Moises’ Story of Navigating the Post-Secondary Maze

Meet Moises

Moises is a Mexican American, first-generation college student. He grew up in a middle-class household in West Lawn, which is located in southwest Chicago and is a largely Hispanic neighborhood.

Moises cares a lot about his parent’s wellbeing. He is currently working two jobs to pay for his college expenses and help his parents. Ever since the beginning of college, Moises has been interested in becoming a special education teacher and continues to work towards this goal.

Moises’ Story of Navigating the Post-Secondary Maze

In high school, Moises was a part of the IB program. Many of his IB course credits did not transfer to college credits, and looking back, Moises wished he had taken AP or dual enrollment courses. “I feel like [I would have taken different courses] if they would have explained … the difference between [tracks],” said Moises, “and how you can take certain classes that would transfer over to community college.”

However, Moises didn’t initially intend to enroll in a two-year college. He had learned a lot about his different college choices through opportunities provided by his high school. “All the IB students … would get together one day out of the week, and that’s when we would have college admissions counselors come and talk to us,” Moises explained.

When deciding between colleges, Moises prioritized financial considerations. “Although … my dad makes enough money to help me out, it just would be really tight on the budget, so I was more focused on trying to get … scholarships and maybe working too so I would be the one paying for school.” In the end, Moises chose to attend a local private four-year university where he could be a commuter student.

At the end of his senior year of high school, Moises was accepted into a teacher preparation and tuition assistance program that offered professional training during the summer. Moises appreciated the summer program because it provided him with hands-on experience working with elementary school students and connections with peers interested in the same field.

Following the summer institute, Moises began his first year of college. Within the first two weeks, he began to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of staying at the university. “A lot of the classes that I was taking, like I kind of already knew the content and I kind of already took the courses, and so I talked to some friends that were at a community college… they weren’t paying anything.”

Moises discussed the idea of transferring to a two-year college with his family. “At first my parents were like ‘No, just stay,’ but I told them that in two years I’d probably be going back … to the university again… I think it’s just a better decision to save some money and probably take the same classes.” Following these conversations, Moises decided to transfer to a local two-year college.

Moises thought his transfer process was easy because he felt supported by the college counselor at his university: “I remember her saying, ‘Whenever you feel like you want to come back, you’re always welcome. And that … just felt so good knowing that she understood my situation and where she wasn’t insisting on telling me to stay or anything.” However, Moises wished that he transferred to his two-year college sooner. The two-year college offered eight-week courses half-way through the semester, and Moises regretted not enrolling in them to get a head start at his new institution.

Unfortunately for Moises, after he left his four-year university, he was unable to continue with his scholarship program because it didn’t support students in two-year colleges. “Maybe if they would have been a lot more flexible with allowing kids to attend community college, that would have been great, I would’ve still been in the program. Even if it meant … they would have reduced the money they were giving me.”

Because Moises could not immediately begin taking courses at his two-year college, Moises worked throughout the rest of the fall semester to save money. He wished that his high school made more of an effort to stay in touch with him, noting that his friends who attended a different high school had a different experience. “They had a Facebook group where even after college, the teachers, they would post stuff for kids who weren’t going to school and they offered jobs or trade school options … and they just kept their students up-to-date. … They would have events for them to come back and speak to the students or if they needed help with FAFSA as college students.”

In the winter of 2020, Moises began taking classes at his two-year college with a full-ride institutional scholarship. He described his time at this college as pleasant, noting that he developed positive relationships with his professors. “I remember that when I would talk to some of them about leaving [my previous four-year college], they were just very intrigued about how it kind of sucks that situations happen this way… they knew a lot of kids, a lot of students that had a similar situation to me.”

On the other hand, Moises’ relationship with his counselors at his two-year college were not as strong. He wished students had one consistent counselor who would get to know them. “The admissions counselors’ offices were in a big room by the main office in their own cubicles, and then just felt like, not intimidating, but you would have to wait and they would call you in,” Moises explained.

“Maybe if they would come and greet you and then walk into their office, then maybe it would have been better and more welcoming.” In addition, he felt frustrated because every time he met with a new counselor, he would have to describe his background, situation, goals, and aspirations all over again.

