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Transferring to Stanford Q&A – A student’s perspective

12 Jan

Hi! If you’re here because of this tweet, welcome!

Screen Shot 2020-01-17 at 3.53.04 PM

Feel free to read more about me in the About page but a brief intro:

I’m a senior at Stanford University majoring in CS in the AI track. I’m also a transfer student (transferred from a Cañada Community College). I’m Latinx, first-gen, and nontraditional (over 25) and a mom to three girls.

To start off PLEASE APPLY. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Every single one of us thought we wouldn’t get in because our year the acceptance rate was <2%. Pero aqui estoy!

To share information as much as possible I will list Q&A from DM’s resulting from the tweet above. While I wish everyone well, I am concentrating my efforts in increasing the number of Latinx, Black, Native American, first-gen / low income community college transfers. I respectfully ask that you not DM me on the process for grad school or frosh app (no idea). Follow me @susanabenavidez and DM me your questions.

Let’s begin! I will share the questions I’ve received and answers I provide. Please note that my answers do not in any way represent Stanford nor are legal advice nor are to be taken as official instructions of any kind. Names are removed and questions are edited for clarity.

Q. How do I event start the application process?

A. Here’s a checklist from Stanford detailing exactly what you need to submit for your application.

Q. Can I afford it?

A. I can’t answer this question for you but I can share that Stanford has been incredibly generous with me and many of the transfer students that I know. I got into UC Berkeley – you can read about that here and the financial package I got meant I had to pay several thousands of dollars even though I qualified for financial aid with a low family contribution. When I got into Stanford – you can read about that moment here I didn’t respond. It wasn’t until the transfer director contacted me to see what was going on. I told her I was waiting on financial aid because I couldn’t commit without knowing what I would owe. She checked and I got my FA letter almost immediately.

I almost screamed when I saw the generous $$$ scholarship they awarded me. It was like they made it so I couldn’t say no. My youngest was 4 months old when I started and they even provided me with a daycare stipend. It obviously doesn’t cover all of my expenses as I have a big family but it covers enough to give me peace of mind.

See here for official information from Stanford about cost / aid estimates.

Q. Do they accept transfer students out of California?

A. Yes! My transfer class had students from all over the US and an international student from Singapore.

Q. Hi Susana – I’m considering CS at Stanford!. I’m already a self-taught developer but I want to go back to school. My biggest obstacle is that I’m undocumented and low income. I’m not sure where I can find resource for my specific case. Any tips, would be much appreciated. 🙂

A. I emailed financial aid and will report back what they say (didn’t give any identifying information)

“Hi Susana, Stanford treats undocumented students as US domestic students in the undergraduate admission process, assessing their applications under the same need-blind admission policy it uses for citizens of the United States. Stanford will use institutional funds to meet the full demonstrated financial need of undocumented students who are admitted. Please share our Undocumented Student webpage with your friend and let him know that he is welcome to call our office if he has any concerns.

Our number is 650-723-3058.

Financial Aid Officer Montag Hall, 355 Galvez Street Stanford, CA 94305-6106 | T 650.723.3058”

Here is the link to the Undocumented Student webpage: financialaid.stanford.edu/undergrad/how/

Q. I received several questions that asked for general advice. I mean many of us are first-gen students and didn’t receive the guidance on how to apply to schools or that Stanford even takes transfers.

“I’m a second year (first born and gen) student at —- college and I wasn’t planning on transferring anywhere until 2021 as a —— student. I honestly never considered Stanford until I came across your tweet! I need all the orientation I could get so I was wondering if you had some pointers that I could work on for during this next year! Thank you sm.”

A. What I did:

JOURNAL Your Accomplishments:

I kept notes of everything I was involved in and did outside of academic school work:
  • Approach professors to take their honors course – some offer a contract you sign and you just have to do extra work and a research paper – apply to symposiums at Berkeley and Stanford to present your research – your counselor should have this info
  • I was a single mom so I added everything I do as a parent on top of working full time and going to school
  • I volunteered at startup orgs showing that my interest in entrepreneurship was tangible
  • I started a social media group for parents that grew into a building a new school effort, served as advertising for the Chamber of Commerce to attract families, and resulted in networking that got me my first business development job
  • I worked up the ladder in business development and highlighted my leadership position at a prestigious firm
  • I had community organizing experience, freelance writing, and showed how much I grew and survived while thriving. It’s hard to remember everything if you don’t take notes in a journal.

