Ariana C.

University of New Haven '23

Latino U Scholar '19

What does it mean to you and your family to be a first-gen college student? 

"Being the first in my family to go to college means that all of the hard work for the last 17 years has paid off. It is a great accomplishment and something that we are all very proud of, yet it comes with a lot of responsibility. From my family’s sacrifice, having this opportunity to advance my education is a blessing, and I am eternally thankful. This also means that I am responsible for setting a platform for the rest of my family and other first-generation students so they follow their dreams to succeed by advancing their education."

How has LUCA and having a volunteer college coach helped you in your journey to pursue higher education? 

"Latino U College Access has provided me with test prep classes, financial aid boot camps, background information on college, tuition, and personal essays which are all essential to successfully pursue higher education. Having a volunteer College Coach has helped me confide in an adult with all my academic concerns and offered an endless amount of support. LUCA has created an amazing family and support system that I’ve created a bond with, especially my College Coach, which has helped my journey and determination to pursue the highest level of education I can."

Denisse G.

Cornell University Class of 2018

Latino U Scholar

"Study Abroad"

As a first generation student, you might feel at a disadvantage to the rest of your peers. However, a first generation student is just a label. You are the only person that can define your experiences, so don’t let that label stop you from seeking options and opportunities. Ever since I arrived to Cornell, I wanted to study abroad, be pre-med and major in plant sciences. I was following everything I thought I needed to do in order to become a naturopathic doctor. Since I had this mentality, I attended the meetings that discussed studying abroad. It was certainly possible to study abroad. My plan was to study for a summer or semester. To prepare myself, I needed to plan ahead the following semesters. Financially, studying abroad is not out reachable during a semester because there are no further charges than the original tuition payment.
The real problem here was me. I was reaching out and preparing my future the way I thought needed to be done. Still, I didn’t stop to focus on myself. I closed my mind to other possibilities and limited my time to studying, going to office hours, and going to meetings with my academic and pre-med advisor. Meanwhile, I was slowly breaking down spiritually, emotionally and mentally. By the end of the second semester, one of my professors had recommended me to study abroad through CELA Belize because an ethnobotany course was offered. At the time, that course was the only one that sparked my interest and I decided to take a class that I actually enjoyed. Therefore, I applied to a grant and started working, so I could raise enough money for the summer. Thankfully, I got the grant and was able to study in Belize. Belize is certainly an unforgettable magical place. It was there that I learned about something I was passionate about. I enjoyed being surrounded by the people, the food, the culture, fauna and flora. So far, there has not been anything I have seen that is more beautiful than Belize. This experience taught me to keep an open mind and always reach out and network because it is primarily by networking that you can achieve your goals. I am not lying when I say that there are people who want to help you. If there is someone that doesn’t, don’t take it too personal. Listen and then move on to a different person, so that you are informed of the vast possibilities you have before choosing a career. Don’t be shy; get out of your comfort zone because that is when your life begins.

Laura G.

Binghamton University Class of 2019

Latino U Scholar

"Enjoying Me-Time"

Before starting my first semester at Binghamton University, I was worried how I was going to fit in. Everyone has always told me college is supposed to be a fresh start; where you can be anyone you want to be. Well, the real question was, who did I want to be? The most important thing I did, in my opinion, right before starting off, was setting my priorities. Being a first generation scholar meant that my main goal had to be my education, for me and for my family. I had worked hard to get the grades I could and had to keep those grades up if I wanted any chance at going to medical school. I also knew that I had to do something other than just study or I would go crazy. A social life is very important and hard to maintain in college. This was a challenge I faced that took me a while to get used to.

During high school none of these challenges existed. It was easy to study all the time and go out to a movie with your friends every few weeks. But in college, I realized, there was so much more time for myself than for my parents. That was very new to me. Having to decide what I wanted to do with my free time was very difficult at first. I felt different from others because I felt like I had a responsibility to my Latino family to do well in all my classes and not distract myself with other activities. I soon learned that everyone needs something to distract themselves with at times. So, I tried out for the Binghamton University Cheerleading Team and made it! The team keeps me busy and has introduced me to so many wonderful girls. I now have a great group of friends, get to cheer on the Binghamton Bearcat Basketball Teams and get to spread spirit to my school while keeping myself occupied and relaxed. Looking back at my first semester, I am glad I took the time to try out the cheer team because I am now able to keep myself busy and organized.


Princeton University Class of 2018

Latino U Scholar

Reflections on my first year at Princeton…

Growing up as a low-income, first-generation immigrant, I never imagined that I would end up at Princeton University. All I knew was that I had to work hard not only to be successful but also to support my family and to be able to give back to my community as a college-educated professional. Along my journey, I faced numerous obstacles, from devastating family health issues to the stressful limitations of my undocumented status. Every single day was a struggle, but it was my American Dream that kept me from crumbling in the face of adversity.
Princeton has blessed me with so many opportunities, and I couldn't be more thankful to the people who helped me get here: my family, my friends, all my teachers in New York, my High School guidance counselors, the amazing people who work for and collaborate with Latino U College Access, and the generous donors who contributed to my full scholarship.

At this point, I would like to share a portion of the most difficult essay I have ever had to write: my college essay.

