Her Story: I Paid My Own Way Through College

I spent winter break back home with my family, and then headed back to school in January, looking forward to another great semester. That’s when everything started to fall apart. My boyfriend and I went through a devastating break-up. The reality of the harsh New England winter set in. My mom called to tell me that she could no longer afford our health insurance. And as I began to look at the tuition numbers for next year, I realized I’d be coming up short again.
 
At first all I could do was to feel sorry for myself. I cried every day, my grades began to slip, and I came close on more than one occasion to just throwing my hands up and saying, “Fine then, I give up!” It was honestly one of the hardest times I’ve ever gone through. I’m usually a pretty happy, optimistic person. Even when life gets me down, I know it’s only temporary and everything will turn out all right in the end. But for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel that way. I’m not all that religious, but I distinctly remember praying and saying, “God, I know there’s a lesson to be learned from every experience, but can I pleasestop learning for a while?” I didn’t mean that in a joking way either. I was at the end of my rope. 
 
But slowly, something began to change. My family was always there to talk me through the hardest days, even though they were far away. I had made a couple of good friends, and the smallest things they’d do to make me smile – like buying me a bag of Sour Patch kids and taking out all of them except the red and orange ones because they’re my favorite – started adding up. Maybe my optimistic nature just couldn’t take me moping around anymore. Whatever the reason, I was beginning to realize, little by little, that I didn’t want to give up. In fact, I wanted to blossom. How dare life try to get me down like that? I had plans and goals, and I was going to make them happen!
 
A side-note to anyone reading this: in my opinion, having dreams and goals that you feel passionate about is one of the absolute best ways to live life to the fullest when things are going well, and to get you through the rough patches when you’re not sure what else will. Personally, I’m extremely motivated by a desire to make my loved ones proud, and to repay the incredible trust and belief they’ve shown in me over the years in any way I can, every chance I get. I’m also driven by an innate desire to be successful in life; however I define success at that moment. Both of these things contributed to many of my college-related goals, including my goal of graduating summa cum laude, as one of the top 10 students in my class (in terms of GPA), studying abroad for a semester, and seizing every opportunity to make the most of my college experience, whether that be getting involved on campus or taking a midnight trip to IHOP with friends the night before an exam. I’m proud to say I’ve accomplished all of those goals and more. But I’ll come back to that later…
 

As I racked my brain, the internet, and asked everyone I knew for ideas on how to pay for school, a friend of my sister gave me a great idea. At her recommendation, I went to my favorite professors and staff and asked them to write letters of recommendation on my behalf. I talked to everyone from the head of the Honors program to the Dean of the College of Business, explaining my situation, and asking them to support me in appealing for additional financial aid. Armed with about six incredible letters (that gave more reasons why the University should keep me around than I could ever have thought up myself), and a print-out of my first semester transcript with a big, beautiful 4.0 on it, I made an appointment to see the head of financial aid. To my surprise, the first thing he said when I sat down was “I’ve heard a lot about you. We are definitely going to help you out.” He never even asked to see the letters. Apparently just by going through the process of preparing to go and speak with him, word had gotten back to him and he had already made the decision to help me.
 
I learned two more lessons from this experience: 1) When you want something, go after it with everything you’ve got and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not possible, and 2) Hard work pays off. A lot of people will tell you that your GPA doesn’t matter, and while that may be true for some things, it’s also one of many kinds of measures that demonstrate to the people around you that you are a committed and dedicated person. And schools – and many individuals – will invest in committed, dedicated people.
 
I could tell you three more years’ worth of stories like these ones, and another dozen lessons learned. However, the overall moral of my story is that I did it. I confronted challenge after challenge, and with a lot of hard work, faith and support from the people around me, I made it to my last semester, reached all of my major goals along the way, and had countless more experiences I never could have dreamed up if I’d tried. I’ll be graduating this May, summa cum laude and 10th in my class. I exceeded my goal of studying abroad for a semester when I not only spent 5 months in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2010, but also took a two-week course to Costa Rica and Panama in January of that same year. I embraced every opportunity and can now look back on an incredibly full four years, and forward to the rest of my life, knowing that I’m ready to take on anything.