Between the countless forms, the deadlines and the personal essays, filling out college applications is a daunting process for many students. For high school senior Polette Garrido, finding the help and support she needed from her college counselor was often times a tough task due to the fact that there was only one counselor for a graduating class of 500+ students.

Polette found the support she needed through participating in United Way’s Young Civic Leaders Program (YCLP). This initiative is a leadership development program that encourages students to become advocates for their education and provides them with the tools they need to feel empowered.

Every Fall, United Way L.A. brings together volunteers from various industries to mentor YCLP students and give them feedback on their college essays. These volunteers ensure that the students are putting their best-self down on paper and authentically telling their story in addition to helping them edit and refine their content.

Polette found the guidance she needed during personal statement day. Her writing mentor, who worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, gave her candid feedback and advice on how to better her personal statement. She encouraged Polette to share her fearlessly share her story and in the end it definitely paid off. Through her hard work, tenacity and the support of her community and YCLP, Polette was admitted to her first choice school, University of Santa Cruz. Learn more about her experience below…

What were some key takeaways you had from the personal statement reading day?

- When I came in for personal statement day, I believed that all my ideas and rough drafts weren’t college worthy, that my stories weren’t such an important factor of the student that I am today. When I left that room, I came out with the knowledge that the experiences I had throughout my four years of high school mattered and shaped who I am and a contact who continuously kept up with me and helped edit my essays until they were perfection.

How did working with a volunteer mentor improve your statement?

- My mentor not only helped with my grammatical mistakes but helped put an emphasis to the experience and how I have grown, we got along very well and gave me advice for college that I won’t ever forget.

How has working with United Way L.A. helped your application process?

- United Way L.A has given me experiences I will never forget, from HomeWalk to skits on Saturday mornings, any time spent with United Way was time well spent. Kat and Sara from United Way gave me continuous advice with college apps, and more importantly my essays. They set up an evening meeting to read all the senior Young Civic Leader’s essay and a positive space for all of us to brainstorm and that evening I was able to write and edit two full essays. United Way not only gave me multiple things to write about on my essays but helped me write them too!

What are you looking most forward to this fall when you start college?

- As a future Banana Slug I am so excited to experience life outside of L.A., to go hiking in the redwoods, and explore different majors and classes available to me. I can’t wait to meet other people from different cultures and explore more of my own culture, something that wasn’t available to me in the classes at my current high school.

To learn more about the Young Civic Leaders Program and how you can help, click here.