By Wanda Montañez, Ed.D, Chyten Senior Director of College Success
When I was three, I moved with my family from Puerto Rico to the United States. In America, my parents hoped for greater economic and educational opportunities for their children. They enrolled my older brother and sister in bilingual education during their elementary school years, but in our new home in Massachusetts, I learned English by watching Reading Rainbow and Sesame Street.
High school provided me with greater opportunities to excel academically, yet some of these opportunities were challenging to maneuver. I struggled to create an identity that would be deemed acceptable in a predominately white environment. To fit in, I only spoke Spanish at home and rarely listened to salsa music, a staple of Puerto Rican culture. For the most part, I concentrated on my studies.
Despite working hard in school, during my senior year I met with my guidance counselor—our first and only individual meeting. He told me I would not be able to attend college because English wasn’t my first language. Until that moment I’d had a vision, like my peers, to obtain a four-year college degree, but his words left me confused and hurt me deeply.
In defiant response, I did what most other teenagers would do: I made it my personal mission to prove him wrong. In reality, I had no idea how I would do that. But I registered for the SATs, struggled through writing a college essay, and applied to three colleges without considering which aspects of a college campus were important to me. Essentially, I embarked on the college process on my own, following the lead of my classmates.
Although education was always important in our household, college was never assumed or even encouraged. My family wasn’t part of a social circle where the language of higher education was spoken, but I wanted to change that. I saw I had an opportunity not only to create new realities for myself, but also to change the conversation about where in academic spaces people of color belong. Through college, graduate school, and eventually a doctoral program at the University of Massachusetts Boston, I kept showing up.
These experiences were pivotal in shaping the trajectory of my career in college access. I’ve never forgotten how I felt after that initial meeting with my guidance counselor. He was wrong about me, and my mission since then has been to make sure that every student—no matter where they’re from or what opportunities they’ve been afforded—has a chance to find the perfect-fit college after high school. No student should have their career goals thwarted before even taking the first step.
As a college counselor, I’ve helped hundreds of students through the college process. I’ve also had the privilege of supporting many other dedicated, open-minded, hard-working college counselors in improving their craft to better serve all students through statewide professional development opportunities.
In the years since I attended college, the admission process has become more high stakes. With over 30 years of experience, our work at Chyten continues to advocate and empower the students and families we serve. Our programming has helped hundreds of students enter and succeed at various institutions of higher learning. The rules of the game of applying to college are not easy, and in many instances lack fundamental elements of being personalized and engaging. Our test prep, College Endeavor program, and individual counseling are aligned not only to make the college process easier for Chyten students, but also to make the college process possible for all students.
Chyten’s College Endeavor Program is demystifying the college process for high-school juniors through a 5-step program that helps students establish a personalized college admission blueprint. Want to learn more? Email or call Academic Director Vicki Jones at (617) 487-4401.