“Sí se puede:” Opening Doors of Opportunity as a First-Generation College Student

While in high school, Adrian Jauregui was torn about where to attend college.

Now, he knows his decision to attend the University of Wisconsin–Madison was absolutely the right choice, he says. He’s currently a sophomore at UW–Madison and studies human development and family studies and psychology with certificates in education policy and Chican@ and Latin@ studies.

Jauregui is also a first-generation college student, along with nearly 20% of UW–Madison students.

Adrian Jauregui

Despite neither of his parents attending a four-year university, his parents instilled the importance of being successful in school, Jauregui says. Growing up, Jauregui saw college as a chance to explore opportunities beyond the community he grew up in. Now being in college, Jauregui sees the privilege he has in attending college.

“Being first-gen in high school made me see college and the college application process as something that was life-changing. I saw college as the end-all, be-all,” Jauregui says. “I was like, ‘If I go to college, then I’m set for life.’”

Like any high school senior, the college application process was completely new to Jauregui. Jauregui’s father doesn’t speak English and his highest education was sixth grade. His mom speaks English and attended a community college, transferring later to a small four-year school. Being a first-generation college student, his parents were unfamiliar with college applications, he says.

“Instead of me and my parents sitting down and doing [college applications,] I would go to the college and career center, and get everything done with a counselor,” Jauregui says. “And then they would send me notes to take back home, so that my parents could give me the documents that I needed to take back to school, and then fill out the rest of the [college application] with the counselor.”

Jauregui’s parents have proudly supported him as he pursued higher education, he says. As he was applying to colleges, his parents encouraged him throughout the process and helped him build self-confidence. Now being in college, Jauregui’s mom has helped him learn to live alone, he says.

Jauregui attends UW–Madison with the support of the Mercile J. Lee Scholars Program. This program supports academically talented students from marginalized groups and provides recipients with a full tuition scholarship, mentorship, a peer network and more. The program is an example of the Wisconsin Idea in action: the program encourages students from marginalized groups to bring their education from UW–Madison back to their communities, Jauregui says.

Adrian Jauregui tabling at the 2023 Fall Public Service alongside Molly Peden
Adrian Jauregui tabling at the 2023 Fall Public Service alongside Molly Peden.

Throughout his time at UW–Madison, this program has supported Jauregui, allowing him to graduate debt-free, connect him with advisors and bring a space for scholars like him to come together and be transparent about their experiences. 

“Just knowing through this program that I am supported here, I am wanted here and I am uplifted here. I think that’s how this program has really supported me,” Jauregui says. “All in all, just knowing that there is a network of people here on campus that wants to see me succeed, wants to see me do better and wants to see me go out there in the world.”

While Jauregui notes that college isn’t necessarily the path for everyone, Jauregui encourages other prospective first-generation college students to explore the college readiness resources available to them, from talking to counselors to even watching ‘Day in the Life of a College Student’ Youtube videos. Jauregui also notes how finding mentors with similar backgrounds who have pursued college can be impactful for these prospective students.

“When I was in high school, it would have been really beneficial for me to meet somebody who looked like me, who acted like me, who sounded like me to come back and tell me, ‘Oh, this is what school is like, and this is where I can expect,’” Jauregui says.

Adrian Jauregui, Class of ’22 Morton East High School

Jauregui is the oldest of three siblings. As a first-generation college student, he takes it upon himself to show his younger siblings the opportunities that exist beyond their community, Jauregui says. Jauregui hopes his time at UW–Madison exposes his 10-year old sister and brother, who is currently a junior in high school, to college and allow them to dream even more ambitiously about college.

“Being first-gen, I think it makes it not easier for them, but more realistic, right? To know that they can do it,” Jauregui says. “Especially within the Hispanic community, you’re doing it for the next generation and showing people that sí se puede.”