Alvaro’s Story

By: Kristin Ouellette | Monday, January 5, 2015

uAspire wants every student to achieve their dream, and we advocate passionately on behalf of the students we serve. We believe that finances should never get in the way of this pursuit, and we work tirelessly to get students to and through the college of their choice.

Alvaro DeJesus, a first-generation college student, graduated from Lawrence High School in May of 2014. His story is one of extreme dedication and perseverance, and demonstrates the importance of continuously working with a student on their financial aid through each college year.

In high school Alvaro excelled in and outside the classroom, and burst into Financial Aid Advisor Gabriela Gomez Coates’ office early in the year excited to discuss his college plans. His lengthy college list included American University (his first choice), Boston University, and Harvard among others, and he wanted to start looking for financial aid as soon as possible.

Alvaro followed Gabriela’s financial aid advice to a T: he applied for scholarships early and urged his parents to file their taxes at the start of the year so that he could be first in line for institutional aid. Alvaro was ecstatic when he found out that not only had he been accepted to his first choice school, but he had won a number of prestigious scholarships to finance his education, including the Horatio Alger Scholarship and a science award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation.

In September Alvaro flew to Washington D.C. to begin his first year of college, thinking all of his expenses were paid. By October, Gabriela hadn’t heard from Alvaro in a while and assumed that he was engrossed in the first semester of college life. One day Gabriela’s phone rang and it was one of our community partners who had also worked with Alvaro during high school. “Alvaro isn’t doing well”, the person said. “American University isn’t what he thought it would be. He feels homesick and stressed, and apparently he got a bill he wasn’t expecting. He is thinking about transferring closer to home next semester.”

Gabriela immediately contacted a fellow uAspire advisor and Assistant Program Director Elsa Martinez-Pimentel, who had attended a program at American University. Elsa called Alvaro and they talked for awhile. On top of doubting that he fit in and struggling with classes Alvaro felt that his family couldn’t bear the burden of this unexpected bill. He had thought that his large need-based award from the college in addition to his merit-based scholarships would cover his bills entirely, and he didn’t know where he would find the thousands of dollars the college was asking for.

After listening to Alvaro, Elsa emphatically told him, “American University does not want to lose you, Alvaro. If you want to transfer, you can, but not before we try to work this out with your school. Set up an appointment with the financial office and your diversity coordinator. Talk with them about which scholarships are detracting from your institutional aid, and try to communicate your situation to them and figure out a solution.” Two weeks later, Gabriela followed up with Alvaro and learned that he had followed Elsa’s advice–American University had increased his need-based award back to its original size and retracted his bill in full. Alvaro seemed ecstatic, confident about his financial position and about how he was doing in school. Alvaro still felt homesick, but a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and he could focus on his classwork and connect with his peers without a worrisome financial situation looming over him.

uAspire’s renewed focus on getting our students through college has unearthed many stories like these. We know the battle is not won as our students are handed their high school diploma, secure in the knowledge that they will be attending college in the fall. We work together with families, community partners, and colleges to make sure that our students’ dreams of a college degree can be realized without financial barriers.