As an alumni of the Boston Public Schools and a first-generation college graduate, I often reflect on my own struggle to afford college, and how fortunate I was to find uAspire and now be able to “pay it forward,” serving high school seniors. I tell my students, “It’s not about where you start, it’s about where you end up.”
I got my start at Josiah Quincy Upper School. My parents did not speak English, so they could not help me navigate the college process. Thankfully, my uAspire college affordability advisor, Niurka, taught me everything I needed to know about the financial requirements of applying to colleges. With uAspire’s support, I became a part of the Class of 2015 at Framingham State University.
Today, I work as one of 15 college affordability advisors serving 32 high schools across Massachusetts. My story has come full circle; one of the schools in which I advise at is Josiah Quincy Upper School. It is so meaningful to me to advise students at my alma mater. I get to give back to the school that gave me so much.
I think back to one of my students from last year, Mark. Until his junior year of high school, Mark was homeschooled by his father, who did not believe that college was worth the investment. Mark moved in with his uncle, who enrolled him in Boston Public Schools so he could have a better shot of being accepted into college. Since his father did not support his decision to apply to college, Mark could not get the tax documents he would need to qualify for financial aid. Therefore, Mark would not be eligible for grants or scholarships, only a small federal loan.
In the ten meetings I had with Mark, we tackled each financial step of the college process. With support from the school guidance counselor, we were able to secure court documents that could be used to help him become eligible for federal financial aid. Together, we created reminders about application deadlines and made sure all of the necessary paperwork was submitted to each college he applied to. Last spring, Mark was accepted to Brandeis University and they covered $60,000 of his bill with grants and scholarships. I worked with Mark to help him take out federal loans to cover most of the remaining costs. For Mark’s first year of college, he only had to pay $500 out of pocket.
Mark is only one student. Every year I work with hundreds of students who are in difficult situations and feel overwhelmed with where to begin. This is where I step in. It is my job to demystify the financial aid process and give them the tools they will need to succeed. College doesn’t have to be a reach, it can be a reality.