“I’m part of the New Mexico Leadership Institute, and we have to volunteer on an issue in New Mexico. I chose to work with a nonprofit organization that helps women break out of unhealthy or abusive relationships,” Danica says.
“I felt that was my way to give back. A lot of the women have the same personal background as my parents. Seeing the women actually trying to improve their lives was very important to me.”
Danica says she had a difficult upbringing with her biological parents. “My guardians are now my grandma and godmother. When I was with my mom — she was a teen mom — education wasn’t my top priority. I felt I had to take care of her rather than myself.”
“Once I got in a stable home, I realized that education is so important. I saw people around me that did jobs they didn’t like and had to work their butts off. I realized education is the key to success and having a career that’s your passion.”
Explaining the FAFSA to her grandmother and godmother
“My school had a great college and career counselor named Ms. Delgadillo. When senior year came, she would advertise and go around the school to make sure students were on top of things that were important. One of those was the FAFSA.”
Danica remembers, “When I first heard about the FAFSA, I thought it was going to be long — way longer than it was. And I didn’t really know it was for financial aid for college. It was good that Ms. Delgadillo explained what it was.”
Danica started the FAFSA at school and then went home to fill out the rest.
“My grandmother and my godmother were very, very confused. They were asking, ‘What is this FAFSA, and why are they asking these questions?’ It asks personal questions and for tax information and everything,” she explains.
“I had to explain to them that FAFSA is something I have to do in the college process in order to get some money to pay for some college classes. Once they heard that, they were on board.”
Getting past the awkward wording
“Just understanding and answering the questions correctly took some time. The wording was awkward,” Danica recalls.
“Like, on the tax form, there is certain information you need. On the FAFSA, it asks for that information, but it doesn’t exactly line up so it was hard to locate on the tax form.”
Danica went to Ms. Delgadillo for help. “I answered what I could, and then went back to my counselor to get it finished. It was tricky because I messed up on one of the questions, so I had to go back and fix it later.”
“When I found out what I was getting from the FAFSA, it was the weekend. My counselor texted me to check how much I got, so I did. I ran to my grandma and godmother and was like, ‘Look!’”
“I thought I wasn’t going to get as much aid as I did. I was glad I didn’t let the challenge of filling out the FAFSA stop me.”
Danica remembers how happy they all were. “They said, ‘That’s the form we spent a day filling out with our taxes?’ and I said, ‘Yeah!’ They were so excited. It’s a burden off their shoulders. I will be the first one going to college in my family. They said I’ll be a role model to my younger siblings, nieces and nephews.”
“I thought I wasn’t going to get as much aid as I did. I was very thankful and glad I didn’t let the challenge of filling out the FAFSA stop me.”
Danica’s advice: It’s worth the time
“A lot of people think, why even do the FAFSA? Because everything counts. Whatever you can get for college counts because college is very expensive and it is really helpful getting something when your parents don’t have it. It might surprise them to see what they can get in the end,” says Danica.
“It took some time. Creating an account took me a day, another day filling out the questions I could understand, and the last day getting help from my counselor. But those three days to get as much as I did was definitely worth it.”
“It feels like I have no regrets leaving high school. I am so ready to begin the next chapter of my life.”
Danica will be attending the University of New Mexico. She hasn’t declared a major, but hopes to go to graduate school and pursue a career as an obstetrician/gynecologist, therapist or in another health field.