Your accomplishments don’t have to look like mine. The transfer class for my year was incredibly diverse and ran the gamut of life experiences. That’s the point. Stanford wants to attract a diverse community of students.

Q. How did you structure your personal statement?

A. My personal statement told a story that went something like this:

  • who I was + where I started
  • the trauma / struggles that defined my early ‘failure’
  • how I took that failure and let it motivate my next moves
  • my commitment to higher education + equality of education (my focus is edtech / CS + Social Good)
  • highlighted the turn from where I was to what I did to accomplish -> highlighted the biggest and most impressive accomplishments
  • how I would leverage my time at Stanford to reach my goals (for me, a startup in edtech / social good space)

That’s sort of the short story of how I approached my personal statement. I would share it except that my essay was deeply personable, emotionally raw, and describes trauma / abuse that I don’t want to share here quite yet.

But the higher level approach I took was – what do I have that others don’t? Why am I impressive? I took the little that life gave me as a start and turned it into mother effin magic.

Let me illustrate my point via a couple of pictures:

candAvB

ladders

Highlight the Upward Trend of your Life that demonstrates sustained growth.

How do you respond to ‘failure’? I’ve had many challenges in my life. ‘Failure’ is hard, really hard. Most people give up, settle, crumble under failure. Others take that failure, learn from it, pivot and take off to their potential. Be the latter. 

failure

In other words, I wasn’t the ‘perfect’ candidate given the early ‘failures’ in my life. But I definitely demonstrated resilience and the ability to not run away from my problems or the shame that comes with them. I owned what happened to me as well as the decisions I made. I spoke about the motivations in my life for a better life and Not Giving Up (for me my little girls). And I showed what a badass I am by letting them see the growth from where I started and what I accomplished with the little I had.

Q. Did you do any research as a community college student?

Q. What is campus life like?

A. I feel like you have to ask someone else on what it’s like as a 20 yo but from my very unique experience:

The first year was tough. It can feel incredibly isolating when you are a nontraditional student and don’t feel like you belong. I joined and took on leadership positions at Women in CS and Society of Latinx Engineers. This helped somewhat. I also took several creative writing courses and that was a great way to meet friends as the classes are tiny (~8 students v. the hundreds in my CS classes).

Eventually I worked through the belief and voice that told me I didn’t belong and worked on carving out spaces for me on campus.

Last year and this year have been incredible socially. I feel like I have friends wherever I go and I very much feel like Stanford is home.

I have done so much while on campus, the opportunities are incredible:

  • Did the Levinthal Tutorial, a 1:1 class with a Stegner Fellow and read one of my short stories to a large audience. I’ve never shared outside of small workshopping.
  • Was a Seeds of Change cohort leader where I went through Stanford’s Women’s Executive Leadership program and taught similar concepts to high school girls interested in STEM
  • Member of CS + Social Good where I took the incredible CS51/52 two quarter course where we ideated, prototyped, and then built a product as a solution posed by an edTech partner
  • Summer CS + Social Good Fellow where I interned at a tiny but powerful edTech startup. I grew so much as an engineer – I had to – I was the 2nd engineer on staff!
  • WiCS and SOLE: Met so many companies that I recruited to come speak to our members, including some very cool CEOs that I really admire
  • Moderated an event with Ellen Pao A Conversation with Ellen K. Pao, tech investor and advocate, the former CEO of reddit, and a cofounder of the award-winning diversity and inclusion nonprofit Project Include
  • Took the novel writing class and have a draft (very rough) of my first novel!
  • Presented my research at the Latinx in AI workshop at NeurIPS last month in Vancouver
  • Forged incredible relationships with CS professors that I deeply admire
  • Met my co-founder!
  • Interned at Y Combinator and Thunkable, a YC Company
  • El Centro for Friday Cafecito (Mexican sweet bread + hot chocolate / sometimes atole or champurrado YUM!)

I know I’m forgetting a lot. But you get the point, if you leverage the resources there is so much to do!

 

While we Mourn We Should See

25 Apr

I wore the only dress I had that seemed semi-decent
It rolled up around my neck but hung dangerously low
so I pinned it
pin pin
fix it.

