My college counseling began working with migrant communities and undocumented students.  The students were highly motivated and had an idea about college but no idea how to navigate through the system in this country.  Wanting something so badly that one is willing to do just about anything…that’s an incredible trait especially when that something is school.  Imagine young people who when asked what they want to do more than anything in the world, they say “earn a college degree.”  That’s humbling especially in a world where we all want to be a billionaire via Travie McCoy.

I say all that before introducing Jose in part because that is just who he is.  But I also wanted to demonstrate how we failed Jose, a young person who wants nothing more than to go to college–can’t–all because we didn’t tell him enough.

I met Jose after he received his one and only acceptance letter from the one and only school that he applied…after the deadline.

“Why the hell did you do that!?” I yelled at him.

“I didn’t think I could go to college so I didn’t bother applying,” he explained.

Jose came to this country when he was about seven years old with his parents and younger brothers.  While his parents wanted him to focus on his school work, he did have to get a part-time job, contributing $100/month to his family’s overall budget and spending the rest on necessities for him and his brothers.  In high school, he took a rigorous course load, taking as many AP classes as he could and earning 4s or 5s on the exams, a feat most of his AP colleagues did not do.  And his graduating GPA?  A nice 4.3 in mainstream, non-elective courses.  He participated in clubs and athletics and even earned a Student of the Month award.

“Why did you think you couldn’t go to college?”

“I don’t have my papers.”


“And I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, scared I would deport my family for trying.”

Part of that is a legitimate concern but much of that can be mitigated especially with the Dream Act and DACA.  But it is a very tenuous process.  I remember talking to a recruitment office at a large public university years ago about an undocumented student.  Their first comment was that we get the students started with the paperwork in the eighth grade, at the latest!  I was shocked but that’s how long it takes.  Unlike Jose who had a few months left of high school.

“Well, you got in somewhere which is awesome!  So let’s see about that loot.”

We ended up visiting the financial aid office at the university, in order to see how they could adjust his financial aid package.  It was bad news.  As a private university, they just decided to not provide undocumented students with funding and effectively reduced the number of undocumented students in the entire university to TWO.  Two!!  But recent legislation meant that undocumented students could go to community college for $1/unit.  Community college always concerns me because students easily lose track but that’s not Jose.  That’s not that highly motivated student.

But the financial aid officer’s next suggestion really resonated with me.  He asked Jose about his AP courses and after doing a quick survey stated that Jose would probably be able to transfer with at least a semester completed.  If he went community college in the summer, he would actually be able to transfer the very next year.  Rather than rejecting the acceptance, he could therefore delay.  The scholarship that the school was offering him would cover a majority of the now only two years that would be left in his degree.

My jaw hit the floor.  Jose was convinced he just wasn’t going to college ever and the mood in the room was considerably low.  Until, that is, AP credits came into the picture.  Being able to cut down on the amount of time it took for him to earn his degree became pivotal.  Understanding that he could handle college-level work–thanks to AP–pushed him to say he wanted to be a medical doctor.  He understood the tremendous help the AP courses were giving him, a perspective I was trying to foster in the AP courses I teach.  Where families, teachers, and students bemoan the utility of AP, I saw exactly how it made the difference–a significant difference in his life chances–in Jose’s decision to continue his quest to a Bachelor’s degree.  And now he’s off to community college where we’ll continue to work together to make sure he doesn’t lose that motivation again because of something someone kept him in the dark about.


*Name has been changed