When I chose UCLA back in 2017, it was a no-brainer. Growing up around the LA area, there was nothing really new or special about it. I came up here for summer programs and field trips at least once every year in high school. I didn’t even visit the other schools I was considering after I got in. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I thought about my choice a little bit more, but I didn’t have to—for me, choosing UCLA meant choosing community.
I went to high school in Pasadena, California, and in my sophomore year, I learned about a program called VIP Scholars: a program that prepared underrepresented students of color from different public high schools across LA County for college. They provided us with housing and classes for two summers at UCLA between my sophomore year and my senior year of high school—the first summer for two weeks, and the second for five. Back then, UCLA was still foreign to me; aside from the occasional field trip, I never really saw myself being at and navigating a place like this before I came here. Even though the time I spent here was short, being at UCLA for those few weeks made it the first college campus that I envisioned myself being at in the future.
My VIPS mentors and faculty made sure to emphasize that we should stay connected, and we did. After my first summer, we came back up to UCLA for quarterly workshops where I caught up with my mentors. When I was away from campus, I had them on social media, and it meant so much for me to see Black students like me just living and being here from far away. By the time my high school career was coming to an end, I could only associate UCLA with the sense of community and family that I got from VIPS. When college admissions came out, I was relieved that I got in. I did have other choices, but none of the other schools I got into had that sense of security that I got from being surrounded by my community at UCLA. Maybe I was just scared to go somewhere new. But the way I see it, I went with the place that I knew. I knew other people in my program who got in, I knew a little bit about how to get around, and most importantly, I knew that I would have a support system to fall back on if I ever needed it (… I did). I didn’t make my decision out of fear – I made it from evidence that was hard for other schools to compete with. VIPS gave me more than college preparation, it gave me representation. Representation was what allowed me to see myself in a community here and decide to become a part of it, and to this day I have no regrets.