Making college a reality for more North Carolinians

As a member of the Carolina College Advising Corps, Daniel Garcia '21 is helping more high school students see higher education as an option.

Daniel Garcia outside.

Daniel Garcia always knew he wanted to go to college. It was an idea in the back of his mind throughout high school, but not one he was confident he’d be able to put into action.

“I wasn’t sure college was something that was possible for me. My parents are from Trinidad and Tobago and like so many immigrants, my parents didn’t have access to higher education,” he said. “I wasn’t sure whether or not college would be something that was financially feasible for my family.”

To make the situation more complex, Garcia didn’t have anybody who could help him through the college admissions process. His high school in Asheville didn’t have a college adviser, leaving him essentially on his own to navigate a situation new to his entire family.

Garcia ’21 ultimately found his path to a four-year college through C-STEP and the community college system but says that if he had been able to work with a college adviser as a high schooler, his journey to a bachelor’s degree would have been more expedient. After graduating and achieving his own academic goals, he wanted to help others make their dreams of attending a four-year college a reality.

The Carolina College Advising Corps was the perfect fit for that objective, and Garcia joined the UNC-Chapel Hill-based program as a college adviser at Hillside High School in Durham, North Carolina.

“Everything that I do as a college adviser is informed by my experience as a high school senior,” he said. “I understand exactly how much an adviser would have changed the course for me, and I just try to be the adviser that I never had.”

Garcia is among the corps’ 50 recent college graduates placed in underserved high schools across North Carolina to serve as admissions and financial aid advisers to reinforce the advantages of a college education and guide graduating seniors through the admissions process. The Carolina College Advising Corps served nearly 10,500 graduating seniors in 63 under-resourced high schools last year.

“I knew I wanted to do something to make a difference and leave an impact in my community,” Garcia said. “I intend to put a smile on as many faces as possible, so  I naturally gravitate toward any field that can help me make a positive impact. The Carolina College Advising Corps makes this goal a reality for me each and every day. I absolutely love the work that I do.”

A step forward

After graduating from high school in 2015 and then working full-time to help support his family, Garcia enrolled at Durham Tech in the spring of 2016. While there, he found C-STEP, a Carolina program that partners with community colleges across the state to identify academically talented low- and moderate-income students and then guarantees their admission to UNC-Chapel Hill after they earn an associate degree and meet other requirements.

He immediately applied to the program, taking a step forward in his dream of attending Carolina.

“I remember my mom coming home from work, showing her my C-STEP acceptance letter, and I remember the tears coming to her eyes,” Gracia said. “It was a great moment, especially with [my parents] coming from their background, not having those opportunities available to them. They were absolutely proud of what I was able to accomplish, but I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish it without their encouragement and support.”

With additional mentorship and resources from C-STEP advisers, Garcia fulfilled the requirements to transfer to Carolina and arrived in Chapel Hill in 2018 to study political science and African, African American and Diaspora Studies.

“It took some time for me to grasp that the dream I’ve had all my life was no longer a dream; it was now my reality,” he recalled. “It was like being on Cloud Nine. I cherished every moment as a Carolina student.”

Garcia knew he wanted a career that would allow him to serve others and help more high schoolers gain access to higher education, so after graduating in 2021, he applied to the Carolina College Advising Corps and accepted a position at Hillside High School.

“I really wanted to do something in that area because I’m a strong proponent of advancing the Black community and other communities that are often underserved,” he said. “The Carolina College Advising Corps fit perfectly with my vision and checked all the boxes.”

Serving North Carolinians 

Working full-time at Hillside, Garcia walks the students through the application process, helps them find colleges that fit their academic interests and assists with navigating the financial aid process.

The Carolina College Advising Corps emphasizes placing recent graduates in high schools to help the advisers forge stronger connections with the seniors. Garcia is able to draw on his own experience at UNC-Chapel Hill to help prepare the students for their next step.

“It shows students that they are capable of going to college, especially if they see somebody who looks like them, such as I do,” Garcia said. “With this being a majority Black school, they’re able to see themselves in their college adviser. You’re showing these students, ‘Hey. You can go to college, too. If I could go to college, you can go to college and excel, too.’”

Garcia served 336 students in his first year as a college adviser, and he’ll stay in the role for another year to help another class of more than 300 students.

“This is something that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life,” he said. “Having the opportunity to serve these students and to help them achieve their post-secondary goals is a privilege I’m honored to have. I’m grateful to be a member of the Carolina College Advising Corps.”

The Tar Heel Bus Tour will be stopping at a Carolina College Advising Corps location this week. Traveling more than 1,000 miles across the state, Carolina leaders and faculty on the tour will see firsthand how our work extends beyond Chapel Hill and makes a real-world difference.

Learn more about the bus tour