Can you tell us a bit about your background and your personal experience applying to college?
My name is Kelcie Diglio, I'm 21 years old and currently a senior at UNM double-majoring in psychology and family and child studies. I am from Albuquerque, New Mexico and I graduated from La Cueva High School in 2014 then started at UNM. My experience applying to college was challenging to say the least. Not only was I a first generation student, but during my senior year of high school, my mom passed away after fighting a battle with breast cancer for 13 years. She was a single mom of three and because my dad wasn't around, I was not only a low-income student, but was considered homeless by the McKinney-Vento grant. This made applying to college not only stressful because of emotional reasons, but also because of financial reasons. I knew I always wanted to go to college and knew my mom wanted me to, but I wasn't sure how I would be able to afford, it especially under the circumstances I was in.
How does the college application process differ for students from an underserved urban community? How about for those who may not have the resources to travel to visit campuses in other areas of the country?
I believe it makes it a lot more difficult to apply for college if you're from an underserved urban community. For one, you don't have the support and encouragement you need. Also, you don't have the resources you need because you may be one of few who are trying to apply so you don't know who to ask, where to go, or what you need. If you don't have the resources to visit other campuses, your opportunities may be limited. You may have to settle for a school that doesn't meet your needs, isn't right for you, or is too expensive
What advice would you give to fellow students from inner-city communities who have college aspirations?
I would tell them not to give up and especially don't let people tell you that you can't do it. Even though I had the odds against me, I persevered and didn't let any obstacles stop me from going to college. Although it may not be easy, it will definitely be worth it. There's a quote I really like from the movie Pursuit of Happiness: “Don't ever let someone tell you that you can't do something. Not even me. You gotta dream, you gotta protect it. When people can't do something themselves, they're going to tell you that you can't do it. You want something, go get it. Period.” -Will Smith
Where do you suggest other students from an underserved urban community turn for resources to begin their college planning process?
Although I didn't discover them until about halfway through my undergraduate studies, the College Enrichment Program at UNM was, and continues to be, the most helpful resource I found. They help with just about everything and their focus is specifically on underserved or first generation students. They make the college planning process a lot less stressful and genuinely want to help students succeed.
Did a large percentage of your hometown attend college?
In what ways did this impact your views of college?
Yes, most people I knew from my hometown attended college either here in New Mexico or out of state. I went to a good high school where going to college was highly encouraged. As one of the more wealthy high schools in New Mexico, it was almost assumed you would go to college as well as could afford it. I won't say I felt like I didn't have a choice to go because I wanted to, but it just seemed like the logical next step because everyone I was surrounded by either went or was going to college.
How influential did you find your community's attitude was towards your academic goals?
Going to a high school that had high expectations for students to do well academically definitely had a big impact on my academic goals. I was lucky to go to a good high school as Albuquerque and New Mexico as a whole are falling behind in education. If I didn't go to the high school I did, there may not have been as much encouragement to succeed academically in school and go to college.
What are some of the ways your high school supported students applying to college from your community?
What is one thing you would like to see them adopt?
I remember at my high school, we had a college fair where students could walk around to tables and get information about different colleges. We would also meet with our counselors to talk about if we were going to college and what we needed to apply. They would write us letters of recommendations needed as well as send in our transcripts. I would've liked to see my high school adopt more financial aid resources. Because I attended a wealthier school, they didn't take into account students like me who needed financial assistance, and that created an unwelcome environment for me to ask for financial help.
How can colleges and universities better encourage and aid students in underserved communities?
I think offering scholarships for students from underserved communities is a good way to encourage and aid students. I know I am very grateful for the grants and financial aid I received and if students had more resources available to not only help them afford college, but to help with the process, they would be more inclined to apply and not as intimidated by the process. They would feel like they have people who are there to support them and help them succeed.
Were there any issues that you experienced when starting college? Things you weren't prepared for? Things your peers didn't seem to experience?
It was very difficult for me starting college. I was still coping with the loss of my mother, I moved in with my aunt and uncle, and I was now facing another huge change starting college. I've always been very good at school but it was overwhelming to start this new chapter of my life with all these other things going on personally. I had to apply for the FASFA, as well as many grants in order to afford college. Thankfully, I had the help of my aunt and uncle with that process as I wouldn't have been able to figure it out on my own. I felt embarrassed and ashamed to say I was now considered homeless, which I rarely shared with my peers. Most of my peers had both of their parents in their lives and were wealthy, so they didn't experience the struggles I did. I had to grow up very fast because of the major life changes I faced, which made it harder for me to enjoy the social aspects of college.
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?
I was mostly on my own during the application and transition process, but I wish that I would've had a mentor like when I was a freshman. I think if I would've had another student to help me and guide me through the process, I wouldn't have had to figure so much out on my own. Although I didn't know about them at the time I applied, the College Enrichment Program at UNM is a wonderful resource for students to use and would make the process a lot less stressful.
Kelcie DiglioStudent, University of New Mexico
Kelcie Diglio is a senior at the University of New Mexico double-majoring in psychology and family and child studies. She is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico and is the first in her family to attend college.