“Back in 2010, my father passed away from a stroke. Around the same time, my mother was diagnosed with stage four melanoma, but she survived,” says Zachary.
“It was devastating. Being such a young kid, all of this hitting at once. I started working at age 16 to help pay the bills and help the family out. I have a lot of stress in my life.”
Zachary works two jobs while in school. “I work at an event center where I help clean and I’m a dietary aide at a nursing home. I help make sure our residents get correct meals based on their diets.”
“I want financial stability, which I don’t have now,” he explains. “I believe if I expand my knowledge and get a better education, I can better my life, make more money and meet new people.”
Daring for a different future
Zachary never thought college was a possibility. “I thought I wouldn’t go to college because I can’t afford it. I always thought I’d make minimum wage. No one else in my family went to college.”
“Every Friday, someone from the Educational Talent Search came to my school. Her name was June. She talked about how college was a good thing. That price does turn it down a little, but you can find your way through it if you really try.”
Zachary decided to talk to June and his guidance counselor. “They talked to me about the FAFSA and how to pay for college. I learned about the Pell Grant and loans I could take out.”
“I really couldn’t afford college. So I thought, why not give this a shot and see what happens?”
Filling out the FAFSA, despite some bumps in the road
“It was kind of easy, but then it got difficult,” Zachary explains.
“I had to give information about where I worked, how much money I made and how much money my mom makes. With a mom who works two jobs, is always busy, and is always hurting from the cancer surgery she got, it was hard to get her to help.”
Zachary remembers saying, “Mom, I really want to go to college. Could you just help me?” He explained that the FAFSA was an investment in his future. “She said, ‘Yes, of course.’”
His mom didn’t have an email address for creating an online account, so he created one for her. “She’s not good with computers,” he says. And then Zachary got locked out of his own online account himself.
“I always thought I’d make minimum wage. No one else in my family went to college.”
The four to five hours of work paid off, Zachary says. “When I finished and found out how much aid I was getting, I didn’t understand what it was and had to ask somebody to explain it. When I found out, I was ecstatic.”
“The college I’m going to gave me what’s called the Granite Guarantee, which means my tuition is 100 percent covered. I just have to pay for books, room and board. I have a $5,600 Pell Grant too after filling out the FAFSA and I’m eligible for a $5,500 loan with low interest rates.”
“I’m also applying for scholarships. I want to be an R.A., or resident assistant, in the dorms my sophomore year to get free room and board.”
He also got connected with a group called My Turn. “They had extra money and got me a laptop to bring to college. It’s really nice. They’re also giving me hookups for scholarships and helping me find another job during the summer before I leave.”
Zachary’s advice: Don’t make excuses
Zachary believes other students who want to go to college should push past their doubts and ask for help. “Life is full of excuses. Nine out of 10 of them are going to be invalid. Just do it.”
“Go to teachers, your guidance counselors, or even local people who come in who do different programs. Research the different programs around because there is plenty of help out there.”
He wants to help others too one day. “I want to give back someday. Maybe offer scholarships for high school kids. I want to say I started from the bottom — that I worked my way up and can give back to the community that helped me.”
Zachary will be attending the University of New Hampshire and studying civil technology. He hopes to have a career in architecture.