Natalie Saldana reflects on the day she left for college: “My parents were excited and proud of my decision to continue on with my education, and I felt prepared.” Now an alumnus of Hamilton College, Natalie is quick to credit Let’s Get Ready for putting her on the path to a college degree and subsequently landing her dream job as a Quality Assurance Analyst at UBS. “Let’s Get Ready goes beyond the call of duty,” she explains, “It doesn’t just provide SAT (preparation); it exposes students, to a vast array of academic and career opportunities, and clarifies any questions about the college application process.”
Let’s Get Ready’s College Success Program, dedicated to the transition from high school graduate to college freshman, provided Coaches that served vital roles in Natalie’s journey. “They told stories about going away for the first time, gave us tips about what to do and what to avoid during freshman year, and even about how to save money to buy books and other essentials,” she recalls.
Thanks to the instruction and support Natalie received at Let’s Get Ready, her total SAT score jumped 450 points and she received the financial aid package she needed to attend Hamilton. In 2012, she earned a Bachelor of Arts, as a Math major and Computer Science minor, and qualified for her position at UBS.
Natalie is the fifth out of a family of six children. Her parents were Ecuadorian immigrants who came to the US to provide their children with more opportunities and better. Because they both were unable to complete their elementary educations, they were determined to make sure that each of their 6 children would earn at least a high school diploma.
Natalie decided to apply to college in her junior year, after noticing all of her peers comparing their PSAT results. She was baffled by their anxiety. “Finally, a friend explained that scoring well on the PSAT and SAT could help us earn grants that would pay for college, and that they would play an important role in determining which schools would likely accept us,” she recalls. These formative discussions with friends led her to focus her efforts, setting her sights on selective schools with an emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers.
Let’s Get Ready helped Natalie complete her financial aid applications, secure scholarships and grants, and choose the right school. “When it came to completing the FASFA application, my parents and I were not familiar with the tax forms or certain numbers requested so we were not sure if the application was being done correctly,” she says. “Let’s Get Ready offered workshops and provided translators to assist my parents with their questions.”
It is no coincidence that Natalie has gone on to work at one of the world’s largest banks. She was prescient enough as a high school student to understand how costly a college education can be, and reticent to apply to a school that was not specialized to a specific career. Let’s Get Ready’s Coaches and mentors opened her eyes to what was possible with financial assistance, as well as the merits of small schools versus large ones, of local schools versus those out of state. “These suggestions were eye-opening to me because I really didn’t know anything about schools outside of NYC,” she admits.
Among the school she ended up applying to were Columbia University, Colgate University, Steven’s Institute of Technology, Swarthmore College, and Saint Peter’s University. She describes Hamilton College, where she ended up enrolling, as “a school I never would have considered before I was a program participant.” She adds, “Without Let’s Get Ready, I am sure I would have stayed in NYC, and I would not have enjoyed the full college experience of going away and becoming and independent young lady.”
As Natalie looks down the road to her future, she has not forgotten her past. “Since I had such a positive experience with Let’s Get Ready, in the long-term, I plan to contribute a part of my career towards working with nonprofit organizations that focus on families from low-income circumstances and/or education.”