Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'My perseverance...kept me going:' A late-bloomer student speaks out

Photo by JSmith Photo/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A post earlier this week explored the circumstances that land some minority college graduates in the job market later than their college peers. Family finances, work responsibilities, a lack of familiarity with the system experienced by many first-generation college students, even immigration status in some cases can add years to the time it takes to earn a degree.

The post generated some thoughtful comments, among them this mini-essay relating the personal experience of one reader, Jorge Nicolás Leal, who struggled through college and is pursuing a doctorate, albeit later in life than some of his fellow candidates.

I'm posting a slightly edited excerpt here, with Leal's permission:

While I started college right after high school, my limited knowledge of the U.S. university system - combined with my desire to have fun as a young person - prevented me from excelling during my college education. I was a mediocre student at best, mainly because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, which resources were available, and what possible consequences low grades could have on my academic life down the line.

After six years as an undergrad, I eventually “finished” school (with that pesky math class remaining) and went into the labor force. While I knew I wanted to eventually go back to school and pursue a post-graduate degree, I had no idea as to how to go about it. Eventually I ended going back to school, finishing that math class, getting a double major, earning an M.A. and now - finally- at 34 years of age, I am about to start my Ph.D. program.

I should note that I continued to work all throughout this post-B.A. education. It has been a lengthy, yet enriching learning experience, as I had to learn how to understand the value of a post-graduate education and how to navigate the system to reach my goals.

Unfortunately, our priorities as minorities are more urgent (supporting our families for instance). Therefore, few of us can choose to pursue degrees beyond our bachelors’. So more role models are needed. I can only say it was my perseverance that kept me going, as very few of my friends have chosen to pursue graduate degrees, so I didn’t know where to turn or who to seek out for advice.


This conversation thread began with a post earlier this week on a report from Georgetown University that found black and Latino degree holders earning less over their lifetime than their white and Asian counterparts. The report didn't go into the reasons why, but since then, some readers have pointed to factors that force some of these students to put off studies until later.

According to census data from 2008, among minority college students over 35, both black and Latino students outnumbered Asian students by more than double in that age group.

The previous post highlighted an essay on the LATISM (Latinos in Social Media) blog by Ph.D. holder and workforce consultant Miguel Angel Corona, a one-time college dropout who eventually returned, finding himself surrounded by students a decade younger. Corona wrote:

If you’re a returning Latino adult student reading my short personal account, I hope it serves as an incentive, particularly on the nights when you’re working late or when you feel your efforts aren’t paying off. Believe me, they will one day.
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