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From Turlock to the Ivy League
Local students tour East Coast universities
Ivy League pic
Melissa Gonzales, Mayra Aguilar and Heath Rojas visit Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Brown was just one of 12 East Coast schools the Turlock High students toured as part of the Ivy League Project. - photo by Photo Contributed

Eight days. Eight states. Twelve different campus tours.

That’s how three Turlock High students spent their spring break as part of the Ivy League Project, a program that offers tours of different Ivy League universities on the East Coast with the intention of broadening the students' horizons and upping their academic goals.

This year, students Heath Rojas, Mayra Aguilar and Melissa Gonzales visited Harvard, Yale, Brown, Princeton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell, Columbia, and Georgetown. The tours gave the Turlock students an idea of the opportunities available to them if they attended one of these prestigious universities.

“There were so many colleges we didn’t even know existed,” said Rojas.  “It’s an amazing feeling knowing that I could have the opportunity to attend an Ivy League school. I learned so much.”

Founded in 1992 by Martin Mares, the Ivy League Project was established to encourage economically disadvantaged and underrepresented students to apply to the most prestigious universities in America. Turlock High Interim Principal Marie Peterson has overseen the ILP at THS for five years and has served as an advisor and trip chaperone on previous visits. Over the years, 10 THS students have taken part in the program.

“Our program selects the most talented and promising 10th and 11th grade students and takes them to visit the top universities of the East Coast,” said Peterson. “Through exposure to these universities, as well as admissions and financial aid sessions with counselors, students have their knowledge expanded and learn the necessary skills to apply and be accepted to Ivy League colleges.”

Aguilar said that before attending the trip, she had never contemplated attending an Ivy League school. Initially, she planned to attend a university within the state of California. Now, Aguilar has her eyes set on Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

“I didn’t think I was capable of attending an Ivy League school because I didn’t see myself as qualified,” said Aguilar. “During the campus tour a panel of students from the Central Valley greeted us and talked to us about the university and encouraged us to apply. They came from similar backgrounds as I did and they inspired me and made me feel confident in applying.”

Ivy League school fees average around $55,000 more than the median American annual income of $46,000. Although the numbers can discourage  low income students in attending an Ivy League school, THS counselor Mayra Arreola, encourages students to apply regardless of the costs.

“There are so many scholarships and grants available out there,” said Arreola.  “There are a lot of low income students who attend these Ivy League schools and they receive the financial support they need from these universities. These private schools have so much money to give and if the students are qualified to attend, the schools will find means to help them out.”

For Gonzales, the trip to the East Coast opened her eyes to a different world.

“You can’t get the same experience from reading up on universities through pamphlets,” said Gonzales. “You have to live it for yourself and see that there’s a whole world out there. This trip motivated me to work harder towards my goals and attend an Ivy League school in the future.”