Nancy’s Story of Navigating the Post-Secondary Maze

Meet Nancy

Nancy is a Mexican American, first-generation, low-income college student studying neuroscience. She aspires to pursue a career in medicine. Nancy was raised in Brighton Park, which is located on the West Side of Chicago and is a largely Latinx neighborhood.

Nancy describes herself as introverted and resilient. She hopes to help other students in situations similar to her own someday.

Nancy’s Story of Navigating the Post-Secondary Maze

Nancy graduated from a selective enrollment public high school in 2018 and is currently a fourth-year student studying neuroscience at a local public four-year college. As a first-generation college student, Nancy described feeling like it was largely her responsibility to understand the college admissions process. She felt discouraged from asking counselors at her high school for help after a negative experience she had.

“They were probably used to helping students who have parents who have gone to college before, and so I remember there was a time where I forgot to turn in a form that they needed, but I obviously [didn’t] know the college process, so he was really upset with me,” Nancy explained. “After that, I really didn’t ask him for help.”

That same year, she was accepted to a college access and success program geared towards under-resourced students seeking one-on-one college counseling and preparation. This program provided Nancy with support outside of school to help her navigate the college application process. By the end of her senior year, she received multiple college acceptance letters and decided to attend a private four-year college.

Even though Nancy excelled academically in high school, she had a challenging first year both socially and academically. Nancy was a commuter student, and so she struggled to find a sense of community at a college where so many students lived on campus. “I kind of felt pretty much alone, and that kind of took a toll on me as the school year progressed,” she said. “Because I also had to work, I couldn’t really do any activities that I wanted to do there.”

She explained that she worked more hours than she would have liked during her first year of college because she wanted to avoid taking out loans to pay for her tuition. However, working so many hours also meant she had less time to take advantage of her college’s academic supports: “They did have some events for commuters like myself, but… [I had to] go straight to work after school… so I couldn’t really attend those.”

Nancy hadn’t seriously considered attending a two-year college. “[My high school] kind of expected us to end up going to these big universities, and they didn’t really expect us to end up going to community college,” she explained.

Even so, by the end of her first year of college, Nancy decided to transfer to a local two-year college where she would receive more financial aid and be able to take advantage of on-campus academic supports, such as one-on-one office hours with her professors. She planned to eventually transfer back to a different four-year college once she completed her associate degree.

Nancy described feeling frustrated by the process of transferring from a four-year college to a two-year college because she could not easily find someone to support her in navigating it. She wished that her college access and success program had filled this void. “I found that really unfortunate,” she said, “because they should know that they actually have a lot of students that are currently in community colleges.”

Nancy was surprised to learn that some of her credits would only count as elective credit at her new college. Despite this setback, she stayed on track for her two-year degree because she developed a strong relationship with her academic advisors. “They consistently asked me what colleges I’m looking to transfer to and [made] sure … I’m taking the adequate classes for [transferring to a four-year],” she explained.

“They also helped me with making sure I was on track for [my associate degree], and then they consistently connected me to resources that they found would be relevant to me.” Although Nancy had described how adjusting to her new campus environment seemed challenging at first, she noted that her academic counselors ultimately helped her transition with relative ease.

Nancy also found a stronger sense of community at her two-year college. “[Many students] lived in the same area, have the same back story, and… that was really comforting to have,” she noted. In addition, Nancy no longer had the same pressure to work to afford her post-secondary education: she received a full-ride institutional scholarship. Nancy noted that this scholarship freed her from working the same amount of hours that she did her first year of college, and she excelled academically during her second year.

In the spring of her second year, Nancy was connected to a transition coach at a public four-year college through a promotional email. The coach helped her learn about a program they offered to support Latinx students interested in STEM. Nancy attributed her positive experiences at her current four-year college to this program as well as her transition coach, who introduced her to mentoring programs and internship opportunities.

Nancy is optimistic that going into her fourth year of college, she will continue thriving academically. She also wants to give back to the communities that supported her: she will be a mentor for younger students in her college’s Latinx STEM program, and she is advocating for college access and success programs to increase their support for transfer students.

What Worked for Nancy

  1. Increased accessibility to academic supports as a commuter student. At her private four-year college, Nancy was not able to attend tutoring because she was working to pay tuition, and she found it difficult to consistently meet with counselors because she was a commuter student.
    At the two-year college, she worked fewer hours because of the full-ride institutional scholarship she received. Nancy described feeling like she was able to access academic support more easily because she had more time on her hands despite continuing as a commuter student.
  2. College transfer counseling provided by both sending and receiving institutions. During her first transfer experience, Nancy found herself struggling with transferring credits and having to fill out transfer forms on her own. However, when transitioning from her two-year college to the public four-year university, Nancy felt supported and prepared by counselors at both institutions.
  3. Finding community among students and advisors with similar backgrounds. At Nancy’s current university, joining a Latinx STEM program played an important role in helping her figure out her professional journey after college. The program provided her with opportunities to receive academic and professional support as well as develop a network of supportive peers.

Nancy’s Hopes for the Field

  1. High Schools: Nancy felt that she would’ve been more comfortable asking for help from her high school’s college counselor if they were more aware of her needs as a first generation college student. She also wished that her school had provided more information about transferring between colleges, particularly with respect to transfer credits and the kinds of support available to transfer students at different institutions. She also wished her high school had made her feel as though two-year colleges were a viable option for her.
  2. Colleges: Nancy wished that her four-year college had provided more avenues for commuter students and students with jobs to take advantage of academic support while off-campus. She expressed hope that more colleges will provide high-quality support for transfer students in the future, such as by connecting transfer students with transition coaches and support systems on campus.
  3. Community-Based Organizations: Nancy wished that her college access and support program in high school would create more infrastructure to support transfer students. Nancy noted how organizations could hire a dedicated transfer advisor, have existing advisors receive more training around the transfer process, or create a near-peer mentoring program with previous transfer students.

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

  • 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.
  • Moises is a Mexican American, first-generation college student from West Lawn. He 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.
  • 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 Nancy for taking the time to share her 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.