For Amy Cruz, working with international students at American Collegiate Los Angeles is a way to pay forward the educational support and inspiration she received when she was in school. The managing director at the prestigious first-year undergraduate level transfer program knows from experience how important it can be to receive the right kind of guidance when charting your future.
“I went to community college first, which is the reason why I have empathy for our students who are in this transfer process,” Cruz said. “I was really lucky to have my sister because she went to a community college and then transferred to a four-year university before me. I followed in her steps; she was my guide.”
Cruz double-majored in psychology and Central American studies before earning a master’s degree in educational psychology from California State University, Northridge. While working as a student assistant in the university’s continuing education division, Cruz learned about the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) requirements at US schools. There, a helpful colleague encouraged her to apply for an opening in the international programs department.
“She was just a guiding light for me, such a great person. Sure enough, I was able to get the position and started off as a program support coordinator,” said Cruz. “In high school, I wanted to be a veterinarian. And then I took an AP class and realized I love psychology. And then it took one professor to show me this master’s program that led me to educational psychology, and then to international education. In so many ways, I thought I had this idea in mind and then it just took that one person or that one course to really change my whole trajectory.”
Now, Cruz shares her experiences with international students studying at American Collegiate Los Angeles. She hopes it helps them set goals and make life choices while remembering to be flexible and receptive to new ideas. They may find their passion along the way, just like she did.
“We recommend students get an idea in their mind of what they are interested in and what is important to them — to start thinking about [their] ‘must-haves’ — but also to have an open mind and be ready to embrace what comes,” Cruz said. “It’s completely normal to just up and change everything. I like to share my story with students when they feel like they need to have it all together.”
I really feel that the students who embrace the process open their minds and [are] receptive to the advice you can give to them — they’re the most successful. They get to know their advisors, and they can talk to us about anything.” – Amy Cruz, managing director, American Collegiate Los Angeles
Working with Amy at American Collegiate Los Angeles
Cruz and her team of advisors see themselves as students’ number-one cheerleaders. Cruz meets with her students as much as possible — usually biweekly — but other students come in to see her every day while working on an interview or application essay, or even a big goal.
“One [student] made the decision to apply to Harvard,” Cruz said. “He said he knew it was a long shot because they only accept like 10 students, but he felt that if he could apply to Harvard, he could do anything.”
Students also meet for what Cruz calls academic mentoring class, where they bring in course assignments to review together. Cruz and the instructors will go through each class, point by point, with them. She checks to see if they are getting their assignments in on time and achieving the grades they need to transfer to their dream schools. She also helps them find tutors and better understand the material.
“We do major exploration and then university exploration to really make sure they’re applying to the major that’s the best fit for them, as well as selecting five to 10 schools that fit their needs and the rankings, to satisfy the parents!” Cruz laughed. “But we also introduce them to schools they may not have heard [of] before, which is always fun.”
Cruz ensures students meet the requirements for the universities they plan to transfer to after they complete their year at American Collegiate Los Angeles. She helps students work on interview skills, reviews essays, and double-checks that all supplemental materials are included in each application. Cruz also shows the students how to follow up and make smart choices when admission offers start coming in.
“I had a student who was studying with us last year, [and] he had five different offers to top-100 schools,” said Cruz. “And it became a process of elimination — which schools do you really like? Which ones are safety schools? We really got down to the nitty-gritty of each program and he eventually decided to go to Northeastern.”
American Collegiate Los Angeles students transfer to elite universities across the United States, including the University of Southern California and New York University, and several other top-50 schools. Students enrolled at the Los Angeles campus take a rigorous course load from UCLA Extension while gaining access to the university’s extensive alumni network, support services, and recreation center, as well as exclusive transfer support specially designed for international students.
“I tell my students, ‘This is your time really to explore,’” Cruz said. “The beauty of our program is that we give students that opportunity to really dive in and explore all the different subjects and really figure out what they are passionate about.”
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