Achieving College Success: What Monica & Alejandra Learned

Achieving College Success: What Monica & Alejandra Learned

Seventy seven percent of LAUSD students graduate from high school.

Of those who graduate, 70% go on to college.

But then, something happens. Only 25% of LAUSD graduates who enter college will go on to earn a degree within 6 years.

Those numbers are concerning. How can we support our students so that more of them achieve their goal – to earn a college degree?

Monica and Alejandra are sisters, graduates of Manual Arts High School, and amazing examples of students who, despite considerable obstacles, will graduate from UC Irvine within four years.

How did they get to where they are today?


“I never thought I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do,” says Alejandra. “I always pursued my dreams. I never looked at the limit.”

“This was an attitude we both got from our parents,” adds Monica. “I’ve seen them overcome every challenge that comes their way.”

Their parents immigrated from El Salvador and have worked at factories in the Los Angeles area since they were small. Monica and Alejandra will be the first members of their family to graduate from college.

“Since meeting Monica and Alejandra four years ago, I have never ceased to be amazed by their positive outlook and their fearlessness about their future,” says Claudia Keller, Chief Development Officer at LA Promise Fund. “I took Alejandra to UCI for her first time visiting after she’d been accepted. She was so excited about her future.”

“I think their positivity, their resilience, their support for each other and the support they get from their families has helped them succeed,” Claudia adds.


The sisters also embraced every opportunity they got. They went through the Manual Arts High School magnet program, where they were able to load up on AP courses. “We took a lot: AP world history, AP biology, AP lit, AP physics,” says Monica.

And they participated in Upward Bound, a federally funded college prep program, and JROTC.

“JROTC taught me how to be true to myself,” says Monica. “I had to have a lot of confidence to wear the uniform. It made me appreciate who I was as a person.”

Now, the sisters are looking ahead.

Monica will attend USC in the fall to pursue a masters in education. “I have a friend who is very socially aware,” says Monica. “She helped me realize there is a lot of injustice in the education field. Having her as a friend and being there for me – she helped. I’d like to work in higher education, helping minorities – helping them navigate through college.”

Meanwhile, Alejandra is pursuing a career in the STEM field. She started working at a company in Irvine in August as a lab technician. She is conducting tests and doing lab reports for clients. “I really enjoy it,” she says. “A lot of the classes I took as an undergrad are serving me now in this role.”

“My dream for 10 years from now… maybe grad school,” says Alejandra. “I’m split between going into the medical field and doing something with prosthetics. There’s a strong need. People have accidents. They want to go back to where they were – comfortable with themselves.”

Public Speaking, Commitment & a Support System

When asked what lessons they would share with those who are just now embarking on their academic journey, Alejandra said, “Get used to public speaking. In college, you have to give a lot of presentations – and you have to network a lot with people. It also helps with interviews or office hours.”

Monica says, “Acknowledge that the courses in high school are the stepping stone to the courses in college. What you’re learning now is important, and you will need for the future. The professors assume you have this knowledge base. And, have the mentality that the classes will be harder. The coursework is a lot different. In college – no one is checking on you. You’re just expected to do it.”

Lastly, surround yourselves with people who will help you achieve your goals. “I believe having a strong support system helped Monica succeed,” says Jackie Turner, West Adams associate director of college access, who met Monica through Upward Bound. “She always surrounded herself with people who were just as hard working and determined as she was. It is no surprise that she will be heading to graduate school.”

At the LA Promise Fund, we are committed to creating learning environments and opportunities that support students and their families in their quest to advance their education. Learn more about our programs.

*Photo: Monica and Alejandra meet UC President Janet Napolitano at recent event addressing the future of the UCs, admissions, and access.