Back Up Plan for Transferring to a 4-Year College: Paolo’s Story Part II

In part I of Paolo’s story he discussed his decision to apply to community colleges, and how a great first year validated that choice.  In part II, it comes time for him to think about transferring to a university, and suddenly things don’t go as smoothly.

My first year as a student at North Hennepin Community College had been a success.  I made some great friends, more than kept up academically, and thrived as part of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.  When I came back for my second year, though, everything changed.

Having fun with the Hispanic Student Association, one of the clubs I joined at NHCC

Second year struggles

At the end of my second year in the U.S., I expected to be completing my time at North Hennepin.  My aunt had only agreed to pay for my first two years of college – once I transferred to finish my degree at a university, I was on my own. Unless I managed to get a full scholarship, my dream would be brought to a halt.

On top of that, I had my classes, projects with Phi Theta Kappa, and I was working on campus to earn extra money.  I had applied for a work-study position during my first semester, and had been working at the Records and Registration office ever since.  I have to admit that I entered a period of tiredness.  It felt too much of a burden to bear, and I just wanted to go back home to Peru. I wanted to give up.

Matt Foss, who has been my math instructor for as long as I have been here
Matt Foss, who has been my math instructor for as long as I have been here

Towards the end of the semester, my friends, co-workers, classmates, instructors, advisors, and also family, friends, and other loved ones in Peru were there for me.

One way or another, they made sure I remembered that it’s not only my own dream and hope that were at stake, but also theirs. They have all been supporting me since they have always believed in me and wished for my success. I dove into a whole new country on my own to chase my life goal, and they were cheering me on. If there is one thing I hate, my biggest fear, is to let someone down. And I will never let them, or myself, down.

[Inspirational stories to get you through hard times]

Refocused, I detached myself from all my groups and college activities, devoting my attention to clinching a transfer scholarship big enough to allow me to finish my degree.

The path forward

Taking advantage of Phi Theta Kappa’s member-exclusive college search site, I selected a few colleges that offered transfer scholarships in states where I had family or friends nearby. Unfortunately, there were no available schools in Minnesota, so I looked for colleges in Florida and Texas. Additionally, my EducationUSA advisor suggested applying to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

To broaden my chances, I decided I would go for other types of engineering, like mechanical or electrical engineering.  I knew I could eventually obtain my Master’s degree in aerospace once I had the chance to settle some more and get a better chance of financing such education.

Sadly, MIT did not let me in, but I was admitted into the Florida Institute of Technology and St. Mary’s University in Texas. Both gave me the same amount of financial aid ($13,000 per year, a transfer scholarship exclusive to Phi Theta Kappa members), but FIT’s tuition is about twice as much, so I set about the task of finding how to cover the missing $10,000 per year that I would still need to attend St. Mary’s.

I also formulated a backup plan. Before the semester ended, I applied for a scholarship at my community college, and if I got one, I would stay another year and finish the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum, which is a package of general education requirements that all colleges and universities in the state accept.  According to my advisors here, this will give me greater transferring opportunities, even if I don’t stay in Minnesota, and will save me having to take those courses once I transfer.

The last week of July, North Hennepin contacted me and informed me I had obtained a scholarship, and that I got the highest scholarship amount I was eligible for. That settled my future.

Receiving my scholarship award, with NHCC President, Dr. John O'Brien
Receiving my scholarship award, with NHCC President, Dr. John O’Brien

I already paid the tuition deposit for St. Mary’s, but fortunately my admission and scholarship can be postponed until Fall 2013.

As I finish this essay, I have completed 60 college-level credits with a 4.0 GPA.  I will spend the next year fulfilling the general education requirements I need in order to get my Associate of Arts degree (an AA degree is usually 60 credits, but I took mostly math and physics courses, so I still need to meet the other course requirements). I’ve been here for exactly two years, and my adventure has just begun. I’ve had my ups and downs, met amazing people, and had the chance to reach for opportunities that I would have never known existed had I stayed home, or had I decided to attend a four-year college, mainly because four-year colleges were too far for me to fetch.

I feel like I’m scaling this wall of life, and instead of jumping from rock to rock, I take small steps and climb little by little. Reaching your dreams is not so much about taking huge leaps and bounds, but more about the commitment, determination, courage, and faith one has that truly improves a person’s life. And that has been my real education.

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