But nothing could fix your absence.
You were supposed to lift us.
I looked to you to save us.
You’d gone so far already…
Was it really that much to ask?

But mother effer, this life is so cruel
it doesn’t abide by our rules

Why won’t you do my bidding?
SO I won’t have to
Grieve
Someone like you.

I grew up in East Los.
I thought I was used to this.
The loss.
The end.

But no,
don’t you see?
You left a large gaping hole.
And it hurts,
because try as I might
I won’t ever fill it for those that loved you.

How dare you?
How dare you?
Leave?

New Words

9 Apr

You just don’t even see

You don’t even hear
How you not gonna see
me humpin a teddy bear
with my milk teeth
but you turn around
and walk out
Don’t even flinch and see you way out
What I gotta do to make you see?
But why I try?
Why I care?
for a woman who
don’t bother tryin’
don’t bother blockin’
what my future really be?
15 years flash forward
Baby on each hip
Who you think I learned from?
who you think I try to escape from?
Love
Love
Didn’t even know what that was
I thought college…College…College
Education?
No
It was my last line
Working at the office
library
Mervyn’s 11 pm – 3 am
Practically hoeing
on the metro
for cents on the dollar
tryin’ to be honest
trying to pay u bills
White man tender couldn’t see
No loan for you
keep workin’
keep hopin’
Thanks LMU
I’m lookin’ at you
But what you see?
what you hear?
Nothin
Nothin
Nothin
That’s all you remember
Nothin’ to do wit you
My mama
the one who should be caring
the one supposed to love me
Love at first sight
Or was it Hate At First Sight?
couldn’t get that hanger hook on right?
Boyle Heights walls be translucent
Paper thin
paper white
You wish
But let me know somethin’
if White ruled your world
why you sleep with that creep in me?
I thought I was garbage
Why you think I try those pills
and not one
but two and three
and more
was not enough?
Lying in that bed
probed
pumped
stripped
And all you and he could ask
What They Gonna Think?
Hell hole you had me livin in
Hell hole you seemed so content with
But I know now
I know different now
That hate you spilled
is me
Sad for you
but I love me
I could keep going
but only a lifetime can be told
and I’ve known
one or three

Why Does an Angeleno Move to Silicon Valley?

23 Mar

I’m going on 5 years living in Silicon Valley. In this ridiculously overpriced, overhyped, overprotected, over-homogenous small town called Menlo Park. It feels like a five year old collar that has been shrinking, itching, suffocating the pure smog air that I miss from my dear LA.

Why do I miss LA you ask? Why miss a city that chews up so many dreams? How can I love a city that draws so many non-Native Angelenos and transforms them into pompous, vapid, ass-holy replicas of Entourage characters, or better yet – reveals who they were all along? Because I was born there, simple as that. And of all loyalties that I hold, my relationship to LA is a blood connection. And blood, blood is not easily erased.

LA is the relative I will never disown, the friend who keeps stumbling and falling in public but who I keep defending because hey, she has heart you know, she’s been through some stuff you know?

LA is my birthplace, the only place where I will ever truly feel like I’ve arrived home. My mother gave birth to me at LA County General Hospital and she won’t miss a beat to tell you that she was confined to some God-forsaken corner of some ill-gotten wing of the ancient, creaky hospital to give flight to her screams of pain. Minute by minute she will tell you how my birth, her second, took 18! No 20! No 24! No 36 hours of pain as I stubbornly refused to exit her short, warm body. But can you blame me? Did I know the world that awaited me?

And through some very windy, bumpy roads I find myself here. And not only here for here’s sake but here because shit is happening for me here you see. Attending Stanford and all, majoring in CS and all, and yet I feel so ready to ignite like 4th of July Fireworks until I descend back onto a city that sees my brown-ess not as just a nanny to my own daughter, not as just an interesting story, but as me. As my chingona self.

In LA I can howl. I can run, I can grab and lift and throw.

And here I feel so muted, lying in wait, tick tock, for shit to happen, to make shit happen, until I’m seen for what I’ve done and not who I am. To be a sum of my parts and not my whole self.

And then I remember sullenly that I left LA because it was drowning me in its glittery promise of a simple, sated life that did not include and exclamation point after my name. LA, my dear LA, would have left me in a ditch if I let it.