Although Moises did not develop a strong relationship with any counselor at his two-year college, he did remember developing good relationships with his professors. He missed interacting with them in person after the COVID-19 pandemic forced his college to shift to remote learning, but he continued to thrive academically.

“I kind of wanted to be in class listening to the professor talking with my classmates in person, but [my college] made the online learning experience very easy,” said Moises. He also explained how his college offered material support during the pandemic by providing grants to students who were struggling to afford books, school supplies, and other necessities.

By the end of the spring semester of his second year, Moises received his associate degree and was on the dean’s list. He began applying to four-year colleges, but he described the college choice process as difficult because many colleges would not accept all of his transfer credits. Moises felt supported by his two-year college’s transfer counselor, who helped him send transcripts, look over transfer requirements, and work on applications.

Later on in the process, Moises was able to visit a college that would accept all of his credits and offer him three scholarships. In addition, 70% of the students enrolled at this four-year college were commuter students.

“I went to go visit and while at the visit, they saw I didn’t qualify for FAFSA. While I was on the tour, I came back and one of the counselors had called the financial aid office and they gave me a free grant for like $2,000. So right then and there, being there and getting to know the counselors and seeing how much they were invested in me, they just made the decision very easy.” Following his visit, Moises enrolled in this private four-year college. He began studying special education there during the fall of 2021.

What Worked for Moises

  1. Attending colleges where most of the students were commuters. At his first four-year college, Moises described feeling like he didn’t fit in because most of his peers lived on campus. At his two-year college, professors reassured him that he was not alone in this situation. He noted that one of the reasons he chose to attend his current four-year college was because a majority of their students were commuters.
  2. Receiving financial aid that covered the cost of tuition. Moises felt stressed at his first four-year college because he had to take out loans to afford it. Once he transferred to his two-year college, he received a full-ride scholarship, persisted, and received his associate degree. In addition, one of the reasons he chose his current four-year college was a counselor’s ability to provide him with more financial aid.

Moises’ Hopes for the Field

  1. High Schools: Moises appreciated how his high school provided students with time to meet college admissions counselors every week. However, Moises wished his high school provided more information about how AP, IB, and dual enrollment course credits did or did not transfer to college. Moises noted that he would have also appreciated joining a Facebook group with other students from his high school graduating class so that his former teachers and fellow alumni could share job opportunities, workshops, and other resources.
  2. Colleges: Moises felt frustrated by his lack of a consistent counselor at his two-year college. He also found the process of meeting with a counselor generally impersonal and unwelcoming. Rather than scheduling an appointment and walking into a counselor’s office at his designated time, he had to make an appointment and wait in a large room until a counselor came to find him.
  3. Scholarship-Granting Organizations: Moises enjoyed being a part of his former teacher preparation and tuition assistance program because he was able to gain professional experience, meet students with similar interests, and receive financial aid. However, he wished that the program was more flexible in terms of the type of colleges in which participating students could enroll. He was disappointed that he could no longer continue with the program after transferring to a two-year college.

Read other students’ stories of navigating the post-secondary maze:

  • Nancy is a Latinx, first-generation college student from Brighton Park. She immediately enrolled in a four-year college after high school graduation, transferred to a two-year college, and is currently enrolled in another four-year college. Read her story.
  • Arthur is a Black college student who attended a high school on the Southwest Side of Chicago. He immediately enrolled in a four-year college after high school graduation and has since transferred to two-year colleges as well as an online bachelor’s degree program. Read his story.
  • Amayrani is a Latinx, first-generation college student who graduated from a selective enrollment public high school and immediately enrolled in a two-year college. She took two semesters off during the pandemic. Read her story.
  • Kiara is a Belizean American college student from South Shore. She immediately enrolled in an HBCU after high school graduation, transferred to a two-year college, and is currently enrolled in a nursing program at that college. Read her story.

The To&Through Project team would like to express our most sincere gratitude to Moises for taking the time to share his story with us.

Adayan Munsuarrietta, a third-year student at the University of Chicago majoring in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies as well as Media Arts and Design, interned with the To&Through Project during the summer of 2021, during which he interviewed these five CPS graduates and drafted their stories.

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The To&Through Project

The To&Through Project

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The To&Through Project aims to increase high school & post-secondary completion for under-resourced students of color in Chicago & around the country.