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Growing up, Toiell could see that the economic and societal pressures in her Boston neighborhood made it tough to succeed, often limiting opportunities to those with particular talents and gifts. Gifts she knew she did not have. 

She worked to overcome those odds and committed to doing her best in the classroom. Thanks to her hard work and help from her uAspire advisor, she will be attending Salem State University.

“I think something that motivated me is the community I live in. A lot of people assume that if you’re not a singer or basketball player, or selling drugs, that you’re not really going to go far,” Toiell explains. “And I have no talents. I’m not athletic, I don’t want to go to jail, and I knew that I had school—that’s all that I really had. So I thought going to college would really help me not be a statistic and not stay in that culture, so I just decided that college would be the best step for me to take.”

"College is expensive. People have this idea that financial aid is going to cover everything, and it’s not."

Just over 10 percent of the African-American and Hispanic populations in Boston are currently enrolled in college or graduate school, compared to more than 25 percent of the city’s Asian population and 20 percent of the White population, according to data from the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Toiell, who went to Boston Community Leadership Academy, will be the first person in her family to go to college.

As a student, she refused to settle for average grades. “B’s and C’s may get you into college, but A’s will pay for it,” said Toiell, who also worked during high school, getting her first job at age 14. But her drive ran into trouble when it came to navigating the college financial aid process. 

“Procrastination is what was hardest for me because it’s like ‘I’m gonna do it in an hour, I’m gonna do it tomorrow, I’m gonna do it next week, I’m gonna do it next month’,” Toiell recalls. 

Her uAspire advisor, JR Mahung, began helping Toiell in her junior year of high school. “I really went to JR for guidance and any questions I did have about financial aid, and he helped me figure out if I need to do a financial aid (CSS Profile) form,” she said.

JR also sent Toiell resources to help her fill out various aid applications, and served as someone she could share her frustrations with. 

“And I just went to him to complain because I had a lot of ranting to do about the whole process,” Toiell said with a smile. “He’s a good listener.”

JR’s help and the financial aid she received proved invaluable in helping Toiell realize her dream of going to college.

“So that whole idea of your estimated family contribution, that’s a lie. Even if it’s zero. I ended up having to pay like $3,000, so don’t listen to that. So I would definitely say save and don’t procrastinate and think about what you want to do. Don’t have your whole life figured out, but think about what you want to do.”