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Immigrant family, oldest child. Navigating through the USA's college system.

I just took the steps that were necessary to get me into and through college... but I wish I had known more about what I could have done.

Photo of Mijeong Takahashi
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My father was transferred from his company's branch in South Korea to one in Massachusetts, USA, and my family moved over when I was 5 years old. The education system worked relatively well with me, and I was one of the better academically achieving students all throughout K-10 (I transferred to a different school for grades 11-12 where I was mediocre).

In high school, I worried about college since I was the oldest child, and my parents did not understand how the education system worked here (one parent went to college and another to nursing school, but both in Japan). Due to this worry, I had my parents pay about $1000 to enroll me in a college track program. Although it was really helpful in making me mentally assured (that I had help if I needed it), it ended up being a waste of their money.

In my school, students were required to work on our college essay during the summer before our senior year. We were required to meet with the college counselor several times. Basically, they laid out the key steps, and all I did was take them: take the SATs and SAT IIs, look at the colleges, choose which ones to apply to, write statement of purposes and other supplemental pieces, fill in the Common App, pay the fee and submit applications, submit FAFSA, wait for acceptances, decide for college and attend. See? No need for that college track program. I essentially did the bare minimum and did not do more than that, but I got into a good school with a great financial packet so I thought it was good. However, financially, looking back, I regret not having applied for more scholarships. In part, I rather doubted that I would get things and felt that it was not worth the effort and stress.

Having gone through college and now a master's program, I wish I had known about and applied to programs such as the National Merit Scholarship for scoring well on the PSATs (I think) or the Gates Millennium Scholarship (which I notice another contributor has received). Although my college provided basically 100% finaid, I think it would have helped. I had relatively minimal loans, perhaps about 10k at the end of college, but I know my parents had more on my account. Additionally, I wish I had used my work study money more. I found a position off-campus and thus made money, but I still wish I had received more guidance on finance, time management, and finding a work study position.

Image source: Empower Network

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Mentorship. I wish I had more knowledge about what scholarships and programs were available as well as what I had a good chance of receiving (understanding what I had to offer). Financially and career life guidance.


Join the conversation:

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Mijeong, interesting post! Any chance you could find an image to go along with it? Images help grab attention and tell a story with higher impact. You should be able to use the Edit Contribution button on the top of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring insights on OpenIDEO.

Photo of Mijeong Takahashi

Excellent point! I have just edited to add an image I found online.

Thank you for the note!