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Immigrant or First Gen American? Here's How to Protect Yourself in Admissions

I have a soft spot for immigrants and first generation Americans applying to college. The odds are often stacked against them. My mom is an immigrant. If it weren't for my American-born dad, I would have been a first generation American applying to college back in the day. I tend to be overly protective of these students. Their parents often don't speak English or they have never gone through the college admissions process in the United States (or ever).

There are some colleges that are more generous to certain immigrant and first generation applicants. But if you caught a glimpse of the admissions world where I once worked, you would see a lot of these students getting pushed aside for one reason or another. I am tired of that happening. It's 2022. We are the greatest country in the world in large part because of our immigrant population.
So here is a list of things that these students can do to protect themselves, celebrate their stories, and transform this process of applying to college into one that is made for all:

1. Self-identification is key.

This is the only way students can protect themselves from racial or ethnic discrimination. If a student is discriminated against in the admissions process but did not identify their race on the application, they have no leg to stand on. By selecting the exact background on the profile section of an application, the student is making it clear to the admissions committee that their race or ethnicity is more powerful than discrimination. 

2. Use the "Other" classification to get as specific as possible about your background.

What I mean by that is if you don't see your country or race as a checkbox or in the dropdown menu of an application, select "Other" and a blank field will pop up where you can list your exact heritage. Students should never be mislabeled or misidentified. 

READ MORE: Are You Making These 5 Mistakes on Your Applications?

3. Share your native or family's language.

You are a polyglot so make sure to celebrate that. Most immigrant and first generation Americans speak another language at home. In the language section of the application, indicate the language or languages you are proficient in. I guarantee you that it's more than just English!

4. Include your cultural commitments on the activities list.

Most immigrant and first generation students are involved with their cultural, racial, or religious community. Don't be afraid to share this. It shows that you are not just checking off boxes about your background; you are actively investing in your heritage.

5. Consider writing your main essay or a supplemental essay about your heritage.

Essays about students' backgrounds are typically deeply personal and moving. No one has the same story to share and that's what makes those essays so special. Just a note of caution that if you are using a term or a very short quote from your native language, most application platforms won't recognize it. Common App, for example, will replace letters and accents with strange symbols. It's a reminder that this admissions process tends to benefit those "in the know."
Share, celebrate, and write about your background. It is fundamental to preserving your own history and promoting fairness in the admissions process. The more we talk and write about issues of discrimination, the less likely colleges will engage in it. Being an immigrant or a first generation American is something to be proud of. Knowing how and where to provide this information in your applications is crucial. As the daughter of an immigrant, there is nothing more important than your identity. Never shy away from it.