A First Generation Student's Story

June 4, 2018

(Part one)


Student body president. Son of Mexican immigrants. Salsa dancer. Activist. Writer and poet. All are words that describe Manuel Morales, who graduates this month from Costa Mesa High School. And starting in August, Manuel will add another word to the list—freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, one of the top-ranked schools in the world.


Manuel describes himself as a “stereotype-breaker.” And certainly as a student who has refused to accept the limits that are often associated with those who come from a low income, underserved background, he most certainly does defy stereotypes. But after working with Manuel for the past nine months, I’d also use another word to describe him (hackneyed as it sounds)—go-getter. In every area of his life, he makes things happen, in a wonderfully positive way.


Manuel’s parents came to the U.S. twenty-seven years ago, seeking a better life than they’d had in Mexico. He and his two older sisters were born in the United States. Manuel’s father works as a valet driver at John Wayne International Airport in Orange County; his mother isn’t currently working. Neither parent had any familiarity with the often-complex college admissions process, but Manuel realized early on that attending a top college away from home would offer him the best opportunities for his future. One of his sisters supported him in the admission process by taking him on college tours in the Bay Area, New York, and Washington state the summer before his senior year. The tours opened his eyes to the possibilities that different colleges could provide a first generation student like himself.



“Disneyland is just 20 minutes away, but I never got to experience going there,” Manuel said. “People I met in New York or Washington would say to me, ‘You’re from California. You have so many opportunities around you,’ and I would just smile and say ‘Yes,’ but little did they know that I never got to take advantage of all that… So I put myself into situations where I always strived to be the best.” He understood that doing so would mean all of his hard would pay off eventually.


Manuel is close to his high school's college and career counselor, who helped him throughout the college application process. She recommended he attend a Write Direction workshop last September on how to write effective college admission essays.


“You offered me so much information that I hadn’t thought of in terms of how to style my essay,” Manuel said. “I wanted to make it worthwhile to read mine, instead of any other boring essay. I wanted mine to be different, and that’s where I felt I needed help.”


Manuel applied for a scholarship for free one-on-one counseling from The Write Direction. We then worked together extensively on his essays for the University of California and the Common Application, as well as on his supplemental essays for private colleges and on several scholarship applications.


In part two, we’ll look at why Manuel describes The Write Direction as his “secret weapon.” We’ll also examine how he used the four University of California personal insight essays to showcase his application and differentiate himself from the tens of thousands of other students applying to UC campuses.


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