Can you tell us a bit about your background and your personal experience applying to college?

Hello, my name is Clarissa Vasquez I am currently a junior at The University of New Mexico where I am majoring in family and child studies. I am originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico. My mother is originally from Juarez, Mexico and my father from Los Angeles, California. Neither one of my parents attended college, but they both received their high school diplomas. I have an older half sister and half brother who both completed high school, but neither one of them attended college. When I was applying to college, I did the majority of it on my own. I had a little bit of guidance from my high school counselor on how to apply, but that was about it. My parents have never had to apply for college so they could not help me all that much. I was not sure of where I should apply or how many colleges I should apply to. Somehow I managed to submit all my applications and I got accepted into The University of New Mexico as well as New Mexico State University.

How does the college application process differ for students from a rural or remote area?

How about for those who may not have the resources to travel to visit campuses in other areas of the country?

In my experience applying to college from a rural area, there were not a lot of resources to help a first generation student navigate through how to apply, when to apply, and where to apply. There was no one to guide me through applying for financial aid or scholarships. For me, I was not able to travel to UNM's Albuquerque campus until I was accepted and came to orientation. I did not see the campus until orientation, so I chose this university strictly based on what I had learned from their website and through my own research. I could only imagine if I had wanted to go somewhere out of state, trying to apply and visit the university before hand would have been even more difficult.

What advice would you give to fellow students from an underserved rural area who have college aspirations?

Some advice that I would give fellow students from underserved rural areas would be to never give up on your dreams. If you truly want to go to college, you can do it. Keep asking questions wherever you can; whether it be your high school counselor, or one of your favorite teachers, just keep asking. Find and take advantage of any and every resource that may be available to you, even if you have to go on a quest to find it. I am three years into college and my tuition is paid for in full by financial aid. I never saw myself going to graduate school, but that is my next goal, and I will stop at nothing to achieve it.

Where do you suggest other students from a rural area turn for resources to begin their college planning process?

I think you should begin with your school's counselor. They usually can aid you in the college planning process. It may take a while to see them if they are helping a lot of other students with the same process or with graduation in general. If so, I would recommend asking a trusted teacher. They may be able to help you get started and may be a great support system to help keep you motivated and encouraged throughout your college journey.

Did a large percentage of your hometown attend college?

In what ways did this impact your views of college?

I would say a large percentage of my hometown did attend college. There is a university in my hometown, where many of my peers attended. This impacted my views of college because it made it more important. I didn't really start to think about attending college until I was a sophomore in high school, because I was seeing some of my senior friends graduating and going on to attend college. I always knew that my parents would like for me to go to college, but I didn't see the importance of it until I saw my friends attending.

How influential did you find your community's attitude was towards your academic goals?

I feel like my community's attitude toward pursuing higher education was pretty influential. No one ever put down the goal of going to college; they encouraged it. There were incentives that seniors looked forward to if they were attending college. There were award ceremonies for scholarships you had won, and you would be recognized publicly for these. On sports teams, there would be “senior nights” where you would be recognized in front of the whole stadium or gym, where your chosen school would be announced.

What are some of the ways your high school supported students applying to college from a rural community?

What is one thing you would like to see them adopt?

There would be little things you look forward to, like senior nights and award ceremonies. Something I think they should adopt is more resources for students to apply and learn about college before senior year.

How can colleges and universities better encourage and aid students in underserved communities?

More recruitment would be beneficial by sending resources out to underserved communities. A mentorship program would also be an awesome way for colleges and universities to encourage and support students.

Did you find the transition of moving from a rural community to college life difficult?

I did find the transition moving from a rural community to an urban area a bit difficult. Moving away from the place I grew up all my life, to a place I knew no one and was not familiar with was hard. I had to deal with homesickness and figuring out how to navigate my life on my own.

Were there any issues that you experienced when starting college? Things you weren't prepared for? Things your peers didn't seem to experience?

Not necessarily, maybe just the intensity of my homesickness.

Were there any organizations or resources that you found to be especially helpful during your college application and college transition process that you would suggest to other students?

The College Enrichment Program really helped me with my transitions because not only did I work there, but they truly made me feel like I had a home away from home. The advisors were so supportive, and were willing and eager to help me with anything I might have needed. To this day, the people of the College Enrichment Program are like family. The College Enrichment Program offers student mentors for incoming freshmen to utilize as a resource coming into college life.

Any final thoughts for us?

I hope all rural students continue to pursue their higher education dreams. I believe if we all try and reach out a helping hand, more underserved students from rural areas will continue on to higher education and make their dreams and goals come true.

Clarissa Vasquez

Student, University of New Mexico

Clarissa Vasquez is currently a junior at The University of New Mexico where she majors in family and child studies. Originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico, she is a first generation college student.