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My Education Experience as a DACA student

By the time senior year comes around, most students have an idea of what college they will attend or at least apply to. My senior year, I wasn’t even sure if I would be allowed to go to community college. After years of applying, long expensive meetings with lawyers, and many anxious nights of uncertainty I was finally granted my DACA status, 3 months before my high school graduation. Although DACA did grant me an opportunity to attend college, obtain a job, and a driver's license, 3 very simple privileges everyone else gains at birth, it did not grant me a sense of tranquility. 


My parents always instilled in me that I was different from my peers. I would need to be exceptional and excel academically just to get half the opportunities an average student would get. As a DACA recipient, it felt like I had to work 10 times harder than an average American student. Being a first Generation student was hard enough. My parents did not get an education in the US so applying to college and financial aid was as new to them as it was to me. As hard as my parents tried, they could not guide me in this college journey of mine. I was on my own and I was lost.


One open door lead to so many more closed ones.

Yes, I was granted an opportunity to study and work which is something I will forever be grateful for. That doesn’t dismiss the hardships DACA students experience nationwide as a result of a label. Throughout high school I challenged myself academically to set myself apart from other students. I completed the IB program, learned a foreign language, passed my exams, and received the IB Diploma in hopes to not only to be the perfect candidate for all of these institutions, but to also receive the full scholarship every IB diploma recipient was promised by the state.  It wasn’t until I filed my FAFSA  that I realize undocumented students did not qualify for federal aid, meaning I wouldn’t be rewarded a scholarship as an IB graduate. 


This one closed door led to many more. Coming into college, I was charged out of state tuition, even though I had lived in the state long enough to be considered otherwise. I instantly knew I would not be able to afford it. As a result of my immigration status I was not granted financial aid nor scholarships even though my parents did not make nearly enough money to put both my twin sister and I through college.  I had to make the hard decision to become a part time student and work full time for a couple of semesters in order to save up for the upcoming years. Eventually after asking many questions and receiving many “I don’t know’s”  from the institution, I was able to waive my tuition and transition to in-state tuition. However,  working full time to pay what is still an expensive tuition, I‘ve  missed out on a lot of opportunities. I don’t have time to participate in many extracurriculars, join laboratories, or even get an internship because I work and spend the remaining time studying. It ultimately feels like a vicious cycle full of no’s and misfortune. 


My goal.

For so long I have felt as If I had no voice and no choice, but now for now I will tell my story as a struggling DACA student, Woman in STEM, and inherently a minority.  It will be my goal to share my experiences in hopes to influence minds and share my journey with you. Whether it’s to educate, inspire, or to give comfort to those who can relate. 

Hi everyone! My name is Mariana Montoya and I am a Biomedical Engineer major here at FIU. I love advocating for women in STEM and I am so excited I get to do just that on HerCampus.
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