I Didn’t Get Into an Ivy League Just Because I'm Latina: Salazar

Posted: Apr 22 2014

-By Marisel Salazar
Tweet @MariselSalazar

5% of those admitted to my class were Latinos, and I was one of them.

How’d I do it? 

Well, I got into an Ivy League school because I worked very, very hard. I was one of the 3,010 first-time freshmen at Cornell during 2007Cornell received 30,382 applications from students across the world for the Class of 2011. 6,229 were accepted, 3,223 were waitlisted and 18,419 were denied admission. I was among the 48.2%of women. Cornell’s acceptance rate for the Class of 2011 reached a record low at the time of my admittance, 20.5%.

Letter Day!
In April of 2007, I ripped open my fat acceptance letter with joy. I was so proud of myself. In high school, I strove to be at the top of my game: serving as the captain of my high school’s track team, staff member of the school newspaper, vice president of the Spanish Honor Society, all in addition to earning high grades. I’d also beat a not-so-ideal childhood: I grew up in a single parent household since I was a baby. My biological father has always been absent.

I spilled the beans to a few of my close friends at school. Word got out that I’d been admitted to Cornell University. When I replied to those who asked “Where are you going this fall?” I received one of two responses: “Congratulations Marisel!” or “Oh, yeah, well I guess you got in because you’re Hispanic.”


Affirmative Action vs. Deserved: Which Is It Now?
Many other young Latinos have probably experienced the “dark side” of affirmative action and higher education’s attempt at diversity. Get accepted into a decent school, and there are those who doubt it’s based upon your own merits. This is very disheartening to many self-motivated and hardworking Latino students. Our accomplishments are brushed off under the guise of diversity initiatives. It perpetuates the stereotype that Hispanics are “lazy” or “ taking our jobs” (read: acceptances at prized universities) – that we don’t have to work as hard as our Caucasian peers because of our blood.

The Stats
For Cornell University’s Class of 2011, the mean SAT verbal score was 700 and the math mean score was 720. 92% of students ranked in the top 10% of their graduating class. These are numbers –successes- that are pretty hard to brush off. While at Cornell, I was consistently on the Dean’s List, a member of several honor societies, served as president of a student club on campus and mentored incoming freshmen in my major (Communication). I worked hard at my student job, so much so that I was invited to have lunch with university president David Skorton in recognition of my efforts.

The Snarky Comments & The Proof
I received some nasty remarks from students who had been denied admission, saying, “ I took their place” because of my background. Actually, according to The New York Times, 2007’s low college admissions rates across the Ivy League and the United States were attributed to a few changes – none of them having to do with being Latino or any other type of minority. Children of baby boomers graduated from high school at record rates in recent years. Also, more high school students went directly to college instead of taking gap years after graduation. This raised the number of applicants. Finally, high school seniors were applying to more schools than in past decades. But those who were unkind didn’t see it that way.

While ethnicity and household status are considered (along with veteran status, sexual orientation and disabilities) during the admissions process, those factors certainly didn’t help me out financially. I was not one of the 1,863 undergraduates (14% of all undergraduates) at Cornell University to receive a Pell Grant.

How I Paid
I accepted federal and private loans, held several jobs during the school year, and worked during the summer to help pay for my tuition. If it eases the minds of those who were skeptical of my standing at an Ivy League institution to know, I definitely paid the full price to be at Cornell – so at the very least, no one could say that my being a student was increasing the cost for someone else. Sounds similar to the heavy debate about illegal immigrants increasing taxes on legal American citizens right?

I applied for as many scholarships as I could to help offset my costs. My mother helped me here and there, but I was (and still am) responsible for my education.

I graduated with honors in 2011. I worked hard before, during and after college. I am proud of the school I went to and my rightful place to be there. 

These are my triumphs for me and my accomplishments.  What these are not are triumphs “just because I am Latino.”

Hispanic.com is pleased to announce Marisel is a new addition to the Hispanic.com writing team. 


  • Posted by Rick on December 30, 2014

    I’m currently a community college student ready to apply and transfer to a four year university. My current gpa is 3.57 and a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honors society. I am interested in attending Cornell, I’ve looked at their transfer student page for info and have used their calculator to gauge what it will cost to attend.
    Now, I will admit that I’m currently on financial aid and will reapply since I have not been working due to my full time status at school.
    If by any chance I get accepted and get the financial help that their calculator projected, then yes I will attend and will not care what others will say. I may even wear a t-shirt that says : " Paid for by your tax dollars". Here’s why we should be proud to be accepted and given the chance to prove our merit in college: Because we are not privileged and attended prestigious private prep schools. Socioeconomic standings play a huge role in the success of individuals. That is why affirmative action started, to give those with the potential to continue their education and succeed. We are not being given a free diploma for nothing, as you mentioned your hard work has shown Cornell that you have what it takes to be a part of their student body. I realized that this article was published back in April/2014. How are you doing so far?

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