Every year, first generation students are celebrated at TC's Diversity and First Generation Convocation ceremony, honored for their accomplishments and for overcoming challenges as first-generation scholars. Their diverse perspectives help shape our  commitment to equity and inclusion here at Teachers College. 

Deeply inspired by her own experiences as a first-generation student, Cynthia Colón (M.A. ’96, Higher Education Administration) has established the Dr. Cynthia Colón Endowed Scholarship for first-generation master’s students at Teachers College to offer the same access and support that shaped her trajectory.

“As an educator and a first-generation student, I have a responsibility to use my voice and make education and educational opportunities more accessible and equitable for all. This scholarship aims to do just that,” says Colón, a leading college admissions expert.

Thirty years ago, Colón’s life took a pivotal turn when her mother, Lydia, asked for guidance as her daughter navigated the college admissions process. “Had I not had access or the support of my mom, the process would have been nearly impossible,” explains Colón, who would earn her bachelor’s at USC before continuing on to Teachers College and then UCLA.  

For Colón, her time at Teachers College was transformative, giving her a unique sense of community, which she still carries with her today. “I’ve made lifelong friendships from Teachers College,” she shares, noting that she keeps in touch with TC’s Thomas Rock, Chief Student Affairs Officer and Associate Vice President. “Recently, I was at a brunch event in Los Angeles with President Bailey. I met so many fellow TC alumni and we quickly became friends. I even invited them to my TED Talk. It was really special."

Leading the Way for Future Generations

Today, Colón works with students and parents nationwide to pave their unique path toward higher education. Her mission is to assist more public school students, many of whom identify as first-generation, receive “private school service” to better access their dream schools. 

The TC alum founded her college admission consulting business, where she works with students through various modalities to build successful college applications. “I always say, ‘Students aren’t rejected, applications are.’ It’s about building a great college application while helping [students] reach their full potential.” Colón guides students to identify their goals and offers resources like essay boot camps, group classes, and more to engage students. “Because these services are affordable, many more students have access.”

Cynthia Colon and Thomas Rock.

(Pictured: (Left photo) Thomas Rock, Chief Student Affairs Officer and Associate Vice President, and Dr. Cynthia Colón. (Right photo) Colón discusses her book on WPIX. Photos courtesy of Colón.) 

Colón’s work in college counseling inspired her to write two books, Be Committed. Get Admitted!: 7 Steps to College Admission Success and Dream College Academy, which include resources for students like creating a four-year academic plan or preparing their resumes, along with candid anecdotes from Colón’s perspective. “The stories and advice are inspired by my own lived experiences and even some of the students that I’ve met along the way,” she adds, noting that both books are published in Spanish, too. 

Expanding Her Reach

When she’s not counseling her students, Colón is facilitating on-the-ground work with public school districts to create a more inclusive culture around college preparation in public schools. “This will be my fourth year working with Lynwood Unified School District, a district that serves a primarily underserved population of students. I’m meeting with leadership there to identify the challenges that students face and offer solutions.”

Students holding Cynthia Colon's book.

(Pictured: Students from Lynwood Unified School District in Los Angeles.)

To date, Colón and her team have worked with over 10,000 students from over 80 high schools and 20 states. “If we can work together as communities to close the information gap, perhaps we could close the education gap. It's about looking for new ways to build accessible spaces for the next generations to learn.”

She reminds us that her mom, Lydia, is still her biggest cheerleader almost thirty years later. Colón hosts a podcast titled “Destination YOUniversity,” created not only for students, but for the parents, mentors and educators who support them. She shares that Lydia was her first honorary special guest on the show, which has over 200 episodes.

“There's always a way to use your knowledge for something greater. Once I understood that I could have a bigger impact on more and more people, it made me want to keep going. If [educators] don't do these things, who will?”