Examining the Journey of Valeria Rodriguez, a First-generation College Student

A first-year and first-generation college student at UCSD shares her and her family’s story, including her experiences with the college application process, her current life and her future plans. 

Valeria Rodriguez, a first-year at UC San Diego and a first-generation college student, commutes to UCSD everyday. It takes her 35 minutes to an hour depending on traffic, and then she parks at Gliderport — $30 per day for on-campus parking is too expensive — and then walks to campus. 

This parking issue is one of the many problems which help highlight the burden faced by financially insecure college students, particularly first-generation college students. 

Just like in Valeria Rodriguez’ case, sometimes students commute and walk because housing and parking is not affordable, or they work jobs along with doing school in order to afford college. 

According to Valeria Rodriguez, even parking at Gliderport is often challenging because there are so many students that can’t afford on-campus parking.

However, Valeria Rodriguez does cite that UCSD carries resources that have helped her personally as a first-generation student. For example, she has attended events hosted by the Raza Resource Centro and workshops called Cafecito Hours. 

“I’m able to talk to more students like me,” Valeria Rodriguez told the UCSD Guardian. “I feel like I do have that help to go to … I went to Cafecito Hours a few days ago and we were able to talk about anxiety and time management, and see what could be helpful for us.”

Valeria Rodriguez’s parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico. Her mom, Laura Rozano, moved to the U.S. when she was 14 and managed to get a high school diploma. 


“It was a bit of a struggle because not a lot of teachers spoke Spanish, so it was hard to communicate,” Rozano said. “I was the first one in the family to graduate with a high school diploma, but the majority of my siblings dropped out of high school from how difficult it was.”

Similarly, Valeria Rodriguez’s dad, Valentin Rodriguez, found that his parents struggled to afford sending him and his siblings to school. He completed primary school in Mexico, but after that, began working at a young age and eventually immigrated to the U. S. with his cousins. 

Both Valentin Rodriguez and Rozano feel as if most people don’t recognize that having a college education in the United States is a privilege. A college degree opens doors; Valentin Rodriguez recalls that when he started job hunting, he felt extremely limited. 

As a result of their sparse educational backgrounds beyond high school, Valeria Rodriguez’s parents were unable to provide guidance about the various aspects of the college application process, such as supplemental essays and financial aid.

In order to complete her college applications, Valeria Rodriguez received a lot of help during her senior year of high school from the AVID program she was in. 

Through AVID, a nonprofit focused on increasing equity in education, Valeria Rodriguez received feedback from her high school alumni for the Personal Insight Questions portion of the UC Application. 

However, it was challenging to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) by herself. Valeria Rodriguez’s parents gave her the documents and information she needed, but she had to figure out how to fill out the application itself.

After the college application process was over and Valeria Rodriguez had received acceptances, it was difficult for her to narrow down her options because the financial aid she was given wasn’t enough. 

Most types of financial aid require the student to demonstrate financial need (some exceptions include federal loans and scholarships). UC schools will help students receive federal financial aid (if eligible), but limited UC financial aid is available to help cover tuition costs. 

Valeria Rodriguez ended up choosing UCSD because it was at a commutable distance from her home, so she could save money by not requiring housing. 

Over the summer, Valeria Rodriguez was a part of UCSD’s Summer Bridge Program, which helped her become acquainted with the college and also made registering for classes easier because she had a mentor that helped her with course selection.

Valeria Rodriguez is adjusting to college life as a first-generation student, and her little sister, Militza Rodriguez, is currently a high school freshman who hopes to follow in her footsteps in a couple of years.

The conversations between Valeria Rodriguez and Militza Rodriguez center around meeting new people, doing work for their classes, and learning new things. Militza Rodriguez usually leaves the conversations with a sense of excitement.   

When Valeria Rodriguez was going through high school, she says that when she struggled with schoolwork, she remembers self-teaching herself confusing concepts using the internet or waiting until the following day to ask her teachers or peers questions about homework.

However, now, she can support her sister and plans to continue to support her when she has to go through the college application process.

“I’m more aware of what she can do because for me, I was questioning myself, ‘like is this the right thing?’” Valeria Rodriguez said. “And it would cause me to feel so overwhelmed and just overthink, and it really took a toll on my mental health senior year, because I felt like I wasn’t succeeding or going down the right path. So any concerns she has, she can come to me whether it’s mentally or just like trying to solve a problem.”

Valeria Rodriguez remembers that when she was younger, her dad instilled the belief in her that if she dreams big, she has to work hard to achieve those big dreams. 

Now, Valeria Rodriguez says that even seemingly small things, like when he asks about her day when she commutes home after a long day at UCSD, helps boost her morale and serves as emotional support.

In contrast, Valeria Rodriguez mentioned that students who aren’t first-generation college students can make her feel inferior — for instance, when she asks a question that may come across as obvious to someone with a family that’s more familiar with college, they give her a “funny face.” 

She emphasized that being respectful and kind can go a long way — simply a smile or answering a question in a way that isn’t condescending can give first-generation students the moral support that they need. 

Valeria Rodriguez is majoring in political science, focusing on race, ethnicity and politics. She hopes to attend law school one day. 

“I just want to tell first-generation students that I’m proud of them,” Valeria Rodriguez said. “Any step they’ve taken, I’m proud of them because it’s so difficult when you feel like you’re by yourself and you feel like you aren’t going down the right path. But I feel like each one of us has a purpose.”

As for Valeria Rodriguez’s parents, they would like to tell other first-generation college students: “si se puede.”

Art by Angela Liang for UCSD Guardian. 

One thought on “Examining the Journey of Valeria Rodriguez, a First-generation College Student

  1. Great story and essay! Thank you for sharing. I think that now many students are going through hard times, and someone is stuck on online education and is increasingly looking for such reviews in order to find services that will help them.

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