SO here I am in Silicon Valley until I make a name for what I carry inside, the desire for positive change. To leave the world a better place than I found it. And seeing it that way, that itchy, blindingly white collar is tolerable for a bit longer.

 

 

 

American Dream

7 Feb

I want to climb big mountains

with my brown bare feet gripping the dry earth

skimming,

propelling forward at lightspeed.

But I live surrounded by hills that end in city dumps.

I want to consume large quantities of

knowledge

so I read and read and read

but I don’t know if I’m reading the right thing when I’m stuck in my

ghetto library.

I walk aisle by aisle, reading methodically every book

in every library my two dusty feet can take me to.

But I’m not sure if I’m walking in the right direction,

am I a fish swimming round and round in a fishbowl

confusing it for a the great big ocean?

I want to roar

primitive,

like an animal

who don’t give a fuck,

but I open my mouth and it chokes on all of the hands pressing against me.

I want to feel, I want to dance, I want to be beautiful,

but my neighbors are watching,

the nuns say it’s indecent,

the book,

which my parents have never read,

must surely have a rule against it.

I want to strut,

like the Big Bad Bitch I am,

look down on the dirty, cracked concrete that the city never fixes,

but a 40 year old Veterano throws a penny inside my shirt,

pulling me down to the same gritty, grimy, tired, hood that we both live in.

I want to be a Queen and Rule

but, but,

who is rooting for me?

I want to be a King

but who will by my subjects?

I want to stomp and devour,

I want to scream.

But who is listening?

I want to be written about in books,

not, I think for vanity,

but to be read about

by girls like me.

I want to inspire.

I want to experience.

I want to make it count.

I want to help a people, all people

but those people don’t want to help me.

I want to take

I want to give

I want to make you remember

I want to make you see

I want to

I want to

I want to achieve the American Dream

but so many don’t see me as American.

I want to

I want to

I will.

 

See Me Please

29 Jan

I’m wearing a cream chiffon dress.

I look lovely.

Should I dart in front of that truck?

My tanned skin glistens in the sun, screaming Southern California health.

Toned.

Strong.

The windows were open on our 15th floor lunchroom.

They beckoned,

strongly.

I averted my eyes, blocking the windows out, the LA sunshine.

Pretending everything was okay, eating my lunch.

I run to catch the bus to pick up my daughters and I remember.

I remember.

I can’t leave.

I can’t leave them.

This conversation, and many iterations, airbrushed versions, quiet cries, fake smiles, masked feelings, shuffling raw sewage of hurt dripping away to make it blend. Blending. Existing, surviving, smiling, living.

Walking through life wanting to not only survive but to find MEANING.

So many times, so many days. I wanted to stop it. Just stop.

And it was always them that kept me present. That saved me from myself, from my brain that was hurting from the frantic energy buzzing inside, from the inability to neatly file shit away in a folder. No folder could hold it.

Like The Nightmare Before Christmas. Sewn together, coping. Hoping to hide the seams that were bursting, screams pushing outward to free the energy that I have for life.

When you want so much but you are given a 1 square meter space to fit into. The space given only gets smaller as time progresses. People tune out. They sign off on your failure.

Not knowing what is inside.

Bubbling out. Leavening. Like rising bread.

I take a bite and I enjoy the taste. So I keep kneading and baking.

I hate baking.

It makes me uncomfortable.

But I keep pushing.

And today, now.

I am a balloon filled with so many voices, so many stories, so many paths.

And I am asked, “Who Are You?”

Expected to answer in 2 sentences.

And I always take longer and I fight the feeling that I am taking up too much space.

I want to shrink onto myself.

Not speak.

Because when I let it out, when I roar,

it fucking hurts.

And when I hear that roar from others,

that low growl before the end

it fucking hurts.

Why does it have to hurt so much for so many?

I am okay. I am fine.

I am even.

I can say this with honesty now.

I can say this with confidence.

In the face of the questioning looks, of the wonder, of the hostile unwelcomes.

This place can be so unwelcoming.

 

Almost a joke.

How cold, how faceless, how irritatingly alike so many people choose to be.

See me please.

See me.

Because I strive to see you.

Because how hard is it?

To See with Kind Eyes?

 

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