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Alumni Success Stories: In discussion with Zahid Ali, first-generation college student, Seattle Central & Columbia University graduate

Many of us are first generation college students. Today we bring to you Zahid Ali, who is the first person in his entire family to have ever attended a four-year university. 

Ali graduated from Columbia University in New York City in the spring of 2021. He is currently studying for the LSAT and applying to law school in the fall. He aspires to become a lawyer and use the practice to address human rights and social injustices. He has been accepted into the Training and Recruitment Initiative for Admission to Leading Law Schools in the United States (TRIALS), which is a partnership between the Advantage Testing Foundation, Harvard Law School, and the NYU School of Law. Each year, over two thousand applicants apply, and only 20 students get selected. This summer, Ali will attend the program at Harvard Law School.

“If it were not for Seattle Central College, I would not be where I am today,” says Ali. 

“The instructors with whom I took classes were incredible. Some of the classes I took at SCC were very critical to my success at Columbia. For instance, Creative Writing with Professor Jeb Wyman was particularly helpful, considering how writing-intensive my major was. I highly recommend [him].”

Ali learned a lot from classes with Professor Carl Livingston. “I would recommend his classes to any aspiring Political Science majors or any students interested in studying policy or law. I also took Writing for Science with Johnny Horton, which was very helpful. That was also one of my favorite classes. It was a long time ago, but I still remember the first reading, which was from Yuvall Noah Harari’s book, Sapiens. I purchased that book after that class and finished it. It is funny that I have a copy of the book which reminds me of that class sometimes.”

Ali also wrote a research paper for Professor Anna Shaver’s class, which was later archived in the Seattle Public Library. “They had a great role in my success. One of my letters of recommendation was written by Professor Anna Shaver. When I came to Columbia, one of the admission officers specifically told me how well-written the letter of recommendation was. He also stated that he had read some great letters of recommendation from Seattle Central College. I am not surprised.”

“I miss my time at The Seattle Collegian,” shares Ali, reflecting on his past at Seattle Central. “Working there was a blast. I remember writing an article about dating and cultural misunderstandings.”

“Also, I miss Seattle. It holds a special place in my heart. When people in New York ask where I’m from, I proudly say Seattle. But then comes the inevitable follow-up: ‘Where are you actually from?’ While I was born in Balochistan, Seattle is also my home. It’s where I had my first job, rented my first apartment, and went to Seattle Central College which had a great role in my success.”

Regarding his transition period between Central and Columbia, he explains that his greatest challenge was “Academic rigors.” 

“I barely slept during the first semester at Columbia University. Professors had very high expectations, and grading was extremely tough. I felt that I was around students who were born to read and write well. But you know you can get the hang of it as long as you work hard. I think if you are a student at Seattle Central, you will certainly feel uncomfortable at a place like Columbia University. You will be expected not only to write and read well but also to engage in the most uncomfortable conversations with professors and students. Precisely speaking, it is challenging but you can get there if you are resilient and hardworking.”

Offering advice to current Seattle Central students or recent graduates, Ali emphasizes that “There is no secret sauce. Work hard and believe in yourself. Make the most out of the resources at your disposal. Get involved in student organizations and prepare yourself for bigger challenges. Get comfortable with reading convoluted texts and writing. At Columbia, in almost every class, you are expected to read at least 200 to 400 pages every week.”

“Believe in yourself,” he says to current students who hope to transfer to other universities. “Where you are now doesn’t define where you’ll end up. If you’re ready to work hard and face challenges, you can succeed anywhere.”

Inspiring stories such as Zahid Ali’s remind us to believe in ourselves, stay committed to our goals, and embrace the journey ahead with courage and optimism as we step into new chapters of life.


Vrindha, an international student from India, is fueled by her fervent love for diverse art forms such as dance, drama, music and theatre. Eager to immerse herself in new experiences and broaden her horizons, she sees her involvement with the Collegian as a gateway to both sharing her passions and delving into new realms of knowledge.

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