The next step in Rocky Rojas’ life is a fantasy, an apparition of an ideal scenario about to come to fruition due to an amalgamation of intelligence, community involvement, hard work, a little good fortune and heaping spoonfuls of aspiration.
Rojas graduated this week from Higley High School with a 4.61 GPA — good enough to place him within the top 5 percent of his class. He’s certainly an intelligent kid, smart enough to earn acceptance to multiple universities and a load of scholarships to get him to that next step. Rojas’s ultimate collegiate fantasy was admission to UCLA.
But there’s a reason why the word fantasy preceded entrance to UCLA, and it stems from how few students receive admission to the beautiful Southern California campus. According to the UCLA undergraduate admission website, more than 86,000 students applied for entrance for the 2014 fall semester, and only 15,778 made the cut. The school accepted slightly more than 18 percent of applicants, although 27 percent out-of-state applicants earned acceptance.
The odds a student from Gilbert would gain entry to UCLA were svelte-like, so using fantasy as a description for it appeared to be apropos after he sent in his application. Emphasis, however, belongs to the phrase “appeared to be.”
“It seemed like a dream until I was accepted,” he said.
So how did Rojas beat out somewhere in the neighborhood of 71,000 other students to become a Bruin? The reason is a combination of several factors that made him an appealing candidate. Start with the aforementioned intelligence indicated simply by the 4-plus grade point average he attained over the course of four years, which is a solid first step toward achieving an academic dream.
Rojas received kudos on his intelligence from Higley Career Center Specialist Jacqueline Ortega, who also lauded the former Knight for his work ethic, perseverance and potential.
“I have no doubt that he will be a leader on the UCLA campus and I look forward to his success,” Ortega wrote in an email.
Step two is the boost he received from his eagerness to volunteer in the Gilbert community. He has served the community through his involvement in the Higley’s chapter of the National Honor Society — projects included raising money for World Vision International and other humanitarian groups — blood donations and through other ventures.
“Basically any way I can volunteer in the community,” he said.
His volunteerism jumps into Ortega’s comment about his willingness to apply a little elbow grease into his projects. Aside from the good academic marks and the extracurricular activities, Rojas has worked at a local Harkins Theatre for approximately two years and spends his spare time running and training for marathons.
He has two full marathons under his belt, running the Lost Dutchman Marathon in Gold Canyon in 2012 and 2013 and shaved more an hour from his time, completing his second run in 4:24:03. He’s set to hit the pavement again in March 2015 at the LA Marathon located not too far from his campus.
Rojas is always willing to put the work in, which benefited him as he attempted to procure enough money to pay for tuition. UCLA is a pretty expensive school for in-state students, and out of state students pay approximately $23,000 more per year — a total of $56,000 or so — than the California students.
Rojas then had to find as many scholarships as possible to cover the costs and try to leave college with a minimal amount of debt. He said it took a while to hear back, but once he did the offers came in a fashion akin to a snowball rolling downhill. He’s received approximately $172,000 in scholarships, although much of that is tied to offers from the other schools he qualified. For UCLA purposes, he’s received around $30,000, and could get more if he receives funds from the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
At the least, he has earned enough to convert the proverbial dream into an impending reality.
“They’re basically making it possible for me to go there,” he said.
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