When I applied to college, I prioritized my family’s financial situation as a marker for where I should or should not go. Despite the well intended warnings, such as, “Do not let money be a factor,” from the affable regional representatives, my anxiety did not lessen. As I browsed their colorful, glossy brochures at college fairs, it was a concern that persisted and existed at the corners of my thankful smile when I walked away. With the help of a scholarship program in my region, however, I became exposed to colleges like Pomona that significantly broadened my hopes for my post high school years.

I understood early on that I had a different story to tell than many of my friends. At the height of my parents’ divorce negotiations, college preparations seemed like the melted green icing on a lopsided cake. It was the most emotional and stress inducing time in my life because it widened unwanted recollections of my home life not even some of my closest friends knew about. I was nervous about telling my counselor that my mom and dad were no longer together. I was frustrated because I understood that, regardless of my situation, I still needed to feel motivated to complete each of my college essays, to submit all my financial papers, prepare for my interviews, and ace my assignments. I felt the weight of the external pressures to be vulnerable yet composed at the same time. The winding force of this intense mixture of worries was the unfamiliar: I was at a standoff with a future I did not clearly see.

When I filled out my FAFSA for the first time, I looked at the long list of blank spaces with doubt. The technical terms and the bright red asterisks were a daunting reminder of the money my parents did not have to send me to college. It was a process that filled me with unreasonable shame. I struggled between a selfish desire and a guilt thereof. I wanted my parents to pay nothing for college but I thought equally of the financial sacrifices my peers were and are making to continue their education. As I opened the letter I received from Pomona on February 15 of last year, I acknowledged at that moment that I became one of the luckier ones. Pomona meets one hundred percent of the financial needs of its students. With an on campus job and two outside scholarships, including ImFirst, I am able to pay off the rest of my tuition, my books, and transportation without imposing any extreme costs on my family.

How did this happen?

Sometimes I do not know how to explain it.

Although, I hope that every one who reads this finds in their struggle the silver linings.

When you fill out the FAFSA, take each question as it comes. Attempt to erase any physical or semantic noise as you fill in the blanks, and ask your parents to sit down with you for help. The process will be more difficult in college since you are far away but plan for it. I asked my mom to fax her documents to me so that I could input all the information I needed to. If you get into your dream school and would like to search for external aid, my advice would be to search scholarship websites and take the chance at any opportunity. Do not underestimate your ability to win a scholarship. Choose a seat, get comfortable, and type out a couple more essays to add to your senior year collection. Your application may come to secure you a couple hundred dollars for your monthly payments or for personal expenses such as laundry and transportation. To find a work study position, I would suggest going to any job fairs that might be available at your campus . It may be intimidating to make connections with all these new individuals during the first few weeks of school but you will ease into the year by strengthening those relationships.

If anyone else would like more specific help with any of these issues, please do not hesitate to comment or email me! This was one of the more demanding aspects of the college process for me. I would love to continue helping others with the same situation as my family or anyone in need of some moral support.