Martinez is among the growing number of Latinos who are going into debt to obtain a college education.
Two-thirds of students who earn undergraduate degrees end up shouldering more than $25,000 in debt, and 1 in 10 owe more than $54,000, a 2012 Center for American Progress report found.
Latinos and blacks are more likely to be weighed down by such borrowing as need-based federal aid for low-income students has become insufficient to cover rising tuitions. Some 81 percent of blacks and 67 percent of Latinos earning bachelor's degrees are leaving school with debt, compared with 65 percent of whites and 54 percent of Asians, according to the report.
At $22,886, the average amount Latinos borrow is slightly lower than for blacks ($28,692), and white students ($24,742). But many first-generation collegians say their parents, often hoping their children get the education they lack, offer little help in a confusing maze of federal and private loans that are often disguised as opportunity.
Martinez initially felt frustrated that her parents did not assist her more successfully navigate the college application and financial aid, process; in hindsight, she now places value on a cost-benefit analysis of attending a particular college or choosing a degree. She says she simply learned by "trial and error."
"As a first-generation college student, my family didn't know anything. I learned everything on my own, whether it was about getting student loans or applying for scholarships," she told Next America.
Few of these parents, particularly if they are immigrants, have the financial know-how to assist their children.
Stanford University undergrad Brenda Muñoz, 20, is the first in her family to attend college. Her parents, both Mexican natives, have a fifth-grade education. "They have no idea about the American educational system," she says.
Muñoz's San Francisco Bay Area family includes a younger brother and sister, a stay-at-home mom, and a father who is a demolition worker earning about $55,000 before taxes.
When she proudly announced her admittance to Stanford, Muñoz said her parents didn't fully grasp the achievement or comprehend the importance of the $41,250-per-year tuition reprieve Muñoz gets as recipient of a grant for low-income students. "For them, it was just another school."
In many recent studies of students assuming college loans, Latinos closely follow blacks on the amount borrowed in pursuit of their degree. Educators point to several common obstacles. Among Latinos, one factor is general lower income; another is a cultural lack of involvement with banks, heightening the challenge to save for college.
A report of 2011 banking habits found that 32 percent of U.S. households lacked a savings or checking account, and Hispanic, foreign-born, and black families comprised the bulk of them. The study found that 14.7 percent of Hispanics residing in the U.S. never had a bank account, which is generally a first step for saving.