To explain the impact of SI's Magis program, we interviewed Samantha Loyola ’22 about her experiences at SI. She spoke about her introduction to our community, her challenges in applying to colleges, how the Magis program and specific people at SI supported her, and offered advice for younger students and their families. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What is your background, and how did you come to the Magis program?
I am a first-generation daughter of two immigrants from Peru. Like a lot of other students at SI, I am the first in my family to go to college.
I was first introduced to the SI community when I was in middle school, through the Magis Summer Enrichment Program, and I met a lot of people like Ms. Maricel Hernandez, Ms. Anna Maria Vaccaro, Mr. Darius White and other adults who gave me a sense of what SI is like. My grammar school wasn't really rigorous and I don't think it prepared me as much as the summer program did.
So, when I started high school at SI, it felt natural to stay engaged with the Magis program, which was a great decision because it helped a lot in the transition to high school, not just academically, but because I was able to stay in touch with people I'd met before.
What was the college application process like for you?
I was so lost when I started the college application process. It was really stressful because, at times, the pressure from my parents could be overwhelming. I know it wasn't intentional; being the first one from the family to go to college, your parents expect so much of you. And on top of that, the cost of college is something my family has to consider carefully.
I would hear people saying things like "early option" or "early decision" or "common app at UC" and I'd be like, "What is that?" I was super lost and didn't know anything. For me, applying to colleges was one of the most stressful times I've dealt with, but a lot of that was because I was learning about the college process while doing it.
The Magis college tour was a big help. If it wasn't for that trip, I wouldn't have been able to visit nearly as many schools, and it led me to apply to some of them.
But I also want to specifically mention Ms. Vaccaro, who is great at what she does, beyond college workshops. She would stay with us super late, sometimes until 7 p.m. I remember when the UC applications were due, she did not leave until the last person was ready to submit. She was always there, helping us, talking with us about things we needed to know. For example, I remember her talking with me about paying for college: Here's what your parents' income is, here's the price of schools, here are the other costs that go into a college education. You need to have safety schools.
Another time, a friend and I were at school with Ms. Vaccaro, late on a Friday, maybe 6 p.m., talking about financial aid and the college process. Both of us have concerns about the affordability of a college education. During one college workshop I remember my friend and I began crying to Ms. Vaccaro as we discussed our financial situation and what we were feeling at the moment. She was there to support us and let us know that if we ever needed help, we could approach her at any time. She was happy we were sharing our story, and she was the perfect person to be there for my friend and me in a really vulnerable moment.
Overall, the Magis Program meant that I've gone through SI with a support system that has been extremely helpful every step of the way, whenever I had a question. Without Magis, this journey would have been a lot more difficult.
What advice would you give younger students who may feel similarly to how you did when you entered SI?
Ask for help. Go talk to the people who are here at SI to help you as soon as you can. I would always go to Mr. White because I already knew him from the summer program, and Ms. Vaccaro is a great counselor, but I wish I had attended college workshops earlier. I wish I had gone on the Magis college tour before my senior year.
It's easy to think, "Oh, I'm not a senior," and so it doesn't apply to you, but if you're a first-generation student, go ahead and get involved as early as possible so you're more familiar with the process and get ahead of the game. The people running the Magis program understand that as first-gen students, our parents may not be familiar with the process and so they're here to help us.