“I like to give back to my community. I was in the student council and helped kids learn to ride bikes in the bicycle club. And every Monday, I volunteer at my church to help give out food and clothing to people in need,” says Alejandra.
She explains that before that, “I was one of those girls going down the wrong path. I was hanging out with the wrong group of people and skipping school, going to gas stations or abandoned buildings. I got arrested twice in 8th grade.”
Alejandra says that volunteering helped her turn things around. “Marsha, who runs the volunteer program at the church, invited me to come help. It was so much fun watching the little kids be happy when they got new toothbrushes or a backpack for school.”
“I stopped hanging out with those friends and started going to class. Things went up from there. I ended senior year with straight As.”
Wondering if college would even be possible
“College wasn’t really my thing,” says Alejandra, “until I took psychology in 10th grade. I fell in love with the class and realized you can actually do this for a career.”
“I decided I wanted to go to college for child psychology. I know some children who come from the worst families in the world. They need someone to tell them they will survive. Half of my own family told me I would never make it through high school. I’m proving them wrong. I’m getting through it so I can help other kids.”
Even with encouragement from her boyfriend and his family, Alejandra wasn’t sure how to make college happen.
“My family lives in a lot of poverty. It was always hand-me-downs. I just knew there was no way my parents could afford tuition. I started looking into community colleges, but they didn’t have the classes I would need for my education,” explains Alejandra.
She decided to talk to her school’s advisor through Missouri College Advising Corps, who helped her learn her financial aid options.
“When I didn’t have class, I would go to Ms. Redmond-Wilson’s office and we would just apply for anything and everything we could find to make sure I had enough money. We also started the FAFSA together.”
Getting her mom’s help with the FAFSA
Alejandra knew the FAFSA would help her get money for college, but she needed her mom’s help to complete it.
“At first, my mom had absolutely no ideawhere her tax and disability forms were. She didn’t keep them in one spot.”
“I told her a week before that I needed it. We spent that week digging through drawers and old purses. On the third day, I just wanted to give up. I was so frustrated, but I said, ‘Mom, they are here somewhere. We’ve just got to find them,’” Alejandra remembers.
“My mom remembered that we have boxes in our attic with important paperwork like hospital bills. We found the tax papers on the fifth day.”
“Half of my own family told me I would never make it through high school. I’m proving them wrong.”
With the papers finally in hand, Alejandra was ready to finish her FAFSA. “Our school had a FAFSA day where they brought cookies and juice for the kids and their families. My mom doesn’t like coming to the school, but I said, ‘Mom, this is going to benefit my future. I need this to have a good career,’ and so she came.”
Ms. Redmond-Wilson helped Alejandra’s mom understand that the FAFSA would help get grants and scholarships, not just loans. She also helped them figure out where to put the tax information into the form. “That was one of the most frustrating parts, because we didn’t know what we were doing.”
But they got the FAFSA done. And right before Thanksgiving break, Alejandra got a letter.
“I got home and saw I’d gotten a packet from the college. I think it came back quicker for me because I did mine as early as I could get it done. I opened it, and I literally cried because I never thought I would be going to college. It said I got around $30,700 in financial aid.”
Alejandra’s advice: Your life is not a game
“I did my FAFSA and that really, really helped me a lot. I’m the first of my parents’ children and the first on my father’s side to go to college. Financial aid was my savior for college,” she says.
“You never know what you are going to get. Don’t take it lightly — take it seriously because it is not a game. Real life is not a game.
Alejandra will be attending Avila University and studying child psychology. She is taking a four-plus-one program, which allows her to get her bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years.