We are so lucky to have a guest post today by Brenda, a current undergrad student with law school on the horizon. She is also undocumented and has overcome the obstacles many of us or our family members have experienced. It is always so inspiring to see people in our community working so hard on their goals in spite of these huge obstacles. It helps put things in perspective for me and motivates me to push harder for true immigration reform. Here is Brenda’s story on her journey through higher Ed:
Hello my loves! My name is Brenda and I am 23 years old. I was born in Guanajuato but raised in good ole’ North Carolina. I have been in the US since I was 3 years old, and have been here without legal status since then. Knowing no English whatsoever I have always been able to overcome the obstacles that come along with pursuing the “American Dream”. Through extremely hard work from my parents, as well as myself, I have made it to my senior year in college. I am majoring in Poli-Sci Pre-Law. Becoming a Prosecutor is the ultimate goal and I cannot wait to embark on that adventure.
Being here illegally has made it extremely difficult to continue my education beyond high school, but it has not been impossible. I can not emphasize that enough, it is not impossible to accomplish your dreams because you are “illegal”. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because of a little paper; your legal status does not define who you are or what you are capable of doing.
After I graduated high school I went straight to my local community college and began the Associate of Arts transfer program. When I enrolled into school here I was told that I was required to pay out of state tuition and I did not qualify for Financial Aid because I was not a legal resident. I was at the community college for two years and each semester tuition averaged at about $3,500 not including books or any other school supplies I needed. During the time I was enrolled I was working full time as an assistant manager at retail clothing store in town. I had to pay everything out of pocket so I could not afford to not work or only work part-time. Working full time, I had to schedule my classes accordingly so that i was available 40 hours a week. This meant that I took as many morning classes as I could and I tried to only take courses that met only twice a week. Managing my time and money became an essential part of being able to manage so much.
My last semester at the community college, I started looking into 4-year institutions to which to apply. The university that I had my eye on would accept me, but I would be required to pay out-of-state tuition as it was a public school. If I was to attend this university I would be required to pay about $36,000 a year or $18,000 a semester. Again I did not qualify to receive any sort of scholarship or financial aid because I was not a legal resident. There was no way possible I would be able to afford paying $18,000 in a span of five months, even with help from my parents. I did have the option of getting a personal loan to pay, but I did not want to start getting loans unless I had no choice because I knew that for law school, I for sure would have no choice but to get one or multiple loans to afford it. So I looked at my other options.
A counselor at the community college mentioned applying to a private school. For the average student this is a lot more expensive than attending a public school, but she said that for a student like me (non-resident) it may be worth looking into, since private institutions do not focus on one’s legal status for acceptance. During the application process the focused more on academic and athletic abilities. I decided to give it a shot and I applied at Campbell University. During the application process, I spoke to admissions counselors about whether I should apply as a in-state student or international since I was not a legal resident. I was told that because I have lived in NC for so many years and could prove it I applied as a in-state student. This meant I would pay in-state tuition. I hadn’t gotten accepted into the school yet, but this was already a huge win for me.
After applying, I had to wait for a month before receiving my acceptance letter. Not only did I get accepted, but I was also awarded an academic scholarship worth $52,000. I cried my eyes out when i read the letter. I was not expecting a scholarship at all, much less for that amount of money. The scholarship I received was a scholarship given to transfer students in good academic standing. I had no idea they even offered this scholarship. The $52,000 was to be used over a course of four years. This meant that every semester the scholarship would cover about $6,500. On average tuition per semester at Campbell is around $16,000, crazy I know, but remember it’s a private institution. If my scholarship covered $6500 out of those $16000 that would leave me with a balance of about $9500 to pay out of pocket. $9000 is still a lot of money, but it sounds a whole lot better than $18000.
It’s not hard to guess that I opted for Campbell University, being that it was better economically for me. I am now a junior at Campbell and I pay the $9000 out of pocket. I am able to pay of the $9500 in payments over four months. This means my payments are $2375 a month. I work a full-time job so I am able to save up about half of that amount, and still have money left for other necessities. My parents help me with the remaining half. For the record, I am the oldest of five. I also have a sister who is starting college this year, whom I financially help as well as my parents. I have not had a need to get a loan yet, I refuse to get one until I enter law school. I have had to make tons of sacrifices as have my parents to get as far as I have. I am more than half way there and I know that through hard work and dedication I will get to where I need to get.
Like I said before don’t let a piece of paper define who you are. You are capable of more than you think you are. If you have a dream go after don’t stop, when one door closes another opens. Thank you guy so much for taking the time to read this, I hope it helps you to gain the confidence to take on what you thought you never could.
Thanks to Brenda for her story! I think the main takeaway here is that if you’re an undocumented student you have to plan more than the average student. Plan, research, and compare your options. Don’t fear asking questions or asking for help. Many states offer scholarships for undocumented students, but many students, like Brenda, will have to manage their time and money to meet their goals. It is hard, but Brenda shows that it is not impossible.