if I applied as an international student, I was going to be put in the pool with international students who are very talented people. I was going to be competing with individuals who have way better education than I do; on top of students who are from the United States. For example Pitzer College only accepts one undocumented student and grants one scholarship a year. So I was felt like, “My god, I’m competing for one spot!” It was very scary.

Eduardo on hunger strike for the Dream Act, during his freshman year at Dartmouth.

Eduardo on hunger strike for the Dream Act, during his freshman year at Dartmouth.

The first letter I got back was a rejection letter from Hamilton College. When the first letter came, I was devastated. The second letter that came was also rejection letter though I can’t remember from where, and the third letter was from Dartmouth! When I received the acceptance, I was like “Oh my god!” and I lost it. It all happened the same week. The two rejection letters came first, earlier in the week, and on Wednesday I got this small letter from Dartmouth and it was what our counselors call a “likely letter.” I read it and I was very confused because it said, “We have reviewed your application, we are highly considering you to be accepted. We really want you, and we just wanted to tell you that probability of you being accept is high.” And I asked, “What does this mean? Am I accepted or not accepted?”  I was very confused, so the next day I went to my counselor early in the morning and I asked, “Ms. Head, What does this mean?” and she said, “Oh! You’re accepted!” And I said, “no, no don’t mess with me!” And she said, “No these letters only get to students who are accepted and they are telling you ahead of time to tell you that you are accepted.” I’m just like “this makes no sense, why won’t they tell me already?” So later on that week I finally got the huge package with the acceptance letter, and I just cried. I was so happy, I didn’t even pay attention to the other acceptance packages that came later on that month because I didn’t care. I  called Dartmouth right away and said, “Yes I’m going! Where do I sign, what do I do? I’m in, I’m in!” It was an amazing time!

Life at Dartmouth