It was the first Sunday of April. My siblings and I were sitting at the dinner table giggling and spelling out words in our alphabet soup. The phone rang and my mother answered. It was

my father; he was calling from prison in Oregon.

My father had been stopped by immigration on his way to Yakima, Washington, where he’d gone in search of work. He wanted to fulfill a promise he’d made to my family of owning our own house with a nice little porch and a dog.

Fortunately, my father was bailed out of prison by a family friend in Yakima. Unfortunately, though, most of our life savings was spent on his bail. We moved into a rented house, and though we did have a porch, it wasn’t ours. My father went from being a costurero (sewing worker) to being a water-filter salesman, mosaic tile maker, lemon deliverer, and butcher.

Money became an issue at home, so I started helping out more. After school I’d rush home to clean up and make dinner. My parents refused to let me have a “real” job, so on Saturday afternoons I’d go to the park with my older brother to collect soda cans. Sundays and summertime were spent cleaning houses with my mother.

I worked twice as hard in school. I helped clean my church, joined the choir, and tutored my younger sister in math. As tensions eased at home, I returned to cheerleading, joined a school club called Step Up, and got involved in my school’s urban farm, where I learned the value of healthy eating. Slowly, life improved. Then I received some life-changing news.

My father’s case was still pending and, due to a form he’d signed when he was released in Yakima, it was not only him that was now in danger of being deported, it was my entire family. My father’s lawyer informed me that I’d have to testify in court and in fact our stay in the US was now dependent on my testimony.

The lawyer had an idea: I had outstanding grades and recommendation letters. If we could show the judge the importance of my family remaining here to support my education, perhaps we had a chance. So I testified.

My father won his case and was granted residency.

Living in a low-income immigrant household has taught me to appreciate all I’ve been given.  Testifying in court helped me grow as a person, has made me more open-minded and aware of the problems facing my community. And my involvement in the urban farm has led me to consider a career as a nutritionist.

Though neither of my parents attended college, they understand that college is a key factor to a bright future and therefore have been very supportive. And though we don’t yet have the house with the small porch and the dog, we’re still holding out hope.

I believe college can help.

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Why This Essay Worked: 

  1. Drops us in a moment in time. The beginning of this essay is a bit disorienting because it places us in a scene within the author’s life as they experience it. We don’t know all of the information, so we’re a bit confused, but that confusion makes us want to read more. This is a great tactic when done well because it helps us identify with the author and piques our curiosity.

  2. Shows the agency, independence, and resilience of the applicant. The author here goes through a lot over the course of the essay. They have to face very real fears about incarceration, deportation, and financial instability on a daily basis. Talking about the ways in which they approached these obstacles highlights their ability to think clearly under pressure and make the most of what they have. If you have faced significant hardships, worked through them, learned valuable lessons, and want to share these with colleges, the personal statement can be a good place to do that. If you’d prefer to write about something else in your personal statement, but you’d still like to mention your challenges somewhere in your application, you can instead briefly describe them in your Additional Information section. If you want to write about struggles that are particularly related to COVID-19, check out our guide for specific suggestions.

Spanish Translation:

Era el primer domingo de abril. Mis hermanos y yo estábamos sentados en la mesa del comedor riendonos y deletreando palabras en nuestra sopa de letras. El teléfono sonó y mi madre respondió. Era mi padre. El estaba llamando desde la cárcel en Oregon.

Mi padre había sido detenido por inmigración en su camino a Yakima, Washington, donde había ido en busca de trabajo. Quería cumplir una promesa que le había hecho a mi familia de tener nuestra propia casa con un pequeño y agradable porche y un perro.

Afortunadamente, mi padre fue rescatado de la cárcel por un amigo de la familia en Yakima. Pero lamentablemente la mayor parte de nuestros ahorros se gastó en su fianza . Nos mudamos a una casa alquilada, y aunque teníamos un porche, no era nuestra. Mi padre pasó de ser un costurero (trabajador de coser) de ser un vendedor de filtros de agua, fabricante de baldosas de mosaicos, libertador de limones, y carnicero.

El dinero se convirtió en un problema en casa, así que comencé a ayudar más. Después de la escuela llegaba temprano a mi hogar para limpiar y preparar la cena. Mis padres se negaron a dejarme tener un trabajo “real.” Por lo tanto, los sábados por la tarde me iba al parque con mi hermano mayor para recoger latas de refrescos. En domingos y en el verano limpiaba casas con mi madre.

Trabajé dos veces más duro en la escuela. Ayudé a limpiar mi iglesia, me uní al coro, y dí clases particulares a mi hermana menor en las matemáticas. Mientras las tensiones disminuyeron en casa, volví al grupo de porristas, me uní a un club escolar llamado Step Up, y me involucré en la granja urbana de mi escuela, donde aprendí el valor de la alimentación saludable. Poco a poco, la vida mejoraba. Luego recibí una noticia que cambia la vida.

El caso de mi padre todavía estaba pendiente, y debido a una forma que había firmado cuando fue liberado en Yakima, no sólo era él que estaba ahora en peligro de ser deportado, era toda mi familia. El abogado de mi padre me informó  que yo tendría que declarar ante los tribunales, y de hecho, nuestra estancia en los EE.UU. ahora dependia de mi testimonio.

El abogado tuvo una idea: yo tenía sobresalientes calificaciones y cartas de recomendaciones. Si pudiéramos demostrar a la juez la importancia de que mi familia se quedará aquí para apoyar a mi educación, tal vez tuviéramos una oportunidad. Así que di mi testimonio.

Mi padre ganó su caso y se le concedió la residencia.

Vivir en un hogar de inmigrantes de bajos ingresos me ha enseñado a apreciar todo lo que se me ha dado . Dar mi testimonio en el tribunal me ha ayudado a crecer como persona y  me ha hecho más consciente de los problemas que se enfrentan en mi comunidad. Y mi implicación en la granja urbana me ha llevado a considerar una carrera como nutricionista .

Aunque ninguno de mis padres asistieron a la universidad, ellos entienden que la universidad es un factor clave para un futuro brillante, y por lo tanto, han sido un gran apoyo . Y aunque todavía no tenemos la casa con el pequeño porche y el perro, todavía estamos tendiendo la esperanza.

Creo que la universidad puede ayudar.

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