This week, more than 400 first-generation college students began classes at USC. This year’s freshman class was the most selective in the University’s history, as more than 54,000 applications were received and roughly 17 percent were accepted. Of those that ended up coming to USC, approximately one fifth is the first in their families to attend college.
USC has attempted to accommodate first-generation students and those from low-income and underprivileged neighborhoods. This year, more than $300 million went to financial aid for undergraduate students. Much of this aid goes to first-generation students, who comprised 14 percent of the student body in 2015.
Connie Machuca is among the 400 first-generation students entering USC this fall. Machuca, a freshman majoring in environmental studies, remembers receiving her acceptance to USC with tears in her eyes, knowing that all her work had paid off. Machuca was born in Chicago to Ecuadorian parents, who encouraged her from a very young age to go to college. Machuca is proud to be a first-generation student, but has faced difficulties adapting to a way of life that her parents had no way to prepare her for.
“The hardest part is being in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people,” Machuca said. “Hopefully, I make a lot of friends and adapt to the environment quickly.”
Machuca said that being away from her mother, who she considers her greatest motivator, has been the hardest part of going to college.
“She struggled so much just to get ahead in this country. With an education, I can hopefully show her all her sacrifices were worth it,” Machuca said.
Kelly Pascual, a freshman majoring in business administration who grew up in South Los Angeles, saw many of her peers in high school drop out without obtaining their diplomas. For Pascual, being a first-generation college student means setting an example for her community, though she admitted she has had to work harder because of her limited resources.
Kelly was one of 20 graduates from USC’s Neighborhood Initiative, a middle and high school program which allows students from USC’s surrounding neighborhoods to attend the University on a full-tuition scholarship.
Pascual also says her parents inspired her to be the first in her family to pursue a higher education.
“My parents have reminded me to continue to work hard in school and to have an end goal in mind, like getting a good job,” Pascual said.
Valeria Resendiz, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, was born in Mexico. Resendiz migrated to the United States when she was 3 and grew up in Oxnard, California. Throughout her adolescent years, the desire to help her family and encourage students from her high school to get a higher education, regardless of the challenges they may face, drove her decision to attend college.
“My parents always advised me to stay on track for school and not lose sight of my goals and to thank God each day for giving me such a grand opportunity,” Resendiz said. “I wanted to make a positive difference for my family and future generations.”
This desire to help others has kept her going despite difficulties adapting to a college environment, such as a lack of support in both academics and extracurriculars, that may come easily to many students whose parents have gone to college.
“The hardest part of college has been finding my way through this environment on my own, but at the same time, it is the most rewarding part,” Resendiz said. “I am paving the way for the success of others from disadvantaged backgrounds like my own.”