With a little help, Juan Ochoa’s dreams are coming into focus. Once unsure how, or even if, he would get to college, Juan, 17, a senior at Envision Academy of Arts & Technology in Oakland, has already been accepted at three California schools and is on his way to securing the financial aid needed to cover the cost of tuition at whichever one he ultimately chooses.
“If it wasn’t for BUILD (a four-year college readiness program) and uAspire, I’d be lost.”
Juan was just two months old when his family moved from Mexico to the United States, settling in the Bay Area. He considers himself a typical teenager. He has a job working at McDonald’s, enjoys socializing with his friends, playing soccer, and tries to set a good example for his younger brother—who he grudgingly admits is actually a better soccer player than he is.
But unlike some of his peers, he’s faced a number of challenges, especially when it came to being an undocumented student, qualifying for financial aid, and figuring out how he was going to pay for college. His uAspire college affordability advisor, Esmeralda “Esme” Garcia, helped Juan fill out his college applications, scholarship applications, state grant, and the CA Dream Act application (the California Dream Act allows some undocumented students to apply for and receive state-based financial aid and institutional scholarships).
“To this day, paying for college is still a concern I have.” Juan recalled. “I knew scholarships were there, but I always felt like scholarships were a one in a thousand chance to get. I always thought it would have to be me working (to pay for school).”
In her role as an advisor in the Bay Area, Esmeralda works with high school seniors, in Oakland and San Francisco, helping them with the financial aid process, through one-on-one sessions and workshops. It’s special for her, as she was born and raised in the Bay Area. Esmeralda comes from a family of immigrants, who always reminded her that education is the key to success.
Juan has been accepted to three schools he feels really good about: California State University Stanislaus, Sonoma State University, and California State University, East Bay. He wants to get a degree in business.
“Esme helped me so much,” Juan said of his advisor.
“You have no idea how much I called her. She really kept me on the right track,” he added. “She helped me with the application to CSUs, and to get the financial aid process completed, and the Cal grant. She helped me with scholarships, and understanding the financial aid. She helped me understand what it would cost. She’s like the MVP. I feel like I need to give her a big gift basket at the end of my senior year because she’s done a lot.”