“My dad used to work in construction. One day, he fell from the second floor of a house. He really hurt his back and it’s difficult for him to walk now. He’s been on disability ever since,” says Liliana.
Liliana’s dad has been an inspiration to her, especially when other adults in her life weren’t supportive.
“My dad is my main motivation. Even though he doesn’t have stability, he has always encouraged me to do better. My mom doesn’t pay much attention to me and wasn’t so good about the idea of me going to college. But my dad supports me. He said he was proud of me.”
Besides her dad’s encouragement, seeing her siblings struggle made her decide to go to college.
“In 11th grade, I started thinking about what to do with my life. I have five older brothers and one older sister. They all dropped out to help my parents out. I am the only one who has finished high school,” Liliana explains.
“Seeing my siblings struggle — I don’t want to be like that. They have children and I think they were not financially ready for it. I’m not saying kids are bad. They are a blessing to your family. But I want to get myself together and finish college and accomplish something first.”
Figuring out the FAFSA
Because Liliana’s family depends on her income, she decided to become a medical assistant. “I need to work and the program is faster. I started looking at how much it was going to cost me.”
Liliana learned about the FAFSA from Café College. “A woman named Melissa reached out to me. I went to her office right across from my high school to fill it out.”
“My first thought was, Oh, this is going to be so easy. It will probably take 15 minutes. But I didn’t have my parent’s income tax information, so I had to come back the next day.”
Liliana’s mom didn’t want to give her the information at first. “My mom didn’t want me to go to college. I had to tell her it is going to be good for me. Eventually, she said okay.”
Liliana finished the FAFSA with Melissa’s help. Then, another surprise came.
Getting help when she was asked for additional documentation
Liliana’s college selected her for verification. “They asked for a lot of information. My mom’s income tax transcript. Proof of my dad’s disability income. I had to go back and forth, back and forth.”
“It was a relief. I don’t have to pay out of my pocket and I don’t have to work extra hours.”
“I asked Melissa for help. She is more experienced with the FAFSA and I didn’t want to make any mistakes,” Liliana recalls.
She thought she was done, but there was one more issue. “The college said my mom didn’t sign the FAFSA electronically. They gave me a form I could take home for her to sign.” She did, and then Melissa even went with Liliana to the college financial aid office to make sure everything was right.
Liliana’s persistence paid off. She was awarded enough financial aid to cover the cost of school.
“I felt lucky. It was a relief. I don’t have to pay out of my pocket and I don’t have to work extra hours. I save up money, but I can’t save a big amount in order for me to go to college.”
Liliana’s advice: Be patient
“The main thing is not to give up and be patient with the FAFSA. It was worth it, all that stuff I went through,” she says.
Liliana hopes other students will ask for help if they need it. “Asking a question won’t hurt you. I was shy at the beginning — I’m not going to lie. Just ask counselors or go to an organization like Café College.”
She adds, “It doesn’t matter if you get any judgement from other people. People asked, ‘Why are you going to college? Why don’t you just start working?’ Just ignore that. I know I have the capacity to go for something that I actually like to do.”
“Once you receive that degree or certificate you are aiming for or wanting to get, you are going to be like, ‘It was worth it going through all of this stuff.’”
Liliana will be attending San Jacinto College to become a medical assistant. Later on, she’d like to study accounting and build her own business.