Applying to college is generally an enjoyable but fascinating experience. For Athos Oliveira and his family, they were even more ignorant and bewildered as to where to start because Oliveira would be the first in his family to attend university. It’s the Tamalpais High School Senior Documents process at First-Gen United (firstgenunited.com), the website that has begun sharing resources and tips for people applying to college – especially first-generation ones like him.
Since starting the site as a freshman, he’s written about what it means to be a student-athlete, the story of his parents’ immigration to the United States before he was born, his struggles navigating the school system, and his positive experiences working with a college counselor. Now 17, Oliveira, who has already gained some college admission, plans to continue his mission of helping others through his site as well as webinars in the future.
s How did you feel while navigating the school system?
a My parents are Brazilian. My mum when she came here could hardly speak any English. When I was younger I learned Portuguese and was a little mixed up between the two parts, like the American side and the Brazilian side, and this slowed down a bit in my younger years, but that came to be just fine.
s How do your parents feel about your acceptance?
a This is very strange to them, so every time admission comes in, they dread no matter what the caliber college. They are so passionate, which makes me happy to know I did something that affects them so much. I know they sacrificed a lot to leave what they had in Brazil to start a new family here. Knowing that they sacrificed it all really motivated me to give them what they deserve, and show them that they made the right decision and that I can succeed in the United States.
s Sports obviously plays a big role in your life. Tell me about it.
a I play basketball now. I play lacrosse in the spring. Squash for both. My dad was a professional basketball player in Brazil, which led me to start playing basketball in the fifth grade, and since then, I’ve really devoted myself to basketball because I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps. A second year, I was playing a basketball game at JV. One of my lacrosse coaches was watching the match, and then he came up to me and told me to come play lacrosse in the spring because he saw my athletic ability and potential. I’ve done it since the second year. I’m trying to play lacrosse in college. I also specialize in advanced journalism and am the news editor for the school newspaper.
s What advice would you give to a soon-to-be first-generation college student like you?
a Just do some research, because you can’t get it from your loved ones, and talk to your colleagues. I have talked to my friends a lot while they are going through the university application processes, but there are a lot of places you can contact online that can guide you well.
s In the academic world, do you think there is anything that could be better for first generation students?
a I feel that some people have more access to tools that some people may not have. As I know in my school there is a college, career center and advisors that are very helpful. So, if some first-generation students don’t have the tools that others might have, I hope a lot of high schools implement such useful tools.
s What do you hope people will get from your work?
a I hope they know they are not alone. There are other people who struggled and walked the same path and succeeded. They too can have a good ending to their story.