Guest Post from Ileana Astorga: College Application Advice for KIPPsters and the Adults in their Lives

This post was originally published on Mike Feinberg’s LinkedIn page on September 26, 2016. Click here to read the full article.

Fall is the time that KIPPsters join thousands of other students in the journey of applying to college, seeking financial aid and finding out which school- if any- is right for them. That’s why this month I’m turning my post over to a KIPP alumna- Ileana Astorga- who has wise advice for her high school peers and the adults who support them. Thanks to Ileana for sharing her story and the chance to celebrate the amazing and lasting power of a great teacher!

They say that all it takes to change a student’s life is one committed adult who cares, and that’s certainly true for me. While I have a loving family and have known many great teachers, my story pivots around my AP English teacher at KIPP Denver Collegiate High School, Mr. Eden.

I first met Mr. Eden when I was a junior at KIPP Denver Collegiate. My goal at the time was to attend  state university, which felt ambitious as no one else in my family had ever graduated from college. But Mr. Eden saw my academic abilities and willingness to work hard, and would not let me settle.  Instead he advised me to apply to selective schools outside of Colorado, including Duke University.

Why Duke? Mr. Eden had many friends and family members who had attended Duke and he knew it was a fantastic school. Plus, he was a die-hard Duke basketball fan (Go Blue Devils!). His excitement was infectious and soon I started to set my sights beyond Colorado too.

During the fall of my senior year, I began the difficult process of applying to college. My parents were extremely supportive, but as they did not attend college themselves, I had to figure things out on my own. That’s where my KIPP college advisor Mrs. Chapelle came in. She narrowed my focus to schools where I was ‘likely’ to get in, along with slightly more difficult ‘target’ schools and a ‘reach’ school, which was Duke.

In addition to my KIPP college advisor, Mr. Eden also continued to provide support, despite his departure from Denver to California. He guided me to become a strong candidate throughout the application process, from reviewing my essays to conducting mock interviews.

And, when my parents questioned the idea of applying to schools so far from home, Mr. Eden was one of the people who helped bolster my confidence.  My family made many sacrifices so my brothers and I could pursue our education, but they never envisioned that I would end up on the other side of the country for college.

However, when I got accepted to Duke, my parents were thrilled for me and proud of my achievement.  Their joy only increased when I received a scholarship to help pay for a majority of my Duke tuition. One of my happiest memories of that time is calling Mr. Eden to share the news that I would be joining the Duke Class of 2017.  He was so excited for me then, and he’s promised to be there when I cross the stage in Durham this spring.

Four years after graduating from KIPP Denver Collegiate, I can safely say that everyone in my class has taken a slightly different route. A college or university thousands of miles away is not for everyone, but we are all on track to pursue our goals, and we continue to help each other along the way. I have been proud to see my two younger brothers graduate from KIPP Denver Collegiate, and to support them as they have balanced jobs and college classes close to home. This path is right for my brothers and just as valuable as the one that I have taken.

I am certain that no matter what we all do in the future, the strengths, work ethic and skills we learned at from our KIPP Denver Collegiate teachers will help us be successful throughout our lives.

I often get asked for advice about applying to college. While each student’s journey is unique, here are my four suggestions:

1) Don’t be limited- be curious and open to a different path than the one you may have envisioned;

2) Seek support from people who have your best interests at heart;

3) Aim to exceed the highest standards you have set for yourself and finally;

4) Remember your roots and from where you come.

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