"Even in the midst of despair, it’s at that very moment that we are left with the most important decision: we can either give up and hide in the shadows or stand up and savor the sun.
As dawn conquered dusk, I finally realized that I didn’t belong in the darkness and that there is no such thing as a “bad” experience. I knew that I wasn’t a victim because every hardship in my life had cultivated the passion, determination and empathy that make me who I am.
I am the former undocumented immigrant whose fourteen years of struggle have inspired him to pursue the American Dream, hoping to learn, grow and contribute to the sweet land of liberty.
I am the diligent and conscientious student whose academic challenges went hand in hand with a powerful work ethic.
And I am the future psychiatrist whose personal experience with mental illness has inspired him to discover the mysteries of the human mind and change the world from the inside out.
Ultimately, by connecting my experiences like the pieces of a nesting doll, I found the light I was looking for, but little did I know that it was never beyond my reach; it was within me all along."

Sandra Camila R

Boston University Class of 2015

Sandra was born in Ica, Peru, and arrived in the US with her family when she was eight.  Going to college “…means I am representing the dream of my family to pursue a college degree and my own dream of becoming a professional.  I wish to complete my master’s in order to encourage my sisters that they can do the same and also to show appreciation for the opportunities I have.”

Sandra says many Latino U programs helped her, particularly the college essay writing workshop, the SAT/ACT summer program and being paired with her Volunteer College Coach, Meaghan McCarthy.  “It was very helpful to have my college coach when I started my college application process.  I was able to write an essay that was a great representation of who I am.”  Her Volunteer Coach Meaghan describes Sandra as "A determined, well-rounded young woman, Sandra's thirst for knowledge and commitment to her academic and extracurricular pursuits embody a strength of character.  Her innate resilience will lead her to great collegiate achievements and lifelong success.  I continue to admire Sandra's fortitude and proudly cheer her on to her next adventure."

Sandra was accepted as a 2015 student to Boston University. Sandra also received acceptances to Fairfield, Hofstra, LaSalle, and Loyola (MD). At BU, she plans to complete a double major in International Relations and Affairs, and Foreign Language, to prepare her for a career as a future diplomat or politician.

Our Programs

LUCA supports Scholars from college exploration to college completion by providing guidance and access to opportunity through education, advocacy, and collaboration. The organization is committed to advancing educational equity by enhancing the quality and intensity of support that low-income, Latino students receive. Programs are designed and implemented to ensure first generation, low-income students get “to and through” college successfully.

College Access

The Latino U Scholars program provides intensive, one-on-one mentoring to students from the end of junior year through senior year of high school. Highly trained volunteer College Coaches assist Scholars with building balanced college lists, completing applications on time, applying for and reviewing financial aid packages, and selecting the best-fit college or university based on academic interests and affordability.

College Success & Career Readiness

The First Gen Forward (FGF) program provides comprehensive support to Latino U Scholars once they enroll in college to ensure they remain in school, graduate on time, and are prepared to enter their careers with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the workplace.

Financial Aid Support

Through school-wide FAFSA Boot Camps and smaller, individualized workshops, trained volunteers assist families with completing and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), NYS TAP, and CSS profiles to maximize financial aid resources. Volunteers also help Scholars decipher the award letters from institutions where they have been accepted, so that their families can make an informed financial decision when deciding which college is the best fit.

Community Information Sessions

Culturally-relevant, Spanish language presentations on topics including Pathways to College, Applying to College, and Paying for College that are hosted at our partner school districts and open to the entire school community – not just those who are enrolled in our programs.


The Latino U Scholars program was recognized as a 2019 Example of Excelencia Finalist by Excelencia in Education. Examples of Excelencia is the only national effort to recognize programs that use evidence-based practices to accelerate Latino student success in higher education. Excelencia in Education, a national nonprofit organization in Washington, DC, aims to accelerate Latino student success in higher education.

Our Founder & CEO, Shirley Acevedo Buontempo, was recognized in Washington, D.C., as one of five 2019 AARP Purpose Prize winners. The AARP Purpose Prize honors extraordinary individuals over 50 who tap into the power of life experience to build a better future for us all. “AARP Purpose Prize winners and nominees are role models. They are makers and doers who are out there creating new solutions that make the world a better place for people of all ages.”-AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins

"We at the College Board depend upon collaborations with our dedicated partners on the ground to help us make college dreams a reality for every student who has earned the opportunity.  For low-income, first-generation Latino youth, few organizations have met the challenge with such staggering success as Latino U College Access — no wonder with Shirley Acevedo Buontempo at the helm.  A community hero and educational visionary, Shirley represents the very best in the field." —Angela Maria Garcia, Executive Director,  College Planning, The College Board

“Efforts like Latino U College Access that help Hispanic students complete the FAFSA and access college, greatly contribute to those students achieving their full educational potential, securing their families’ future, and strengthening the American economy.” —Marco Davis, Deputy Director, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Scholarships and Financial Aid

Scholarships and financial aid can help first-generation Latino youth manage costs and pay for college. There are many available for Latino youth.

Financial Information

There are three primary sources of financial aid available to parents and students, but first, you must apply.

  • Federal Aid – Complete the FAFSA application in October of your senior year and every year you are in college:
  • State Aid – Complete the NY State TAP application if you are a New York resident and are applying to schools in NY.
  • Institutional Aid from the College or University – Some colleges require that you complete an additional CSS Profile application to qualify for financial aid. Check to see if the college you are applying to is one of them here. You can begin your CSS Profile application here.
  • Resources for DACA / Undocumented Students – As a DACA or undocumented student, you have opportunities available to you. Visit the resources on The Dream US for a list of links, toolkits, guides, references, and other information that can help you complete college.