How a first-gen student figured out what to major in

October 15, 2020

For many first-generation students, getting enrolled and acclimated to college can mean overcoming huge barriers. But sophomore and urban planning major Alejandro Ramos found that bumps in the road came after he bypassed all the pre-college potholes. He found himself faced with a difficult question: What do I get this degree in? 

He found the answer in an ASU tool, me3, an online questionnaire that matches students’ interests with diverse degree programs. 

“Senior year I got to ASU, I filled out my FAFSA, I did my application and then ‘You got accepted to ASU!’,” he said. “As soon as I read that I was like, OK now what? I didn’t know what I wanted to study, and it was actually really tough for me to find something, but me3 gave me the idea of geography and planning.” 

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Alejandro Ramos

The more Ramos thought about it, the more it made sense. He remembers asking himself as a child, “What are clouds? Why is that mountain there? Why is that road there and not over here? Why is this city here and not there?” Soon all these questions will be answered; Ramos started his major courses this semester. 

Now Ramos shares this resource along with pre-college tools and inspiration with others though SPARKS at ASU, the student-led organization that promotes higher education readiness all over Arizona, including in Nogales, where Ramos is from. SPARKS has resources for every grade level, and me3 is Ramos’ favorite, though he said that he feels students are most impacted by the FAFSA workshops. 

“So many students have so many questions about FAFSA … they are first-generation college students,” he said. “We hold FAFSA workshops at high schools where students come and fill out their FAFSA, and we are right there for absolutely any questions.”

Ramos said he enjoys giving back through the group, which his older brother led until he graduated. It meant a lot having someone there to help show the way. 

“Going to ASU, not only did he help me a lot but it showed me that someone cared about me to get there, not only my parents but also my younger brothers,” Ramos said. “He showed me what I could do with the test scores that I had, with the classes that I had, so a lot of influence came from him," Ramos recalled. “He showed me what scholarships I could get, what grants, how FAFSA works.”

Now Ramos does the same for other students.

“I became a volunteer at SPARKS because I liked what they did. I liked going out into the community and talking to high schoolers,” Ramos explained.

Ramos said he’s grateful for the opportunity. He feels he’s gaining great resume-building experience in professional skills and leadership.

“The way that I’ve developed as a person, the way that I’ve changed time management, the way that I balance school life and student worker life has definitely been a challenge, but it shaped me into the person that I am today, and I’m really grateful and really happy with who I am right now,” Ramos said.

Sharing his story was bound to be cathartic for him, but it also allowed students to relate to him and hear his advice. 

“Telling my story on what I did, what I wanted to do, what my problems were and where my bumps in the road happened … can help other students become who they want to be,” Ramos said.