Ten years ago, I was a confused senior at Charlestown High School. Today, I am a proud college graduate and uAspire College Affordability Advisor. Every day, I work with low-income students across Massachusetts to make their dreams of college a reality, just like my uAspire advisor, Chris, did for me ten years ago.
Like many of uAspire’s advisees, I moved to the United States when I was a teenager. My parents wanted me to have better educational and economic prospects than they had in our home country of Haiti. My father encouraged my mother to move to Boston with my brother and me, even though he had to stay behind. The transition to a new culture and way of life was not easy, particularly because I did not speak any English. My mom worked long hours to support our family and we lived with six other family members in a small three bedroom apartment.
My high school had a uAspire advisor. My advisor, Chris, changed the course of my life. I can say with certainty that had it not been for him, I would not have made it to college. During my senior year, Chris was my go-to person for everything related to college, not just financial aid. My school only had one guidance counselor for almost 1,000 students, which is typical in the schools uAspire serves. My mom always encouraged my college aspirations, but the financial aid application process was too overwhelming and confusing for either of us to understand. Thanks to my uAspire advisor’s deep knowledge and commitment to seeing me succeed, he filled a void that no other adult in my life could.
Fast forward four years later, in 2010 my family watched as I walked across the stage to receive my diploma from UMass-Amherst. The day before my graduation, my mom took me shopping for my first suit. She told me I could buy anything I wanted and that she wanted me to look sharp on this momentous day. I knew this was her way of telling me she was proud of me.
In 2014, I landed a new job as a uAspire College Affordability Advisor, bringing my uAspire story full circle. I see myself in my students every day. Like Chris was for me, I strive to be a steady presence for my advisees, pushing them when they need to be pushed, encouraging them when they need encouragement, and recognizing that I am often the only adult in their lives giving them hope for a brighter future.
In my first year as an advisor, one of my advisees, Joelle, came to me in tears. This star student, who appeared to have everything going for her, was devastated by her FAFSA results, which stated that she would not receive any financial aid because her parents made too much money. As we discussed her situation further, it turned out that Joelle’s life wasn’t as great as it seemed. Though her father and stepmother allowed her to live with them, they refused to support her in any other way. She worked two jobs to pay for essential items like food and clothing, and often asked teachers if she could pay for field trips in installments so she could participate in school life.
Joelle’s story broke my heart, and I was even more determined to help her get to UMass-Amherst, her top choice school. We appealed to the UMass-Amherst financial aid office, a process that most students don’t know is possible. I helped her arrange a trip from Boston to Amherst to meet with the financial aid officer in person. After meeting Joelle and learning the details of her situation, UMass-Amherst awarded her the full amount of financial aid she needed. Joelle is now a sophomore pre-med student, and has already invited me to her graduation! In 2019, she will graduate debt free.
These are the relationships and stories that keep me going. Many low-income students I have worked with feel overwhelmed by the price tag of higher education and have often been told that college is not for them. My job is to give students the resources they need to make a financially sound college choice, and to inspire them to reach higher and believe in themselves.