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Student Profiles

Olga Carmona '03

Olga Carmona
"I had challenging professors who were caring and committed to see me succeed" Olga Carmona grew up in Spanish Harlem. She learned about Bard High School Early College (BHSEC) through a postcard in the mail. At the time, she was attending a parochial school on a full scholarship. Olga was always a dedicated student but was never challenged. The opportunity to graduate with an Associates Degree from Bard College for free convinced her to transfer to BHSEC. Her mother was a single parent on public assistance with three children; the early college provided an un-paralleled opportunity for Olga to gain access to a college education.

Although she struggled at first, Olga managed to pick up her grades with the help of her professors and peers and graduated in 2003 with an Associates Degree from Bard. Although her early grades were not good, the prospect of the associate’s degree kept her motivated. Once she earned the degree, she was determined to transfer every single credit and save as much money as possible, which is what she did by continuing her studies at Bard College. Arriving at college with only a graduation gift of $50, Olga graduated in two years from Bard with a Bachelor’s Degree, and a higher GPA than the one she had at BHSEC. She was the first in her family to leave her neighborhood and the first in her family to graduate from college.

After college graduation, Olga returned to BHSEC as an admissions coordinator, while pursing a Master of Science Degree in Urban Affairs at Hunter College. She currently co-directs admissions for BHSEC Queens, where she leads efforts to recruit a diverse student body. “It was really important for me to come back to BHSEC to make sure that I would be able to find students who are in similar situations as I was to attend BHSEC. Recruiting a diverse student body, especially from low-income families, and making sure these families know about this great opportunity is why I'm still at BHSEC,” she explained.

BHSEC was a life-changing experience for Olga. As she explained, “If it wasn't for BHSEC, my life would have taken a different route. Coming from a poor family, a $40,000 price tag for a year in college is impossible. If you multiply that by four, it's just unimaginable. However, BHSEC did more for me than save me a lot of money - it challenged me and kept me focused on my school work despite everything else that was happening around me. There were a lot of obstacles and distractions outside of school but the fact that I had challenging professors who were caring and committed to see me succeed was a nice formula for my success.”

In Olga’s free time, she participates in a college mentoring program in Spanish Harlem through the East Harlem Tutorial Program. She helps a 12th grade student navigate the college application process. During the sessions, Olga is constantly grateful for her BHSEC education. “I am always reminded how lucky I am to have the opportunity to have attended BHSEC. The challenges that these students face are enormous. I wish we could have more BHSEC's and more early colleges to accommodate more students.”